[A copy of this email can be seen at http://web.stanford.edu/~learnest/sv/pm280.1507.html]

To: Santa  Clara County Roads and Airports Department

From: Lester Earnest (les at cs.stanford.edu)

Date: 2015.07.13

It is unfortunate that the County Roads proposal to redesign the subject interchange, as described at https://www.sccgov.org/sites/rda/plans/PageMill280/Pages/pagemill280.aspx, is grossly unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians, as that interchange has been for 48 out of the last 50 years. Below, for the fourth time, is a summary of its major defects and how they can be fixed.

First, some history.
Page Mill Road was constructed in the late 1800s to facilitate transporting redwood lumber to the bay area for new construction using horse-drawn carts from the southwest side of the Santa Cruz mountains, with the Page Mill being one of the sources. In the 1890s Page Mill Road also became a very popular bicycling route even though it was still a dirt road. Cyclists subsequently initiated the movement to pave roads but that ended up benefiting motorists mostly and Page Mill Road didn't get paved until World War II. Just twenty years later the construction of Interstate highways got underway but the State of California had little prior experience in mixing non-motorized traffic with fast freeway traffic, as became necessary at interchanges, and they did a terrible job.

When Caltrans designed I-280 in the early 1960s they made a number of design blunders including providing no safe way for pedestrians, equestrians or cyclists to get through the Page Mill interchange. That fact was noticed by pedestrians, equestrians and bicyclists who reviewed those plans and they attempted to get it fixed before construction was completed. In June 1965 Los Altos Hills took action by adopting "A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE TOWN OF LOS ALTOS HILLS REQUESTING PROVISION OF NON-VEHICULAR WAYS THROUGH INTERCHANGE" -- see http://web.stanford.edu/~learnest/sv/1965.06.07.pdf. However they were ignored by Caltrans, which has consistently focused on motor vehicle needs and ignored those of non-motorized traffic. Never mind that laws were passed later telling them to address non-motorized traffic safety needs; they have largely ignored them through the present

Objectives. In my opinion the top objectives in the redesign of the Page Mill interchange now should be:

1.    Provide safe routes through the interchange for non-motorized traffic;

2.    Provide more efficient handling of off-ramp traffic there so that it does not back up onto the freeway.

I am pleased that the most recent County Roads proposal includes a bike-ped path along the north side of the interchange as I first proposed in June 2010. However it does not make that route safely accessible.

The two-lane roundabout is unsafe for cyclists.  Consider a cyclist heading north on Arastradero Road who needs to go West on Page Mill Road. That happened to be my bike commute route for many years. That cyclist would have to enter the roundabout staying on the right side of the outer lane. However, as shown in the lane markings and the Youtube.com simulations, there would be two lanes of right-turning fast traffic heading east on Page Mill, which the biker would be unlikely to cross and live to tell about it. If any riders did manage to get through there alive they would then face the same perils again on the north side of the roundabout. That is unacceptable.

That problem can be fixed by moving the roundabout slightly to the east and leaving the Arastradero/Page Mill intersection "as is", with the exception that the southbound off-ramp would connect to the roundabout rather than to that intersection. This simpler intersection would then connect to the roundabout with one lane each way. This would allow northbound cyclists on Arastradero to either turn left on Page Mill or cross it to get on the bike-ped path heading east along the north side of the interchange.

Alternatively a small one lane roundabout could be placed at the Arastradero/Page Mill intersection with single lane links to the larger roundabout.

An unsafe and unnecessary crosswalk.  There is an existing crosswalk at the foot of the two lane northbound off-ramp from I-280 to the eastbound Page Mill Expressway. It was put there 15 years ago even though it is grossly unsafe, being on the far side of a blind curve. I have gone through that interchange thousands of times and do not recall ever seeing a pedestrian attempting to cross, which makes sense because the traffic typically moves at 45+ MPH and there is no traffic light to stop them, making this a totally unsafe crosswalk. However the most recent proposal proposes to leave this "as is" even though that route for pedestrians involves crossing a series of on- and off-ramps without traffic light controls whereas the bike-ped route along the north side provides a much safer route. I believe that pedestrians should be directed to the north side path and that the hazardous walkways on the south side should be removed. However there should be a sidewalk on one side or the other of the Expressway between Deer Creek Road and the signalized intersection leading to Old Page Mill Road.

