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Criticism surfaces as San Mateo County peddles its bicycle plan

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Bicycling down Middlefield Road in unincorporated North Fair Oaks can be a white-knuckle journey, as cyclists weave between speeding SUVs and parked cars crowded in front of shops and taquerias.

Cycling advocates say the neighborhood is a prime candidate for safety improvements, such as reconfiguring the street with dedicated bike lanes. But a recently released San Mateo County-wide bicycle and pedestrian plan that lays out a vast network of proposed projects on the Peninsula calls for sending cyclists on a mile-long detour around that stretch of Middlefield.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” said Corinne Winter, the executive director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. “Most people are going to ride the road anyway, and then it just ends up being a gap in the infrastructure where there’s no bike lane and it’s just not as safe.”

County planners are trying to address the Middlefield issue and other concerns with the San Mateo County Comprehensive Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, which lays out a detailed map of proposed bike lanes, bridges and other projects to make it easier to leave the car at home. Winter and county officials said the new plan, released in draft form in February, is a major improvement over the county’s 11-year-old bicycle plan, which lacks any discussion of pedestrian issues.

Critics remain concerned, however, about a lack of coordination at the county level, leading to a patchwork network of bike routes. The plan lists projects throughout the county’s 20 cities that would cost an estimated $57 million to build and cover some 290.4 miles of roadway.

Winter said the county should designate a point person to coordinate projects and track down funding.

It’s unclear where much of that money will come from, but prioritizing and defining the projects will help the county be competitive in securing funding, said John Hoang, manager of the project for the City/County Association of Governments.

“That’s the overarching goal, to spend the money wisely, to make bicycle and pedestrian uses more friendly and more safe,” said Matt Grocott, a San Carlos councilman and the chairman of the association’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

One major goal is improving access around major barriers, such as U.S. Highway 101 and Caltrain tracks. The plan also highlights downtowns and routes to schools where better sidewalks and crosswalks could encourage walking.

In North Fair Oaks, Hoang said the county controls the area and has resisted putting bike lanes on Middlefield Road, leading to the detour in the bike plan.

Planners are taking public comments on the plan through April 15.

Road warriors

1.4: Percentage of San Mateo County residents who bike to work
2.7: Percentage of county residents who walk to work
217: Average number of bicyclists who were injured annually in traffic collisions on the Peninsula from 2004 to 2008
27: Percentage of fatal traffic accidents from 2004 to 2008 that involved pedestrians
231: Miles of bicycle route projects identified in the 2000 bicycle plan
141: Miles of bicycle route projects constructed as of 2010

Source: City/County Association of Governments

sbishop@sfexaminer.com