Castro Street Project Moving Full Steam Ahead!

Students at Graham Middle School are one big step closer to having a safe route to school.  Mountain View's Castro Street project includes safety enhancements for both cyclists and pedestrians from El Camino to Miramonte.  The most notable improvements are: protected bike lanes which Safe Mountain View advocated for, blinky lights at crosswalks, and a reduction in speed limit.

If all goes well, here's what happens next:

  • City Council will give it their final approval in April.  The project will be on the consent calendar.  This means it will likely get approved with no discussion, however there is a chance it will be opposed by local neighbors, which could throw a wrench in the works.  If that happens, city council needs to hear support from the community so they can move it forward.
  • If approved in April, construction will begin the first day of summer vacation.
  • Construction will wrap up before school starts mid-August.
  • Finally, we'll go on a celebratory ride in the brand new bike lanes!  Join us the Saturday before school starts: August 13, tentatively from 10am to noon.  Info & RSVP

The Design

Cyclists will be protected from moving vehicles by a painted buffer, rubber curbs and parking, like in the image below.  This configuration is called a protected bike lane.

4th Street in San Jose beside San Jose State University Photo courtesy of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition

4th Street in San Jose beside San Jose State University

Photo courtesy of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition

corner refuge island

corner refuge island

Corner refuge islands will be added to some of the intersections.  These are a key element of protected intersections.  They keep drivers out of the bike lane as they turn right.

One travel lane will be removed from each side of the street to make room for the wide bike lanes.  This will help transform the current 4-lane speedway with no bike lanes into a complete street, designed for all users - not just drivers.  The lane reductions alone will make crossing the street much safer.  Using a crosswalk on the current four-lane road can be hair-raising.  One driver may stop to let you pass, but the driver in the next lane won’t necessarily see you--which can end in tragedy.  Eliminating a lane eliminates that risk.

Other pedestrian improvements include:

  • median refuge islands to provide a place in the middle of the street to safely wait for a break in traffic,
  • bulb-outs at crosswalks to make the crossing distance shorter,
  • in-roadway blinking lights at crosswalks,
  • lower speed limit of 25 mph, and 15 mph in the school zone.
median refuge island

median refuge island

bulb-outs at Mountain View's Senior Center on Escuela

bulb-outs at Mountain View's Senior Center on Escuela

in-roadway blinky lights

in-roadway blinky lights

speed limit reduction

speed limit reduction

This progressive design will vastly improve student safety.  As an advocacy group which promotes road designs safe for all, Safe Mountain View is very pleased that our city is taking this bold step.  We aren’t the only ones who approve.

At a February 9th study session where Mountain View Staff presented an update on the project, community and council members alike supported the project and made good suggestions.

Kim Thompson, principal of Graham Middle School, urged the city to move forward with the project.  She is pleased that she’s had a chance to work hand in hand with city staff on the design.  She likes all the elements, including the elimination of a left turn out of the Graham parking lot.  She stressed that the school population is growing.  More students are biking, walking and skateboarding, which means fewer cars on the road.  

Ayindé Rudolph, Superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District, also spoke in favor of the project.  He bikes to work 80% of the time, which means he also bikes to all the schools in the district.  He feels that since more students are biking, creating safe environments for them is really important.  

Vice Mayor Ken Rosenberg asked whether the Superintendent would like to see the same street design in front of Crittenden, the other middle school in Mountain View.  Rudolph said it would be great if we could do this around each one of the schools, and definitely at Crittenden because they have the same issues.  He pointed out that Monta Loma and Landels elementary schools also really need attention.  

Councilmember Chris Clark commented, “I think overall if you have to make a choice between a child’s safety and an extra minute or two in a car, I would certainly choose the child’s safety.”

Some very good questions also came up, like:

  • why there needs to be a cycle sandwich approaching El Camino,
  • how to get across El Camino,
  • where a cyclist will go once they cross  El Camino,
  • how the bus stops will function,
  • how traffic will flow if cars can’t turn left out of the Graham parking lot,
  • and can't those parts all be made better?  

City Staff said they looked at making the approach to El Camino more like a protected intersection with the bike lane against the curb, but since there is no bike lane on Castro on the other side of El Camino, Caltrans would not allow it.  Staff also looked at putting a speed table in the bike lane at the bus stops.  This would allow pedestrians to cross the bike lane to get to the bus instead of the bus stopping at the curb, where it would block the bike lane.  VTA wouldn't allow that.   

Former Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee member Barry Beams wondered about debris piling up in the protected bike lanes. Staff said the lanes will be 9 ft wide, so street sweepers will have no trouble cleaning.  

A few neighbors said they liked the design but were concerned that some of the changes would slow down traffic, causing drivers to cut through their neighborhood.  Taking their concerns to heart, city staff has done pre-traffic surveys to monitor traffic before the project.  They'll do another survey after the modifications.  Once the project is in and they have a good picture of traffic patterns, they will consider traffic calming measures on side streets such as Sonia, to discourage drivers from cutting through or driving fast down those streets.

Former Mayor John McAlister asked some tough questions about traffic flow, but reassured us he is committed to safe routes to schools.  Though he has some concerns, he thinks this design will work, as long as parents and the school keep educating the kids.  “It’s our responsibility to make sure they understand the rules and their responsibility of riding their bike to school”.

To quote Chris Clark again, “Overall staff has done a really great job balancing a whole lot of different interests and needs, and I think first and foremost is the safety of the children.”  

Safe Mountain View couldn’t agree more, and we can’t wait to test out the design.  Join us to celebrate the completion of the project on our second annual Summer Family Bike Ride and Picnic.  It is scheduled the Saturday before school starts: tentatively August 13th, 10am.  If you'd like us to remind you about the bike ride as it gets closer, sign up for our newsletter on our Contact Us page.

Thanks to everyone who showed up at the study session or wrote a letter to council.  Know that your voice was heard, and that you helped move this important project forward!!

Note: for design details check the Study Session Memo on the Feb 9th agenda (Item 3.1)