Will San Jose’s New Bicycle Plan Mark Shift From Years of Car Privilege?

San Jose is on the verge of adopting its new bicycle plan at the next City Council meeting on November 17th, which, as anyone who has cycled in San Jose knows, would be a welcome change from decades of traffic engineering focused almost solely on automobility.

"What I’m hoping we’re seeing here is a sea-change at the city of San Jose, where there’s priority on the pedestrian, bicyclist and transit rider, because historically it’s been the opposite," said Michele Beasley of the Greenbelt Alliance, an advocacy group that supports transit, cycling, and pedestrian safety.

The new bike plan would mark a significant break from the past, with policy objectives to double the number of on-street lanes from 250 miles to 500 miles, add 5000 new bike racks, bring bicycle mode share to 5 percent, and achieve League of American Bicyclists (LAB) Gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community status, all by 2020. San Jose has tripled bicycle mode share in the last three years, up to 1.2 percent, which puts the city 15th among the largest 70 cities nationally, according to the San Jose Department of Transportation (DOT).

Still, even the top official at the DOT admitted his agency’s track record on bicycle infrastructure has been less than stellar.  "Clearly, San Jose has many decades of sprawling, auto-oriented community development to overcome, but the transportation policy tanker is turning," asserted Hans Larsen, acting Director of the DOT, who told Streetsblog he wasn’t surprised by the vociferous anger expressed by readers in our post on San Jose’s innovative approach to LOS reform.

City Councilmember Sam Liccardo, who represents Downtown San Jose and has been a force for turning anemic references to bicycles in San Jose’s transportation policy documents into a full-fledged master plan, said that the city should capitalize on latent demand for cycling infrastructure.

"If we can implement this plan, it will set San Jose on a course to achieve a place among the great cycling communities in the nation, if not the world," said Liccardo. "Our weather, topography, and demographics make San Jose poised for enormous growth in biking mode share–we’ve tripled our number of riders in recent years–but it will take determination and resources to alter our streetscape and create a more bike-friendly ecosystem."

In addition to setting lofty targets, the bicycle plan would call for regular disclosure to the public on whether the city is meeting its performance targets, an important step to allay the skepticism of the region’s cyclists.  Among the targets, the DOT has pledged to add 25 miles of new bikeways each year, install 500 new bike racks each year, and seek to reduce bike collision rates by 5 percent from the baseline each year.

"Their goals are really good… but will they be implemented and implemented in the spirit of the original plans?" asked Greenbelt Alliance’s Beasley.

Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Corrine Winter echoed Beasley’s concern, though she was also clear to point out that the new leadership at the DOT was very encouraging. "We’re very happy with the vision of what’s going to happen," said Winter, who said that between the Mayor, Councilmember Liccardo, and Larsen, all the important players are talking the talk. "How does the vision turn to reality– that comes down to dollars."  Winter also noted that among 447 staff at the DOT, only two work full-time on cycling, a fact she argued would have to change.

"If the city really wants to see this project come to reality, they need to have more people [working on it]," she said.

San Fernando Bikeway and 4th Street Cycle Track

John Brazil of San Jose DOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program said the two biggest priorities for his department in moving forward with the bicycle plan are to make cycling in San Jose safe and convenient, so that it would be as commonplace to see throngs of cyclists commuting to work in his city as it is in Portland, Oregon or other cycling hotspots. Brazil noted that despite a large budget deficit, bike plan improvements will be built out, should the plan be adopted.

In addition to working with the Valley Transportation Authority on a trial bike-share program, Brazil said two projects in particular would capture the public’s attention over the next two years. The first is the San Fernando bikeway, a painted, buffered bicycle lane from Diridon Station a mile and a half to downtown destinations, such as San Jose State University. Because Caltrans doesn’t currently recognize colored bicycle lanes, however, Brazil said the city has to complete a rigorous experimental pilot process with the agency to convince it that adding paint will fit within its street engineering guidelines. Funding for the project will come from a mix of internal budget apportioning and external grants.

The second project of note is a bi-directional, physically separated cycle track on 4th Street from St. James Street to San Carlos Street, intersecting the San Fernando colored lane and linking up Japantown and destinations north with the downtown core. The DOT intends to remove a lane of vehicular traffic to make room for the cycle track, move the parking lane off the curb, and run the cycle track curbside. Numerous technical difficulties still need to be worked out, particularly the challenge of minimizing turning conflicts at the intersections where bi-directional bicycle traffic would create signal and visibility issues. Brazil estimated that this project would take 1-2 years to clear Caltrans experimental process designation, but hoped San Jose’s example, if successful, would make it easier for other cities to follow the lead with the innovation.

2020 Plan Objectives

  • Bikeway Network – Complete 500 miles of the Bikeway Network
  • Mode Share – Achieve 5% of all trips taken by Bike
  • Safety – Reduce bike collision rate by 50 percent
  • Parking – Add 5000 bike parking spaces
  • Validation – Achieve Gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community status from LAB

Performance Measures

  • Bikeway Network – Complete 25 miles of new bikeways each year
  • Mode Share – Increase bike mode share by 1% from baseline every two years 
  • Safety – Reduce bike collision rate by 5% from baseline each year 
  • Parking – Install 500 new bike parking spaces each year 
  • Validation – Achieve Silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community status by 2013 and Gold-level by 2020.

  • Maybe this will help embarrass SF into action.

