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Category Archives: Issues & Infrastructure

A Bicycle Movement Powered by Wine & Chocolate

It takes a village to raise a child, they say, and a community to build a movement. But is bicycling a movement? I’ve always bristled at the idea. When I think of movements I think of protest rallies and marches with grand speeches that lead to counter-protests and sometimes violence. Like the unrest that came with the Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage and Antiwar Movements. That’s not what I see for bicycling, nor do I hope to see.

Maybe I’m thinking too narrowly. Social movements spring from a new perspective and people’s desire for change. That’s what I want for bicycling: that we see it differently, that we move bicycling beyond just sport and recreation to integrate it into our daily lives in a way that’s healthier for us, for our cities, and for our planet.

Bike Posse Arrives

If we accept bicycling as a movement, then which communities will build it? Will it be the bike advocates, who push for bike lanes and legal protections? Will it be city staff and elected officials who design and approve the streets and trails we ride? Will it be the bike industry, who manufacture and sell the gear?  Will it be businesses, who know that bicycles can bring in more customers or more employees at a lower cost?

Or will it be people like us, the women who came together at the Wine, Women & Chocolate gathering to share the joy of bicycling: college students making their place in the world, women retired from careers in business or raising children, and women who juggle one or more roles every day. We are women who are just getting comfortable riding on streets, women who bike every day, everywhere, women who unwind with a spin down a trail, and women who push themselves longer, harder or faster. There may have even been a racer or two.

Chatting in the garden

Community goes beyond living in the same place, it’s a feeling of fellowship with others that comes sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. I saw community at our Wine, Women & Chocolate gathering, and I believe communities are what will build our bicycle movement, along with help from the bike advocates, the city staff and elected offiicials, the bike industry, and local business leaders. It takes a village, after all.

What bicycling communities do you belong to? What kind of movement are you all building?

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It takes a crew to throw a party. Many thanks to Candice and Carmen for opening their home to us, to the half-dozen volunteers who checked us in, parked bikes, poured wine, kept the food table neat, and to the handful of party-goers who took the photos in this slideshow. Finally, thank you to the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition for sponsoring and promoting the event and loaning us the nifty bike racks. If you’re not a member, become one today.

 
 

Bike Lane FAIL: Halfway Job at Central Expressway

Two years after I first wrote the city about problems with bicycling to the San Antonio Caltrain station and tunnel, there it was: a bike lane. No longer would I have to ride around the corner to push the pedestrian button and use a crosswalk that’s not particularly visible to drivers turning right on Central Expressway.

Bike Lane FAIL Mayfield

It doesn’t do anything to fix the reverse direction, but it’s an improvement, right? Guess again. It fails in two dangerous ways. First, it forces you to merge with the adjacent lane’s traffic to get around an oversized median. More seriously, the green light is so short that you’re likely to still be in the intersection when the light turns red. That puts you in the path of expressway-speed traffic just as you’re slowing to exit onto the sidewalk.

This is the fourth intersection within two miles of my home that has been “improved” since I started this series. All are critical connections across high-speed roads and all are more, not less, dangerous now. They include: a vanishing bike lane at San Antonio Road, a painful squeeze on Rengstorff Avenue, and a take-the-lane situation on Moffett Blvd that I only ride when I’m sure there won’t be vehicles barreling up behind me. Here’s a map.

At this point, I’m losing patience. Why does this keep happening? Don’t the engineers have the skill to design something that doesn’t set people up to be injured? Isn’t ensuring the crossing is safe a priority? Do they ever get on a bike and test these “improvements” when they’re complete? I’m tired of being their guinea pig.

Location: Mayfield Avenue at Central Expressway, Mountain View

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2015 in Bike Lane FAIL

 

I Bike, I Vote. My Beliefs, My 2014 Election Choices

The signs are all over town: it’s election time. In two weeks, three new city council members will be voted into office in Mountain View. Knowing that I’m a regular at city hall, friends have been asking me for my opinion on the candidates. It’s not easy to answer. I’m looking for bold leaders who will make our city more comfortable and convenient for people to walk, bike and take transit so that residents and businesses can thrive.

The problem is there’s a certain “Mom & apple pie” aspect to improving biking and walking. All the candidates say they’re for it, but the truth will come out when projects are proposed that require cars to give up street space or require drivers to slow down. Then there’s sticker shock. Some will balk at $10 million for a bike and walking bridge over a freeway, even if three miles of carpool lanes on the freeway below costs $72 million.

