Few roads better epitomize the frustrations of Peninsula’s bicycle advocates than El Camino Real, a critical north-south connector that offers both the most direct and, arguably, the most perilous route between Redwood City and Mountain View.
Living up to its moniker as “The King’s Highway,” the original connector between California’s network of Spanish missions is today dominated by cars in just about every Peninsula jurisdiction through which it passes, despite years of talk around the region about converting it into a multimodal “grand boulevard.”
And even as each city has been making its own bike-safety improvements (Palo Alto, for instance, is now completing construction of a bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 as well as planning for further bike improvements along East Meadow Drive and on the Charleston-Arastradero corridor), these efforts have largely steered clear of El Camino.
A recent traffic analysis commissioned by city managers from Peninsula cities concluded that the 12.5-mile stretch of El Camino between Redwood City and Mountain View has a “high concentration of bicycle collisions” and virtually no bike infrastructure.
But even as it poses a steep challenge for city leaders across the Peninsula, El Camino also represents their greatest hope. During the pandemic, the cities of Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View collaborated on a Peninsula Bikeway study, a survey of bike amenities in each city with recommendations for further improvements to bike connections between the jurisdictions. The study, which was released in November, evaluates three different possibilities for separated bikeways that would stretch along the Peninsula. After considering other routes, including Alma Street and Middlefield Road, the study concluded that a bikeway on El Camino, despite the massive challenges it would entail, “represents the most viable opportunity to implement such a vision and help improve safety and connectivity for all bicycle users.”
The Peninsula Bikeway study is an outgrowth of a partnership that city managers from four cities formed in 2016 to discuss stronger connections between their jurisdictions. Known as the Managers’ Mobility Partnership, the effort initially focused on using existing bikeways and routes to design an interim “low-stress bicycle connection” between the north and sound ends of the segment.
The latest effort is far more ambitious. The new study bills itself as “the first phase of implementing a high-impact bicycle superhighway network in the Bay Area helping residents and workers increase connectivity and safety to jobs and activity centers.” Its goal is to offer a “long-term, high-quality, bikeway suitable for bicyclists of all ages and abilities.”
Unlike the interim route — a meandering path that forces riders to cross El Camino Real once and the railroad tracks twice to avoid hazardous road segments in the various cities — the new bikeway would be direct. All three of the study’s options feature a straighter path between Redwood City and Mountain View. One would rely predominantly on Middlefield Road; another would stay within El Camino Real; the third would run along the Caltrain right-of-way and rely on Alma Street in the