Burlingame officials are moving forward with plans to build a critical stretch of protected bike lanes on California Drive, bridging a dangerous gap in current bicycle infrastructure along the commuter corridor.

The lanes will be built on a 0.8-mile portion of California Drive between Broadway and Oak Grove Avenue, continuing the current bike route which links Murchison Drive to Broadway. The portion south of Broadway will receive a “road diet,” going from two vehicle lanes in either direction to one lane in either direction with a center turning lane.

“This is our most dangerous stretch for cyclists in the entire city,” Councilmember Emily Beach said. “We’ve had a number of cyclists get hurt there — some very dangerously — so this is a really important project to do.”

Unlike existing bike lanes on California Drive, a 0.6-mile span from Carmelita Avenue to Oak Grove Avenue will be built on the east side of the street only, with a buffer of parked cars separating bicyclists traveling both north and south. This means bicyclists traveling south will need to cross the street to utilize that portion, and cross back to continue on.

A more traditional positioning, with lanes protected by parked cars on either side of the street, drew concern from advocates who cautioned such an arrangement would create dangerous situations for southbound bicyclists as cars turning into or exiting driveways would have low visibility into the bike lane. While the west side of the street has many driveways, the east side is flanked by train tracks and has none.

The potentially awkward arrangement had opinions split during the City Council’s Monday meeting, with a 3-2 vote deciding the matter and councilmembers Emily Beach and Michael Brownrigg voting no. 

“When you think about a two- to three-minute bike ride, when you are traveling southbound … it’s a lot to ask a commuter, a confident cyclist, to take the time to cross either at Broadway or Carmelita and then wait for a signal and then cross back at Oak Grove,” Beach said. “It theoretically is safer, that’s what they should do to use the protected bike path — a confident cyclist or a real commuter is not going to do it.”

Additionally, southbound bicyclists wishing to access businesses on the west side of the street, which include a popular bike shop, would have a less direct path.

To ease such concerns, a third proposal would have kept the two-way protected lane on the east side as well as establish an unprotected lane on the west side. But such a plan would also remove 90 parking spots.

“That will have an impact,” said Vice Mayor Ricardo Ortiz, who said he has struggled to find parking in the area before, and voiced concern that eliminating more parking could hurt businesses. The plan decided on will actually add additional parking, something Beach said she never would have thought would be the result given the funding mechanism for the project — an $800,000 active transportation grant.

Compounding concerns surrounding not having a bike lane on the west side, the vehicle lane reduction may force cars closer to southbound bicyclists who choose not to cross the street, Brownrigg pointed out. Cars could avoid cyclists by veering into the center lane, but would no longer have a second travel lane to do so. 

Members of the Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee expressed disapproval for the east side lane only solution decided on, preferring the third option with two southbound lanes.

“I’m concerned we are making a decision and we are not listening to the cyclists about how they feel about safety and convenience,” Beach said.

Brownrigg emphasized he was “entirely for the goals” of the projects and happy to see things move forward, but added “I think we’re going to have a few regrets.”

“I voted against this one because I thought we could do better,’’ Brownrigg said. “I think we should have tried a little harder to have protected bike lanes on both sides.’’

For Beach’s part, she said she hopes at least some of the grant money will be put toward repaving the road, noting potholes “right where cyclists ride,” and requested accident data on the west side of the road be monitored moving forward.  

(650) 344-5200, ext. 105

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