Election Signs

When I first started bicycling to work every day four years ago, I had no idea how profoundly it would change my life, and how I saw my city. Over time, my bike became my primary transportation for everything, with Caltrain doing the heavy lifting for longer trips. When you reduce your driving mileage to less than 1,500 miles a year and choose bike routes based on destinations instead of recreation, your point of view changes.

You see that it’s possible to live well with minimal driving, and you see how limited vision and status quo decisions keep people in cars, complaining bitterly about the increased traffic from a booming economy. You see how expensive road “improvements” put people’s lives at risk because they prioritize moving more vehicles at higher speeds, instead of prioritizing moving people. You see how the “build a lane, fill a lane” lessons of induced demand still haven’t been learned 45 years after they were first detailed when I was a little girl.

Hwy 101 from Palo Alto footbridge

Unlike many homeowners, I’m not anti-growth. I believe it’s better to build more new housing within our existing cities than build in distant farmland or hills where people will drive long distance to work. I realize that some people will still choose a bigger home with longer commute, but there are far fewer homes available in closer, more walkable neighborhoods than the number of people interested in buying them.

That’s actually the tradeoff we chose 20 years ago when we bought our townhouse. We could have bought a single family home further away but didn’t. We wanted to be able to walk to downtown Mountain View.

Castro Street

My views stand in sharp contrast to many of the more vocal established residents of Mountain View. If you’re among the 40% of residents who owns a home, there’s no fear of being priced out of the rental market and you have little to gain if new housing is built near your home. Growth means your sleepy suburban city starts to look more like an actual city. You might not be able to hop in your car at any time of day, any day of the week, and drive across town on traffic-free streets and park directly in front of the grocery or drug store anymore.

As in most cities, retirement-age residents have the loudest political voice in Mountain View and they’re the most resistant to changes in housing and transportation. Most own their homes, which insulates them from skyrocketing prices in the housing market. In fact, selling their homes at huge profits could be part of their retirement strategies. And unlike their children or grandchildren, few can imagine raising a family in a townhouse and riding a bike or bus to work or to shop. That’s not the American Dream they grew up with.

Family Biking

Given this presumed profile of the voting majority, it’s no surprise that none of the city council candidates publicly espouses all my beliefs. So I’m looking for candidates who are willing to question the status quo and look for productive solutions to the inevitable growth that will preserve our community’s unique value. By that I don’t mean preserving the city’s current look and feel, but rather preserving it as a community of people of all ages, backgrounds and income levels that’s at the center of Silicon Valley. A city that draws new people to the area with its culture of technology and innovation, and generates economic opportunity for all.

I’m looking for candidates who will to listen to a well-reasoned argument and make the right decision, not the popular one. Like Steve Jobs, I believe that people don’t always know what they’ll like until they experience it. Case in point: when the city gave Castro Street a “road diet” 25 years ago, changing it from four lanes to three, there were cries of protest about traffic. What would they say now that Castro Street is a thriving, lovely place to dine and shop? Yes, there is traffic congestion, but there’s also a healthy stream of new revenue for the city.

Steve Jobs Memorial

So with that long preamble, here’s how I see the city council candidates, starting with ones I endorse:

Pat Showalter: I met Showalter 20 years ago when we were both Girl Scout leaders, but I didn’t know her well until we started rubbing elbows at city planning meetings. She impressed me by asking insightful questions and soliciting my opinion. She listens. Most of her biking experience has been on off-street trails, but she went out of her comfort zone to come on neighborhood tour focused on potential bike and walking improvements.

Lenny Siegel: As the founder of Campaign for Balanced Mountain View, Siegel sees lack of housing available to meet jobs growth as a critical issue. Once a strong supporter of rent control, he is now more focused on building housing and moderating office development. Like Showalter, he attended the neighborhood tour (that’s him on the bike behind Pat) and I’ve seen him riding his bike around town, so he sees the issues first hand.

Pat & Lenny on Bikes

Ken Rosenberg: Rosenberg is a member of the city’s Human Relations Commission who launched the Civility Roundtable series that brings people together to understand and discuss key issues our city faces. He supports a much-needed road diet for California Street to make walking and biking safer in the city’s most dense residential neighborhood. And a friend I trust who has worked with him says he’s a mensch.

Greg Unangst: Unangst is the chair of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, so it’s no surprise that many of his concerns and goals align with mine. Unangst also shares my view that we need to create walk- and bike-friendly “urban villages” beyond downtown, in places like North Bayshore. He is the only candidate who shares my support of bus lanes on El Camino so that rapid transit buses can truly be rapid.

No Bus Lane

I cannot endorse four candidates. In general, my concern is their limited support for biking, walking and transit and in some cases, anti-growth NIMBY sentiments.

