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.

  • murphstahoe

    “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.”

    Internally contradicting. If the overriding concern was safety – then parking would not take precedence.

  • mike_napolis_beard

    Ok, so how do we help them (or the most vocal leader among the group – will do the legwork) to understand? This is unfortunately largely a communications problem… they’re not hearing what’s in it for them.

    They’re concerned first and foremost about their bottom line. They are certain, because of the “conventional” (read: untested over many years) prevailing assumption that everyone drives, that everyone now must drive, or that anything other than driving isn’t something their most profitable customers do regularly.

    Help them understand with clear, convincing reasoning and/or forecasts that their bottom line will not be affected by the changes, or may actually result in increased business (!), and they should drop or at the very least loosen up their opposition (if they have some sort of unrelated aversion to bikes or bike riders). Heck, maybe some of them that were on the fence to begin with might feel freer to actively support it.

    Edit: Delaware DOT is on the right track with their “Protected Bike Lanes Mean Business” pamphlet.

  • Tom

    Regardless of the parking situation outcome, even mini business districts like this should have 15-20mph max limits, raised cross-walks, and tuned speed humps. Just because you have a bikelane does not mean you don’t need traffic calming also. For business districts you need to be able to easily access both sides of the street, not just the side you are traveling on.

  • Merchants tend to equate parking with sales, when the opposite is often true. On Polk St in SF, merchants were shown studies that attributed 85% of their business to people who took transit, walked or biked, and who spent more on average than motorists. But rather than increase the number of high value customers by removing parking, they insisted the studies must be wrong and that parking should take precedent over all else.

    No idea how to change that perception apart from a strong campaign by non-motorists to educate the merchants. And that takes someone to lead, an undertaking few of us have the time to do.

  • mike_napolis_beard

    I’m familiar with the Polk Street example, the most frustrating part of which is the distrust of SFMTA’s studies. You’re right about the need to change perceptions, which I suspect are largely generational and involve many unstated assumptions about the “like us-ness” of drivers versus bicyclists in particular. The cynical baseline question is: is it worth it to invest in the long game of changing perceptions or to simply be content with piecemeal wins until the previous generation loses its grip on the popular imagination (i.e., what constitutes “common sense”)?

  • voltairesmistress

    That is the job of government, and is not bike riders’ responsibility. The mayor, the city council members, and the top administrators and policy directors at the local transportation agencies should do their jobs at educating and persuading the recalcitrant merchants. Studies exist supporting the commercial viability of the new streetscape proposed. A study could be done on whether remaining parking would be sufficient for current demand at the San Jose street in question. We need government leadership and spine, not more injured bicyclists pleading with merchants to please love them. Having witnessed the Polk Street fiasco firsthand, I no longer believe in the hearts and mind approach by activists. No. We need our officials, elected and professional, to do their jobs as leaders.

  • voltairesmistress

    Mike, I am not suggesting waiting for a generation to die off or accepting piecemeal wins. Rather, I am suggesting that we demand change from those who can deliver it — our elected and appointed officials. Pressure them, and forget the merchants. You won’t convince anyone whose eyes are primarily directed at his or her own cash register till. Blandishments aside, the merchants don’t give a damn about safety, if they fear it will reduce sales a jot.

  • mike_napolis_beard

    That’s a really good point. Do you think there’d be sufficient support for a PAC or more organized lobbying efforts?

  • thielges

    This stretch of Park is unlike Polk in that it is too small to be a self-sufficient commercial zone and too far from the nearest larger commercial zones to attract customers on foot. It does however have plenty of off-street parking though that parking is tied to a few of the post-WWII buildings. If some sort of parking sharing arrangement could be worked out then it would make everyone happy.

    As for politicians driving change, that would be great. Fortunately San Jose has a couple of council members who get it. Unfortunately they face reelection and might be reluctant to make “unpopular” decisions. Of course anyone who cares about the future growth of San Jose will support these brave council members. But we’re in the minority. SJ still has a drive everywhere mentality and significant resistance to the infill development which would make it easier to go about life without relying on a car.

  • voltairesmistress

    I am not sure, but I look to see if the membership rolls of groups like WalkSF, transit rider unions, and various bicycle coalitions are growing. I suspect these groups would be the place to launch organizing campaigns to reach out to politicians. Formal lobbying and PACs have to operate under stricter tax status, but surely San Jose citizens concerned about Park Street could investigate these options.

  • Only one thousand area parking spots will remain? I’m incensed!

  • Ralph

    Nice that the business people are concerned about safety but want to keep the parking which keeps the road dangerous for cyclists. Study after study has shown that removing parking and adding cycling adds to business and cuts down on cars speeding past the businesses on the road.

  • Idrather Bebikin

    Tom, I like what you were saying…. lower speed limits make sense. The businesses were looking for this.

    With all due respect the rest of you are missing the mark – by a large margin.
    I’ve been called a “bike nut” and I indeed prefer to bike over drive. ParK Ave is a very popular road to take between downtown SJ/Diridon CalTrain station and Santa Clara. Users of all types use this road, especially advanced users.

    The much busier road north and south of here are “The Alameda” and San Carlos St, which turns into Stevens Creek. They both have regular and express bus service, with BRT coming to The Alameda first, followed by San Carlos some time later.

    1000 parking spaces remain? That’s over several miles. It seems most of these comments are conceptual and do not come from knowledge of Park Ave, nor of the specific small business district in question.

    I invite you to bike and walk this very short area and see on a typical night how few parking spaces are there. And how there are at least two businesses that are vacant. This skews the traffic count as well as the summer time situation that changes the amount of people attending these businesses.

    As far as parking being removed increases safety. That is not necessarily true. Parking in some certain cases can actually be either neutral or beneficial. It depends on the road, the speeds, the quality of the bike markings on the streets, signage, etc.

    Yes, SJ has a drive everywhere mentality with a higher percentage of high speed arterials and wide freeways.

    To say that the business owners are the ones that need to education campaign sounds a bit harsh to me. Yes, there is a communication problem here. But this communication problem started with San Jose as the team did not explain the process here – how many meetings, how feedback will be turned into modifications, approximate fime frames for follow up meetings etc.

    Both sides need to come together and hash out the differences. The burden of change was put squarely on the businesses and some nearby residents and that didn’t seem fair to me.

    San Jose has a spotty record at best when it comes to supporting small businesses – especially in a timely or low cost manner. These business leaders will mention how they have essentially had their concerns ignored for decades. Yet these issues are their fault. That’s both incorrectly placed blame and a harsh assessment for those that are simply trying to survive, much less thrive in this hit or miss economy.

    Lastly, I was at a meeting with a completely different subject and the main speaker lamented the fact that the City of San Jose has largely missed out on this economic recovery. So if you’re from SF, Palo Alto, Mt View, Sunnyvale or Santa Clara the viewpoint may be a bit different.

    In the coming months I presume and hope that all the stakeholders will get together and genuinely come up with a solution that’s a good compromise.

  • Justin

    It would be great to see these bike lanes GENUINELY PROTECTED, which would really attract more people to bike, people of all levels, and that would not only become more of an attractive mode of transportation as well as make it safer, but it would also be better for the businesses as well. Secondly it seems like the number of parking spaces that would be removed in this proposal seems to be a drop in the bucket.

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