Of Sharrows and Bulb-Outs

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of sharrows—and bulb-outs…

That last bit isn’t quite right, of course—I’ve rewritten it for my own purposes. (The entire text of The Walrus and The Carpenter, written by Lewis Carroll in 1872, can be found here.) But “sharrows” and “bulb-outs” sound like something right out of Lewis Carroll, don’t they? They are real enough, however, as I learned this week. Read on…

Some time ago our City Council instituted its Complete Streets initiative to ensure that “all city-owned and regional transportation systems are designed and operated to enable safe, attractive, comfortable, and independent access and travel for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit users of all ages and abilities.” Lately it has been implementing a number of projects that focus on this, particularly in the vicinity of our schools.

Back in 2014 the Hoover Safe Routes to School project was both awarded and completed. This project involved the reconstruction of a couple of intersections (such as the one at Stambaugh and Charter Streets) and the addition or reconstruction of a handful of mid-block crossings, like this one on Charter:


Here you can see how the street was made narrower in the area of the crosswalk. By pinching the traffic lanes in this way, pedestrians spend less time in the street itself. Too, the pinch gives drivers a solid clue as to a potential traffic hazard, and hopefully encourages them to slow down.

Something similar was done at the intersections:


This type of expanded sidewalk corner is known as a “bulb-out”, and because of their safety advantages you can expect to see more of them in select parts of Redwood City in the near future. As with the mid-block expansions, these corner bulb-outs minimize the amount of time the pedestrian is directly exposed to hazardous traffic and greatly improve the visibility of the pedestrian waiting to cross. A pedestrian standing at the tip of the bulb-out is at the level of or even beyond any parked cars, and so is much easier to see by a driver approaching the intersection.

Back in 2013 the city re-striped Brewster Avenue in the vicinity of Sequoia High School with an aim to protect pedestrians and cyclists, but that project was done primarily with paint: it reduced the number of traffic lanes, added a clearly marked “Class II” bike lane, and highlighted the crosswalks with both paint and signs. Here is what the once four-lane road alongside Sequoia High looks like these days:


Now the city plans take the next step: in May an agreement was signed with Golden Bay Construction for the new “Brewster Avenue Pedestrian Improvements Project” which will add “bulb-outs” to every corner from Arch Street to Fulton Street (including the intersection at Arch and Broadway). As well, the sidewalk is uneven in several places so those spots will be repaired. And the road (which, as you can see, is looking rather tired) will be resurfaced. The $1.5 million project should begin soon; expect it to take about 2-1/2 months.

According to the city’s project’s list, there is supposed to be a similar project on Hudson Street, but although the project was scheduled to run from June 2014 through May, 2015, no work has yet been done. I took a walk down Hudson the other day and could see no evidence of bulb-outs (which will be added at intersections from Roosevelt to Palm) or share-the-road signs and “sharrows”. Just what is a sharrow? Sharrows are share-the-road arrows painted on the street to tell drivers that they must share the lane with bicycles. The following picture shows one on Roosevelt:


These kinds of improvements should be coming to Hudson Street between Whipple Avenue to Woodside Road, along with improved pedestrian and bicycle signal access at the Jefferson Avenue intersection, plus a few additional ADA curb ramps. $530,000 of Measure A funds have been allocated to the project, and it has a “must be completed by” date of July 7, 2016 (or we lose the funding), so expect it to be done sometime over the next year.

Lest you think that the areas around Hoover Elementary and Sequoia High are the only Redwood City schools getting special attention, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority has allocated nearly a million dollars to a “Safe Routes to Schools” project for:

Design and construction of high-priority traffic control devices and traffic calming features in the vicinity of Adelante, Hawes, John Gill, Roosevelt and Roy Cloud schools including, curb extensions, high visibility crosswalks, ADA-compliant curb ramps, updated school area signage, stop signs, pavement markings, and bicycle markings for signal detection.

Again, you can expect to see these improvements around the named schools in the near future.

I mentioned earlier that Brewster Avenue was looking a bit weary. At least Brewster’s road surface is relatively smooth. Nearby Whipple Avenue isn’t faring nearly so well. If you drive it regularly (as I do) you know how bad this street has gotten. If you don’t, well, just look at it:


This heavily traveled street looks like this all the way from El Camino Real to Alameda de las Pulgas. It has been patched, as you can clearly see, but the patches aren’t holding up well and potholes and cracks are once again starting to open up. Fortunately, the City Council at its May 4th meeting awarded a contract for the re-paving of Whipple Avenue from El Camino Real to Upland Road (just west of Sequoia Hospital), plus Whipple from Veterans Boulevard to the east side of 101, plus the short stretch of Veterans between the Whipple off-ramp from 101 southbound to Whipple Avenue (the bit that takes you by the Subaru dealership and the Arco gas station).

