What’s the trick to Garden Hill Drive in Los Gatos?

I don’t know the town of Los Gatos, CA, so I’m starting to explore it. I don’t have a full-on “Ride Every Road” project in mind for Los Gatos, but I’m hitting all of the arterials and collectors. Riding unfamiliar roads in an unfamiliar city really enable me to see how the newbie cyclist might get frustrated with the practical reality of getting from Point A to B.

Take for example, Garden Hill Drive at Lark Avenue. As far as I can tell, there is no legal way for a cyclist to make a left turn from Garden Hill Drive.


Here’s the Google Streetview for this location, looking northeast from Garden Hill Dr across Lark Avenue to the Highway 17 ramp. I want to turn left from here.

I sit with my bike on the traffic detection loop through a light cycle, and no joy. I then lay my bike completely flat on the ground to maximize the area of my wheel exposed to the induction current, and still no luck. Those fun “NO PED CROSSING / USE CROSSWALK” signs directing pedestrians to find the crosswalk on the other side of the highway prohibit crossing at this location. There is literally no legal way for a cyclist to make a left turn across Lark Avenue at this location, as far as I can tell.

I have two legal options:

  • Walk my bike 100 yards contraflow on the narrow sidewalk on Lark to the crosswalk at Oka Road. (Sidewalk cycling is illegal in most of Los Gatos, and this sidewalk seems popular for joggers and dog walkers.)
  • Make a right on Lark, merge across four lanes of fast and very busy traffic to the left side of a double left turn lane as I share the road with everybody merging onto and off of Highway 17, then pull a U-turn. This procedure takes a half mile and four minutes of waiting at lights at two intersections.

With infrastructure like this that practically invites lawbreaking behavior, it’s no wonder so many cyclists and pedestrians skirt the rules just so we can cross the street and get to our destination.

Bad Boys on Lark Ave Los Gatos

Maybe locals know the secret way to bypass this spot. Yes, I now know I can backtrack a mile to the Los Gatos Creek Trail, but I arrived at this intersection after failing to find the trailhead, and who wants to backtrack an extra mile on foot?

For those more familiar with the town of Los Gatos, is there a better way from Garden Hill Road?

The Los Gatos Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission seems fairly active and effective in obtaining grant funding. Does anyone know if they track traffic light fails like this? Since southbound Highway 17 dumps out onto Lark at this intersection, this is likely a Caltrans controlled traffic signal, which means dealing with Caltrans D4.


  1. I have the same problem turning left onto Johnson from Prospect in San Jose:

    There are bike lanes along both streets, but the left turn signal doesn’t detect bikes. There isn’t even a crosswalk on the far side! Children use this route to access three different schools and once I witnessed two of them almost get creamed while riding on the sidewalk.

    So, who do you contact to get this type of problem fixed?

  2. The sign says no U turn, but there is no sign that says no left turn. I don’t believe the lack of a left turn arrow prohibits left turns. I believe they would need to put a no left turn allowed sign in order to prohibit that, like the one at Highland Oaks Drive.

    Even though the east side of the intersection prohibits a ped crossing, the west side does not, and appears to be is an unmarked crosswalk. If they don’t want you to walk across on the west side then they need to put put up another no ped crossing sign on the west side. The east side signs don’t count for the west side. You can not ride this unmarked crosswalk though. Would need to be walked.

    I don’t think they are making it illegal to cross here or turn left, they are just making it unnecessarily vague, difficult, and dangerous by leaving out certain infrastructure.

    To asses an induction loop, wait until there is no traffic on both sides, place the wheel directly over one of the side cuts the road, then record the time. Laying the bike down or tilting it should not be a requirement for demonstrating that the signal is not working. If a car shows up on the opposite side or behind you too soon, then you need to start over. If you are not sure how long you should be waiting, wait until a car shows up going in your direction, then time how long it take the car to trigger the light, If you determine the signal does not pick you up, then email LG parks and public works at ppw@losgatosca.gov and give them the street name, intersection, direction of travel, and how you tested the loop. There should be no need to go through the BPAC for this. Be sure to go back and test the loop later on to see if its fixed.

    Lark is unusual and out of character for LG. It uses elements borrowed from expressways, and every aspect seems geared to discourage anyone from crossing it. Note the North Forty Specific plan was approved June 17th. To appease neighborhood concerns over increased traffic, this plan contain LOS driven design changes to lark and LGB which will further discourage and endanger people trying to cross it. For example, they want to funnel pedestrians to cross Lark at the highway 17 east side off/on ramps. If you track ped fatalities you know that a freeway on/off ramp is probably the most dangerous of all places to put an unsignalized crosswalk, and will scare many people away from attempting the crossing. Frankly, this is just leading cattle to the slaughter. This was “mitigation” for not putting a ped signal crossing at Highland Oaks Drive, across from a future North Forty entrance, which would have provided easy safe 8 to 80 access to parks, schools and shopping for North Forty residents. Currently Highland Oaks Drive is an unmarked crosswalk, but will have the no ped crossing signs put up to prevent North Forty residents from crossing there. These VMT increasing changes will of course likely just zero out their attempts at improving LOS. Unfortunately, I don’t know if the new VMT reduction rules will arrive in time to potentially save the Highland Oaks Drive crossing.

  3. I doubt this traffic signal is operated and maintained by Caltrans. Caltrans may ‘own’ the signal but they usually contract out the operation to the local authority, because they know best about local capacity.

    But I had no idea parks and public works in LG is one dept. That’s interesting.

  4. Something else I noticed was that Google Maps shows a LG creek trail spur going to Arroyo Grande Way beside Lark. The right of way seems big enough, but the path does not exist. Its just a normal sidewalk, illegal to ride on in LG.

    Google maps tries to bike route you down this imaginary path though. It makes it look like a snap to get from the Arroyo Grande neighborhood to the LG creek trail under-crossing of Lark, but actually its a 12 min detour requiring backtracking to Vasona first.

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