Lisa Matichak: Matichak became involved in city politics after successfully blocking a housing development in 2008 which would have built townhouses on property behind her single family home. That’s textbook NIMBY. Her voting record as a commissioner on the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) shows her preference for low density development, which she justifies by concerns for increased traffic. She does not share my vision.

Margaret Capriles: Like Matichak, Capriles has cited concerns over increased traffic in voting down higher density in housing and office projects as a commissioner on the EPC. At one meeting, she relayed concerns that some residents of The Crossings, a transit-oriented development, had about Caltrain potentially increasing service to the nearby station. Although the station does not offer car parking, residents were concerned about an increase in bike traffic. My jaw dropped when Capriles expressed she thought it was a legitimate concern.

Boarding Caltrain

Jim Neal: I tip my hat to Neal for his perfect attendance at city council and EPC meetings. Often he would speak up for things like building Vegas-style elevated walkways across El Camino, or preserving underutilized street parking, or for not restricting drive-thrus. Then I would speak up for the exact opposite. You’d think I’d have more in common with someone who rides transit instead of driving, but he consistently shows cars-first thinking. Then there was the time he called bikes and trains “19th century transportation solutions.”

Mercedes Salem. Salem is the only candidate I’ve never seen at any city council, EPC, BPAC or other planning meeting. Given I average three such meetings a month, I’m not impressed by her lack of participation. It didn’t help that when she showed up late for a candidate’s forum she blamed driving in rush hour traffic and pledged to fix it. I suspect we have very different ideas on how to improve mobility.

Cars on Central Expwy

The final candidate, Ellen Kamei, was tough to pin down. While I’ve attended several Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) meetings where she serves as a commissioner, I have not gotten a clear understanding of her perspective. When I received a fear-mongering flyer with headline “San Francisco traffic is coming to Mountain View” and her name and photo, I was disturbed by the focus on cars with no mention of walking, biking or transit. The traffic solution cited was “new technology” and the driverless car.

It turns out the flyer was paid for by the Neighborhood Empowerment Coalition (NEC) of Long Beach, not the Kamei campaign. Ellen is quoted in the Mountain View Voice saying she received the mail from NEC at the same time as Mountain View residents and is not familiar with NEC at all. Putting that aside, I can’t endorse her at this time because I don’t have a clear picture of where she stands and why.

I Walk. I Bike. I Vote has compiled candidate’s responses to a short survey. Seven of the nine All nine candidates have responded, which tells me Mountain View is taking a hard look at these issues. That’s a great sign. [updated 10/26] 

Finally, I’ve never made public endorsements for political candidates before. Like discussions on religion, it’s something that I’m careful about in social settings. But these issues matter. I’m sure I’ll have readers who question my beliefs and my choices. As always, I will accept your comments. Please keep them civil.

Have you decided how you will cast your votes this election season? What do you look for in a candidate? Which issues matter most to you this year?

Ballot at Polling Station

 
33 Comments

Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Issues & Infrastructure

 

Cowgirls & LadyCats: A New Face for Bike Couriers

If you’ve you ever hopped on a bike after a rough work day and had your bad mood roll away, you’ve probably wondered: “If only I could get paid to ride my bike.” The good news is that you don’t have to be a pro racer to make a living on two wheels. You can coach or instruct like my friend Lorri. You can write about bicycling like my friend Elly. You can work in bike advocacy like my friends at SVBC and CalBike. Or you can work in the bike industry, either at a manufacturer or at your local bike shop like my dear husband did when I met him.

But the purest way to get paid to ride a bike is as a messenger, something I could never see myself doing. Bike messengers are thrill-seeking guys careening around the city on brakeless fixies, hopping curbs and running red lights. You know, like in Premium Rush. But now I have a friend Cain who has launched a new kind of bike delivery service earlier this month called Cowgirl Bike Couriers. They’re not your typical messengers.

Cowgirls 2Photo courtesy of Cowgirl Bike Couriers.

Like other bike courier services, the Cowgirls specialize in delivering legal documents, but that doesn’t stop them from delivering packages, flowers, groceries, and even medical supplies. But what makes Cowgirls stand out is their focus on recruiting women as couriers to help bridge the gender gap in American cycling.

I love their mission and the name Cowgirl, which reminds me of the strong women of Old West who had the daring and strength to ride hard and get sweaty in what’s seen as a man’s job. Cowgirls are ready for anything, and I think their new service is too. Ten women and men have been recruited, some key accounts have been signed, and the Cowgirls are riding from Milpitas to Los Gatos, from Santa Clara to East and South San Jose.

Cowgirls 1cropPhoto courtesy of Cowgirl Bike Couriers.

