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Silicon Valley’s First “Bike to Shop Day” Set for May 17

Bike Trailer at Trader Joes

It’s rare for cities in Silicon Valley to accommodate cycling shoppers with adequate parking. Photo: Janet Lafleur

Planning to build on the wave of enthusiasm for bike commuting generated each May by Bike to Work Day, transportation and health advocates in Silicon Valley are promoting a spin-off called Bike to Shop Day on Saturday, May 17, to encourage people to shop by bike at local businesses.

Retail businesses offering discounts to bicycling customers are shown on a smartphone-friendly map on the event’s website. organizers expect many more to sign up in the three weeks remaining before the event. Any retail business located in San Mateo County or Santa Clara County that can offer some type of discount to customers who arrive by bicycle is eligible to participate. Shoppers are encouraged to upload photos of their bikes in action — carrying groceries or other items — to win gift certificates and other prizes.

“For the past 20 years, Bike to Work Day has achieved huge success motivating people to hop on bikes for their work commutes, including me,” said bicycle lifestyle blogger Janet Lafleur, who created Bike to Shop Day in collaboration with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC). “Now it’s time to do the same for their shopping and errand trips that are shorter and easier for most people than commuting to work.”

Lafleur, a marketing professional who writes two urban cycling blogs, Bike Fun and One Woman, Many Bicycles, called for a National Bike to Shop Day last month to promote shopping by bicycle. She came up with the idea after it became clear that Mountain View was simply disregarding the need to improve access and parking for bicycles as part of expansion plans for the San Antonio Shopping Center.

“I can’t see people biking to shop here,” said a planning commissioner at a city meeting on the project. “Shopping is all about driving your SUV to the store and filling it up.”

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On the Peninsula, Demand Could Overwhelm Limited Bike-Share Launch

A total of 20 Bay Area Bike Share stations will be installed in downtown Redwood City, Palo Alto, and Mountain View. Click for an interactive system-wide map.

All the way down the Peninsula, excitement around the pilot launch of Bay Area Bike Share comes tempered with a dose of concern about the small number of bikes that will be clustered around Caltrain stations in five cities.

Bay Area Bike Share’s meager scale at the time it launches is sure to limit its usefulness. Half of the system’s 70 stations — holding ten bikes each — will be placed in downtown San Francisco, and the other half distributed among participating cities down to San Jose, which will get 15 stations. Redwood City will get just seven stations, Palo Alto six, and Mountain View seven.

“That’s the big concern,” said Adina Levin, co-founder of Friends of Caltrain. “A lot of current and potential Caltrain riders I talk to are excited about being able to use bike-share in theory, but it’s not serving where they need to go.”

Nonetheless, advocates say the launch of bike-share is overdue.

Image: Bay Area Bike Share

“Bike-share is going to make it easier for everybody to ride a bike more often, whether for work, shopping, or quick trips during lunch break,” said Colin Heyne, deputy director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. “Data from other bike-share systems show not only increased rates of bicycling, but also decreased rates of driving and car ownership, so it can contribute to reducing traffic congestion and improving safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Hundreds have already signed up for Bay Area Bike Share since membership sales opened on Monday. For $88 per year, members can rent sturdy new celeste-colored city bikes for up to 30 minutes at a time for free, with surcharges for trips longer than that.

The system is set to arrive at a time when both transit and bicycle commuting are surging. Caltrain ridership has increased 80 percent over the past decade, and the number of commuters bringing bikes on board has tripled, according to the agency’s stats. With commuters who are able to use the shared bikes instead of hauling their own bikes aboard, bike-share could free up some much-needed bike storage space on the train.

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Remembering Ellen Fletcher, Palo Alto’s Pioneer Bicycle Advocate

Cross-posted from Cyclelicious.

Ellen Fletcher. Photo: Richard Masoner

Holocaust survivor, PTA mom, city council member, and bike advocate Ellen Fletcher succumbed yesterday at age 83 to lung cancer at her Palo Alto home.

Ellen escaped Berlin as a Jewish child on the Kindertransport trains and spent her teen years as a refugee in World War II London, where she biked to her factory job.

