In San Mateo County, a new transportation specialist has begun working to promote alternatives to driving that aim to reduce traffic and improve the health of both residents and the environment.
Ellen Barton, the county’s new active transportation coordinator, comes to the Peninsula by way of northern Washington state, where she worked to increase bicycle usage at a regional transportation planning organization.
In her new role, Barton works to steer funding toward sustainable transport projects and coordinate infrastructure development across different cities, and she serves as a public liaison and outreach organizer on all alternatives to driving, which include not only walking and biking but also traveling by skateboard, scooter and wheelchair.
“Active transportation will succeed if it encourages people who don’t currently walk or bicycle to try it,” Barton said. Approximately half of the trips most people make each day are less than 3 miles long, Barton noted.
“These short trips, when they’re on level terrain, are ideal for bicycling,” she said. “Short trips are faster on a bike than on a bus, and can be faster than driving when it’s hard to find a parking space.”
Barton is supportive of measures such as the construction of safe and comfortable paths, sidewalks, crosswalks and bus stops to benefit existing cyclists and pedestrians and provide attractive new options for people who usually drive.
Several San Mateo cities have already adopted resolutions supporting Complete Streets program initiatives to create roadways that can accommodate multiple transport modes.
Municipal road funds are often used to make bicycle and pedestrian improvements during routine repairs, but there are also federal and state grants available, according to Barton.
The county’s Comprehensive Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan aims broadly to close gaps in the regional bike network and add a variety of trails, signage, bike-lane striping and bridges throughout the Peninsula.
Current proposals include highway overcrossings for pedestrians and bicycles in East Palo Alto and the Hillsdale area of San Mateo, as well as street improvements along Old County Road and the Ralston corridor in Belmont. Caltrans has also approved designs for new bike lanes that are protected from cars, which are common in some European countries.
“Research shows that the way to increase bicycling is to get more women bicycling. Protected cycle paths attract new women riders, often with children,” Barton said. Only 18 percent of San Mateo County cyclists are women, while the national average is 25 percent.
A big part of Barton’s job will also be to get the word out about new projects once they are completed.
“Promotion of the existing infrastructure is as important as construction itself: if people don’t know a trail exists, it essentially doesn’t exist for them,” she said.