San Jose Merchants Object to Parking Removal for Bike Lanes on Park Ave

San Jose DOT Deputy Director Paul Smith explains a proposal for buffered bike lanes on Park Avenue. Some merchants have opposed the removal of 168 car parking spaces to make the bike lanes safer and more comfortable. Photo: Andrew Boone

About 150 residents attended a community meeting last Wednesday hosted by the San Jose Department of Transportation in the Willow Glen neighborhood to introduce plans for new bike lanes and sharrows on six streets west of downtown. The projects would complement four less extensive bikeway projects on streets east of downtown which were presented on August 6.

While some merchants opposed the removal of car parking to make the bike lanes safer, SJDOT officials say the improvements are critical to providing a more complete bicycle network in central San Jose, where the city is most dense.

“This circle shows a four-mile radius from the center of downtown San Jose,” explained SJDOT Deputy Director Paul Smith, pointing to a map showing existing and planned bikeways. “It’s about one-quarter of the land area of the city but contains 47 percent of the population and 57 percent of all the jobs in San Jose.”

SJDOT is aiming to create a high-quality east-west route across the city “to support higher numbers of bicyclists of various skill levels” running through downtown as the backbone of its network of “Primary Bikeways.” New conventional and buffered bike lanes, proposed on a 2.8-mile stretch of Park Avenue from the Santa Clara city limit near Newhall Street to Market Street, would connect to the green and buffered bike lanes installed last year on San Fernando Street from the Diridon Caltrain Station to 10th Street.

A total of three miles of new bike lanes are also planned for Lincoln Avenue, Stockton Avenue, and Julian Street, while a route of sharrows would extend 1.5 miles along Scott Street and Auzerais Avenue from MacArthur Avenue (near the 880/280 interchange) to the Los Gatos Creek Trail.

Green paint and buffer zones are proposed in San Jose’s draft design for bike lanes on Julian Street from The Alameda to the Guadalupe River Trail. Image: City of San Jose

To create a continuous, high-quality bikeway on Park, SJDOT proposed removing of 168 out of 1,168 car parking spots on various sections of the street. Park is already a popular route for bicycling, but many residents say it’s only usable by those willing to take risks and endure the stress of riding between parked cars and moving cars, where drivers often suddenly open doors or stop in the bike lane.

“The issue with people riding their bikes in the middle of the lane on a busy road is that people driving cars get very aggressive,” said Janet Lafleur, a bike commuter and blogger. “Some [drivers] will honk, pass close, or tailgate to harass and intimidate bike riders to get out of the way.”

But some business owners objected to the removal of parking spaces in the retail business district between Race and Sunol Streets, dismissing SJDOT’s assessment in its parking study that “there is adequate remaining parking” on Park and the six perpendicular side streets (Race, Ranier, Lincoln, Morrison, Cleaves, and Sunol) in that section.

“My business is open in the evening,” said Desireé Fox, director of Elite Ballroom Studio, located on Park near Lincoln Avenue. “We have classes that begin after 7 p.m., when most residents who park on the side streets have come home from work.”

“I’m all for biking, that’s a healthy lifestyle I support,” said beauty salon owner Danielle Roberts. “But we need to take care of car parking for businesses too. I just opened up a month ago.”

A group of business owners have sent a letter stating their opposition to the removal of 35 parking spaces on one side (the westbound direction) of the street, instead proposing a “shared enhanced bikeway” where people driving and biking mix in the same lanes, but with new crosswalks and a lower speed limit to calm traffic. It’s unclear, however, if that would make the street feel inviting enough for most residents to ride bikes without protection from motor vehicles.

“The business community’s overriding concern along the Park Avenue corridor is the safety of our neighbors, visitors, and employees, no matter the mode of transport — pedestrian, bicycle, or vehicle,” stated the letter. ”The removal of substantial amounts of parking puts our area at a competitive disadvantage and it will make our daily business operations more difficult. We support a bikeway that does not remove any parking on Park Avenue between Montgomery Street and Race Street.”

San Jose DOT staff records input on the bikeways from attendees. Photo: Andrew Boone

Smith promised that SJDOT would carefully analyze ways to address these concerns while retaining continuous bike lanes in Park Avenue’s re-design.

“We’re trying to create a Primary Bikeway, to serve people of different abilities, that will carry people safely all the way across the city,” he said. “We understand the impact and so we will meet with Park Avenue stakeholders to resolve any remaining issues in a collaborative manner.”

Smith said his staff would consider creating eight to ten new angled parking spaces at the southeast corner of Park and Sunol, “where there is a huge amount of asphalt.”

Others spoke in support of removing parking for bike lanes. “The whole focus shouldn’t be those businesses and those cars — that’s what we’re trying to move away from,” said resident Tessa Woodmansee. “The emphasis should be on the safety issues.”

“This stuff really works,” said Scott Lane, a member of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Board of Directors. “When people slow down while driving, they shop more.”

The four other bikeway projects presented at the meeting were met with nearly unanimous support — even on Lincoln Avenue, where some parking spaces are also slated for removal, mostly on the southbound side north of Willow Street. Residents requested that Lincoln’s future bike lanes be extended further south all the way to Curtner Avenue.

The meeting was attended by City Council member Pierluigi Oliverio, who represents the District 6, where all five west side bikeway projects are located. Oliverio listened to the public feedback provided during the question-and-answer session. Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, who is campaigning for mayor, greeted attendees as the meeting began.

“It’s very encouraging to see so many residents speaking up on the future of San Jose,” Cortese said of the meeting. Cortese also voiced his support for the bikeway projects at last week’s San Jose Bike Party, which he joined riding a tandem bicycle with his wife Patti. “Two nights ago, we had a big meeting with the city, and they’re finally starting to get these bike lanes improved,” he said. “I’m all for it and I know you’re all for it. Let’s get it done.”

SJDOT staff said the new bike lanes and sharrows should all be installed by the end of 2015. More information on San Jose’s bikeway projects are available on the city’s website.