Archive for the ‘Commute Adviser’ Category

YouTube: “Houston, you have a problem.”

November 7, 2021

Jason Slaughter burst onto the YouTube scene two years ago and already he has a substantial following among people concerned about our car-centric world.

The Canadian recently moved his family to Amsterdam to settle down. He and his wife decided it was the most livable city in the world.

Here’s his take on Houston, Texas, and its wretched city planning. His description of trying to walk to a nearby store says it all.

He is NOT a cyclist. More on that soon…

YouTube: Winter riding popular in Oulu

November 5, 2021

Snow and cold doesn’t bother cyclists in Oulu, Finland.

The reason is simple: The city has an extensive network of bike paths that are maintained year around. Snowplows clear the paths around the clock.

I rode through the winter when I lived in Fort Collins, Colo. One night I rode home in a wet snow.

By the time I got home 20 minutes later, my chain was stuck in a single gear, the freewheel a block of ice.

Allendale Avenue berm a memory

July 29, 2021
A berm on Allendale Avenue in Saratoga was removed several years ago to improve road safety.

Today while riding east on Allendale Avenue, close to West Valley College, approaching Quito Road I was reminded of how much safer it is to use this stretch of road.

I don’t know who took the initiative, but they deserve recognition for going to the trouble of removing a troublesome berm, sometime in late 2017 or 2018.

I used Google Maps to display the road in December 2017 (right) and today.

Not only is the berm hard to see, it’s not something you would expect to find in a bike lane.

The most convincing evidence for eliminating the berm is shown in the image from 2017. Notice the garbage cans blocking the “bike lane”!

I always chose to ride in the street to avoid obstacles like trash cans.

Every time I ride by here I think to myself, “Sometimes our city engineers right a wrong, and everyone is better off.”

Bike commuters a lonely bunch

October 30, 2020

Most of the time I didn’t see other riders during my commute.

When I rode my bike to work, it felt like I was the only pedaler in the office. Not true.

The problem is that most of the workers who rode bikes were located in other buildings. It wasn’t until I moved to their area that I started noticing more bike riders.

The Mineta Transportation Institute’s recent transportation/bike survey confirmed the “lonely rider blues.”

The survey showed that by a 29 percentage point margin, respondents overall indicated that they did not know people like them who routinely rode a bike to travel. However, 88 percent of respondents said that they knew people who drove cars to get around.

The survey respondents also said that they don’t associate riding a bike to work with poverty. Only 10 percent agreed with that sentiment. I’m not so sure these results reflect deep-seated feelings. Car commercials hammer away at the human psyche — the car as a status symbol.

Yes the Tesla is a cool technology and “clean” energy, but I think it’s more than that. It screams out to everyone in Silicon Valley — “I made it big!”

Do you really think it’s “cool” to ride a bike? Around here it’s an acceptable activity and you’re not shunned. I’m not so sure that’s true in many other parts of the country.

Nobody ever looked up to me and started riding a bike to work because I inspired them. It was a lonely pursuit, but I loved it.

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.

Bike riding on Hedding increases by 23 percent

November 4, 2019

A cyclist rides by during my bike survey on Hedding.

Before cyclists jump with joy and motorists fume, first read the details of my bike survey on W. Hedding Street at Park Avenue in San Jose.

I’m comparing today’s results (November 4, Monday) with those for November 14, 2017, a Tuesday. The weather couldn’t have been better this morning. In 2017 it had rained the previous day, although the streets were dry.

Here are the numbers:

2019 / 2017

Cyclists on Hedding – 37 / 30
Cyclists on Park – 39 / 27

Pedestrians – 52 / 73

The time of day for both counts was 6:45 a.m. – 9 a.m.

I consider a 20 percent increase a modest gain. There are many variables to consider, but the two dates are essentially the same. Today was the start of standard daylight time, so there’s more light in the morning.

I saw several youths pedaling, probably to Herbert Hoover Middle School on Park, or Lincoln High School on Dana Avenue. I’m always amazed to see students riding bikes to class. It used to be common, a century ago.

