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Posts from the "Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition" Category

The Nowtopian 35 Comments

A Rose By Another Name: San Jose’s Bike Party

crowd_6730.jpgA crowd assembles at the beginning of San Jose Bike Party, April 16, 2010.

Let's just say right away that Critical Mass is a bike party, and the San Jose Bike Party has a lot more similarities to Critical Mass than differences. A half-dozen San Francisco and Berkeley Critical Mass veterans took a field trip to join the San Jose Bike Party on Friday night as it cruised through the heart of Silicon Valley. We piled onto a "Baby Bullet" Caltrain that got us into downtown Sunnyvale well before the 8 p.m. starting time. (Along the way we pondered how many cyclists it takes to make a Critical Mass and concluded that it takes enough to break into different factions that don't like each other!)

After leaving the train, we soon came upon a couple with a big couch on a bike trailer, their two dogs occupying the seats of honor, and a sound system ready to pump some tunes from within. As we approached the gathering point, not really sure how to distinguish one intersection from another along the sprawling avenues of the South Bay, we were excited to see feeder rides streaming in from all directions, numbering anywhere from a dozen to nearly 100. Riders gathering in a big parking lot, hanging with friends, energy and anticipation rising.

By the time we got rolling there were over 1,000 riders, and possibly twice that many. Unlike San Francisco, there weren't too many white hipsters in this ride. Most of the crowd was Latino and Asian youth on all manner of bikes from beaters to chrome low-riders, and a smaller number of "properly" garbed older white cyclists in yellow reflective clothing with helmets -- classic bike nerds, in other words.

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How Quickly Will Caltrans Embrace Complete Streets Guidelines?

Though it may seem esoteric, one of the biggest impediments to designing streets for people is the over-reliance on design standards that have long privileged movement of vehicles over any other consideration on the streets. That’s why advocates cheered when U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood published a policy paper recently that, at least in word, placed bicycles and pedestrians on equal footing with motorists.

“Every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems,” read one line of the statement.

Yet, an advisory policy paper won’t change the streets overnight and that’s where reforming the design manuals and guidelines at state departments of transportation is imperative, work that groups like Congress for New Urbanism have made a priority at the national level.

Various cities in California that have tried to rebuild their streets to be safer for pedestrians and bicycle riders have often been met with resistance from traffic engineers and city attorneys who rely on Caltrans manuals and standards that are good for moving traffic, not always for protecting vulnerable users.

“The Caltrans Highway Design Manual [HDM] has been the bible for highway engineers for the past half century and has guided the development of California’s freeway system,” said Hans Larsen, Acting Director of San Jose’s Department of Transportation. “Unfortunately, the HDM has also become the default gospel for designing local streets by many city engineers.”

Larsen said the standards that make freeways good for carrying large quantities of vehicles at high speeds are not context appropriate on most streets in urban areas. “Even today, the Caltrans HDM continues to promote such commandments as ‘a design speed as high as feasible should be used’ and ‘the basic lane width shall be 12 feet,’” he said.

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Advocates Concerned That Cyclists Are Included in Distracted Driving Bill

A bill introduced last month by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who has been a steady advocate for reducing the dangers of distracted driving, would increase first-time and repeat fines for drivers who text while driving or who don’t use hands-free devices, and would extend the prohibition of cell phone use to cyclists. This last move has cycling advocates baffled and on the defensive.

State Senate Bill 1475 would amend the California Vehicle Code so that, “a person shall not ride a bicycle or drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while riding or driving.” The bill would increase the base fine for illegal use of a cell phone while driving or riding a bicycle from $20 to $50 for the first offense, and increase the fine from $50 to $100 for each subsequent offense.

"This was something that was an oversight from the initial enactment from 2006, which took effect in 2008," Simitian explained in an interview with Streetsblog. He said he waited a year after the law took effect to make changes, which include the increased fines, adding a point to a driver's record for the infraction, and using a portion of the fine to create an education fund for the dangers of distracted driving. Simitian also said the motivation for adding cyclists to the bill did not come from a dramatic incident nor a trend of increased cycling collisions due to cell phone use.

"Common sense tells us it’s not a safe habit, given all the risks that cyclists have to contend with," said Simitian.

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Among Walkable Regions, San Francisco One of Most Dangerous

3816698732_dc7b4b8a26.jpgA pedestrian crosses Van Ness Avenue, wary of a driver who seemingly intends to switch into the left lane. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Just how dangerous is San Francisco for pedestrians?

