Monday, January 4, 2010

Holly St Overpass of 101 on a bike.

This morning I was riding South from San Francisco and checked the Caltrain schedule to see that I could intercept a train to work in San Carlos. Good timing, but this would require me to tackle Holly St - one of the worst overpasses for bikes on the Peninsula. This is near where Mary Yonkers was killed, in fact she was preparing to cross. As a preface to discussion of the overpass, please do exercise care if approaching Holly/Redwood Shores on Shoreway from the North - this is where dump trucks from the recycling center on Shoreway approach 101 and you should position yourself to not be on the right side of said trucks.

OK, on to the crossing. I went from East to West (Bay towards Ocean) this AM. Here is a photo from the intersection of Shoreway and Holly.

Not a very good photo, my apologies. The key facet in the photo is not the cop, it is the Freeway entrance/exit sign on the right. The lane that exits to NB 101 is roughly where the cop is - leaving a very tempting wide shoulder for the unassuming cyclist. The shoulder of course ends as the exit lane veers right onto the freeway. Your job is to get into the center lane, across from the exiting traffic. There are three lanes so the reasonable move is to get into the dead center of the center lane, allowing through traffic to pass on the left, and exiting traffic to pass on the right. This overpass throws a bit of a curveball at you because the traffic in the center lane can optionally exit onto the freeway, so you can have drivers trapped behind you and not able to switch lanes to the right hand lane to exit due to traffic in that lane. This can make for angry motorists, but I believe it is absolutely the right move.

You do not want to stay on the shoulder until the last moment and then dart across two lanes of traffic which can exit. And you absolutely do not want to position yourself on the right hand side of the center lane, because traffic will then squeeze by you and then try to exit across you. Once this happens, any minor distraction or incident could be the cause of a bad accident. If you are in the DEAD CENTER of this lane, the only motorist that will hit you is an extremely bad driver or one with absolute murderous intent. This is tough to do - we are human beings and we do not want to inconvenience other people or cause their anger, but it is more important to protect your own safety. The city of San Carlos AGREES. There are bike sharrows painted dead center in that lane all the way across the overpass. They are small, they are faded, but they are there. Perhaps San Carlos wants to tell you to do what I consider the proper thing, but they are too timid to make sure the motorists understand that with more prominent signage.

OK, so now you are positioned in the center lane and you have passed the onramp of NB 101. You now have the NB 101 offramp onto Holly and the SB 101 onramp from Holly to deal with. The biggest issue now is that the roadway has narrowed to two lanes with one lane exiting onto NB 101. This means that if you are in what is now the right hand lane, you are blocking the traffic intending to enter 101 SB until the right hand lane re-appears. They are setting up in the right hand lane preparing to exit, and then they are stuck behind a bike, going uphill. The left hand lane will frequently be full of high speed traffic making it hard for them to go around you. I do not recommend being timid and moving to the right hand side of the lane. That is a tactic which could result in the same thing that happened on Hillsdale in December. Motorists will either try to squeeze by you or worse yet will not see you! If they are trying to exit or change lanes their eyes and head will be all over the place. If you are in the center of the road, you will be squarely in their vision plane. They will go from whatever their original plan was to trying to get around you. That's fine.

Once the offramp dumps traffic onto Holly, you are faced with an unhappy scenario. Traffic entering Holly on your right in a lane that becomes the freeway onramp, high speed traffic on your left, including cars trying to go around you, and impatient drivers behind you. Today, I looked to my right as the offramp lane reappears, as an impatient motorist decided that instead of gunning his engine now that he had cleared me, he would slow down to utter some profanities. How poetic that on a recon mission of how bad an overpass is for cyclists I would get harrassed. I looked down and saw that just as the slew of F-Bombs came at me, I was riding over a faded, potholed, sharrow.

After this swarming section you finally pass the freeway onramp. At this point I chill out and move towards the shoulder which is fairly wide, as you approach a stoplight. The SB 101 offramp traffic is controlled by this stoplight, so you "only" have to deal with 3 crazy on/offramps today! Of course, Holly St continues to suck, the shoulder now ends up being on the right hand side of a right turn only lane. You may as well just go back to positioning yourself in the center of the rightmost through lane. The next intersection, with Industrial, has 2 through lanes, which become one traffic lane shortly after the intersection. Unfortunately motorists seem to be so amped up from being on the freeway and the crazy overpass that they don't really adjust to a single lane. This can be dangerous as the lane is narrow on the whole, and has on street parking, creating a nasty doorzone on a road where the traffic drives too fast.

If you are going to Caltrain, you get the lovely intersection with Old County Road. It's a mess. Insert yourself in the middle of the road somewhere (I found a slot where a car had left space in front of it) and cross under the tracks as traffic into the leftmost left turn lane. Then cross the crosswalk into the parking lot as a pedestrian and hope that the cars turning right from El Camino onto Holly actually stop before turning right. This morning a driver ran the red right in front of me and slammed on his brakes when he saw me crossing. He pointed his middle finger at me - I pointed at the red light he was running. He pointed out you can turn right on red. I gave up. My "left into the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection" isn't exactly kosher, but he was prepping to take a right on red at 25 MPH. El Camino at that spot has 2 right turn lanes and a very rounded corner. Yuck.

Going the other way? Pretty much exactly the same but perhaps more sketchy. While there is only one lane for the onramp to SB 101, you are passing that onramp/straight lane section through the Industrial/Holly intersection which looks like a giant French "giratoire" with the traffic circle removed. Be careful!


gnat said...

Thanks for documenting these. I've had rough experiences mostly on Hillsdale, Whipple, and yes, Holly. Especially with these latest cyclist deaths, it's harder to convince newbies to take the lane and the brunt of the F-words. There's gotta be a better way.

295bus said...

I saw a guy going over Holly on a *unicycle* the other day. He was basically operating in pedestrian mode, on sidewalks.

Anyway--the city of San Carlos has plans to rework Holly St. We should push to make it more bike-friendly.