2023-2024 Group 2 Winning Essay by April Beyersdorf

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Infrastructure That Saves Lives: How to Make El Camino Real Safe For Everyone 

By April Beyersdorf
Grade 12, Saint Francis High School, Mountain View, CA

El Camino Real is a dangerous six-lane stroad cutting through the town of Mountain View where I go to school. A stroad is a corridor which tries to be both a road, a “high speed connection between two places,” and a street, a “platform for building community wealth” (Marohn 18). Although zoned for commercial development, everything about the stroad—its scarcity of painted crosswalks, its fast high volume traffic, and its lack of bike lanes—is designed to prioritize drivers over everyone else. This hierarchy is encouraging people to choose to drive if they want to travel along El Camino Real, making traffic and safety worse. It has become a dangerous divide between Old Mountain View in the north and the suburbs in the south where I attend school. Many students, including myself, have to cross El Camino Real twice a day. Last year, a school student on a bike was killed by a truck at an intersection on El Camino Real (CBS News). To achieve VisionZero2030, El Camino Real must be redesigned for safety. If I could rebuild this corridor’s infrastructure, I would increase visibility at crosswalks, slow and minimize driving, and dedicate protected lanes for biking.

My first step would be fixing El Camino Real’s crosswalks, since students, shoppers, commuters, and locals must cross El Camino’s deadly intersections every day. A study of wide roads in Montreal with similar traffic volumes to El Camino Real found that painted crosswalks alone are ineffective at reducing pedestrian accidents but reformed crosswalk design makes a difference (Morency et al. 2015). I would physically extend curbs and create pedestrian refuge islands to break long, exposed crosswalks into two shorter, more visible stretches. I would add crosswalks in the middle of blocks too, so pedestrians don’t have to choose between risky jaywalking and inconveniently long detours to cross at intersections.

Next I would narrow the lanes to encourage slow driving. Slower cars stop quickly, are more predictable, and are less deadly in collisions, which would be better for everyone’s safety, especially pedestrians. A study of 34 US “hot spot corridors” confirmed a link between speed limit and pedestrian fatalities (Schneider et al. 2021). Despite an official speed limit of 35, El Camino Real is designed like a racetrack so speeding is common. If the lanes were physically narrower, drivers would drive slower, a behavioral phenomenon observed in a study of drivers (Liu et al. 2016). In addition to narrowing the lanes, I would reduce the street from three lanes per direction to two or one. Seventy percent of hot spot corridors in the US study required pedestrians to cross five or more lanes (El Camino Real intersections can have up to eight lanes of traffic), and the Montreal study suggested lane reduction as a tactic to improve pedestrian safety. Lane reduction would reduce capacity and ultimately decrease traffic by disincentivizing driving, as confirmed by a California study on induced demand (Cervero et al. 2002). Fewer cars would make driving easier and reduce crashes.

Finally, in the space gained from narrowing and removing lanes, I would widen the sidewalks and build a bike lane raised to sidewalk height, called a “raised cycle track” by NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide (NACTO). Raising the bike lane out of the main roadway would improve cycling safety, encouraging more people to bike instead of drive to destinations along El Camino Real. To prevent conflicts between cyclists and stopped buses, the bike lane would shift towards the sidewalk around a ‘bus island’ where bus riders could board safely. To prevent conflicts between cyclists and turning cars at intersections, I would have the bike lane feed into a protected intersection as detailed in the NACTO guide Don’t Give Up At The Intersection (NACTO).

Caltrans has announced that it will redesign El Camino Real in 2024 with bike lanes and additional pedestrian crossings, but its plan is receiving criticism in neighboring Palo Alto (Morgan). Some residents lament the loss of parking spots for the creation of the bike lane while others insist that El Camino Real will always be unsafe and bike lanes should be built on safer streets instead (Sheyner). These concerns can be considered, but to achieve VisionZero2030, human lives should be the top priority in infrastructure redesign. If we don’t identify dangerous corridors in our neighborhoods and fix them to meet safer standards, walking and biking will remain life-threatening. But if crosswalks are visible, lanes and roadways are narrowed, and bike lanes are raised and protected, students won’t need to risk their lives on their commutes to school.


Works Cited
CBS News. “'Extremely Tragic' - Mountain View Police Release Details On Collision That Killed 13-Year-Old Cyclist.” CBS News, 31 March 2022, https://www.cbsnews.com/sanfrancisco/news/mountain-view-13-year-old-cyclist-killed-b y-truck-investigative-findings/. Accessed 24 January 2024.

Cervero, Robert, and Mark Hansen. “Induced Travel Demand and Induced Road Investment: A Simultaneous Equation Analysis.” Journal of Transport Economics and Policy, vol. 36, no. 3, 2002, pp. 469–90. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20053915. Accessed 24 January 2024.

Liu, Shuo et al. “Effects of Lane Width, Lane Position and Edge Shoulder Width on Driving Behavior in Underground Urban Expressways: A Driving Simulator Study.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 13,10 1010. 14 Oct. 2016, doi:10.3390/ijerph13101010

Marohn, Charles L. Confessions of a Recovering Engineer: Transportation for a Strong Town. Wiley, 2021.

Morency, Patrick, et al. “Major Urban Road Characteristics and Injured Pedestrians: A

Representative Survey of Intersections in Montréal, Quebec.” Canadian Journal of Public Health / Revue Canadienne de Santé Publique, vol. 106, no. 6, 2015, pp. e388–94. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/90005915. Accessed 24 Jan. 2024.

Morgan, Zoe. “El Camino repaving project set to begin next year, with bike lanes added in Mountain View.” Palo Alto Online [Palo Alto], 17 November 2023, https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2023/11/17/el-camino-repaving-project-set-to-begi n-next-year-with-bike-lanes-added-in-mountain-view. Accessed 24 January 2024.
NACTO. “Protected Intersections.” National Association of City Transportation Officials, https://nacto.org/publication/dont-give-up-at-the-intersection/protected-intersections/. Accessed 24 January 2024.

NACTO. “Raised Cycle Tracks.” National Association of City Transportation Officials, https://nacto.org/publication/urban-bikeway-design-guide/cycle-tracks/raised-cycle-tracks/. Accessed 24 January 2024.

Schneider, Robert J., et al. “United States Fatal Pedestrian Crash Hot Spot Locations and Characteristics.” Journal of Transport and Land Use, vol. 14, no. 1, 2021, pp. 1–23. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/48646174. Accessed 24 Jan. 2024.

Sheyner, Gennady. “Bike lanes along El Camino? Caltrans proposal catches city off balance.” Palo Alto Online [Palo Alto], 12 July 2023, https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2023/07/12/bike-lanes-along-el-camino-caltrans-pr oposal-catches-city-off-balance. Accessed 24 January 2024.



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