Car traffic was not nearly as bad as two years ago. I credit this improvement mostly to commuters finding different routes to work. I saw only one instance where a few cars missed the light at Park due to congestion.

Based on my recent observations, there’s a lot more traffic in the evening clogging Hedding.

Nearby Naglee Avenue, not on a road diet, has absorbed some of the change in traffic patterns.

My survey on Pruneridge Avenue near the Apple HQ showed 50 cyclists pedaling to work. There aren’t many large businesses near Hedding at Park.

It’s pretty obvious who is commuting and who is just out for a bike ride, based on how they dress. I saw only one rider who looked like he was out for exercise.

As I’ve said before, the Hedding Street restriping has greatly improved bike safety. One of these days, let’s hope, more cyclists will take advantage of the benefits.

Cycling Dangers in the Night — and the Simple Solution

November 2, 2019

My favorite light, EagleTac D25LC2. Super bright with Li-ion batteries.

San Francisco Chronicle
October 21, 1985
[One of my old columns. Used with permission. While digitizing the columns I came across this one.]

The end of Daylight Savings Time on Sunday is an ominous occasion for bicycle commuters. Your risk of injury while cycling home from work increases ten-fold.

Those peaceful rides on warm fall evenings, catching the last sun’s rays reflecting off the golden hillsides, are replaced with a sinister darkness.

Fall evenings on the eve of Halloween are better suited for sitting home and reading a Stephen King horror novel than braving the inky blackness. Riding bicycle at night is unquestionably hazardous to your health. I went to the trouble of digging up some sobering statistics.

More than 40 percent of all bicycle fatalities occur at this time, even though it only accounts for four percent of total miles cycled.

Now I know why I never like to ride at night without a light. That’s enough incentive to make the most confident bicyclist think about buying a searchlight and mounting it on his handlebars. Of course a searchlight won’t fit, but you can equip your bike with smaller lights to reduce the risks. Wearing reflective clothing, attaching reflectors and using a light are inexpensive and sensible means for being seen at night.

Most bicycles must be sold with a reflector in the front and rear, and reflectors attached to the spokes of both wheels. They’re a good backup in the event of a light failure. No matter what type of lighting system — even a combination of systems — you use, there’s always a chance that some drunk motorist careening down the highway won’t see you. So you have to ride as though you can never be seen. That means ride defensively.

There’s an assortment of lighting hardware available, including reflectors, lights operated by a generator or battery, flashing battery-operated lights and reflectorized clothing, tape or tires.

Reflectors are definitely not the final solution to being seen at night. In tests by Bicycling magazine, author Fred DeLong said his confidence in reflectors was shattered while re-creating an accident. He was surprised how hard it was to see a bicyclist equipped with only reflectors.

DeLong observed that flashing or moving lights on a bicycle or rider were the best attention-getters. Recent tests by “Bicycling” (July ’85) show that some reflectors can now be detected by an approaching car on a clear night as far as 1260 feet away. A car traveling 55 mph usually needs a 550-foot stopping distance.

The magazine’s tests revealed that the lower the reflectors are mounted or worn, the greater the distance at which they are first perceived. I like to wear yellow reflectorized leg bands with Velcro. They are low to the ground and move up and down as you pedal. They’re a good addition to pedal reflectors.

Reflectorized vests and other special clothing will help, although the Bicycling test showed that reflective tape attached to a helmet was invisible until the driver was only 386 feet away. (A new windmill reflector that extends on an arm-like device toward traffic may be a prospect. The device, called The Whizzzz, is made and used in Finland but will be available to U.S. cyclists next spring.)

Generator-operated lighting is popular because there is no need to deal with batteries. The generator is either attached on the rear stay of the frame or on a tube brace near the bottom bracket. But when you stop pedaling, the lights go out.

Some cyclists, who would easily qualify as master electricians, jury-rig elaborate systems with batteries and generators to get around this.

Generator light bulbs burn out quickly; be sure to have spare bulbs handy. You must also check the generator adjustment, which has a tendency to become misaligned and reduce lighting.

