Freeway crossings are one of the biggest barriers to biking and walking. Because of their high speeds, shifting traffic directions, and car-focused design, they discourage people from biking for transportation. As highway interchanges are updated, they should include safe and comfortable facilities for all roadway users, for all ages and abilities, which is the definition of Complete Streets. The Holly Street overcrossing of Highway 101 in San Carlos currently has a narrow sidewalk on one side, some fading sharrows, and shoulders adjacent to four to six lanes of fast-moving traffic entering and exiting the freeway. Even the most experienced bicycle riders are intimidated by this interchange, with good reason. The closest safe crossing for people biking is over a mile north of Holly Street at Ralston Avenue in Belmont or more than three miles south in Redwood City.
The City of San Carlos has been working on this project since (at least) 2009. I dug through our files and found a comment letter from SVBC dating almost exactly six years ago, regarding the Holly Street/101 alternatives being developed at that time. Over the years, the project has undergone many iterations. Originally, the City of San Carlos sought to include high quality biking and walking facilities on the interchange itself. Unfortunately, this was not approved by Caltrans at the time and so eventually all parties determined that a physically-separate pedestrian and bicycle bridge would be the best design.
Since then, City of San Carlos has been trying to line up the funds to get both the interchange and the ped/bike bridge constructed. SVBC successfully support the City’s request for $400,000 from San Mateo County’s share of Transportation Development Act-Article 3 funds earlier this year. The City also applied to California’s Active Transportation Program for $3,600,000 for the ped/bike bridge, which SVBC supported, but was not awarded this grant. Most recently, the City applied to the San Mateo County Transportation Authority’s (TA’s) Measure A Highway Program for $13,580,000 for the interchange and the ped/bike bridge. While the $10 million for the interchange was awarded, the $3 million for the ped/bike bridge was deemed ineligible.
The Highway Program’s stated purpose is to “reduce congestion and improve safety on highways,” yet the call for projects explicitly excludes bike and pedestrian overcrossings from being eligible for this money. The argument is that 3% of Measure A funds are designated specifically for ped/bike projects, so the Highway Program funds should not be used for such projects. We believe this is a false choice – bike and pedestrian facilities should not be barred from this program, as they can significantly improve safety and reduce traffic on highways and the corridors that immediately serve them. Although there are now sidewalks and bike lanes included on the new interchange, they are standard-design, unwelcoming, and will not encourage more people to bike or create a safer roadway experience.
SVBC submitted a comment letter and made public comment along with SVBC members at the October and November TA Board meetings. While everyone agrees that the ped/bike bridge is important and necessary, it was not funded through the Highway Program. We look forward to working with TA and the City of San Carlos to find full funding for this project in a timely manner so that the project does not delay or balloon in cost.
Since Measure A was passed in 1988 and reauthorized in 2004, traffic has gotten worse and more people are interested in healthy transportation options. This issue shows the need to address funding guidelines as well as the need for new or reallocated sources of funding for bike and pedestrian projects and projects that enhance connectivity and safety for all road users and residents in San Mateo County.