A new report on pedestrian safety in the 52 largest U.S. metro areas ranked San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont 13th safest for walkers, based on an index that takes into account annual pedestrian deaths and the percentage of workers who commute by foot. San Francisco looks pretty good at first glance, but Walk SF president Manish Champsee said a closer look at the city's record reveals a less favorable state of affairs: 47.7 percent of all traffic fatalities in San Francisco are pedestrians, more than four times the national average of 11.8 percent. The rate of pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 residents is 2.60 in San Francisco, 70 percent higher than the national average of 1.53.

That's partly because far more people walk in San Francisco than in the country as a whole. The rate of pedestrian fatalities per walking trip is still much lower in the city proper than in most metro regions. But a fairer comparison, said Champsee, is between San Francisco and other very walkable cities. "We do rank favorably when you control for the number of people who walk to work. Having said that, I think a truer measure of that would be to compare San Francisco to its peers cities, places like New York City, Chicago, Seattle, and Washington DC."

The report, co-authored by the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership and Transportation for America, only includes regional data, and doesn't break out statistics by city, which would give a more precise picture of how dangerous San Francisco is compared to peers. Regionally, however, San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont is more dangerous than other metros with very walkable cores, like Chicago, Portland, New York, Seattle, and Boston.

"We hope to see a report coming out that will compare San Francisco to other similarly land-used cities," said Champsee.

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Santa Clara VTA Proceeds with Bay Area’s First Bike Share Pilot Program

Despite the much ballyhooed talk by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom that his city will implement a public bike share pilot (two years of talk that has garnered numerous press hits), the first bike share program in the Bay Area will likely be implemented by the middle of 2010 in Santa Clara County by the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA).  While small size may still be a liability to its success and long term funding sources must be determined, the VTA is miles ahead of other transit operators in completing the process necessary to deliver a pilot.

The VTA has wrapped up its market research data collection, is completing its business model, and will release its final analysis report by the end of this year for a pilot project intended to link three Caltrain stations in Mountain View, Palo Alto, and San Jose with multiple satellite destination points, such as Stanford and San Jose State Universities and job centers like Moffett Park and San Jose City Hall. 

The VTA used an initial $75,000 from their general budget to hire Economic and Planning Systems (EPS) to conduct the planning work, but applied for a $500,000 Safe Routes to Transit grant to implement the pilot, money that will come from bridge tolls collected by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). VTA has learned that the project has been ranked for funding, though it might not get the money for a month or two.

"Bikes in general are given short shrift in suburban sprawling areas," said Chris Augenstein, Deputy Director of Planning at VTA. "We can do a lot more to make bicycles a real mode and integrate them into everything we do."

While the VTA insists it is too early to start speculating about how many bikes would be involved in the program, they've conducted over 1200 surveys at target areas, with particular focus on Caltrain riders and corporate partners who sit on their Bike Share working group, including Yahoo! and Adobe. When pressed on a number of bikes, Augenstein said that Paris' Velib bicycles cost over $3,000 each and suggested I could do the math to figure out how many bikes the MTC grant would buy (over 150, though other start-up costs must be factored in). He also said the VTA was studying advertising models with companies like Clear Channel (which runs Barcelona's Bicing bike-share program) or JC Decaux (which runs Velib) to offset operating and expansion costs.

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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."

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San Jose Provides Model for Bay Area Growth and Transportation Needs

pbo31_sj_bus_small.jpgPhoto: pbo31

In our ongoing coverage of the adverse affects of traffic engineers' over-reliance on automobile level of service (LOS) measurements, we've examined how new amendments to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) would allow local jurisdictions greater freedom in choosing whether they want to develop their cities for cars or for transit, cycling, and livable streets.  Simply put, if the CEQA amendments are codified, cities all over the state could become more like San Jose.

While San Francisco labors with the development of its auto trip generation (ATG) metric and could spend a year or more setting a development impact fee that would go to improving transit, cycling and pedestrian safety, San Jose completed a citywide transportation environmental impact statement (EIS) in 2002 and adopted its vision for sustainable, transit-oriented growth in 2005 [PDF]. What's more, this transportation and land-use plan moves San Jose ahead of the curve compared to other cities in meeting the requirements under AB 32 (carbon reduction targets) and SB 375 (limiting sprawl).

"We want to grow up, not out," said Hans Larsen, Acting Director of San Jose's Department of Transportation (DOT), noting the city couldn't accommodate the 400,000 new residents expected by 2030 within San Jose's current boundaries by adding more sprawling developments and more traffic. "We had a policy conflict between our growth plan, which was really smart-growth, and our transportation management policies, which have historically been oriented toward providing enough capacity for cars."

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