Burlingame Adopts Its Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan

A theoretical document with no commitment from the City gets approved after years of hearing from residents that they would in fact like to walk and bike places without dying.

At the Dec. 7 council meeting, council members, even Mayor Emily Beach, vehemently avoided discussing the plan's exclusion of protected bike lanes on California Drive from Broadway to Millbrae — a vital corridor connecting Burlingame to its largest transportation hub.

We're halfway through December already, and I swear I've got a minimum wage piece in the pipeline! But, I'm interrupting my regularly scheduled program for an overview of last week's Dec. 7 meeting where Burlingame Council adopted it's two-year-in-the-making Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. I'd also like to highlight some of the very solid comments offered by the public and what's next for road safety improvements in Burlingame.

Some Background

If you're interested in transportation, the environment, and road safety, then it's safe to say at least one critical lens you'll have for this plan is for how it treats California Drive from Millbrae Bart all the way to San Mateo. This road connects three Caltrain stations and one Bart station. Having fully protected, separated bike lanes on this road would be transformative; we would see more and more people adopt bikes as a viable mode not just for commuting but for trips around town, and most importantly they would be protected from CA Drive's notoriously aggressive and fast traffic.

Today, CA Drive is mostly sharrows except for the unprotected and door-zone bike lanes on the portion between Broadway and Millbrae. This facility was painted in 2018, and was a compromise in order to maintain street parking. In fact, this facility intentionally increased the number of parking spaces along Village Park, which became probably the most hazardous door-zone section for bike riders during commuting hours. I should note however, that outside of soccer events at Village Park, large swaths of this parking sits empty and has since been utilized by people looking to store construction equipment and utility vans for days on end without restrictions.

In 2016, Burlingame paid Alta Design $150,000 to look into the feasibility of a class I facility in the right of way along the tracks (this is a multi-use paved trail off the road). It was deemed unfeasible, and so Burlingame resorted to the current unprotected bike lanes we have today from Broadway to Millbrae.

It's interesting then, why the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan lists only a class I from Broadway to Millbrae, when they know it's the least likely option to come to fruition. They also know that this type of project is monumentally more expensive than protected bike lanes and ultimately up to SFPUC, where negotiations could take ages and still not go anywhere.

South of Broadway however, the plan lists both a class I option and an option for on-street protected bike lanes. Interesting double standard we've got there.

Council's Commentary

The bike/ped plan agenda item was kicked off by Alta Design with a very brief, high level presentation. Much emphasis was put on the community outreach, and the number of miles of bicycle facilities the plan encompasses; a number which communicates nothing about the quality of the plan, but does sound good on the surface. Council then had the opportunity to ask questions or make comments, most of which were shallow praise for the plan.

Council members, even Mayor Emily Beach, vehemently avoided discussing the exclusion of protected bike lanes on California Drive from Broadway to Millbrae — a vital corridor connecting Burlingame to its largest transportation hub. Mike Brownrigg seemed to break whatever pact council had going by expressing some confusion and frustration with the plan for how it treats California Drive:

"I think, at least the vision I would like to get behind, is that from the Bart station in Millbrae to the Burlingame Caltrain station you have a protected bike lane, and you don't worry about class one, two, three, four, which most people don't know what the heck that means..."

Brownrigg's call-out didn't exactly elicit much from other Council members, nor did it materialize into any meaningful discussion on the stark tradeoffs between a class I along the tracks or protected bike lanes on the street. And of course, no one mentioned that Burlingame and Alta already looked into a class I in 2016. But he did also proclaim that he’s always thought the existing facility on California is a “bandaid.”

Burlingame's Director of Public Works mentioned that any significant changes to the plan would require additional work and public outreach — all but ensuring anything not in the plan will never happen.

Lastly, Alta's consultant missed an educating opportunity on door-zone bike lanes (probably because they're in the business of designing them) when Mike Brownrigg pointedly asked if on-street parking is an impediment to safety.

Public Comment Highlights

I loved the public comments section at this meeting because the vibe was starkly more serious and in-touch than Council's. There were several comments from BPAC members regarding the City's reluctance to put safety over parking, and a couple comments about the exclusion of a realistic plan for CA Drive from Broadway to Millbrae, and a comment from a Silicon Valley Bike Coalition representative saying they're big fans of protected bike lanes and do not want to see door-zone bike lanes in the future.

“...what is our commitment to safe cycling on California Drive, end to end? There are hard conversations we seem to not want to have here about removing parking and how we make room for safe bike lanes, and we want to have those conversations, especially as it pertains to the grant we've just won.”

“SVBC is really supportive of protected bike lanes, so we want to push that instead of having door-zone bike lanes, so we request Staff to take care of this issue while planning and designing bike lanes in the future.”

“The plan does a good job of identifying new projects, but it is unfortunate that it does not incorporate suggestions or improvements to the existing bike facilities in Burlingame. Like simple improvements on the narrow bike lanes on California Drive between Broadway and the Bart station, or improving the dangerous sandwich bike lane on Carolan approaching BHS.”

“...I do think however it's necessary the plan include a continuous protected bike lane that connects Millbrae to San Mateo, in particular from Broadway to the Millbrae station. The bike lane should become a fully protected class four which is much more likely to be implemented quickly. Bicyclists should be as protected as drivers and there shouldn't be any more delay for this to happen.”

“Negotiations with other authorities for the right of way can be lengthy and drawn-out with no guarantee. Fortunately, Burlingame does have jurisdiction over CA Drive, and should be exercising it's sacred local control for good and with urgency, not punting the issue into another authority's court because we can't muster the courage to remove publicly owned parking on a corridor that connects to our largest transportation hub.”

What's Next

Burlingame's Bicycle and Pedestrian plan isn't actually a blue print. There's no commitment from the City to implement anything, and we've yet to see how they'll use their own budget to help fund where possible. Many improvements, especially large ones like bike lanes, will have to go through their own individual public processes. The proof will be in the pudding.

I think north of Broadway on CA Drive was always DOA: Council never tried making that route protected. I'm not giving up on it just yet (and neither should you), but the next urgent hill to climb will be for using Measure A grant funds for a new bicycle facility on California Drive south of Broadway. Based on outreach gathered for the Bike/Ped Plan, the City already knows that participants overwhelmingly prefer the design option for protected bike lanes and a road diet on this corridor.

However, when staff wrote the grant application for Measure A, they clearly called for "at least" a class II. A class II is a separated bike lane but is unprotected. And honestly fuck buffers— buffers are not a replacement for physical protection. If your road is in need of a separated bikeway, then it deserves to be protected. Burlingame's BPAC wrote a conditional letter of support for this grant application making it clear they only support a design that utilizes fully protected bike lanes.

All of this is to say that we can expect to see a design option for a class II. My fear is that once it's out on paper, it will be too late. Once Auto Row businesses are brought into the fold, they will of course opt for a class II because it's the best option for preserving all their current street parking. Even though much (not all, but much) of it could be preserved anyway with parking-protected bike lanes and a road diet.

Burlingame has all the public input and money it needs to make CA Drive south of Broadway a road with fully protected bike lanes. The City doesn't have legitimate reasons to implement anything less. Unfortunately, there's not much of a track record I can point to that indicates they're willing to do the right thing, especially as local businesses get airtime to wield their influence. Stay tuned for calls to action regarding this potentially transformative project, which will likely have it's first public meeting sometime in mid-late 2021.