She eventually ended up in Palo Alto, California, where she got her start in cycling advocacy as safety chair of the local PTA when she saw that the best way to protect school children from their greatest danger was by reducing auto traffic around schools. She revived the Santa Clara Valley Bicycle Association (which exists today as the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition) in the early 1970s. Ellen pioneered the first bike boulevard in the United States on Bryant Avenue (now named in her honor) while serving on the Palo Alto city council from 1977 to 1989.

Caltrain Bikes on Board Pioneer

If you like bikes on Caltrain, you can thank Ellen Fletcher. Beginning in 1977, she and Daryl Skrabac of San Francisco pushed Southern Pacific to try bikes on board. They finally agreed to a four month demonstration in 1982, when four bikes were allowed in the aisle of the cab car. Southern Pacific refused to continue the experiment. When the Peninsula Joint Powers Board took over the line in 1992, they agreed to make room for bikes, but needed money to make it happen. Cap Thomas of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition persuaded the city of San Francisco to contribute $40,000 to making space for 8 bikes in each cab car.

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Bike Donation Program to Benefit East Palo Alto Elementary Students

Some East Palo Alto youngsters are escorted by a police officer as part of the FIT zone program, which encourages health and fitness activity in neighborhoods with high levels of crime and violence. Photo: EPAPD

Brent Butler was leading a bicycle rodeo in East Palo Alto for the city’s first Streets Alive event last year when he realized just how many children were there without bikes.

“What I decided to do is continue to teach the rules of the road even if we don’t have bicycles,” said Butler, the city’s planning manager and bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. “We’re going to run the course and I’m going to demonstrate what you need to do with your arms. That was successful. The kids loved it.”

The 2011 event, timed with World Health Day and Cinco De Mayo, drew 1,000 kids from neighborhoods all over East Palo Alto. While there’s no shortage of children eager to ride, there is a lack of access to bicycles. Not a single bike shop exists in East Palo Alto, where 79 percent of families are low income.

“That’s a big obstacle because, you know, when you go to Palo Alto, the bike shops are expensive. For a low-income community, the prices can be prohibitive,” said Butler.

To help break some of the barriers to bicycle ownership in a youthful city where the average age is 28, the city has partnered with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.  The first step is a bicycle donation program called the East Palo Alto Low Income Mobility Initiative that will benefit elementary school children who complete a bicycle education class.

“We really need to get the youth educated,” said Butler. “A lot of the studies indicate that if you bicycle in your youth, it’s often something that will stay with you.”

Low-income families in East Palo Alto face a higher frequency of health and crime problems than any other city in San Mateo County. The Ravenswood Family Health Center estimates more than 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese by the age of 5.

“One of the focuses of our effort is to indicate how important (bicycling) is for your health. Rewarding households that have zero cars is one of my dream projects,” said Butler, who gets around the city by bicycle. “I’m trying to encourage others to do what I do.”

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San Jose Sets Out to Build the Bay Area’s Most Bike-Friendly Downtown

Bike commuters on San Fernando Street, which is slated to get the city's first green bike lanes. Photo: Richard Masoner/Cyclelicious

San Jose — which wants its central district to become the urban center of Silicon Valley — hopes to build the Bay Area’s most bike-friendly downtown, where pedaling to work, school or the farmers market is “safe, convenient and commonplace” for people of all ages. The vision includes Long Beach-inspired bicycle-friendly business districts, where merchants would wholeheartedly embrace bike-riding shoppers and diners.

“Our ambition is to retrofit a city that has been built for cars into one that is built for people,” said Council Member Sam Liccardo, who represents downtown and commutes by bike to San Jose City Hall three days a week. “The vibrancy that we hope and expect it will bring to our streetscape will start to change perceptions of San Jose throughout the region.”

The city is also planning beyond downtown and wants to create a strong network of convenient crosstown bikeways linking the auto-oriented suburban ring to the transit-rich urban core.

“It’s sunny 300 days a year and we don’t have San Francisco hills,” said Colin Heyne, deputy director of the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition. “Nature has given us this opportunity to become a great place to walk and bike.”

Though only 1.2 percent of San Jose residents commute by bike, according to the city’s tally, anecdotally the trend seems to be pointing toward higher rates. The popular San Jose Bike Party has helped to boost ridership, drawing many first time riders inspired by the impressive monthly display of bike culture. The city has set a 5 percent bike mode share goal by 2020, and 15 percent by 2040.

