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Category Archives: Issues & Infrastructure

Think Bike, Like the Dutch Think Bike

Have you ever wondered how different your city’s streets would be if they were designed in the Netherlands, where 30% of the people use bikes every day? Well, if you’re in San Jose you can hear firsthand the changes Dutch transportation experts would recommend at the upcoming Think Bike Workshop San José.

Next week, the Dutch Cycling Assembly will join city staff and other transportation and urban planners in a two-day workshop focused on downtown San Jose. The event includes opening and closing sessions that are open to the public. I plan to attend the closing session on Tuesday night. Having spent several days bicycling in Amsterdam last year, I’m curious to hear how they’d change our local streets.

Amsterdam is famous for its extensive system of cycletracks and a population of all ages that rides them rain or shine, summer and winter. Almost everyone takes a bike for some of their trips. The evidence is everywhere. I couldn’t take a photo in Amsterdam without getting bikes in the background. Not that I wanted to.

So what will the team recommend for San Jose? Will it be more separated bike lanes like the new ones on 4th Street? Will it be corner islands for two-stage left turns at busy intersections? Maybe bike-only signal phases?

One thing I learned is that the Dutch solution is not just about cyclepaths and bike signals. It’s also about going slower in shared spaces and giving way to more vulnerable users, not strict separation. Watch the video I shot below to see how everyone–on foot, on bikes, in cars and trams–gets through this busy intersection safely.

Do you think would be possible in your town or city? Or is it just a crazy Dutch thing?

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure

 

Bike Path FAIL? Chicanes on the Stevens Creek Trail

Sometimes a longed for bike improvement comes with something unexpected. For years, bicyclists had to hop a curb to enter or exit the Steven Creek Trail at Evelyn Avenue in Mountain View. When the city finally installed a nice wide curb cut, they also installed chicane fences and a directive to “walk your bike.” Among the local bicycle advocates, some cried foul, others defended it, and some like me are left pondering on the fence.

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What do you think? Are widely spaced chicane fences appropriate where a bike trail meets a 35 mph road?

Location: Steven’s Creek Trail at W Evelyn Avenue, Mountain View, California, USA.

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Bike Lane FAIL

 

How Bike Friendly Is Your City? Ask the Census

If gold is luxurious and platinum is even more precious, what’s next? Diamond, of course. Last week, the League of American Bicyclists added a new “Diamond” designation to their Bicycle-Friendly Community program, which recognizes communities that actively promote bicycling. With communities like Portland, Boulder and Davis having achieved Platinum years ago, it was time for the League to expand the challenge.

The program evaluates communities on the five E’s: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation, and gives awards from Bronze to Diamond. But how effective is the rating? My city achieved Bronze, the same as my hometown of Baton Rouge. But no one would say they’re equally bike-friendly.

Most of Baton Rouge’s neighborhoods are isolated by fast roads with no bike lanes, while Mountain View has bike lanes throughout town and bike trails with bridges over freeways. But my city hasn’t improved its bicycling programs as aggressively lately as it did in the past. Could be why it’s been stuck at Bronze for eight years.

Still, it seems like more and more people are bicycling around town. And according to census data released last week, there are. The US Census’ American Community Survey samples a small percentage of the population every year, measuring a variety of things from income to health insurance to transportation, including bike commuting. Its data shows that 6.2% of my city’s residents commute by bike, up from 4.1% in 2010.

Note that the survey has some limitations. First, if you combine travel modes the mode that covers the most distance is what counts. So my work commute is considered transit, even though I spend more time riding my bike than riding the train. Second, it only measures work commutes, not trips by retired and unemployed folks, travel for errands and social activities, and the “mom’s taxi” trips taking kids to school and other activities.

Even for people that drive to work, by my calculation it only measures only about half of their mileage. Here’s the math: the average work commute is 30 miles round trip. Multiply by five days a week for 50 weeks a year and that’s 7500 miles. Since the average automobile mileage of working age people is about 15,000 miles, only half of most drivers’ annual mileage is commuting to work.

Still, I’m pleased to see data that shows Mountain View has bike commuting rates comparable to Platinum rated Portland, and that distinguishes it from other Bronze-rated cities with much lower bicycling rates. To see how your community rates, you can query the ACS database by following the steps outlined in the screenshots below (click image to expand). Or you can check out the US state and California county maps created by my buddy Richard for his Cyclelicious blog.

How does your city rate? Is is increasing? What percentage of your car’s annual mileage is work commuting?

 
5 Comments

Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure

 

Bike Lane FAIL: Sharrows on the Edge in Los Altos

Sometimes a good plan becomes a FAIL when it hits the street. The Los Altos Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) clearly advised city staff that sharrows should be centered 5 feet from the curb in a narrow lane like this stretch of 1st Street. Somehow the sharrows got shoved to the gutter, just like the cyclists will be.


