Daily Journal file photo
Belmont’s Ralston Avenue is diverse in pedestrian activity, traffic patterns and community character.
On any given day, bicyclists, pedestrians and thousands of cars use Belmont’s Ralston Avenue to travel through town, drop children off at school or access the area’s main freeways. But irregular speeds, sectioned bike paths and narrow sidewalks are proving problematic in accommodating all.
“It is the only street in Belmont that goes from east to west so at some point anybody who lives in Belmont has to get on Ralston if they need to get on the freeway or if they even just need to cross the town,” said Bozhena Palatnik, engineer in the city’s Public Works Department.
At a workshop tonight, city officials will present recommendations from the Ralston Avenue Corridor Study for public input. The presentation will include conceptual design recommendations such as additional streetlights, widening sidewalks, encouraging alternate bike routes and installing roundabouts.
Ralston Avenue is diverse in pedestrian activity, traffic patterns and community character. The study broke down the corridor into segments. Area 1 is downtown Highway 101 to South Road, Area 2 is from South Road to Alameda de las Pulgas and Area 3 covers Alameda de las Pulgas to State Route 92.
Each mode of transportation in each segment has unique challenges and the street sees roughly 35,000 vehicle trips a day.
“Literally every mode of transportation needs some solutions,” Palatnik said.
With pedestrians in mind, staff is proposing installing more crosswalks in visible areas, new traffic lights and possibly lengthening time for pedestrians to cross, adding medians at four-lane intersections and widening sidewalks, Palatnik said.
For bicyclists, the study recommends creating bike lanes where possible but the city has to work within existing street layout so there will be areas where signs will suggest alternate routes, Palatnik said.
Mike Swire, a Belmont commuter who started a petition to urge the council to modernize Ralston Avenue, wants to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“The biggest impetus for me was probably a year ago now I had a good friend, she and her 8-year-old daughter were hit by a car trying to cross Ralston, luckily they were fine,” Swire said. “But I’ve been scared and frustrated with the city failing to take any action.”
There are seven schools nearby, with four directly off Ralston Avenue, as well as several senior housing complexes and a few churches.
“The road is the heart of the community,” Swire said. “So it’s really important to have a very healthy street and unfortunately it’s focused on cars. I’ve been overwhelmed with the support we’ve gotten on the petition. We’ve gotten over 700 signatures to date.”
One of his goals was to have the speed limits reduced to 25 mph throughout Ralston Avenue. He’s now extremely concerned the current proposal does nothing to address the irregular speed limits and areas where bicyclists are forced up hill into a lane of vehicle traffic traveling 40 mph, Swire said.
Mayor Warren Lieberman would like the city to encourage more people to bike and walk, but said the city can only work within the parameters it already has.
“Ralston is such a main thoroughfare and we don’t have a lot of width on Ralston in certain places. So it’s hard to make it bicycle friendly. That said, I hope our consultants point us in some good direction,” Lieberman said.
If the city wants to promote a vibrant downtown, getting people out of their cars and making significant improvements on Ralston Avenue will help, Swire said.
“Hopefully, they realize safer streets means more people walking, which means more business at Carlmont Shopping Center and at the proposed downtown,” Swire said.
The city is invested in the project, it spent $150,000 to conduct the study and the current improvements could cost between $5 million and $7 million that wouldn’t include repaving, Palatnik said.
The public is invited to come for the final community workshop and make suggestions that staff will take and include as it works to finalize conceptual design recommendations before presenting it to council in the next few months, Palatnik said.
“We are trying to make it good for everybody, including drivers,” Palatnik said. “Because all of us are drivers and only some of us are bicyclists and all of us are pedestrians at some point.”
The study session is held Thursday, Feb. 20, 5:30 to 9 p.m. at Twin Pines Senior and Community Center, 20 Twin Pines Lane, Belmont. For more information visit www.ralstonavenuecorridorstudy.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106