Blossom Hill Elementary, Van Meter Elementary and Fisher Middle School students can frequently be seen traveling along Shannon Road on their way to school.

Much of the route doesn’t have sidewalks, and some residents have reported cars racing along at unsafe speeds.

On Oct. 19, the Los Gatos Town Council considered three options to improve a stretch of Shannon Road—between Cherry Blossom Lane and Los Gatos Boulevard.

This portion was previously identified as an area of need in the Town’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. Local officials have been considering the best type of multi-use path for the street, and have been soliciting feedback from community members for months.

Los Gatos already has $980,100 in federal money (a Vehicle Emissions Reductions Based at Schools grant) to put toward what was originally going to be a $1.3 million project.

But the Town has been refining its designs, making things a bit more expensive.

During the public hearing, residents raised a variety of issues, including about on-street parking and access for delivery vehicles on Shannon Road. (file photo)

Originally, the Town was looking at installing a Class 1 path along the north side of the road, but later determined that wouldn’t be the best plan. This would’ve been much too costly and might’ve introduced safety concerns, staff reported to Council.

A Class 1 bikeway would provide a completely separated right-of-way for the exclusive use of bicycles and pedestrians with crossflows by motorists minimized.

This sentiment was further echoed by public speakers during the Oct. 19 Council meeting, who worried about delivery vehicles not having a place to park, difficulties entering or exiting their driveway or leading to bunched-up parking along side-streets.

Two plans were prepared by ActiveWayz Engineering, under a $200,000 design contract.

The first concept was for a conventional sidewalk with Class 2 bike lanes on both sides of Shannon Road. That would involve painted areas and signs marking out bike lane areas, but no physical barriers. There would be on-street parking on the south side of Shannon Road, but none on the north side. This option had an estimated cost of $1.8 million.

Concept 2 proposed a 7-foot-wide street-grade sidewalk and Class 4 bike lanes that would include raised concrete curbs and median islands.

The plan would allow for on-street parking on the north side of the street, and bike lanes on both sides of the street in some sections.

The concepts were evaluated by the Complete Streets and Transportation Commission Aug. 12. Commissioners voted to support concept 2, noting they liked the protected nature of Class 4 bike lanes.

“However, later, staff had to explain that concept 2 may not be feasible, due to its high construction estimate of $2.9 million, which is well over the current project of $1.3 million,” said Town Engineer WooJae Kim.

A community group provided input about what life is like on Shannon Road, during the Oct. 19 meeting. (presentation slide)

Staff mailed out about 530 postcards for the first community meeting, held Aug. 25.

At that time, residents urged planners to focus on the safety of children, and suggested on-street parking wasn’t a priority, Kim said.

The design team took that feedback and came up with a third concept. This plan would have conventional sidewalks, Class 4 bike lanes and green bollards to provide a more secure space for children to travel along. It came with an estimated cost of $1.9 million.

“However, this option would drastically restrict on-street parking on Shannon Road,” he said.

Class 4 bike lanes with green bollards have already been installed on Blossom Hill Road, west of Los Gatos Boulevard, with more going in on Winchester Boulevard.

Several community members said they didn’t like the way bollards look, expressed displeasure with the loss of parking and suggested some of the design concepts represented a solution in search of a problem.

In an email, Jimmy Yip shared such feelings.

“My family and I live on Shannon Road and we are supportive of the impending road project,” he wrote. “These posts are very unsightly and there is also no evidence that we have seen which shows any improvement in biker’s safety.”

During the public hearing, a woman who lives on Shannon Road—and said her husband rides his bike to work every day—commented that some of the local bollards look “crummy” and have been knocked down.

“We really dislike the way that the bollards appear,” she said. “I think it will discourage people from wanting to be on the road. Because it’s not pleasant to be in an area that looks more commercial—and not a green area.”

Speaking during the public comment portion of Council, Gillian Verga, the vice chair of Complete Streets, said Town staff has been making adjustments to their plans based on what community members have been saying.

“The designs are not final,” she said. “They will be continuing to take feedback from the community.”

The group would really like to see some physical separation between the modes of transportation, for safety sake, she noted.

“The commission felt that option 3 was the best option,” she said, “because it provides a buffer between walking and biking, and the cars.”

Many residents were supportive of the plan to improve their street, but some said traffic isn’t too bad. (file photo)

If the bollards or other barriers aren’t installed there could be serious problems.

“It’s very likely that you’ll have vehicles, such as delivery trucks, parked in the bike lane,” she said. “That essentially makes the bike lane unusable.”

Councilmember Maria Ristow, an avid cyclist, said it’s important to build infrastructure that encourages people who may not currently bike to school to be able to feel safe doing so.

Ristow, who previously served on Complete Streets, said the committee’s goals are both safety and shifting people away from using vehicles.

“The biggest self-inflicted traffic issues we have in this town is around schools—it’s drop-off and pick-up,” she said. “I feel an obligation to look toward the future, if we’re going to talk about adding a couple thousand houses in the next 8, 10, 20 years.”

Ristow said she was “mostly sympathetic” about the aesthetic concerns. She noted that residents on Shannon Road have driveways and garages to handle parking issues, adding there are areas for people to park around each corner.

“I really have a hard time prioritizing street storage of vehicles over hundreds or thousands of cyclists or pedestrians,” she said. “For that reason, I move to approve option 3, with the change that we do not put bollards in, and that we leave a decision towards any type of delineator for another time.”

The motion also supported a staff-recommended funding strategy to pull $960,000 from various infrastructure pots of money in the budget.

Councilmember Matthew Hudes seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].