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Will San Mateo County Finally Fix a Dangerous Overpass for Cyclists?

The scene shortly after 47-year-old Lauren Ward was killed by a truck driver on November 4, 2010. Photo: Kent Fields for the Menlo Park Patch.

For the second time in a year, San Mateo County transportation officials are seeking funding for a proposal to improve conditions for bike riders at a dangerous highway interchange where a big-rig driver with a history of fatal collisions killed a 47-year-old Los Altos woman riding her bicycle less than two years ago.

The Interstate 280 and Alpine Road interchange is one of many highway overpasses on the Peninsula that lack bike infrastructure and pose severe hazards to bike riders. A narrow unmarked bike lane on Alpine Road, which looks like nothing more than a shoulder, leads to the interchange, but stops abruptly where the Caltrans right-of-way begins. Bike riders are forced to maneuver around speeding traffic headed to the freeway, and there is no signage or markings.

It was in this area where truck driver Gabriel Manzur Vera struck and killed Lauren Ward on November 4, 2010. According to reports, it was Vera’s third fatal collision, and the second crash resulting in the death of a cyclist. The California Highway Patrol initially blamed Ward for causing the crash, but revised a police report after further investigation. Vera was never charged but Ward’s family has filed a wrongful death suit against him.

Shortly after Ward’s death, the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition (SVBC) launched its Safe Highway Crossings campaign and began working to get conditions improved at that interchange and other freeway crossings. The stumbling block has been funding in a county where there is scant political will to improve conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Yesterday, however, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution requesting $175,000 from the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (TA) to install bike lanes through the interchange. Caltrans, which is required to sign off on the project, has apparently been supportive.

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In Silicon Valley, an Emerging Bike Movement

Editor’s note: This story marks the return of former Streetsblog San Francisco editor Bryan Goebel, who will be contributing occasional pieces.  

Bicycle advocacy can be an especially daunting challenge in the South Bay and the Peninsula, where car-centric policies and culture rule the day. At this week’s Silicon Valley Bike Advocacy Summit the focus was on improving relations between advocates and government officials at a time when a growing number of cities in the Silicon Valley and big companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple are starting to embrace the bicycle.

“We have more individuals who are becoming engaged and we have more institutions who are becoming engaged and more organizations who want to work with us,” said Corinne Winter, executive director of the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition (SVBC). “There’s a coalition of individuals and organizations who are really interested in seeing the bike become a commonplace thing, whether it be for transportation or recreation. That group of people is growing quickly in our area.”

Although there are no official counts on the burgeoning numbers of people who ride bikes in Silicon Valley and the Peninsula, Winter said it’s evident on the streets, especially in San Jose.

“Bike culture in San Jose has been growing really rapidly. It started with a lot of folks in the fixie crowd, and now I’m seeing more folks riding the Dutch-style bikes around town,” said Winter. The popularity of the San Jose Bike Party has been another indication.

Just last week, the San Jose City Council unanimously approved six bike projects that will add 8 miles of new bike lanes downtown. Five of the projects will include road diets and lane reductions, and many sections will include bike lanes with extra space between motorists and bicyclists, said John Brazil, who heads up the city’s bike/pedestrian program. The projects are expected to be completed by the end of June.

There was no opposition to the removal of vehicle lanes and that came as a surprise to the city’s Transportation Director, Hans Larsen, who also attended this week’s summit.

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Lessons from Copenhagen for Bicycling in the Bay Area

_1.jpgBicyclists -- and blue bike lanes and physically separated bikeways -- abound in Copenhagen, where biking makes up 37 percent of the trips to work and school. Photos by Leah Shahum

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of dispatches from Copenhagen and Amsterdam from Leah Shahum, the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition who is on sabbatical in Europe. 

More than 1,000 bicycling leaders from nearly 60 countries are gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark to oooh and aaah, share and compare, and, above all else, challenge ourselves to step it up back home.

For a dozen of us from the Bay Area, the Velo-City Global Conference is a chance to experience the much-praised Copenhagen bicycling environment and to bring home ideas and inspiration at a time when our own region could be on the cusp of awakening to the benefits of great bicycling cities.

