Hillsdale Caltrain Station: An opportunity for a quick-build bicycle lanes pilot and pedestrian improvements at the 28th Avenue underpass.

Hillsdale Caltrain Station is strategically located in the midst of transit-oriented development. However, it faces major challenges to accommodating a safe pedestrian, bicycle, and transit-oriented road network. Currently sitting above a 4-lane road, the station needs enhanced access and safer bicycle/pedestrian connections. The June 30th feedback meeting is an opportunity to advocate for a better transit-oriented Hillsdale station.

Please register for and join a community feedback meeting 6 p.m. this Wednesday, June 30, to ensure 28th Avenue by the new Hillsdale Caltrain Station is accessible in a seamless manner to everyone, regardless of age, ability or how they choose to get to the station. Specifically, call for immediate protected bike lane quick-builds and pedestrian improvements. If you can’t attend the meeting, email your comments to publicworks@cityofsanmateo.org. Read for talking points.

The current plan, clunky at best, has a car-centric design and a series of multimodal accessibility issues, even though it is strategically located next to major transit-oriented developments such as Bay Meadows and shopping centers such as Hillsdale Shopping Center. The plans calling for moving bicyclists off the road to share one widened sidewalk with pedestrians for a short distance are concerning. Is this the best we can do? Your voice can make a difference.

The Hillsdale Caltrain Station reopened on April 26th, 2021, after being relocated a few blocks north as part of a broader grade separation project. The tracks have been elevated above ground level at 25th Avenue, 28th Avenue (above which the station is now located), and 31st Avenue in San Mateo. Now, east-west traffic on these avenues can flow underneath the trains, increasing safety and efficiency, connecting Bay Meadows to Hillsdale Shopping Center, and increasing East-West travel options.

Access Issues

The current underpass design is a 4-lane road on 28th Avenue, even though 28th Avenue on either side of the underpass is a two-lane road. This design adversely affects a variety of road users. It invites higher speeds and more congestion near a major transit station that sees significant pedestrian and bicycle activity, makes it dangerous for pedestrians to cross the roadway, and creates many conflict points for bikers as they navigate the underpass. While the sidewalks are wide for most of the length of the underpass, they narrow as they near Delaware Street.

Pedestrian Crossings

Currently, there are two places for pedestrians to cross 28th Avenue at street level – at El Camino Real and at Delaware Street. This means that anyone who would like to cross between the parking lots or station entrances from 28th Avenue must walk over 700’ or .2 mile. As shown in the pictures, even parents with small children aren’t choosing to do that.
In the pictures below, you can see pedestrians running across the street while avoiding 4 lanes of high-speed traffic.

Pedestrians Running Across 28th Ave
Underpass With Traffic
28th Avenue under the station, looking east towards Delaware Street. The nearest crossing at Delaware Street is just out of sight of the station entrance. Pedestrians would need to go far out of their way in order to cross the street at a marked crosswalk, or walk up stairs to the station and then descend a long and winding ramp.
Hillsdale Station_west
Looking west from the station towards El Camino, the other nearest pedestrian crossing. One lane of traffic is coned off for sharrow installation in the eastbound direction. A pilot road diet would temporarily repurpose one lane of traffic in each direction as a protected bike lane, and a traffic study could determine the final design after the other crossings at 25th Avenue and 28th Avenue are opened, and traffic returns to “normal.”

Bicycle Safety – Current Sharrows and Planned Shared Use Path

Not only does a wider roadway invite higher speeds as seen in the video, but having three lanes in one direction at the intersection forces cars to switch lanes to make a turn, putting them in conflict with bikes on the roadway.

The City of San Mateo’s 2020 Bicycle Master Plan Update included projects adjacent to the station to take advantage of the 28th Ave grade separation – new Bike Boulevards connecting Bay Meadows to the east with Beresford-Hillsdale to the west. Currently, 28th Ave from El Camino Real to Delaware has Class III sharrows, and the plan is to construct a separate Class I shared use path to connect the bike boulevards on East & West 28th Avenues. Further information on the plans may be shared at the June 30th meeting.

