The construction of a long-awaited bike boulevard is nearing completion and coming to Vera Avenue in downtown Redwood City.
The project, which is the first of its kind in Redwood City, will turn a 1.1 mile stretch of Vera Avenue into a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly throughway, extending from El Camino Real to Alameda de las Pulgas via Red Morton Park. With additions such as improved signs and pavement markings, as well as curb extensions and speed controls, the boulevard aims to discourage through traffic and prioritize bikers.
Construction, which began late last year, should be completed in the next few weeks, according to project manager and city senior transportation planner, Malahat Owrang. The project, which Owrang estimated to cost between $330,000 and 350,000, including both design and construction, was funded by the Transportation Development Act 3 (TDA3) Grant Program and the city’s General Fund.
Vera Avenue, which is currently a slow street, was selected for several reasons, according to Owrang. These include its relatively lower volume of traffic and bike-lane compatibility, as well as its proximity to a “community of concern”—meaning an area typically with a high percentage of people of color and low-income residents.
Isabella Chu, Chair of the Friendly Acres Neighborhood Association and a data researcher at the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences, says that measures to reduce car traffic, particularly in residential and school areas, are critical for the health of a community.
“What many people don't understand is that automobiles are the leading causes of child death in this country,” she said, adding that things like slow streets can help facilitate alternate forms of transportation.
“Until you have a connected network of streets that go many places, you still encounter danger when on foot or on bike,” said Chu, who was not involved in the Vera Avenue project. “And many people, particularly if they have children, are unwilling to risk that.”
According to data published by UC Berkeley’s Transportation Mapping System, Redwood City had 22 pedestrian crashes and 27 bike crashes in 2020. Of the accidents involving pedestrians, 77% were caused by vehicular traffic violations, such as speeding or failure to yield right-of-way. Of workers over the age of 16 in Redwood City, 80% commute to work in a car, according to data estimates from the 2019 US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Originally proposed in 2018, momentum for the bike boulevard picked up in 2019 because of a consolidation of public schools in the area. Because of shrinking student populations, Selby Lane, Hawes, John Gill, and Fair Oaks were closed, requiring many students to commute farther to their new schools.
“That caused lots of families to commute from one side of El Camino Real to schools on the other side,” said Owrang, who called the consolidation the “catalyst” for the bike boulevard. “We decided to apply for a grant to make a safer bike route for parents and kids who want to commute to their school by walking or biking.”
In April 2020, the city received $254,883 through TDA3. Construction, which was slated to begin later that year, was postponed because of staffing shortages and supply chain issues caused by the pandemic. In August 2021, Bayside Stripe and Seal Inc. was awarded a $197,273 contract with the city council, and construction officially began in December.
As part of its transformation, Vera Avenue is currently being outfitted with speed humps, bicycle route signage, curb extensions, traffic circles at minor intersections and bicycle and pedestrian crossing improvements at major intersections.
Curb extensions, according to Owrang, have several benefits. By changing the angle of the intersection closer to 90 degrees, they force cars to drive slower when they turn. They also improve visibility by preventing cars from parking all the way to the corner of an intersection.
While Owrang led the engineering design, residents were invited to submit ideas for the design of the traffic circles as a way to help them “feel like it's theirs, that they're involved,” she said. The Arts Commission picked three final designs, two of which are being stenciled and painted into the traffic circles this week.
According to Owrang, feedback has been limited but generally positive so far. And they’re already planning paths for more bike- and pedestrian-friendly throughways. As part of the RWC Walk Bike Thrive initiative, Redwood City is finalizing a list of potential projects, including new bike boulevards, bike lanes and pedestrian paths. The city published an interactive map of proposed projects, which is open to public comment until Jan. 31.
After nearly four years, Owrang said she “can’t wait” for the project to be completed and for the first bikers to be able to test drive their new throughway. She said she hopes the boulevard will be an improvement that reduces the average speed of car traffic and “creates a safer place for biking or walking.”