Survey says: It’s too far to ride

October 21, 2020

People are more likely to ride a bike to a destination if it’s nearby.


Many of the places people need to go are too far away, so say 49 percents of the respondents to a recent survey. That’s a real barrier to seeing more people on their bikes.

According to the Mineta Transportation Survey, the numbers were worst in south Santa Clara County and best in central San Jose. No surprise.

I’ve known many bike commuters who had rides of 9 miles or more one way. That seems like too much of a grind.

When I went from a five-mile one-way commute to just over six miles, it seemed like a lot more. I’m not sure why, but it ate at me. Riding on unfriendly roads had a lot to do with it.

In the Netherlands, half of all passenger car trips are shorter than 7.5 kilometres, and one-third are shorter than 3.2 miles (5 kilometers).

Of all trips involving a distance up to 4.6 miles (7.5 kilometers), one-third are made by car and one-third are made by bicycle. At longer distances, the car rules with 70 percent of all trips.

The Netherlands is nothing like Santa Clara County in terms of housing density. While most of us have grocery stores within a mile of where we live, the roads are unfriendly to bikes. I live less than a mile from a store but I have to make a left turn on busy streets. It’s hardly what I’d call fun or safe. Then when I’m at the store, I have to worry about bike theft.

Another survey question asked cyclists about their parking situation. A disturbing number, 46 percent, said that they didn’t have a place to securely lock a bike.

I never had an issue with bike parking. Toward the end of my career, my company opened up a large room for indoor parking, complete with a bike repair stand, pump, etc.

I didn’t use it because I could lock my bike outdoors in a secure area, covered from the elements and closer to where I sat.

When it comes to parking a bike at local stores, that’s a different matter. Even with bike racks, leaving a bike outdoors unattended is an invitation to theft. A U lock is essential in these situations.

The Netherlands has so many bikes that it has huge garages dedicated to parking, some highly automated.

Of course, weather is hardly a barrier to cycling in the Bay Area, the survey says, although I think that’s changing with all the forest fires. This year air quality took a nosedive for an entire month. If this pattern continues, cycling will suffer.

Another often used reason for not bike riding to work is lack of physical fitness. There’s a perception that you need to be in great shape to ride to work.

That was somewhat true before e-bikes. Not so anymore.

Bike parking suffers from lack of safety and protection from the elements.

Montebello Road burns in the October sun

October 18, 2020

Looking west from Black Mountain.


Even though I was miles from the CZU fire, I could see the damage it caused from Montebello Road.

Butano Ridge stood out in the distance, an off-brown color that told me this was a burn area.

The hills are tinder dry this time of year, and these days that means I live in fear of what might happen on pastoral Montebello Road.

Fortunately I beat the baking heat by leaving early, so it was just toasty warm by the time I reached the Black Mountain summit.

The final approach of a 15 percent climb was graded and hardpacked several years ago, much to my enjoyment.

But this was the worst time of year for taking a road bike as I fishtailed through deep gravel and dust all the way to Page Mill Road.

I thought back to another ride in late November when it was so cold my water bottle shattered as I went for a drink. Times are changing.

Montebello Road approach to Black Mountain. It doesn’t get any better.

Cars are in our DNA

October 15, 2020

For a lot of people, driving a car is stressful. Red is stressful.

Like the junkie looking for his next fix, we’re hooked on driving cars. Society puts up with car fatalities (30-40,000 a year), serious injuries, the high cost of ownership, air pollution, noise, traffic, and more.

And like the junkie, we want to quit, but we can’t. The Mineta Transportation survey confirms what we all know is true.

89 percent of respondents agreed: “I need a car to do many of the things I like/need to do.” 87 percent need their car for shopping or to carry other people.

What’s interesting though, not unlike the junkie, drivers aren’t exactly crazy about the activity, with only 67 percent agreeing they enjoy driving.

Car commercials make me ill when I watch them, because they depict a false reality — you’re the only driver on the road. Driving in the Bay Area, pre-pandemic, sucked with all the traffic. Retired people are prisoners in their homes half the day when traffic is bad.

Commuters spend half their life in slow-moving traffic. There’s nothing pleasant about driving around here. 40 percent agreed that their daily travel is stressful. It’s higher for certain groups.

51 percent said they drive more than they want to. Not surprisingly, Trump voters scored lowest on not wanting to drive more, at 35 percent, and Clinton supporters at 59 percent.

When it came to admitting that driving too much is bad for your health, only 53 percent agreed.

Car ownership costs much more than people realize, but even if they do, it’s so essential to a successful career that 65 percent said owning a car is affordable for them. It isn’t for everyone, but Santa Clara Valley is a wealthy place and most people have enough income to cover the costs.

When I commuted to work by bicycle I enjoyed a stress-free ride, for the most part. There were a few places, like the 101-Trimble Road overpass, that caused some discomfort.

Rather than arriving home or at work feeling wasted, I felt refreshed and looked forward to a day in the office.

Longest dirt roads in the South and North Bay

October 7, 2020

Duck hunting, and viewing, season is underway in the Baylands.


Nowadays my adventure rides on dirt roads have come down to tooling around on the Bay Trail.

Back in the days of Jobst Rides we almost always found some dirt to keep our attention, but the distances weren’t that far.

Today I can ride a nine-mile loop, all on dirt, starting in Alviso. Finding a route that long in the Santa Cruz Mountains is a challenge. Point to point that is.

The longest Santa Cruz Mountains route — uninterrupted by pavement — we did was Buzzard Lagoon Road / Aptos Creek Fire Road, a total of 12.3 miles.

The only rides longer would be any number of routes in Henry W. Coe State Park.

The Haul Road, if open its entire length, would be 9.5 miles point to point. The possibility of riding from Hwy 9 to Pescadero Creek Road remains a tantalizing dream.

One other ride worthy of mention is our epic journey through Point Reyes National Seashore. It totaled 17 miles all on dirt starting from Bear Valley Visitor Center, up Mt. Wittenberg (didn’t do it on coast ride), down Bear Valley Trail to the coast and then to Bolinas. Of course, we started from the Golden Gate Bridge on that ride, heading up the Mt. Tamalpais railroad grade.

That Point Reyes ride remains a dream for cyclists as well. Those were the days…

Nearby Bolinas Ridge Trail deserves mention, all 11.3 legal miles.

Santa Clara County bike survey part 2: reasons for choosing a travel mode

October 2, 2020

SVBC screen capture showing why people choose a mode of transportation.


The next segment, why travelers select their modes of travel, reveals one obvious trend and one that’s a real surprise.

Not surprisingly, 82 percent of respondents said that “speed” is important or very important in deciding which form of transportation they use for daily travel.

Everyone wants to arrive at their destination in the fastest time possible, which is why the car dominates travel choices, especially in the sprawling South Bay.

What amazed me though is the second most important factor in choosing a transportation mode: safety from crime. It won out over ease of use, safety from crashes, enjoyment, cost, environmental concerns, and a desire for exercise. Really? Is crime that much of a problem for commuters?

All I can guess is that everyone who took the survey uses BART. I’m only half kidding here. BART has become much less safe for travelers in recent years.

Another possibility is that a lot of parked cars are being broken into (a real problem in San Francisco). The question did not focus on bike theft as being a factor in crime. Because so few people ride bikes, it makes sense that bike thefts were not a major reason for safety from crime being a concern.

One of the more sobering results, which disappointed me, was how poorly exercise and concern for the environment contributed to a choice for transportation. Only 46 percent of respondents consider the environment very important or important in choosing a form of transportation.

Even worse, only 34 percent of respondents considered the need for exercise very important or important in selecting a transportation mode.

Helping the environment and exercise are the two most important reasons why I rode a bike to work in my 45-year career.

These results are both disappointing and mystifying.

Santa Clara County Bike survey gives insights vs. the Netherlands

September 30, 2020

SVBC screenshot of Mineta Transportation survey results


A recent survey by the Mineta Transportation Institute, part of San Jose State University, takes a deep dive into transportation likes and dislikes of cyclists and other commuters.

It’s a lot to digest, so I’ll do a series of articles.

Funding for the administration of the survey was provided by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) and the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health.

The survey was conducted online, recruiting participants through online ads. 1009 people responded in Santa Clara County. Already there is some bias since not everyone has online access. That’s one reason why the survey says its results have an error of +- 3 percent.

Conducted from March 6-13, the COVID19 lockdown had not yet been implemented, so results are reflective of conditions prior to the pandemic.

I’m going to compare these results to the Netherlands, the number one bicycling nation. The Netherlands has a lot going for it in terms of flat terrain and relatively mild weather. But most importantly, cities are much denser than the Bay Area’s suburbs.

Santa Clara County: Let’s start with the kind of transportation most people use. In an average week, 89 percent of Santa Clara County respondents reported driving a vehicle, while only 12.5 percent rode a bike, for recreation or otherwise.

Netherlands: 47 percent of Netherlanders drive a car, followed by 27 percent for cycling. Much to my surprise, only 5 percent of trips are by train, subway, bus and tram.

Looking at how people in Amsterdam get to work, the bike rules. 48 percent ride to work (more now; these are 2016 numbers), while only 21 percent drive. In rural areas of Netherlands, cars have a larger role in transportation.

Cutting the Santa Clara County data some more, 3 percent of cyclists ride daily, 7 percent a few times a week, and 12 percent a few times a month, according to survey results.

People who ride for utilitarian reasons — not recreation — are more likely to have lower incomes, come from another country, and be younger.

Those who rode as a child/teenager are much more likely to ride as adults. That’s why school programs that encourage cycling need our full support.

Welcome to “The Burning World”

September 9, 2020

Looking at the Santa Cruz Mountains from the San Jose airport.


When I was young I read a lot of “science fiction,” which was way more fiction than science, but you get the idea.

I read all of the apocalpyse novels by J.G. BallardThe Burning World, The Drowned World, The Wind from Nowhere, The Crystal World.

I don’t rate him as highly as I do Ray Bradbury, but he offered up some insightful thoughts about our planet, our environment, and how it shapes us.

His most famous work, made into a movie, is Empire of the Sun, easily his best writing and most evocative imagery. He survived wretched conditions in a Japanese prison camp in WW II, so there’s a lot of pathos here.

J.G. Ballard left us in 2009. He won’t have to see the worlds he conjured up. Today I can see The Burning World and it’s not a pretty sight. The sky is dark in mid-morning. I’m wearing a mask, although the particulate count isn’t all that high. There’s a lot of moisture and fog in the air.

I’m no believer in end times, but I do think global warming is here, and we need to do something about it.

Ending on a bright note, The Junction bar and grill in San Antonio Valley survived the fires. It’s the only food stop on the backside of Mt. Hamilton.

J.G. Ballard was a post-apocalyptic novelist who saw the future.

Swanton memories up in smoke

August 31, 2020

Jobst Brandt checks out the roundhouse in 1986.

Among the many losses suffered in the CZU Complex fire is the Swanton Pacific Railroad. It was founded by Al Smith, owner of Orchard Supply Hardware stores back in the day.

Now owned by CalPoly, 1/3 size steam trains used to run around the property just north of Davenport. Now they’re burned, and so is the roundhouse. Some structures survived and it’s hoped the damaged trains can be restored.

Here’s a diesel locomotive.

I used to stop by here with Jobst Brandt on our long bike rides to Santa Cruz. He had a passion for trains and never passed up a chance to check out the facility.

Swanton Road became a familiar haunt back in the 1980s for Jobst and friends as they took Last Chance Road to the coast to attend the annual Corn Roast, located just off Swanton Road.

Last Chance Road is a memory, turned into a trail about 18 years ago. It’s still rideable though. One hot summer day after the Corn Roast we jumped into East Waddell Creek to cool off before continuing on to Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

A handful of people lived off the dirt road, but we never had an issue, except once. We came to an open area where some people were undergoing fire training at a building. We tried to sneak by without being seen, but they noticed us and yelled. Fortunately they decided to leave us alone.

I last rode by here in 2015. Those were the days.

Jobst confers with a worker inside the roundhouse in 2002.

Mt. Hamilton has burned

August 21, 2020

Mt. Hamilton on fire. Looking north and east. One of the observatory domes marked in red.


In addition to Big Basin State Park, Mt. Hamilton is burning. Dramatic video can be viewed on the Lick Observatory website.

All areas around Mt. Hamilton, San Antonio Valley, and Mines Road are under evacuation orders.

So many great bike rides here…

Cal Fire website has a good map of this SCU Lightning Complex fire, but not of the fires in Santa Cruz County.

Lands near the summit on Mt. Hamilton are visibly scorched.

Big Basin State Park in ashes

August 21, 2020
Big Basin Park HQ on April 11, 2009. I also rode through on May 4 when the park was closed by Covid19.

It’s worse than I thought, much worse. This morning I read in the Mercury News that one of our most precious natural wonders — old-growth redwoods — have been ravaged by fire.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park headquarters and surrounding buildings burned to the ground.

Some old-growth redwoods will survive, but there are precious few of these majestic trees in the park, all of them concentrated next to headquarters.

Communities between Skyline Boulevard and Hwy 1 in San Mateo County are under evacuation orders.

Scotts Valley, Felton, and nearby communities have also been evacuated.

Butano Ridge in 1984. This entire area has burned and communities evacuated.