In some of my previous Trail Topics I’ve mentioned that planners can use specific trails to improve user experience both on the trail in question and on related routes. I’d like to expand on this idea and provide some data to illustrate the point. I’ve submitted a comment online and directly to staff to provide more details on the topic.
By understanding the preferences of various classes of users, we can design trail systems so the traffic is directed to achieve specific goals. Mountain bikers will usually choose narrower, winding, and longer trails. Hikers may often choose more direct routes to a destination. For example on St. Joseph’s Hill, most hikers take the direct route to the top, as they may be constrained on time or the distance they can hike.
The Serpentine Trail at St. Joe’s is one of a very few bike-legal narrow trails in Los Gatos. It’s only two tenths of a mile long, but cyclists often plan their routes around it. This winding path through a manzanita grove is great in either direction. While sight lines could be improved, the twists and turns, moderate grades, and grade reversals serve to control speed. For most cyclists it’s difficult to exceed the speed limit on this trail.
We can estimate the cyclists’ preference using online data as there’s a road segment of similar length that connects between the beginning and end of Serpentine Trail. Cyclists have taken five times as many trips down Serpentine as compared to that equivalent road segment on Manzanita. In reality the preference is probably stronger, as people who are new to the preserve might take some time to understand their options. My own usage is almost 100% on Serpentine Trail.
With Measure AA where new trails and even whole systems are planned, this can be an important tool for improving user experience. A problem at St. Joseph’s Hill, Windy Hill and in the Bear Creek phase 2 plan is that all the bike traffic is routed down the steepest roads. Building just one good trail to take bikes downhill could remove the large majority of high speed traffic on more direct routes that other users may prefer.In my opinion this is relevant to the question of E-bikes as well. One of the major lessons of the e-bike impact study is that the challenges related to E-bikes aren’t really unique – they are mostly challenges brought on by increasing popularity of cycling, and the best solutions would likely be similar. E-bikes or not, the particular tool I’m proposing here – using purpose-built trails to direct traffic – can be a very effective design technique, and it’s entirely feasible given Measure AA funding.
These comments were provided to the Midpen Board of Directors during the public comment portion of their February 8, 2022 meeting.