Location: 1st Street between Main and State Streets, Los Altos, California, USA.

City staff, listen to your BPACs! Sharrows should instruct bicyclists where to safely position themselves in standard travel lanes, not encourage them to hug the curb and invite cars to unsafely pass them.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2012 in Bike Lane FAIL

 

(PARK)ing Day: From Parking Space to People Space

Reclaim your city! So say the organizers of (PARK)ing Day, a global annual event where citizens turn street parking spaces into temporary public places. It’s one of those cool ideas that I’m proud to say began in my neck of the woods. In 2005, Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, rolled out sod, plunked down a park bench and shoved coins in a parking meter. For the two hour legal parking limit, they created a parklet where city dwellers could rest their feet and relax on-street in the middle of downtown San Francisco.

The idea took hold, and this year close to 1000 parklets were created in 95 countries on six continents to celebrate (PARK)ing Day. This year, five parklets were hosted in downtown San Jose by organizations like Greenbelt Alliance, Cool Cities and the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. I rolled past them on my way home last Friday before I caught the Caltrain to meet Dick for a Bike Date Friday dinner in Los Altos.

We don’t often go out in Los Altos. It has a quaint downtown, but it leans toward the sleepy side, serving established older couples or upwardly mobile families with kids. Not the best mix for nightlife.

But this year Los Altos hosted their very first parklet for (PARK)ing Day. Being Los Altos, the parklet was an elaborate affair that spanned three parking spaces, from a Peets coffee shop to the 359 State Street bike shop, which became an art gallery with live music that night. A lot of life for sleepy Los Altos, even if only for one night.

Meanwhile, in my neighboring town of Mountain View, (PARK)ing Day is an everyday event. In the late 1980s, Mountain View reconfigured its downtown Castro Street from a fast four-lane road to a three-lane walking-oriented street. Key to the redesign were flexible on-street spots that can be used however the adjacent businesses desire, from patio seating to curbside car parking to bike parking corrals.

The redesign earned awards, but more importantly it works. Castro Street is now a destination for locals and residents of neighboring cities that makes Mountain View more than a place to work and sleep. It’s a lively place that offers a variety of things to see and do, a place where I’m proud to call home.

What do you look for in a place to do more than sleep and work? Does your city or town have any street life?

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Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure

 

Planes, Trains, Buses, Bikes and Feet

When it comes down to it, we have more choices on how to get from Point A to Point B than most people consider. There are the obvious parameters–cost, time, comfort–but most of the time people choose the routes they’ve done before, not what necessarily the ones that are most efficient or convenient.

When I registered for the National Women’s Bicycling Summit, I wanted to take the Amtrak Coast Starlight down to LA and then ride the Los Angeles River Trail down to Long Beach the next morning. But I couldn’t afford the time off work for the all-day train ride and didn’t want to ride downtown LA alone at night, so I opted to fly.

Flying brings more choices: there are multiple airports on either end of the trip. Because I prefer smaller airports I usually fly Southwest from San Jose to Burbank or Irvine, but JetBlue flies from San Francisco directly into Long Beach at a low price and with no LAX hassles so I was sold. Sorry, SJC, SFO won this time.

I had heard the folks at SFO bragging about their bike facilities and knew that the Millbrae Caltrain station was about 2 miles from the airport, so I rode the train and my bike to get to the airport. Baggage wasn’t a problem. From my business trip to Seattle I knew I could carry bags for a two-day trip on my bike, including my laptop.

For ground transportation on arrival, I took a chance with the city bus instead of my usual taxi. My iPhone gave me explicit instructions, the bus was on time, and I got to my hotel in 45 minutes in air conditioned comfort, albeit with blisters from walking in my “sensible” shoes. It was painfully obvious I don’t walk much.

The reverse trip was equally smooth with another bus ride and a handsome man who met me at the airport for our standing Friday night bike date. With several good restaurants along the bay by the airport there were plenty of choices. There almost always are, if you are willing to look for them and take a risk.

Total transportation costs: $186 plane + $11 train + $2.50 bus + $35 bike + $0 feet = $241.50.

How comfortable are you with taking risks when you travel? Do you like trying something new or do you prefer to stick to what you’re comfortable with?

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Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure, Travel

 

Faber’s Cyclery: A Bike Shop Survives in San Jose

In most American cities, where 20th century development meant bulldozing 19th century neighborhoods and leaving others to neglect and blight, there are stubborn survivors who refuse to pack up and move to the shiny new edges of the city. In San Jose, in the shadow of a ten-lane freeway, Faber’s Cyclery is a rare survivor.