One generator light was cleverly made to run off a bicycle hub. The generator is enclosed near the front hub with a light attached near the fork dropout. Unfortunately the hub is hard to get and requires building up a new wheel. [Jobst Brandt’s favorite. Not hard to get now, but requires a new wheel.]

We all know the hassles of battery-operated lights. Batteries don’t last forever. A flashing light or beacon that clips to your bike or clothing is a good way to get motorists’ attention. It costs about $15 and uses batteries.

Personally, I’m never without my battery-operated leg light. It’s easy for motorists to spot when you pedal. Sorry. You’ll need a more powerful light if you want to see the road. Of course night riding can be fun. Did I ever tell you about the time we rode up Mount Tam via the railroad grade under a full moon?

[I didn’t do that ride, but Jobst Brandt and friends did. I rode down Mt. Hamilton under a full moon. Not fun.]

Santa Clara Bicycle Master Plan spinning its wheels

March 5, 2019

A main street in Zurich. This is how our main streets should look in Santa Clara (Google Maps).

Santa Clara’s traffic engineering department issued its latest bicycle master plan and it’s more of the same.

We need to shake up the system, if we’re going to fix our transportation problems. Instead of a bicycle plan, we need a Public Transportation Plan, and the bicycle plan would be a subset of the transportation plan. I couldn’t find a transportation plan, but there is a General Plan.

I wrote this response to the city:

“The Bicycle Master Plan [2018] is professional in all respects. In general, I agree with all its recommendations, if we are to follow down the current path, the status quo if you will. What will that get us in five years? 3 percent ridership? Maybe even 5 percent, according to the bicycle plan.

That’s not good enough to warrant spending an estimated $15-30 million in project costs. We’re wasting our money on a lost cause, as things stand now. (That’s cheap considering that the Mary Avenue I-280 overpass cost $14 million.)

We have another choice. Spend our scarce dollars on programs that will incentivize the public to ride bikes. Take $10 million and use it to subsidize bicycle commuting. Money talks. There’s no greater incentive to getting someone to change a habit than a meaningful financial incentive. With today’s GPS systems, mileage can be measured and monitored. The system can be cheated, of course, but most people are honest.

If asked, residents will tell you that riding a bike is onerous during commute hours. It’s not pleasurable in most instances for most people. They’re not going to start riding a bike to work or to the store because it’s the “right thing to do,” or “it’s good for the environment,” especially when it will get them to work 15 minutes slower, sweaty, and inconvenienced in so many ways I can’t list them all here.

That 2 percent figure cited in the report for bicycle commuting is exclusively those individuals who love cycling. They’re crazy in love with bike riding. The rest of the public is not in love with cycling, never will be, no matter how many bike lanes we have. Electric bikes will help though.

However, they might ride a bike, if it can put a dent in their commuting expenses. While it’s true we gain benefits by leaving our cars at home, it’s not tangible. If they see a check in the mail for their riding to work, that will be a little more persuasive. Current dedicated bike commuters would be encouraged to give up their earnings to help fund new bike commuters, or “pay it forward.” These benefits would tend to help lower income individuals who commute to work by bicycle because they can’t afford a car.

Now, this ride-for-dollars incentive is only half the battle. The other half is to build cycle/pedestrian paths. Bike lanes don’t cut it. Take the rest of our money and build a bike network like San Tomas Aquino Creek Path, only wider. Ideally, we need two north-south and two east-west corridors dedicated exclusively to bicycle/pedestrian traffic. It can be done. We just need to think differently.

Commuting is a hassle, whether by car, train, bus, or bicycle, but it’s a necessary evil. Nobody wants to give up his car, but the way things are going, it looks like that’s our future as traffic worsens. Bicycles can play a significant role, but only if we do something radically different. Staying with the status quo won’t cut it.

Remember the old expression. ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.’ Let’s stop the insanity.”

The city’s bike plan could just as well be the city golf course plan. Solving our transportation problems can’t be resolved by increasing bicycle usage a few percentage points.

