San Jose Candidates Seek Bike Votes in Tomorrow’s Primaries

An estimated 1,800 people participated in the most recent San Jose Bike Party, seen here on Hedding Street’s buffered bike lanes, on May 16. Photo: Andrew Boone

Tomorrow, San Jose voters will choose which of the candidates running for mayor, or for five of the city’s ten council seats, will proceed to run-off elections in November. San Jose’s growing bicycle advocacy community has put the spotlight on which candidates have made commitments to a bike-friendlier city, and many candidates have responded by courting the increasingly influential “bike vote.”

Six candidates, or their representatives, spoke to the crowd at the San Jose Bike Party on May 16 to tout their pro-bike credentials: Don Gagliardi, Sam Liccardo, Dave Cortese, Pierluigi Oliverio, Kathy Sutherland, and Susan Marsland. The San Jose Bike Party, the Bay Area’s first Bike Party, rolls out on the third Friday of every month and attracts about 1,000 to 4,000 participants.

To help voters determine which candidates would do the most to improve conditions for walking and bicycling in San Jose, I helped to moderate a volunteer initiative called I Walk I Bike I Vote, which used a questionnaire to evaluate and endorse candidates. Richard Masoner at Cyclelicious has also published endorsements based on traffic safety and bicycling issues and includes his own predictions for the June 3 primary election.

San Jose Bike Party gathers at City Hall in August 2010

The San Jose Bike Party at San Jose City Hall in August 2010. Photo: Andrew Boone

This is the first time San Jose voters will choose a new mayor since Chuck Reed was elected in 2006, when fewer people biked in San Jose and the SJ Bike Party didn’t exist yet. Since then, a large cycling constituency has emerged and is expected to be influential in the election, especially downtown, where residents tend to walk and bike more.

Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Corinne Winter said the Bike Party’s positive image has helped make bicycle advocates an appealing constituency for candidates to win support from.

“We’ve managed to get most of the city leadership to bike party, especially in the early days, to ensure that it would form in a way that wouldn’t be divisive and instead be a positive thing,” said Winter. “A lot of the city leadership, when they experience a larger bike party — they understand the size of that constituency and the demand to get better bicycle facilities.” It’s worth noting that as a tax-exempt 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the SVBC  is prohibited from making political endorsements.

For each of the six public offices to be determined on June 3 — the mayor and City Council districts 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 — the top two vote receivers will proceed to a run-off election on November 4, unless any candidate receives at least 50 percent of the votes.