  • quadruple bravo! to the cycletrack from diridon into downtown. i don’t know whose idea it was, but it’s about the best idea i’ve heard since background-painted sharrows.

    really, every train station needs this type of treatment. but in a case like diridon, where where the station has been segregated from the rest of society by a vast network of anti-pedestrian, anti-bicycle car tracks, this type of treatment is the absolute minimum required to begin to see actual benefits for spending gajillions of dollars on heavy rail infrastructure.

    a station station like Diridon, without bike and walk access, is not a train to nowhere, it’s a train from nowhere.

  • David Erickson

    More important than bike racks: bicycle traffic detectors at intersections. Many of the new bike paths in San Jose were completed without detectors at each signal! What good is a bike path if you have to go up onto the sidewalk to push the pedestrian button at every intersection?

  • Nick

    So reading between the lines… San Jose currently has 250 miles of existing bike lanes and only 1.2% of residents commute by bike?

    In comparison, SF has something like 45 miles of bike lanes (20 miles of which are useable) and 6% of residents commute by bike.

  • tommy

    never understood what was so great about either bike lanes or bike racks. give me a signal detector and LOWER CAR SPEEDS over a silly bike lane any day. the 4th st track does sound neat, though! there are other streets that could easily lose a car lane too!

    It will be a hugeormous investment to make the city more bike-friendly:
    -sharpen all the rounded street corners
    -make all traffic lanes 1 or 2 ft. narrower, city-wide
    -add some of the wider streets to the street-sweeping schedule where bikers’ paths have a lot of junk on the ground
    -add sheltered, gated bike parking at popular destinations, and even just a couple plopped down near a street corner downtown
    -remove some unneeded traffic lights. s.j. loves to add traffic lights where stop signs would be sufficient. these make biking a pain, because sure you might sometimes get a green light, but lights are never going to be synchronized for bikes, and stop signs are great because you can just slow down and roll through safely and s.j. cops do not bother you.
    -remove curb cuts, actually increase on-street parking spots (to slow down drivers on the street and drivers entering and exiting driveways)

    just some ideas…

  • “So reading between the lines… San Jose currently has 250 miles of existing bike lanes and only 1.2% of residents commute by bike?”

    Probably 240 out of 250 miles of those bike lanes are on the high-speed arterials. These are roadways with 45mph posted speed limit, and 55mph peak speeds. It is like cycling on a freeway, with the added benefit of driveways and possibility of dooring.

    That being said, John Brazil is very knowledegable, and good at his job. I wish him well, but the reality is that he is attempting changes in a city extremely hostile to anything other than SOV travel. This is reflected in the ridiculous low bar they have set of only 5% bicycle mode share by the year 2020. By comparison, places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam managed 50% increase in mode share in the same amount of time.

  • Um, just to clarify the above: Copenhagen and Amsterdam achieved 50% mode share within a decade (starting from almost zero).

  • actually, the mode share for bicycles in Amsterdam did not increase from zero/1 percent to 50%. It declined from 75% in 1950s to 25% in 1970, but increased after that b/c of policies to promote bicycle usage

  • whysomuchsjhate?

    Wow, DE, what’s with all the venom for San Jose? I get they’ve got a terrible history, but you misrepresent the figures on Copenhagen and A’dam to drive home an argument.

    Copenhagen hasn’t hit 40 % mode share yet, and they’ve been at it for 40 years, not ten. They’ve taken incremental steps, not unlike what SJ has proposed and they’ve done it over a generation, not a decade.
    http://tcstreetsforpeople.org/node/457
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rstEWMD89L8

    A’dam is just at 40%
    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/11/in_copenhagens.php

    Any city in this country would be thrilled to add 5% mode split in 10 years, especially one starting with a baseline like SJ

  • And SAN JOSE now shames us. Why, we’re just putting in a standard–albeit reversible depending on the humours at work in Judge Busch’s body–bike lane that is already being questioned and superseded in NY and about to be so in SAN JOSE(!) on Townsend street to our Caltrain station.

  • G

    What’s truly missing from San Jose is the bicycle network – can I get from place A to place B?

    I went to the League meeting for instructors at a hotel east of the airport, and it was difficult to find the bike path starting from Diridon multi train station to around the airport. The path that starts out is hard to find (even with a map), and then ends aruptly with no signage.

    The high speed volume, arterial that one is dumped on to next is no picnic, either.

    The article is also missing discussion of some of the other E’s – there seems to be encouragement, and engineering, but Equality, Enforcement, Education, and Evaluation are not so evident in the writeup.

  • Jessica

    When are they going to fix the lights in SJ???? I just moved to San Jose from San Francisco and ALL of the lights downtown are on sensors, not timers. I have to either run the red, wait for a car to show up, or pull over and hit the crosswalk button to get through an intersection. Not to mention it is completely impossible to use a left turn lane since my only option is to run the red because there is no pedestrian left turn button I can push to get the green.

  • Jessica

    Also, how can I get involved to make sure this happens?

  • Jessica, if you don’t already know about it, check out the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition: http://bikesiliconvalley.org/

  • Jay Code

    To add some perspective, San Jose is recognized as a Bicycle-Friendly City by the LAB (League of American Bicyclists). I was told that San Jose’s application for that designation was endorsed by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (bikesiliconvalley.org). Hopefully the proposed bicycle plan will help.

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