I’m not in the market to become a courier, but it’s fun to pretend. So when my friend Lorri asked me to race with her in an alley cat the Cowgirls hosted last month, I went for it. I wanted to support Cowgirls in their launch, and their LadyCat race was a fund-raiser for the Silicon Valley Roller Girls who lost their home rink at the last remaining roller skating rink in the South Bay. Besides, how could LadyFleur not race the LadyCat?

Lorri and I made a good team. I arrived early, giving me time to study the manifest and map out a route using my iPhone. Lorri rushed over from another event so she didn’t know the route, but she could read the map without pulling out reading glasses. That led to a couple of “who’s on first” conversations and an overshot checkpoint on Hamilton Ave that gave us the (dis)pleasure of crossing the Hwy 17 freeway interchange twice.

LadyCat Map

We survived, though, and 24 miles and two hours later we had hit all nine checkpoints and were sharing drinks and stories with the other racers. We were far from the first to come in, but not the last either. Best of all, we got to pretend to be bike couriers for a day, something I’ll surely never do in real life.

Have you ever been paid for riding a bike or working in a bike-affiliated job? If not, what job would you want?

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3 Comments

Posted by on October 9, 2014 in Around Town, Women & Bikes

 

Who You Callin’ Scofflaw? Sidewalk Cyclist

“Get on the sidewalk!” I don’t think there’s anyone who has ridden a bike on a city street or country road that hasn’t heard this one before. Most of the time the harasser is out of earshot if you yell back, “I have a right to the road.” And in all states in the US you do have the right to ride in the roadway just like vehicles with few exceptions, namely controlled-access highways, also known as freeways, interstates or motorways.

Of course, if you ride on the sidewalk, you’re just as likely get scolded with “Get OFF the sidewalk!” by people walking there, feeding yet again into the scofflaw cyclist image. You can’t win.

Claim: Scofflaw cyclists ride on sidewalks!

Whether it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk is not so clear. Most states, including California, Texas and New York, leave the decision to local jurisdictions. In San Francisco, it’s illegal for adults everywhere with a few notable exceptions. In my home city of Mountain View, it’s illegal for adults only in business districts. And in San Jose, it’s legal everywhere for all ages. So this man riding on the sidewalk in downtown San Jose is riding legally.

IMG_3527.JPG

To those who are ready to scroll down to the comment section and give me a keyboardful about the dangers of sidewalk cycling: please wait. Yes, bicycling on the sidewalk can be dangerous, both for the person on the bike and for people walking or standing on the sidewalk. But much of the danger comes with speed.

Drivers are looking for people moving at walking speed, not faster than running speeds. (That’s one reason why young children are usually allowed to bike on sidewalks) Ditto for people walking along the sidewalk or stepping out of buildings. Let’s hope our sidewalk-cycling guy only rides this close to storefronts that are boarded up.

Why do people ride on the sidewalk? Sometimes it’s for convenience or out of habit, but much of the time it’s because the sidewalk feels safer than the roadway. This man was riding along Santa Clara Street, which has four lanes of car traffic and parked cars on either side. I ride it occasionally, but it’s very stressful. There’s a bike lane on a parallel street 1/0 of a mile away, but the one-way streets leading there don’t have bike lanes either.

Assessment: The sidewalk-biking guy is not a scofflaw; he’s riding legally even if arguably unsafely.

As someone who has the choice to ride a bike or drive a car, I’m not going to judge people who may not have that choice. He was riding slowly and I saw him give a woman ample room when he passed. Besides, there are several places I ride on the sidewalk in San Jose. With roads like the one below, can you really blame me?

Have you been called a scofflaw for riding on a sidewalk? Were you riding legally? Are you sure?

riding-on-sidewalk

The City of San Jose is hosting a public meeting on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 6pm at City Hall that includes discussion of a ban on sidewalk riding. If you live or work in San Jose, I encourage you to attend. All I ask is that you consider the needs of everyone who rides a bicycle, not just those with the skill, speed and courage to ride comfortably on any road, or the option to hop in the car where the roads are unforgiving.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2014 in Who You Callin' Scofflaw?

 

Who You Callin’ Scofflaw? Middle of the Road

The other day I learned that one of my neighbors works in downtown San Jose and often sees me riding my bike to work. As we chatted, my mind quickly traced where he likely sees me on my bike. More precisely, could he have seen me rolling through a stop sign, riding on a sidewalk, or otherwise being a “scofflaw cyclist?”

I fully admit that when there’s no one else around I don’t fully stop for stop signs and that’s illegal. But I’ve come to realize that there are many perfectly legal things people do when they’re riding bikes that “give cyclists a bad name.” Many people, including “avid cyclists” and law enforcement, don’t know the laws. So I’m launching “Who You Callin’ Scofflaw,” a series to test your knowledge and foster a lively, but civil, bicycle discussion.