In 1912, Jake Faber opened a small bicycle shop on the south side of downtown San Jose. In less than 10 years, he expanded his business and relocated to a former saloon on 1st Street shut down by prohibition. In the back were plumbing and blacksmith shops, built when the saloon anchored the stagecoach line to the mines at New Almaden. Given that the first bike makers were blacksmiths, it must have seemed like a sensible move.

In the 1950s, neighboring homes and businesses one block over were cleared for the I-280 freeway, and the block across 1st street became a cloverleaf ramp. But Faber’s Cyclery survived. In 1978, Alex LaRiviere, a bike shop owner from Santa Cruz, took over the Faber’s business and kept it going.

In 2007, it was nearly shut down due to building code violations and a dispute with his landlord, the granddaughter of Jake Faber. But Faber’s Cyclery survives and remains in operation, albeit only one day a week, Saturdays from 11am-5pm.

What’s the secret of its survival? From what I’ve read it’s Alex LaRiviere’s passion for bicycles and their history. LaRiviere doesn’t give up on old bicycles, mending them from his stockpile of parts. He doesn’t tire of educating others of the bicycle’s impact on society. Most importantly, he won’t give up on preserving an important piece of San Jose’s bike heritage, the bike shop he claims is the oldest in continuous operation in the US.

Last week, Faber’s hosted the State of Bicycle Planning in the South Bay, a meeting for urban planning, transit and bike geeks. A crowd of 50 or so listened to key stakeholders and discussed our vision of San Jose’s future, while we sat in the backyard of a Victorian-era shop surrounded by vintage bicycles and parts.

At times it was hard to hear the speakers over the loud rumble of the freeway, punctuated by the roar of airplanes on their landing approach for SJC. But it reinforced to me why we were there to talk about how much better a city could be, and how much better it will be once the projects discussed at the Faber’s are completed.

What do you know about your city’s past? Are there shops, houses or whole neighborhoods with stories to tell? What vision do you see for your city’s future?

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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure, Local History

 

Bike Rack SUCCESS! Hobee’s in Mountain View

We tried something special at Hobees last weekend. It wasn’t on the menu, it was in the parking lot: a new bike rack. It was installed in an awkward location, so we couldn’t use it properly without blocking the sidewalk. And we had to move a bench to make room for our two bikes. But I’m not looking this gift horse in the mouth.

The rickety rack it replaced was so bad that it was featured in my first ever Bike Rack FAIL last year. On that trip, I politely asked the restaurant manager if there were plans to replace the rack since it was falling apart. Her smile fell into a look somewhere between irritation and resignation. She said she had asked the shopping center owner for a new rack before, but she’d ask again. She offered little hope and I had none.

But here was a new rack, most likely installed due to requests like mine. I don’t enjoy asking, but having a sturdy rack to lock up our prized bikes was worth the awkward conversation with the manager.

Have you ever requested a rack before? What was the manager’s reaction? Did it work?

Location: Hobee’s Mountain View, Central Expressway at Rengstoff Avenue, Mountain View, California, USA.

 
 

Bike Lane FAIL: Door Prize in Mountain View

Remember those funky arcade games where you slid in tokens to win prizes by rolling a ball up a ramp or squirting a water pistol into a clown’s mouth? My favorite was Whac-A-Mole where you had to guess which hole the little rodent would pop out of and quickly hit it with a mallet. Guessing which door in a line of parked cars will pop open and quickly dodging it so you don’t get hit? That’s not nearly as much fun.

Location: Rengstoff Avenue near Montecito Avenue, Mountain View, California, USA.

Transportation planners, don’t build bike lanes like this! Narrow bike lanes next to cars are traps for new riders and savvy cyclists who ride outside the bike lane to stay out of the door zone make motorists really angry.

 
14 Comments

Posted by on August 29, 2012 in Bike Lane FAIL

 

Bike Lane SUCCESS! Newly Grateful in San José

Last week, after I posted the photo of the dangerous rain grate on Bike Lane FAIL, I tweeted to the folks in charge: “@SJ_Bikeshare The rain grate on SB Coleman at Airport Blvd is very dangerous old style. Would you please replace it? http://wp.me/p1sDc4-3l6″. I expected a response, but I wasn’t holding my breath.

Lo and behold, I got a tweet in return yesterday: “Hey @ladyfleur, guess what…. New bike friendly drainage grate! http://pic.twitter.com/en6wUOKm”. After work I rode down to check it out myself. Works great. Thank you, Jesse Quiron, John Brazil and the San Jose DOT for the blazing fast response fixing this road hazard!

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Location: Coleman Avenue at Airport Blvd, San Jose, California, USA. Special thanks to the folks at the City of San José Department of Transportation Bicycle and Pedestrian Program for resolving this problem so quickly.

 
10 Comments

Posted by on August 16, 2012 in Bike Lane FAIL

 
 
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