Bike and pedestrian improvements east of the South San Francisco Caltrain station

For the past month or so I've been commuting to a biotech office east of 101 in South San Francisco. I've gotten a little depressed about how car-centric the infrastructure is and I wanted to share some small wins that could improve the bike and pedestrian experience.

Why bother? Well, the roads get really full at commute time and it's not easy to expand them. People biking and walking (5 sq ft and 2 sq ft) take up less space than they do in a car (150 sq ft), so you can fit more people on the roads. They're also faster - I routinely get to Caltrain faster on a bike than I would be able to in a car, because the bike lane is empty.

However, the experience is currently not great, which means it's scary for a lot of folks to bike. Here are some small things that South San Francisco could do to make it easier for pedestrians.

  • Put WALK signs in front of the limit line: This WALK sign at Forbes and East Grand is behind the limit line.

    If a bus or truck is in the first spot - which is common, Genentech runs shuttles quite frequently - you can't see the sign or figure out when the WALK sign is on. Moving the WALK sign in front of the limit line would increase visibility, and also...

  • Put pedestrian crossing buttons closer together. It's at least 20 feet between these WALK buttons at East Grand and Gateway.

    If you are trying to cross the street diagonally - which will become more common when the Caltrain station moves - you have to walk a long way to press both buttons. Better would be to put the buttons on the same pole. This would also move the WALK sign ahead of the limit line.

  • Prioritize pedestrian traffic. Often you have to wait a long time to cross the street after pressing the button. The crossing could stop the flow of cars soon after a pedestrian signals their intention to cross the street, or stop more often in the minutes before a Caltrain is scheduled to depart from the station. If we want to encourage pedestrian traffic we should not make walkers wait as long at intersections.

  • Narrow car lanes and make better bike lanes. If you want to encourage cycling you want to have networks, where people can bike places and feel safe the whole way. There are some bike lanes east of 101, but they don't form a network, or allow you to go where you are trying to go.

    The bike lane starts at the bottom of the bridge over the train tracks. The outside lane of East Grand at this point is 21 feet wide. This is enough room for a 2 foot gutter, 4 foot bike lane, 2 feet of protection, and a 13 foot car lane. Adding a bike lane in this stretch would make bicyclists feel safer.

    Between Gateway and Roebling St. the outside lane of East Grand is 16 feet and the inside lane is about 13 feet. Making each of those 11 feet would give enough room for the gutter and a 4 foot bike lane. 11 feet might feel cozy for a "main arterial" but again - cars aren't going that fast on this road anyway due to the high number of stoplights and other cars on that road.

  • Integrated plan for getting walkers/bikers from the new Caltrain undercrossing to Verily/Genentech/Pfizer etc: There are plans for a new station platform and a undercrossing which comes out near the Poletti Way offramp, but after that there are lots of unresolved questions. The SSF "Downtown Station Area Specific Plan" merely says "design will need to consider safe access" without specifying what the design will end up being.

    If I am biking from downtown South San Francisco to Verily, Pfizer or Genentech, should I take the undercrossing - is the undercrossing wide enough for both cyclists and pedestrians? - or is the Grand Ave bridge still the recommended way to go?

    What is the plan for getting pedestrians and cyclists across the Poletti Way offramp and to the biotech campuses? Some ideas:

    • Extend the tunnel under the Poletti Way offramp. Otherwise, add a speed table and a wide curb bulbout to make it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross Poletti Way. Here's an example of what this could look like:

      A scramble intersection could also work there.

    • Extend the bike lane on Gateway north of East Grand, a bike lane that's in the Bicycle Master Plan. Does the city own the land east and west of the roadway? This could be used to add bike lanes without making changes to the roadway.

    • Remove the eastbound parking lane on East Grand near the Caltrain undercrossing, then add a bike lane + pedestrian path next to the tree line, straight across East Grand to Gateway.

  • Remove setback requirements: Most of the offices and stores are set back from the street across acres of parking.

    These are unfriendly to pedestrians, since you have to walk further to get where you are going. Allowing stores and offices to be built right up against the property line will reduce walking times, allow pedestrians to stop to shop on their way to and from work, and encourage walking and cycling.

Kevin Burke is on the Caltrain Citizens Advisory Committee.

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