Running Red Light

Disclaimer: These situations are based on California Vehicle Code. Roadway laws in your area may be different.

Claim: Scofflaw cyclists ride in the middle of the road!

Ask the average person and they’ll tell you that bikes must stay as far to the right as possible on the road. In any news story concerning bikes, there will be someone angrily citing CVC 20212, which begins “Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.”

middle-of-lane-door-zone1

What the finger-waggers fail to mention is the long list of exceptions to the code which include (1) if you’re riding the normal speed of traffic; (2) if you’re overtaking someone; (3) if you’re turning left or right at an intersection or driveway; (4) avoiding obstacles; or (5) if the lane is too narrow to safely ride a bike alongside a motor vehicle.

In this case, the lane is too narrow for a vehicle and bike to share safely (exception 5). The guy in the green jacket needs to stay at least 3 feet from the parked cars to avoid being hit by opening doors. He and his bike are about 3 feet wide. Drivers need a minimum of a 3 foot buffer to pass in car that’s up to 8 feet wide. Add it up and you need a 17 foot lane if there are parked cars (14 feet otherwise). This lane is not 17 feet wide.

Assessment: The guy in the green jacket is not a scofflaw; he’s riding safely and legally.

Have you been called a scofflaw for taking the lane like this guy? If so, by whom? Is it legal where you live?

 

What Tea Societies Can Do for Women & Bikes

Garden clubs, sewing circles, and bridge groups for socializing. Benevolent societies and church groups to assist the needy. Women’s leagues, committees, unions and movements for social change and political action. Women have a long history of gathering apart from their menfolk, whether it’s simply to carve their own space in the conversation or to have a stronger voice in the decision-making. And it’s just fun to do girly things, like promenade around town on our bikes and drink tea outdoors from fancy cups in summer hats.

Jacquie Katie Darcy

The thing about women’s groups is once they get started, they spread. My friend Katie heard of the Ladies Tea & Bike Social we held in Palo Alto last August and loved the idea. In February she pedaled trough a rainstorm and took a ferry and train to San Jose for our Wine, Women & Chocolate. By March she had jumped headfirst into organizing her own Ladies Tea for the “Critical Misses” up in Marin County. Through word of mouth, social media and the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, she had dozens women lined up and raring to roll.

I simply had to make the trip up there, even before I heard that mountain bike pioneer Jacquie Phelan would be attending. As founder of Women’s Mountain Bike & Tea Society (WOMBATS), Jacquie wouldn’t miss a bike and tea party in her own backyard. As always, she added color to the occasion in her own inimitable style.

Jacquie Phelan Ladies Tea

Jacquie may have been comfortable bombing down trails and racing dirt along with the likes of Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Charlie Cunningham and other male mountain bike pioneers, but she founded the WOMBATS way back in 1987 because she wanted a place for women in this new and growing sport. Through WOMBATS, Jacquie taught skills clinics and camps to give women confidence to try something new, and hosted dirt rides that included tea stops. Only in Jacquie’s imagination would a Teacup Tango be a mountain biking party.

Why a tea society? As she explained to me as we rode together to the Marin Ladies Tea, “Guys have a way of taking over and I didn’t want that. I knew if it was a tea society they wouldn’t even want to join.” It worked.

Having organized and led women’s group rides and events, I understand that completely. As much as I enjoy riding with my husband and “the guys” sometimes, there’s something different about riding with women. The conversation changes, the tone changes, and for many women it means a relaxed environment where they can push themselves a little harder. If that sounds like an oxymoron to you, this post explains my point of view.

Bikes at Tea Party

The Marin Ladies Tea was all the success I expected. Women who were old friends arrived together, others who knew no one arrived alone. One woman had just returned home after months bike touring in South America. Another arrived for tea by wheelchair. You don’t need a bike to join a bike social that’s a tea party in a park.

After these events I often hear from women, “Oh, I wish we had a bike tea society here.” Here’s a secret: it’s not hard to host a bike tea party. First, find a park in a beautiful setting, map out a bike route on quiet streets or on a bike path, and pick a date when you know a few friends can join. Then send out an invitation to others through your local bike club or advocacy group, asking everyone to bring a tea cup and a snack or thermos of tea to share. Whether you end up with a group of four or forty, I promise it will be fun. Just ask Katie.

Have you ever hosted a bike ride or bike-specific event? Did it have a theme? How did it work out?

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Posted by on August 13, 2014 in Women & Bikes

 
 
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