Silicon Valley’s Central Bikeway could be a game changer
A man rides his bicycle in a leisurely manner in downtown San Jose on April 13, 2023. VTA could approve construction of the Central Bikeway—a 10-mile stretch of protected bike lanes between San Jose and Santa Clara—as soon as next month. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

    Santa Clara County residents could soon ride on the region’s first bicycle superhighway.

    The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority could approve the basic design of the Central Bikeway—a 10-mile stretch of protected bike lanes between San Jose and Santa Clara—as soon as next month. VTA’s bicycle advisory committee voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend the transit agency’s board approve the concept for the project. The VTA board will consider the Central Bikeway on May 4.

    “This is a really precedent-setting project,” VTA land-use planner Brent Pearse said during the meeting. “We’re going to use this when we work with cities (and) we’re going to use this when we work on future bike superhighways.”

    VTA initially had about a dozen routes to choose from, and eventually narrowed the choice down to three. More than 1,400 residents gave their input on the best route for the superhighway, 30% of whom don’t currently ride a bicycle or only ride for recreation. Resident feedback was gathered through social media, surveys and VTA pop-ups at events like Viva Calle for almost two years.

    VTA planners ultimately landed on the route dubbed The Shortliner, which goes from Penitencia Creek County Park past the Berryessa BART Station on Mabury Road, continuing on Taylor Street. The route turns north on Fourth Street and west on Hedding Street, finally turning on The Alameda and continuing north on El Camino Real. The Shortliner ends at Lawrence Expressway, about a mile and a half south of the Lawrence Caltrain station in Santa Clara.

    The route for the proposed Central Bikeway extends from Penitencia Creek County Park in North San Jose to El Camino Real in Santa Clara. Image courtesy of VTA.

    Construction of this unprecedented bicycle highway system—including the landscaping and materials to raise the path above street-level—is estimated to cost $213 million. The project design is about 10% complete. Funding is expected to come from multiple sources, but has yet to be determined.

    Pearse acknowledged the cost is intimidating for a bike path. But it’s a much longer and more welcoming bike path than has ever been built in Santa Clara County before, he added.

    “It is a lot of money, but it’s a very high-quality, long distance bike facility,” Pearse said. “It’s transformational, it’s regional… It’s also on par, cost-wise, with some of our other large projects. So we don’t feel like that cost is super extreme.”

    He said the cost is comparable to a roadway interchange project or a new light rail corridor.

    Aside from cost, at least one member of the bicycle committee was concerned that commuter cyclists would be sharing the path with recreational cyclists, which could deter commuters from using the bikeway at all.

    “I think that’s going to encourage a lot more of the (experienced) bicyclists to ride on the street, and not in the bikeway,” said committee member Herman Wadler.

    The idea of a superhighway stems from VTA’s Santa Clara Countywide Bike Plan released in 2018. Santa Clara County already has 800 miles of bikeways, including dedicated bike lanes on roads such as San Fernando Street in downtown San Jose. In addition to bike lanes, there are 200 miles of dedicated bike trails, but many are not connected through a continuous, uninterrupted path.

    A rendering of what the proposed Central Bikeway would look like on El Camino Real. Image courtesy of VTA.

    Sandhya Laddha, policy director for the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, said the group supports construction of The Shortliner route for the region’s first bike superhighway.

    “We look forward to the Central Bikeway project to lay a great example of what a bicycle superhighway could look like, changing the experience of bicycling on our arterials,” Laddha told San José Spotlight. “Hence inviting more people to experience the joy of biking.”

    Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

    Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story said VTA could approve construction of the Central Bikeway next month.

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