A Safer California Street
California Street has the potential to be Mountain View’s next Great Street, but it’s in need of a makeover worthy of the vibrant character of the nearby neighborhoods. The California Street neighborhoods are the densest in Mountain View and are home to numerous parks, churches, stores, and schools, which means residents walk and bike more than the city as a whole. But crossing and walking along California Street can be hazardous. Narrow sidewalks are unwelcoming to pedestrians. Motorists often travel too fast to notice or yield to pedestrians and cyclists. Bike lanes are narrow and force cyclists into the “door zone”. And tragically, three pedestrians have been killed on California Street just since 2010. We need California Street to function for everyday life in our neighborhoods and the best way to do this is to lower vehicle speeds with a reduction in car lanes.
Less is More
To create a safer environment for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders, California Street must be redesigned to reduce vehicle speeds. If a person is hit by a car traveling at 40 miles per hour, 90 percent of victims die, but at 20 miles per hour, 90 percent of victims survive. Police enforcement and citizen education are important, but insufficient on their own because drivers naturally travel at the speed that feels comfortable. The wider and straighter the road, the more tempting it is to speed. California Street is no exception. Drivers regularly exceed the posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour, due to wide lanes and distant sight-lines. Key to reducing speed is removing one auto lane in each direction.
Based on Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) research, lane reductions on streets similar to California Street reduce speeds and collisions without limiting auto throughput. California Street traffic counts from the City of Mountain View mirror the roads studied in the FHWA research making it an excellent candidate for lane reduction. The additional space will also allow implementation of further measures which reduce speed and improve the cyclist and pedestrian experience. These include shortened crosswalks with greater visibility; pedestrian-scale lighting to consistently illuminate the sidewalk; and street trees which visually narrow the road and shade pedestrians during warm weather. This will not only create a more welcoming environment for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders, but will also contribute to a safer, more livable, environmentally sustainable, and socially cohesive community.
Our vision of California Street reduces the number of automobile travel lanes from four to two with a shared turn lane for in the middle. This configuration affords space for wider sidewalks, corner bulbouts, and bicycles lane separated from car traffic. It also creates a more welcoming environment for walking and cycling and will calm automobile speeds.
How will traffic calming on California Street affect driving?
Traffic calming will make driving a safer and more pleasant experience. Currently, California Street’s excessive width and long uninterrupted sight-lines give the illusion that one can drive faster than the speed limit. Speeding vehicles get caught behind slower ones, creating dangerous conditions and causing traffic build-up and longer wait times at intersections. Traffic calming will strongly encourage all drivers to travel at the same speed of 30 miles per hour, creating smoother, less dense traffic flow.
How can you help?
Getting safety improvements on California Street will require effort by concerned citizens to voice their opinions to city leaders and decision-makers. There are many ways you can help: write emails to city leaders, attend and speak at meetings, sign online petitions, participate in or help plan events. You can also learn more about traffic calming, street design, city government and advocacy. For all this and more, please stay connected to Great Streets Mountain View: