Category Archives: Issues & Infrastructure

Law Enforcement FAIL: Red Light, Green Light

An incident this weekend reminded me of this letter I drafted last year but never sent. I really wish I had.

Dear City of Palo Alto,

I am angry that a Palo Alto police officer did not cite the driver who ran a red light and nearly hit me on my bike. I appreciate that the officer lectured her, but that’s not enough. We need law enforcement to crack down on careless drivers that threaten others, especially vulnerable people who are walking or bicycling.

I was on West Bayshore waiting to cross Oregon Expressway in the left traffic lane. When the signal turned green, I starting crossing. I saw that a driver approaching from my left was rolling through slowly instead of stopping, so I put a foot down and yelled: “What are you doing!! You have a red light!” and pointed at the signal.

She was halfway into the intersection and less than five feet from me when she stopped. As I rolled away, I saw a police car behind her and thought: “For once they’re here to see it.” I smiled when I saw his lights come on.


From the bottom of the bike bridge I saw that the cop had pulled her over. She gave him something, probably her license and registration. He talked to her. I waited and watched for almost 10 minutes. He didn’t write a citation or warning, and she drove away. I shook my head and pedaled to work.

What’s your experience with your local law enforcement as a bicycle rider? Have they been helpful in protecting you from aggressive or careless drivers? Or do they seem to have more sympathy for the drivers?

Location: Oregon Expressway at West Bayshore Road, Palo Alto, California. Streetview from my vantage point.


Posted by on December 17, 2012 in Bike Lane FAIL, Issues & Infrastructure


Crosswalk FAIL: Skyport Drive at Guadalupe Fwy

How many buttons do you have to push to cross under this freeway? How many minutes does the crossing take? This dull video goes on and on, just like crossing this road. It’s no surprise that everyone jaywalks here.

The crosswalk connects workers like me in nearby office towers to an entrance to the Guadalupe River Trail. Fortunately, there aren’t many scofflaw pedestrians. Since there aren’t any trail signs, few even know it’s there.

Location: Skyport Drive at the Guadalupe Freeway, San Jose.

Update: I contact the City of San Jose’s Bike and Pedestrian group within their Department of Transportation. They agreed that the crosswalk signal wasn’t timed well. Unfortunately, the State of California’s DOT regulates this particular intersection so they urged me to contact them. I’ll do it after they open tomorrow.


Posted by on November 27, 2012 in Bike Lane FAIL


Bike Commute Diaries: Bike the Vote

I live in a state that offers vote by mail so I don’t have to wait in line to vote. But there’s something about dropping off my ballot at the polling station that feels right. Lucky for me I skipped the line in the parking lot too.

Note: If you haven’t already voted and you’re undecided about which local candidates support bicycling, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition offers these endorsements. The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition cannot endorse candidates, but has posted results to “ask the candidate” surveys related to bike-related issues.


About the Bike Commute Diaries: Launched in May 2012 for National Bike Month, this series explores the unexpected and surprising things I’ve learned about bicycling for transportation.


Posted by on November 6, 2012 in Commute Diaries, Issues & Infrastructure


Bike Lane FAIL: Warning! Construction Signs Ahead

Sigh. What to you call signs warning of danger that ARE the danger? From what I’ve seen lately it’s standard operating procedure all over town, despite the guidelines from the US Federal Highway Administration. I could write something clever or get fired up for a rant, but I just don’t have the energy today. Sigh.

Do construction crews ever consider putting signs off the roadway instead of in the middle of the bike lane?


Posted by on October 30, 2012 in Bike Lane FAIL


Think Bike, Like the Dutch Think Bike

Have you ever wondered how different your city’s streets would be if they were designed in the Netherlands, where 30% of the people use bikes every day? Well, if you’re in San Jose you can hear firsthand the changes Dutch transportation experts would recommend at the upcoming Think Bike Workshop San José.

Next week, the Dutch Cycling Assembly will join city staff and other transportation and urban planners in a two-day workshop focused on downtown San Jose. The event includes opening and closing sessions that are open to the public. I plan to attend the closing session on Tuesday night. Having spent several days bicycling in Amsterdam last year, I’m curious to hear how they’d change our local streets.

Amsterdam is famous for its extensive system of cycletracks and a population of all ages that rides them rain or shine, summer and winter. Almost everyone takes a bike for some of their trips. The evidence is everywhere. I couldn’t take a photo in Amsterdam without getting bikes in the background. Not that I wanted to.

So what will the team recommend for San Jose? Will it be more separated bike lanes like the new ones on 4th Street? Will it be corner islands for two-stage left turns at busy intersections? Maybe bike-only signal phases?

One thing I learned is that the Dutch solution is not just about cyclepaths and bike signals. It’s also about going slower in shared spaces and giving way to more vulnerable users, not strict separation. Watch the video I shot below to see how everyone–on foot, on bikes, in cars and trams–gets through this busy intersection safely.

Do you think would be possible in your town or city? Or is it just a crazy Dutch thing?


Posted by on October 19, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure


Bike Path FAIL? Chicanes on the Stevens Creek Trail

Sometimes a longed for bike improvement comes with something unexpected. For years, bicyclists had to hop a curb to enter or exit the Steven Creek Trail at Evelyn Avenue in Mountain View. When the city finally installed a nice wide curb cut, they also installed chicane fences and a directive to “walk your bike.” Among the local bicycle advocates, some cried foul, others defended it, and some like me are left pondering on the fence.


What do you think? Are widely spaced chicane fences appropriate where a bike trail meets a 35 mph road?

Location: Steven’s Creek Trail at W Evelyn Avenue, Mountain View, California, USA.


Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Bike Lane FAIL


How Bike Friendly Is Your City? Ask the Census

If gold is luxurious and platinum is even more precious, what’s next? Diamond, of course. Last week, the League of American Bicyclists added a new “Diamond” designation to their Bicycle-Friendly Community program, which recognizes communities that actively promote bicycling. With communities like Portland, Boulder and Davis having achieved Platinum years ago, it was time for the League to expand the challenge.

The program evaluates communities on the five E’s: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation, and gives awards from Bronze to Diamond. But how effective is the rating? My city achieved Bronze, the same as my hometown of Baton Rouge. But no one would say they’re equally bike-friendly.

Most of Baton Rouge’s neighborhoods are isolated by fast roads with no bike lanes, while Mountain View has bike lanes throughout town and bike trails with bridges over freeways. But my city hasn’t improved its bicycling programs as aggressively lately as it did in the past. Could be why it’s been stuck at Bronze for eight years.

Still, it seems like more and more people are bicycling around town. And according to census data released last week, there are. The US Census’ American Community Survey samples a small percentage of the population every year, measuring a variety of things from income to health insurance to transportation, including bike commuting. Its data shows that 6.2% of my city’s residents commute by bike, up from 4.1% in 2010.

Note that the survey has some limitations. First, if you combine travel modes the mode that covers the most distance is what counts. So my work commute is considered transit, even though I spend more time riding my bike than riding the train. Second, it only measures work commutes, not trips by retired and unemployed folks, travel for errands and social activities, and the “mom’s taxi” trips taking kids to school and other activities.

Even for people that drive to work, by my calculation it only measures only about half of their mileage. Here’s the math: the average work commute is 30 miles round trip. Multiply by five days a week for 50 weeks a year and that’s 7500 miles. Since the average automobile mileage of working age people is about 15,000 miles, only half of most drivers’ annual mileage is commuting to work.

Still, I’m pleased to see data that shows Mountain View has bike commuting rates comparable to Platinum rated Portland, and that distinguishes it from other Bronze-rated cities with much lower bicycling rates. To see how your community rates, you can query the ACS database by following the steps outlined in the screenshots below (click image to expand). Or you can check out the US state and California county maps created by my buddy Richard for his Cyclelicious blog.

How does your city rate? Is is increasing? What percentage of your car’s annual mileage is work commuting?


Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure


Bike Lane FAIL: Sharrows on the Edge in Los Altos

Sometimes a good plan becomes a FAIL when it hits the street. The Los Altos Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) clearly advised city staff that sharrows should be centered 5 feet from the curb in a narrow lane like this stretch of 1st Street. Somehow the sharrows got shoved to the gutter, just like the cyclists will be.

Location: 1st Street between Main and State Streets, Los Altos, California, USA.

City staff, listen to your BPACs! Sharrows should instruct bicyclists where to safely position themselves in standard travel lanes, not encourage them to hug the curb and invite cars to unsafely pass them.


Posted by on September 25, 2012 in Bike Lane FAIL


(PARK)ing Day: From Parking Space to People Space

Reclaim your city! So say the organizers of (PARK)ing Day, a global annual event where citizens turn street parking spaces into temporary public places. It’s one of those cool ideas that I’m proud to say began in my neck of the woods. In 2005, Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, rolled out sod, plunked down a park bench and shoved coins in a parking meter. For the two hour legal parking limit, they created a parklet where city dwellers could rest their feet and relax on-street in the middle of downtown San Francisco.

The idea took hold, and this year close to 1000 parklets were created in 95 countries on six continents to celebrate (PARK)ing Day. This year, five parklets were hosted in downtown San Jose by organizations like Greenbelt Alliance, Cool Cities and the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. I rolled past them on my way home last Friday before I caught the Caltrain to meet Dick for a Bike Date Friday dinner in Los Altos.

We don’t often go out in Los Altos. It has a quaint downtown, but it leans toward the sleepy side, serving established older couples or upwardly mobile families with kids. Not the best mix for nightlife.

But this year Los Altos hosted their very first parklet for (PARK)ing Day. Being Los Altos, the parklet was an elaborate affair that spanned three parking spaces, from a Peets coffee shop to the 359 State Street bike shop, which became an art gallery with live music that night. A lot of life for sleepy Los Altos, even if only for one night.

Meanwhile, in my neighboring town of Mountain View, (PARK)ing Day is an everyday event. In the late 1980s, Mountain View reconfigured its downtown Castro Street from a fast four-lane road to a three-lane walking-oriented street. Key to the redesign were flexible on-street spots that can be used however the adjacent businesses desire, from patio seating to curbside car parking to bike parking corrals.

The redesign earned awards, but more importantly it works. Castro Street is now a destination for locals and residents of neighboring cities that makes Mountain View more than a place to work and sleep. It’s a lively place that offers a variety of things to see and do, a place where I’m proud to call home.

What do you look for in a place to do more than sleep and work? Does your city or town have any street life?

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Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure


Planes, Trains, Buses, Bikes and Feet

When it comes down to it, we have more choices on how to get from Point A to Point B than most people consider. There are the obvious parameters–cost, time, comfort–but most of the time people choose the routes they’ve done before, not what necessarily the ones that are most efficient or convenient.

When I registered for the National Women’s Bicycling Summit, I wanted to take the Amtrak Coast Starlight down to LA and then ride the Los Angeles River Trail down to Long Beach the next morning. But I couldn’t afford the time off work for the all-day train ride and didn’t want to ride downtown LA alone at night, so I opted to fly.

Flying brings more choices: there are multiple airports on either end of the trip. Because I prefer smaller airports I usually fly Southwest from San Jose to Burbank or Irvine, but JetBlue flies from San Francisco directly into Long Beach at a low price and with no LAX hassles so I was sold. Sorry, SJC, SFO won this time.

I had heard the folks at SFO bragging about their bike facilities and knew that the Millbrae Caltrain station was about 2 miles from the airport, so I rode the train and my bike to get to the airport. Baggage wasn’t a problem. From my business trip to Seattle I knew I could carry bags for a two-day trip on my bike, including my laptop.

For ground transportation on arrival, I took a chance with the city bus instead of my usual taxi. My iPhone gave me explicit instructions, the bus was on time, and I got to my hotel in 45 minutes in air conditioned comfort, albeit with blisters from walking in my “sensible” shoes. It was painfully obvious I don’t walk much.

The reverse trip was equally smooth with another bus ride and a handsome man who met me at the airport for our standing Friday night bike date. With several good restaurants along the bay by the airport there were plenty of choices. There almost always are, if you are willing to look for them and take a risk.

Total transportation costs: $186 plane + $11 train + $2.50 bus + $35 bike + $0 feet = $241.50.

How comfortable are you with taking risks when you travel? Do you like trying something new or do you prefer to stick to what you’re comfortable with?

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Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure, Travel

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