Light rail would be huge. We used to have light rail throughout Santa Clara Valley.

Light rail ties visible on The Alameda at Camino Drive during road realignment for Santa Clara University in 1984.

Who’s going to pay for it? We are. All we do is shift our priorities and put most of our transportation dollars into light rail. The Green New Deal will help us prioritize. What’s crazy about shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy? Easy oil won’t be around forever.

Finally, it’s true our transportation issues are regional and require cooperation among cities, counties, state, federal agencies. Let’s not forget that Santa Clara has its own fantastic utility. It’s part of a larger power grid. We helped pay for a massive stadium. I think we can do more with transportation.

Peninsular Railway in 1915. From “Tracks, Tires & Wheels,” by Charles S. McCaleb.

Santa Clara parking garage misses the mark for bicycles

December 28, 2017

A bicycle rack exposed to the elements next to a $24 million parking garage. What gives?

In case you didn’t know, Santa Clara spent $24 million on its six-level, 1,821-space garage off Tasman Drive, complete with charging stations, but the bicycle accommodations fall short.

It looks like an afterthought, the lone bike rack at the entrance. I can see the planners looking at a long list. “Bicycle parking — check.”

The wave style rack is exposed to the elements. Santa Clara can do better. If nothing else, put a roof over the racks. More could be done, of course.

In a day and age when we desperately need commute alternatives, I can think of ways to put the garage to better use. Someone might want to drive to the garage (parking is free) and then ride from there to work on the bayland trails, avoiding traffic. They could keep their bike in a locker at the garage.

About 20 lockers are located at the train station at Lafayette and Tasman, but it would be inconvenient since there’s limited parking close to the lockers.

Hedding Street bike survey

November 22, 2017

Tantau Avenue and Apple HQ looking north. Will employees ride bikes to work?

While I don’t think road diets and protected bike lanes will make much of a dent in the way people get to work, those who do ride bikes today will not be complaining about changes coming down the road.

Local residents (read Nextdoor) were up in arms about the road diet that went into effect on Hedding Street in November between Coleman Avenue and Winchester Boulevard in San Jose.

Some people who contributed their thoughts favored the change, but most were against it. The main argument — and a valid one — is that too few cyclists take Hedding and the road change would have little effect.

On Nov. 14, from 6:43 a.m. – 9 a.m., I conducted a traffic survey of bicycles and pedestrians at the Hedding – Park intersection in San Jose. Here’s the result:

Hedding – 30
Park – 27

Hedding – 21
Park- 52

The transportation/housing problems we face today are systemic and a road diet for one street isn’t going to make much difference. However, it certainly does make the pedestrian’s walk and the cyclist’s ride safer. I noticed minor backups on Hedding eastbound, but it was hardly apocalyptic as characterized by some who posted comments. By 9 a.m. there was no traffic to speak of.

Apple backs protected bike lanes

Now Apple is pumping $1.8 million into Cupertino city coffers for protected bike lanes on Stevens Creek Boulevard. With their spaceship HQ about to open, they must be nervous about its affect on commuters.

Over the years I’ve slowly changed my thinking about protected bike lanes and multi-use trails from neutral to all-in. It’s the best way to reduce the number one objection to bike commuting — dangerous in traffic.

The plan is to head west from Tantau in phases. Details have yet to be worked out.

I’ve long advocated greater commitment by corporations for supporting non-auto commuting. They should flat out pay employees to ride to work, as well as cover bus and train expenses. The use of corporate buses is a step in the right direction.

As far as systemic changes, we need to see more people living close to work. City governments are doing their part now by requiring sufficient housing near business parks. Our sacred American way of life– single-family homes — is a big part of the problem. European and Asian communities don’t have them. Concentrating populations makes commuting by bike and public transit less of a burden without urban sprawl.

In the meantime, our governments are doing their best with what they have to work with. They look to the bicycle. It’s a fantastic machine, no doubt, but making it the commuter silver bullet is asking a lot.