The Castro Valley Forum of Wednesday, Nov 5th, announced a public meeting for Nov 12th about planned improvements to Santa Maria Ave. The amount of vehicular traffic, especially before and after school, is not sustainable. Yet for converting part of it to bicycle and pedestrian traffic, we need not only safe sidewalks but also safe bike lanes. This gives rise to the following questions:
Promoting commuting to school by bike: Santa Maria Ave is not just any residential street in Castro Valley. It is the street that leads to the front entrance of the high school. Traffic before and after school is a nightmare, as many kids either drive themselves, or get dropped off and picked up by car. A lot of our small town traffic congestion is caused by short local commutes by car. Many of these commutes could easily happen by bike, and biking to school would be a healthy alternative for many high school students . Yet the car is the primary mode of transportation. Car use has been prioritized over the decades by planning and improving streets only for moving as many cars as possible, bike safety has not been an issue. Therefore some questions arise:
Do we want to keep the current status of promoting mainly car traffic? Or do we have the goal to reduce traffic caused by short distance car commutes and to promote biking? If we want to promote commuting by bike, the main access to the high school (and middle schools) need become safe routes for bikes. Having no bike lanes (separated from the car lanes) in front of the high school clearly states that bikes are not a supported mode of transportation for high school students. What is the goal of the county, the school district, and Castro Valley as a whole?
Lane sharing: The current plan obviously does not contain bike lanes, instead wants bikes to share the lane with cars. Having cars and bikes share a lane hardly ever works. It works even less when there is a total traffic jam of cars, as there is before and after school on Santa Maria Ave. Does it make sense to even paint lane sharing signs on the ground and put up signs and thus create the illusion that bikes can ride there safely, if reality will simply be different? Should we not admit that in order to provide safe biking to the high school, and to promote bike riding, Santa Maria Ave needs to be upgraded to a class II bike route, and needs bike lanes?
In depth discussions: According to the Forum, this is a community meeting prior to doing the final designs. So the question arises, what other options have been explored during the preliminary design work and discussions? Have the school district, the high school, and those biking to school and navigating the school traffic on a daily basis been involved in these discussions and decisions? What has been the advice of outside experts on bike routes to schools? As Santa Maria Ave is the access route to the high school, it seems to me that evaluating various alternatives to the status quo and an in depth discussion of above questions are warranted.