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Blog: Are Girl Scouts hurting Woodside cyclists?

The plan came about in the form of discussions that started before 2019 and continued with a Town ordinance to protect residents including cyclists from large buses bringing girl scouts to Huddart Park.
Huddart Park, San Mateo County.

Kings Mountain Road (KMR) is a rural mountain road leading from the Town of Woodside up towards Skyline Boulevard. Woodside is in charge of the lower part which ends around the entrance to Huddart Park; the upper part is Unincorporated San Mateo County jurisdiction.

Kings Mountain Road Ordinance. | Gerd Stieler

To increase safety, Woodside created an ordinance to ban buses from using their stretch of KMR. Woodside's ordinance regarding bicycle safety is printed on a 10-line sign, which reads something like "Trucks and Buses do not use KMR from Entrance Way to Huddart Park. Except: Under 35 ft length or by permit." 

The staff report describes KMR as "narrow, windy road that cannot accommodate certain large vehicles. In particular, there are two hairpin turns at which said large vehicles must cross over into the opposing lane of traffic in order to navigate the turns, presenting a potential hazard to motorists and cyclists traveling the opposite, most notably downhill, direction. In particular, very long school buses approximately 40-45' in length have historically used this portion of KMR to access events at Huddart Park."

The ordinance was approved unanimously and without much discussion in September 2022.

It is encouraging when KMR residents and KMR cyclists find some commonality. "Woodside" and "Bicycles" is usually a topic that creates more friction than synergy. But certain word pairs tell us something funny is going on with this plan: "Bans" and "Buses," "Safety" and "Exemption," and "Girl Scouts" without "cookies."

A lot of girls from Redwood City, North Fair Oaks and other Peninsula cities have been attending camps at Huddart Park for years. It sounded though as if the Girl Scouts weren't informed about the new ordinance; it sounded like the discussions about safety didn't include the "Friends of Huddart Park"; even representatives from the County and the County Park seemed surprised, and Huddart Park is one of theirs.

The campers found out very late that they either need to find new funding for higher transportation cost or ask several hundreds of parents to drop their kids off directly within the park. There was information about some camps that couldn't be run with that ban, since they service a majority of girls coming from a marginalized background. Many voices speaking for the girl scouts called the ordinance a biased way to restrict access and an equity issue.

As the Pulse and the Almanac reported this led to interesting discussions about safety and equity on June 27, 2023 during a crowded Town Meeting. A lot of people expressed many valid facts and opinions and even cited the girl scout values. Opinion is hardly ever a good judge, so it seems prudent to look at the plan, the ordinance and the execution from various — more objective — angles.

gs_school_bus_01Climate Change

That is the easiest one. The bigger and fuller the bus, the better for the environment. In this day and age, Active and Public Transportation needs to be made easier — not harder.

Transportation Equity

Now if this ban was about stretch-limousines or party buses for some wedding party or company outing — nobody would care much. But right from the initial discussions, the Town of Woodside seemed to target almost exclusively school buses for children camps.

Access to nature really is an Equity issue and creating more barriers for children can never be a good thing. This should absolutely be treated as an equity issue as private large vehicles or private horse trailers of affluent residents were always going to be exempt.

Safety Argument vs. Exemption

The Woodside ordinance only covers 30% of KMR; the County has jurisdiction over the other 70%. And while the Woodside section only has one or two harmless curves, the county section has 7-10 sharp or blind curves. Emergency vehicles and utility trucks are exempt. Council members made sure large private vehicles and horse trailers were exempt. Contractors serving private residents can buy permits. Basically for $15 all safety concerns would be going away. These are a lot of exemptions and possible risk factors.

The whole project seems to be increasing risk rather than lowering it. A cyclist might think there won't be any trucks, buses, or horse trailers on KMR. They might let down their guard, and then there is one of the many exempt private vehicles or a truck with a permit.

It is safer for all residents and cyclists to expect a Peterbilt or Freightliner coming around every corner than to provide safety ordinances like this.

Safety = Speed and Power

Safety has always to do with speed and power. The power is with whomever is in control of that speed. The main clue behind this power is hidden in the words "most notably downhill." The perceived safety issues mainly arise when buses are going uphill and cars and bicycles come downhill. The buses, captained by professional drivers, would be slow; slow means harmless. It's the residents including cyclists that want to go fast.

Both would be in full control of their own safety by going slower — but that is exactly what they don't want to do. Slow moving buses going across the center line slow down both directions and these residents want to go faster. And that is the real reason behind the ban.

Best Practice

We have a very good example of a safety scenario with the Baker-Barry Tunnel in the Marin Headlands. It's a one-way road with two bike lanes. Bikes and pedestrians can go at all times and in both directions. Cars and trucks can go only one-way, and direction alternates through the use of traffic lights. Speed and Power are separated by traffic lights. If safety was the main concern, this solution would be perfectly fine.

It would be interesting to see discussions about the Baker-Barry Tunnel solution.

In that case, cyclists, private cars, buses, large commercial vehicles, large private vehicles, and even Girl Scouts would be safer. But in this case resident drivers might feel restricted in their speed and time. I wonder if during those discussions the KMR residents would be as honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong as the Girl Scouts have been during this process.

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