Friday, 20 January 2012

Bicycle routes through Brisbane, California

I attended the Brisbane (CA) City Council this week to talk about some of the unintended consequences of the new bike lanes on Bayshore Boulevard. It was a promising discussion, and I hope it has opened the door to addressing some larger regional transportation issues.

These issues aren’t limited to San Francisco. Wherever bicycles are banned from the main motor-vehicle highways — which typically follow the straightest and most level routes — it becomes even more critical to ensure good conditions and reasonable through routes for bicyclists on those roads that remain accessible to bicycles, especially the “old” highways and the “frontage” roads along Interstate highways, freeways, and railroad lines.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and/or care about bicycle transportation, read on. (If not, you probably want to skip the rest of this article.)

Because of its location, and despite the lack of any effective regional planning authority for the Bay Area, Brisbane has a key place in regional transportation planning. All of the through transportation routes between San Francisco and the Bay side of the Peninsula pass through Brisbane: the Caltrain tracks and possible future high-speed rail right-of-way (ironically, Brisbane is the only town the Caltrain line passes through without stopping — Bayshore station is within the Brisbane city limits but far from the town center), the US 101 freeway, the old main highway (Bayshore Blvd.), and the even older railroad frontage road (Tunnel Ave.).

Brisbane is a small town although technically a city, and generally content to be left alone. Most of the residential portion of Brisbane is secluded in a valley against the lower slopes of San Bruno Mountain. But the city also includes the Brisbane Industrial Park warehouse district in the next valley to the west, the Sierra Point office park fronting on San Francisco Bay, and the former Southern Pacific railroad yards extending north across the flats toward San Francisco (more on that area in a minute). Many more people work in Brisbane — I worked in one of the businesses on Bayshore Blvd. for several years in the 1980s — than live in Brisbane. Far more people pass through every day without ever turning off into the town center or any of the residential areas.

When I commuted from San Francisco to Brisbane, I alternated between riding on Bayshore Blvd. — the route used by most through bicycle commuters, long-distance bicycle tourists, and recreational bicyclists headed to and from San Bruno Mountain, the northern Peninsula’s preeminent hill climb and training ride — and the straighter and flatter but poorly-paved and typically debris-strewn route along Tunnel Ave.

Over the last few years, in a commendable (although not entirely successful) effort to improve conditions for bicyclists, Brisbane has repaved Bayshore Blvd. (good), restriped the width of the pavement to designate the former shoulder as a bike lane (a mixed blessing), and as the last step of the project ground a continuous, unbroken, line of rumble strips into the pavement to separate the bicycle traffic lane from the general traffic lanes (in violation of Federal highway design standards, which have recently been updated to reflect growing recognition of the unintended negative consequences that rumble strips can cause for bicyclists).

No doubt the rumble strips were a well-intentioned effort to protect bicyclists against wayward motor vehicles straying into the bike lane, but they make it dangerous at best, impossible at worst (especially for less-skilled riders) to merge out of, or back into, the bike lane when that is necessary to avoid obstructions such as pedestrians (who have no other place to walk or jog), bushes, road debris, fallen rocks, etc.

These problems have been discussed in several blogs, and eventually I and some others brought them to the attention of the Brisbane City Council at this Tuesday’s meeting:

All in all, we couldn’t have asked for more at an initial meeting. The Brisbane’s Mayor and City Councilors had read our e-mail messages. We were welcomed, listened to, and thanked for bringing these issues to their attention. Those Councilors who spoke all seemed concerned about the issues we raised, and desirous of doing something about them.

The City Engineer wasn’t in attendance, and the City Manager didn’t want the matter calendared for action by the City Council without hearing from the City Engineer. So the next step will be a report from the City Engineer to the City Council, after which — I hope — the City Council will put this on its agenda for action at a future meeting. if you want the City Council to act on this, write to them at .

Councilmembers also expressed interest in using this opportunity to review the city’s entire bicycle transportation plan, incluuding alternatives to Bayshore Blvd.

One of the Councilors raised the issue of bicycle travel on Tunnel Ave., which parallels Bayshore but follows a flatter, straighter route along the Caltrain tracks that’s better protected from the prevailing winds. Tunnel Ave. could be an even better bike route than Bayshore Blvd., but currently isn’t used by many bicyclists because of the dismal condition of the pavement. Tunnel Ave. is a public right-of-way, but privately owned and (poorly) maintained by the Universal Paragon Corp., the Taiwanese real-estate development corporation that owns the former Southern Pacific railyards (“Brisbane Baylands”), the former Schlage Lock site just across the San Francisco city and county line to the north in Visitacion Valley, and the San Francisco Executive Park just to the east on the south side of Candlestick Point.

There used to be a bike lane on Tunnel Ave., and there’s some question over whether UPC is required to maintain it as part of the current agreements between Brisbane and UPC. Perhaps more importantly, UPC proposals for “development” of this area are pending, and bicycle transportation plans will be part of the forthcoming review of their environmental impact. Those plans need to consider not just transportation in and out of the UPC landholdings, but transportation routes through the site, including both the Caltrain right-of-way (which may become the high-speed-rail right-of-way in and out of San Francisco) and Tunnel Ave. as the best possible through bicycle right-of-way in and out of the city. I hope these issues will be part of the review of UPC’s proposals by the Brisbane City Council and by the Brisbane Baylands Community Advisory Group.

Meanwhile, a little further south, the SFO airport administration has also responded commendably to concerns about unintended consequences of the design of the new bike lanes on McDonnell Road through the airport. Contrary to what one might expect of a freeway frontage road through an airport, it was one of the best long stretches of road for bicycle commuters and tourists on the Bay side of the Peninsula. With the freeway on one side and the airport on the other, it has almost no cross roads or cross traffic, and ample space for bikes.

As in Brisbane, some mistakes were made in trying to improve conditions for bikes on SFO roads. A major cause of the problems in both jurisdictions was the failure to post notice of the the proposals along the affected roads, so that road users could bring impacts that planners hadn;t anticipated to their attention before decisions were set in concrete and asphalt. But SFO has listened to bicyclists, and has developed a plan for improvements that they hope to implement within the next few months.

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 20 January 2012, 13:32 ( 1:32 PM)

John of Bicyle Solutions worked on Bayshore through Brisbane early on and my understanding is that tried to talk the city out of rumble strip strategy. Truck traffic was a big concern on their part.

Posted by: Dan, 26 April 2012, 10:52 (10:52 AM)

I was just looking at Google's idea of a good bike route from SSF Ferry to downtown SF, and was surprised that they recommend a bike route along Tunnel. My recollection was that Tunnel is a disaster, so I searched for information and found this information. Thanks for writing it up. I have ridden Tunnel before and it's pretty gross, but I had no idea it was privately maintained. I always just assumed that the road reflected what a dump Brisbane must be, although I've never seen the town itself (if indeed it has an identifiable center.)

Some people have reported on the SF2G list that Tunnel is lately a disaster in serious need of maintenance. It's unclear which parts of the road are responsibility of this private entity, and which parts need attention from Brisbane.

Posted by: jwb, 26 May 2014, 22:10 (10:10 PM)
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