The Highway 87 Bike Path

Since shortly after we moved downtown, Peter has been biking to his offices downtown a few times a week via the Highway 87 Bike Path, which is paved, but mostly off-road. I’ve been intrigued by it, and I finally had a chance to bike it myself on Saturday, while Peter stayed home with the children.

Frankly, going from Peter’s descriptions of the path, and my own expectations, I was expecting something a lot worse than what I encountered. Peter described inexplicably confusing on- and off-ramps, overgrown paths, hilly sections, isolated-from-all-view sections, trucks intent on murdering bicyclists, and clueless pedestrians. That was all there, but I superimposed my mountain biking experiences on to that. In mountain biking, even the easiest trails have several 45-degree mountains that go on forever; rutted, rocky roads; fallen trees that you either have to jump over with your bike, or get off your bike and climb over (or under) while carrying your bike; slippery, narrow switchbacks; lumbering backpackers; and lanes one tire-width wide. By those expectations, the ride was amazingly easy, and it turned out Peter was emphasizing the worst of the ride just so I would be properly prepared.

The bike path ends and restarts in several residential sections, and we happen to be lucky enough to live right between two sections of the bike path. Getting onto the off-road section required a short ride across Capitol Expressway, passing the freeway onramp, and going a block further where the path picked up midway along a street via a cut in a the sidewalk.

The section between Hillsdale and the Curtner light rail station was a dream: almost level (at least by mountain biker standards!) it parallels the freeway. It started to descend, and thanks to Peter’s warning I slowed down instead of giving into the temptation to pop right out onto the street that I could coast down further downhill, I stopped and looked for traffic. According to Peter, this is the location of the murderous truck driver who roars up and down the hill to frighten the wits out of innocent bikers.

Peter had given me clear directions on how to get from this section of the bike path and on to the next, and without them, I would have assumed the bike path had ended altogether. There are no bike lanes, no signage, and you are likely to find yourself right in the middle of traffic beside (and even in between!) cars that are speeding up to get onto the freeway. As it is, you have to bike around the light rail station, under the freeway, and then follow cars towards the freeway until you find a weedy curb cut and take it in.

Peter’s not particularly fond of the section of the bike path between Curtner and Willow, in particular it runs between the CalTrain tracks and the freeway, and sometimes the curves and dips make for no or little visibility. There are also high weeds along the sides. At one point, the weeds are blocking one of the lanes in the bike path, but there was still plenty of room get around them without having to slow down. I was somewhat delighted by a crossing that lets commuters cross from the light rail station to the Cal-Train station. Peter had warned me to slow down to watch out for pedestrians (in fact I’ve done this crossing and never knew I was crossing a bike path), and I peeked into the Cal-Train station, which looked posh and empty. So I kind of liked this section because it was interesting, and sometimes fast because of the dips, but it’s probably more annoying to a bicycling commuter who just wants a ride without hassle or worry.

This portion of the trail ends in a cute Mexican neighborhood by Willow Street. It’s so cute, you really feel like pausing there for a moment to buy a soda at the little convenience store, or have some tamales at the little restaurant. Per Peter’s directions, I turned left at the chuch and biked down a row of pretty houses to the end of the road, where an entrance on the side of a gate put me on the Guadalupe River trail.

The Guadalupe River Trail is almost a maze with a lot of dead ends, but I followed Peter’s advice and just ramped up right into downtown, biked past Discovery Meadow and got onto San Carlos Street. I can’t judge on how many more people are biking instead of driving these days, but the bike rack by the Camera 12 Cinema where I parked my bike was quite popular on this Saturday morning:

Biking home was more eventful, because Peter had only described the trip up to me. I biked onto the Guadalupe River Trail early, took a wrong turn and ran into a dead end. A kindly homeless man who was bedding down under bridge (yes, a kindly homeless man!) gave me directions on how to get to the west side of the river, where the trail does not dead end. Even so, took it too far and had to bike up and around the Children’s Discovery Museum and down to cross the street across from a parking lot to pick up the section that would take me to Willow Street.

And the section around the Curtner Light Rail station was even more awful going back. Bad signage had me going up two wrong roads, until finally I found the road of the murderous truck driver (who was helpfully roaring up the road just then.) It had lots of “dead end,” “private property,” and “no trespassing” signs on it, but you still have to bike up the nasty grade covered in glass and dirt to get onto the bike path again.

Peter’s wondered who he’d call to get problems, such as the overgrown weeds, taken care of, but I told him the path is kind of a public orphan. Our local public transportation agency knows about it, and puts it on maps, but they say it belongs to the City of San Jose. The City of San Jose, on the other hand, always seems surprised to discover it has a bike path south of the Guadalupe River Trail. Personally, I’m just glad it’s there. It was fast, easy, and fun (except for the section by Curtner) to get downtown, and more rewarding in its results than mountain biking. In a way, I wish Kelly could still ride with me, so I could do it more often, but hopefully she’ll be ready for independent city biking in a few years. As it is, I think I’ll start doing the route when I can just for a fun ride and an outing downtown.

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