In earlier postings I have suggested some other things that would improve operating safety and efficiency of this interchange but the two things cited above are the most important.

My involvement.  I joined the Stanford University in late 1965 as Executive Officer of a new computer research laboratory, which I designed and named the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL), then managed for many years in collaboration with Prof. John McCarthy. It was located off Arastradero Road, next to Felt Lake, in the foothills above the Stanford Campus. We trained many PhDs there as well as spinning off a hundred and some successful corporations, either directly or indirectly (i.e. spinoffs of spinoffs), including Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Google, Cisco, D.E. Shaw & Co., Amazon, iRobot, Rambus, RSA, and many others, but those are other stories.

SAIL operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week and I had a lot of fun there, so I did a lot of commuting which always took me through the Page Mill/280 interchange by car or next to it by bicycle. As soon as I-280 opened, I believe in late 1966, I noted that the exit signage at Page Mill misidentified the connecting roads, so I wrote a letter to Caltrans pointing that out and they promptly corrected it. That was evidently the only correct modification they ever made there.

I also observed that the interchange was unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians but was too busy to do much about it then. Incidentally, I have been a pedestrian for 84 years, a cyclist for 82 years and a motorist for 71 years. In that time I have cycled a distance equivalent to about 5.5 times around the Earth at the equator and am still riding, though a bit slower now. I have had some nasty solo bike crashes as well as some bike racing pileups but have never been touched by a motor vehicle, which suggests that I know something about road cycling safety.

An Initial Success. In the early 1990s, after I retired and started cycling in various places around the world, including along the West Coast from Canada to Mexico, from Seattle to Boston partly through Canada and on all continents other than Antarctica, I joined the Pathways Committee of Los Altos Hills which was responsible for cycling safety, among other things, and was promptly elected Chair. I then convinced that committee that something should be done about the grossly unsafe conditions in the subject interchange and then persuaded the Town Council to endorse that proposal. They in turn appointed me to the VTA/Santa Clara County Bicycle Advisory Committee and I was promptly elected Chairman of that body. Using that bully pulpit I was able to put together a plan to make the westbound route for both cyclists and pedestrians much safer, got it funded by VTA and constructed by County Roads around 1997.

Unfortunately, just two years later an arrogant Caltrans engineer redesigned the interchange again and, over our objections, got it reconstructed so as to make it more dangerous than it had ever been and that is the way it remains today. Thus this interchange has been unsafe for 48 of the last 50 years.

Ongoing Attempts. Since that revolting reconstruction I have repeatedly pressed for improvements and have proposed a series of safe reconfigurations while trying to remain compatible with the various redesigns that have been proposed for motorized traffic. Toward that end I joined the Town's Traffic Safety Committee, which showed interest in these matters for a time but, like most public forums, ended up focusing on motorized traffic issues and ignoring the real safety issues. As long as that continues there will continue to be almost no cycling through there during rush hours even though encouraging more cycling would reduce the amount of motor traffic.

A New Beginning. In early 2015 County Roads posted three alternative design concepts online and invited comments, with their Concept 3 being essentially what they are proposing now. Here is what happened after that.

       March 3 I sent an email to Dan Collen and Dawn Cameron at County Roads pointing out that each of the three concepts they were considering had major safety defects for non-motorized traffic and identifying ways that these problems could be fixed. Back in the 1990s Dan had been very helpful in implementing the first Page Mill reconfiguration to improve non-motorized traffic safety.

       On or about March 18 I visited Dan at his office and spent an hour or so reviewing alternative ways to fix the safety issues in the three alternative concepts. However when County Roads subsequently focused on what had been Concept 3 and posted it on their web site together with Youtube simulations of traffic flows, it retained  the same major design defects.

       June 18 a public hearing on the planned Page Mill interchange was held before the Los Altos Hills Council with Dawn Cameron representing County Roads. In the three minutes allotted to speakers from the floor I again summarized the major defects in the proposal being considered and several people agreed with me. However the general discussion focused on motorized traffic, as usual, which had the effect of dismissing the most important safety issues.

       July 13 (today) the deadline for public input ended a week ago and I have heard nothing indicating that the non-motorized traffic safety issues are being addressed.

If the most recent plan is implemented it will result in a repetition of a fifty-year-old design blunder that will continue to prevent cyclists and pedestrians from trying to get through that interchange safely. I hope that doesn't happen because I don't have another 50 years to spend on getting it fixed.