"In the Bay Area, people are starting to realize that this is the future, in terms of our development. And cycling is an integral part of that," says Corinne Winter, Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

In presentations from biking advocates from Europe, North America, South America, and Asia, it is clear that cities are now considered the most vital frontier for increasing and improving bicycling, particularly as more people move to urban areas.

"Cycling is the most obvious way to encourage more mobility no matter which corner of the earth you come from," says Bo Asmus Kjeldgaard, Copenhagen's Mayor of the Technical and Environmental Administration, who spoke to the eager crowd. "Copenhagen is just a drop in the ocean…but the power of our example is not to be missed. Cities need to look beyond their national borders and raise the bar worldwide."

Copenhagen clearly takes its role seriously as a pioneering bicycling city and wants to serve as a model for the rest of us. The numbers are impressive: 37 percent of Copenhageners ride bicycles to work and school, though the city's leadership is not satisfied with this and aims to increase that to 50 percent by 2015. More than 350 kilometers of physically separated bikeways grace the city's streets, and plans are underway to expand the already-impressive bicycling network with more dedicated bike space and improved intersections.


Statistics Alone Paint an Incomplete Picture of Women and Bicycles

"I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can't get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood."  -- Susan B. Anthony, 1896.

According to the statistics, there is a dramatic imbalance in bike riding along gender lines, with men using the bicycle as a primary means of transportation at a rate more than double that for women. 

Data from the 2008 US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey found that 2.7 percent of San Francisco's population commutes to work by bike. The survey reports that 3.7 percent of men ride to work, while only 1.6 percent of women do. A 2009 study in Scientific American found that men's cycling trips surpass women's by at least 2:1. In the competitive arena, 87 percent of competitive cyclists are male, according to 2009's active member demographic conducted by USA Cycling. 

These bicycle commute numbers also skew pretty far from commute rates by other modes. As noted in a Transportation Research Board survey by Susan Handy, a professor of environmental science at the University of California, Davis, "82 percent of the bicycle commuters were men and 21 percent were students, compared to 54 percent and 11 percent of all commuters, respectively." 

So what do these numbers mean about bicycling in the Bay Area?

Many researchers, including Handy, believe the presence of women on bicycles is an important indicator of how bike-friendly a city is. Research shows the better a city's bike infrastructure, the more commuters there are, including more women, seniors, riders with special needs and children. 


San Jose Celebrates First ViaVelo, Opens Downtown Streets to People

family_on_bikes.jpgA family enjoying the warm day and car-free streets. Photos: Matthew Roth.

San Jose kicked off its first ViaVelo Saturday with the opening of seven blocks of San Fernando Street downtown to bicycle riders, skaters, and pedestrians who enjoyed five hours of car-free space. Several hundred people showed up, many of them families and the burgeoning young fixed-gear crowd, riding bikes and socializing on a brilliant spring day.

San Jose joins San Francisco and San Mateo county (whose Streets Alive was mostly rained out last month) in hosting the increasingly popular events, which are modeled on the enormous ciclovia in Bogota, Colombia. San Francisco has held three of the nine Sunday Streets of 2010 and Oakland will premiere its first Oaklavia on June 27th.

Organizers of ViaVelo were upbeat about the turnout and the day's events, suggesting that if there is enough positive public feedback, the city would like to make the events a tradition next year.

"It's nice not having to worry about cars, to see families with their kids out, to see families happy and having fun, rather than worrying about how to cross the street or if it's safe to ride a bike," said John Brazil, Bike Coordinator for the San Jose Department of Transportation. "I know that all the organizers and many of the sponsors would like to see this continue, so hopefully the community will tell their elected officials they like it and it's a priority."

As one of the primary community partners involved in organizing ViaVelo, the San Jose Bike Party led various feeder rides to and from the event. Several rides from downtown went to points of interest along San Jose's extensive trail system.

"I love the fact that San Jose is becoming a bike city and putting so much focus on it," said Ian Emmons, a Bike Party organizer attending ViaVelo with his son. "I think we've got a ways to go before we catch up with Portland and 7 miles of closed streets, but we're working on it."