Improving sidewalks, road crossings, and bike lanes is one way to encourage residents to take fewer, or at least shorter, trips in their cars. Another is to put the shopping close to where people live. The downtown residential projects make this happen for the people who live in them, but for those of us with single-family homes in the residential parts of the city, shopping trips downtown (or Sequoia Station, or Woodside Plaza, or whatever) just aren’t that easy without a car. For a while, some people living in my neck of the woods (in the vicinity of Sequoia Hospital) had a walkable alternative: Emerald Market, in the small shopping center at the corner of Oak Knoll Drive and Canyon Road. Unfortunately, the market closed some time ago, although Canyon Inn, Sancho’s Taqueria, Speederia Pizzeria and Canyon Coffee Roastery continue to do good business. Recently, however, the market started showing signs of life. Contractors have been busy, doing work on the building:


Just what are they up to? Well, it seems that the 7,600 square-foot market space is being divided up into four smaller spaces. The remodel will not exceed the existing building’s footprint, although new entrances are being added for the additional storefronts so the exterior look will change somewhat. Part of the building is still designated for a market, although it will be much smaller than it was, at just over 3,000 square feet. Of the three remaining spaces, the smallest will be an office of some sort while the other two will be restaurants. One of those will be named “Hilltop”; I’m pretty sure that it will take the slightly smaller 1,500-square-foot, 36-seat space. The other restaurant will be “Kaigan Sushi,” and I expect it to occupy the roughly 1,600 square-foot, 39-seat space. Due to its proximity I’m guessing that our Kaigan Sushi is related to the Kaigan Sushi on Laurel Street in San Carlos (I also found Kaigan Sushi restaurants in Benicia and Vallejo, but these apparently have different owners).

I’m hopeful that the owner of this center has a tenant in mind for the market. Now that the market has been cut to less than half of its former size, I don’t expect that it is the kind of place that my wife and I will go to when doing our weekly shopping, but when we need just a couple of common items—a quart of milk or a dozen eggs, say—it’d be great to have a nearby place that we can go to without necessarily having to drive. Now if only we could get sidewalks added to Oak Knoll (which lies outside of the city’s boundaries, and so isn’t required to have them) so I could walk safely to the new market…

I’m very glad that our leadership is working to make Redwood City a more pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly place. As I walk throughout the city I will personally benefit, of course, but the main beneficiaries will be the many elementary, middle, and high-school students who either walk or bike to school. And hopefully it’ll also encourage more Redwood City residents to leave their cars at home when heading downtown or going out to do some shopping. Wouldn’t that be great? All thanks to some sharrows and bulb-outs!

Speaking of making our city more pedestrian-friendly, recently (on May 4, actually) our City Council received a presentation on what it would take to make downtown Redwood City a “walkable city.” Just what is a walkable city? As those of us who attended that City Council meeting learned, it is a city where people can do most of their tasks—shopping, dining, entertaining, learning, and even in some cases, living—on foot, without the use of a car. At that meeting we were treated to a fascinating and, dare I say it, entertaining presentation on what is wrong with our current approach to traffic management and how we should be designing our cities so that they serve us better. Fortunately for all of us, the presentation was recorded; if you have any interest at all in the subject, I’d highly recommend that you watch the roughly one-hour presentation for yourself. (To do so, click the video link for the May 4 meeting on the City Council Meetings web page and then click item 9B—“Information Item on Streets that Work for Everyone”—in the mini-agenda below the video.)

Jeff Tumlin of Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates (the speaker) had a lot of great things to say. Among them, he noted that the housing that is going in downtown may well be the thing that brings retail back: although the people who work downtown aren’t enough to support most merchants, add in the folks that will live there, too, and there may just be enough demand to support a wider array of retail stores. And retailers are what we need now. We currently have a great set of restaurants, a good number and variety of entertainment venues, and some necessary services (banks, insurance agents, and the like) but we need a lot more retail stores to stand with the few we have down there today.

5 thoughts on “Of Sharrows and Bulb-Outs

  1. The Brewster work is nearing the end. An elm tree was cut down to make way for a bulb-out (initially I thought the term had something to do with street lighting) but no one sat in the tree in protest. In addition to the bulbs, some very bad and dangerous sidewalks were fixed, particularly the one next to the Methodist church. I give the project a thumbs up.

    • Thanks! I agree. I especially love that stuff they use that has bits of old tires in it (Palo Alto used it on El Camino). It makes for a noticeably quieter street.

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