Bicycle Highway 17?

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Friday, September 11, 2009
By Yokota Fritz


Riding a bicycle on California Route 17 over the Santa Cruz Mountains is legal between Los Gatos and Scotts Valley, but in no way do I recommend trying to share the road on this highway. You're sharing the road with very heavy high speed traffic which is often moving well beyond the 50 mph speed limit. There are significant stretches with no shoulder and sketchy road edges; many of these narrow lanes are around blind curves.

Even the most aggressively hard core of lane taking vehicular cyclists in the Bay Area will tell you to avoid Highway 17 and take alternate routes. I occasionally see cyclists between Bear Creek Road along Lexington Reservoir and Highway 9 in Los Gatos, but even here I strongly recommend the Los Gatos Greek Trail to Alma Bridge Road to the dirt trail to Old Santa Cruz Highway. As I type this on the northbound Hwy 17 bus we just passed a cyclist pulling a trailer by The Cats.

The cyclists I most often see on 17 seem to be loaded for touring. Is there a bike touring map or guide somewhere that says to take 17 to Santa Cruz?

I saw a report of a bicyclist last night during rush hour of a cyclist on southbound 17. Here are the CHP dispatches:
 5:33PM  BICYCLIST ON RHS, APPEARS SCARED, IN BAD SPOT
5:33PM FSP17 ADV SUBJ IS IN BAD SPOT
6:20PM FSP17 L/L SVPD 10-97 W/FSP SVPD REQ ETA
6:40PM 17B / PROVIDING TFC BREAK TO ASSIST BICYCLIST TO NEXT TURN OUT
6:41PM 17B / REQ FSP RUN BREAK AT VINE HILL

"FSP17" is the courtesy towing service, SVPD is the Scotts Valley Police Department, Vine Hill Road is on the final downhill into Scotts Valley, where the speed limit is 65 MPH and there's little to no shoulder. The Scotts Valley PD ended up providing an escort to the cyclist to the Granite Creek Road exit.

Avoid Highway 17 on your bike. Take Old Santa Cruz Highway instead, or ride the Highway 17 bus.


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Comments:
I commuted between Santa Cruz and Silicon Valley for a number of years, and would agree that Highway 17 should NEVER be ridden by a bicyclist, regardless of experience. If it's legal to do it, that just shows the idiocy of those who make those laws.

And a helmet isn't going to help when the cyclist wearing it is hit at 60mph by a girl texting as she drives those corners. Or the distracted tourist. Or the tired and/or frustrated commuter. Or the car load of day partiers at the beach.
 
I don't know the history of why it's legal to bike along 17. It might have something to do with its designation has a county expressway, at least on the Santa Clara side of the summit.

Also, the alternate routes have a tendency to wash out in the winter -- Old Santa Cruz Hwy, for example, was washed out right at the San Andreas Fault line for a few years until it was finally repaired last year. There might a law or state policy that bikes can't be legally prohibited from a road if it's the only access to a destination. That's why bikes are permitted on some stretches of I-5, even where the shoulders disappear on bridges around (for example) Shasta Lake.

It's foolish to ride your bike on 17, but I would strongly oppose any change to the law. If an earthquake occurs and all transit service is suspended, I'd be riding my bike over 17 to get home to my family.
 
Riding a bike on Highway 17 would be nothing less than suicidal. When I lived in SC I used to love driving that road late at night when there were no cars. Couldn't even imagine riding a bike there. Nutz!
 
When I first took up road cycling and was young and invincible, I rode a small section of highway 17. I was riding from Almaden to Scotts Valley for an overnight, which for me at the time was a nearly impossible distance as it was. I was not aware of the dirt track along the west side of Lexington, nor the Alma Bridge/Old Santa Cruz possibility.

Anyhoo, I rode uphill from downtown Los Gatos to the Bear Creek Road exit. I have never been so scared in all my life on the bike. I just hadn't been riding long enough and didn't know the area well enough to make a better decision. I'm thankful to have survived my little adventure.
 
I'm not even comfortable driving on 17. In the morning when it's a little foggy - sheesh.
 
...jeez...absolutely inconceivable to ride hwy 17...

...dunno the stats but that's gotta be one of nor-cals most dangerous stretches of road just because of sheer volume of motor vehicle traffic, the twisty nature of the road itself & the high speeds incurred...
...always been a lotta accidents on that roadway...

...quite unanimous here, huh ???...every one of us who are familiar w/ 17 are effusive to the point of horrror..."oh my god...no, don't ride that one !!!"...& w/ good reason...
 
I appreciate all the voice of experience in the comments. I posted this in the hopes that I can save somebody else the trouble in case they happen to search for this kind of information.
 
How about just avoid 17, period. I hate Hwy 17.
 
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