This shared path would have 2-way bike traffic on the northside sidewalk of 28th Avenue and sharrows on-street. Downsides of this approach:

  • Cyclists would have to choose between sharing space with pedestrians, where volumes of each are expected to be high, or sharing space with high-speed vehicle traffic on the 4-lane road itself
  • There would need to be special measures to connect cyclists on and off the existing on-road bike facilities. All bikes looking to use the shared use path would need to wait at the adjacent, signalized intersections to cross to the shared use path, potentially adding minutes of travel time.
  • There is a missing crosswalk on the north leg of the ECR/28th Avenue intersection, which requires crossing 3 legs of the intersection to continue to the west from the path or sets up a potential conflict with vehicles turning right from 28th Ave to NB El Camino Real
  • For cyclists who are just passing through and are not going to/from the station – many won’t cross the street twice to get on a path for such a short distance. They will continue on the roadway, sharing the lane with large volumes of traffic, traveling at high speeds.

Station Access

Station access is difficult, especially south of 28th Avenue.

Station Map at Hillsdale
It is difficult to access the bus stops (blue) from the orange-bounded area due to tricky geography, and fencing that funnels all pedestrian and bike traffic to 28th Avenue or a parking lot. There is a lack of wayfinding signage at the surface level of the station as well.
Michael's Parking Lot-Hillsdale
The Michael’s parking lot could be connected directly to the station entrance. Instead, it is fenced off, prohibiting access and making anyone who would like to reach El Camino have to walk thousands of extra feet to reach major destinations such as Hillsdale shopping center.

The City of San Mateo and Caltrain need to immediately prioritize bicycle and pedestrian safety. Join the meeting to call for a multimodal road diet with a protected bike lane quick build pilot on the 28th avenue underpass, as well as a mid-block crosswalk at the station entrance to accommodate observed pedestrian patterns. 28th Ave is currently the only connection between Bay Meadows and the neighborhoods west of El Camino Real. We can make this link safe for all by prioritizing pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. It is imperative to make the experience more seamless for pedestrians, bikes, and folks connecting from Caltrain to SamTrans.

Some more talking points below:

  • According to the 2020 Bicycle Master Plan (see definitions on page 20) bicycle routes should be used on streets with 3000 vehicles per day or less – maintaining the existing design for 28th Avenue between ECR and Delaware all but guarantees the traffic volumes will be over 3000 vehicles per day.
  • We can and should pilot high-quality, on-street protected bike lanes and do the traffic study to evaluate alternatives when the new railroad crossings are opened and traffic is back to “normal.” This will allow for immediate improvements that can be reversed if the need truly arises. This idea has the support of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC).
  • San Mateo does not need to do lengthy environmental review to implement a quick-build pilot that doesn’t increase vehicle capacity. The city can pilot a road diet to make room for protected bicycle lanes. In the absence of viable alternatives for people riding bicycles, this can be implemented immediately.
  • In order to accommodate a protected bike lane
    • Give this undercrossing a multimodal “road diet” – upgrade the Class III “sharrow” road lanes to Class IV protected bike lanes or buffered bike lanes by converting the curbside travel lanes to bike lanes and at the intersections, convert the through lanes to shared through-right lanes
  • Benefits include:
    • Making a 2021 train station next to transit-oriented development convenient and accessible for people walking and riding bikes/scooters
    • Reducing car trips to reduce congested traffic, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce VMT
    • Non-car access should be the highest priority in this transit-oriented area
  • Other ways to improve multi-modal access to the new Hillsdale Station
    • Widen the sidewalk on the Southern sidewalk of 28th Avenue
    • Provide a midblock crosswalk across 28th Avenue with rectangular rapid flashing beacons
    • Add a marked crosswalk for the north leg of the 28th/ECR intersection
    • Shift bike parking to the station entrances
    • Open access between the southern parking lot and the dead-end streets at Derby and Curiosity Way to shorten the distances to get from the station to Bay Meadows offices and housing
    • Add protected bicycle intersections at ECR and Delaware
    • Open access between the Michael’s parking lot and El Camino Real to improve station connectivity
    • Install bike ramps to make it easier to walk bikes up the stairs, but faster than using the ramp at the north end of the station
Bike ramp
An example of a bike ramp that could be quickly implemented on stairs at the station
Narrow sidewalk_Hillsdale
The sidewalk is narrow on the southern side of 28th Avenue, near a busy station. The sidewalk could be widened, and a protected bike lane added, by implementing a road diet.
An example of a protected bike intersection in San Jose. The design provides more room for bikes and pedestrians while reducing vehicle turning speeds and increasing sight distance.

Additional Context provided by Adam Loraine and Jessica Manzi