On Thursday, March 17, a 13-year-old student at Graham Middle School died at the intersection of El Camino Real and Grant Road. He died on the street that has consistently killed and injured the most people in the city for the past decade. The project to add bike lanes on El Camino Real, despite being in the works for years, did nothing to help him because it is still just a plan. And that plan, in the name of avoiding even the slightest inconvenience to car drivers, will still not provide concrete separation of the bike lanes along all of El Camino Real because to do so would require encroaching somewhat onto the 6-8 lanes given over to cars.
On June 12, 2012, William Ware was killed waiting at a bus stop on California Street. The road diet galvanized by his death, and multiple other deaths in the preceding years, has yet to come to fruition a decade later.
On December 10, 2019, the Mountain View City Council passed a Vision Zero policy saying that we would eliminate traffic fatalities in the city by 2030. Thus far, that policy has resulted in no direct changes to our streets. The most recent update is that there will be a community meeting on March 24, where presumably the public will have the chance to hear about how safe our streets will be eight years from now and be given the chance to express that, indeed, we do not wish for ourselves or our children to be killed because Mountain View’s roads are built to give precedence to speeding drivers.
On March 16, 2020, Santa Clara County issued a shelter-in-place order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Just three months later, on June 22, 2020, Castro Street in downtown Mountain View was shut down to car traffic to help ease the burdens of struggling downtown businesses. This was, and remains, the right call. However, it is a clear indictment of our values as a city that, when the bottom line for a few businesses is on the line we are happy to take rapid and drastic action, but that when the lives of our children are on the line, we subject the slightest improvement to a decade of process.
This deadly perpetuation of the status quo is not inevitable. As in the case of the Castro Street closure, it is within the power of the city to make changes quickly. We already know what streets are unsafe — past efforts by the city have even made prioritized lists of what streets to improve. And in 2020, the state legislature reduced legal barriers to building bike lanes for exactly this purpose. If our City Council so wishes, it can ask city staff to start working on building out an ad hoc network of protected bike lanes on our streets using whatever tools are available — whether that be concrete barriers, planters or even traffic cones. If we want to, there is no good reason that we can’t have set up well-protected bike lanes on every major street in the city’s control by the time that school lets out for the summer in June.
Doing this will mean taking a lane away from cars on some multi-lane roads, and may make it marginally harder to park in places where we have to remove on-street parking. But if that is the tradeoff required to allow our children to get to school without dying, I’ll take it.
James Kuszmaul has been a Mountain View resident since 1998 and lives in the Willowgate neighborhood.