Archive for the ‘Commute Adviser’ Category

Pedestrian lights are for pedestrians

January 1, 2014

Don't go punching pedestrian lights while on a bike, unless you're walking or it's designated for bikes. (Google maps photo)

Don’t go punching pedestrian lights while on a bike, unless you’re walking or it’s designated for bikes. (Google maps photo)

Being predictable on a bike could save your life and being unpredictable could cost you your life.

Recently I saw one of the most bizarre cycling behaviors, one that could have easily caused an accident. Fortunately it didn’t, but the cyclist should know why his action was so dangerous. Unfortunately he’ll probably never read this.

I was driving south on Saratoga Avenue in the right-turn only lane to enter the Interstate 280 on-ramp around 6 p.m. A cyclist was ahead with lights on and wearing a helmet. He looked like he knew what he was doing. I stayed behind him because the intersection was only 50 yards ahead. What really ticks me off is when a right-turning motorist pulls in front then stops so you can pass. I make a point of going left when I can. Treat bikes as you would a car and everything will be fine.

The light was green. The rider then slowed and pulled off the road. He punched the pedestrian light to make the orange hand turn white for go! At this point I slowed, not knowing his intentions. It’s a good thing I wasn’t rear-ended.

All he had to do was keep straight and everything would have been fine. Even if the light were red, he shouldn’t have pulled off the road to punch the light. In some situations where the button is within arm’s reach, that’s OK, but not when you have to pull off the road.

If you’re going to push a pedestrian light like that, you’d best be off your bike walking.

Ride like a motorist and you’ll be treated like one (usually).

Predictable riding, and traffic planning, essential for safety

December 29, 2013

Confusion on Calabazas. Do we want bike lanes crossing traffic lanes?

Confusion on Calabazas. Do we want bike lanes crossing traffic lanes?

A co-worker complained about the bike lanes on Calabazas Boulevard, Santa Clara, so I checked it out, and he was right.

I’m not a traffic engineer, but one of the cardinal rules of road design has been violated here: bikes keep right. Why oh why were the bike lanes put on the far left? Confusion reigns.

As I was stopped at Calabazas northbound at the El Camino Real light a motorist pulled up next to me in his convertible and engaged me in a conversation. He said I was the first rider he had seen using the bike lane on the left. I told him this was an unusual setup, to be sure.

I proceeded on Calabazas, a tree-lined one-way road divided by Calabazas Creek. It felt weird riding on the far left. At intersections I felt uncomfortable, wondering if cars on my left crossing Calabazas would be looking for bikes in this location. On top of this, there’s a weird sign with a car and a red-stripe through it. No cars in this lane. What’s that all about?

The El Camino Real intersections are equally confusing. The green paint shows up in two locations. Am I supposed to be in the far left lane when turning left or the one farther right? And where do cars go?

I made the mistake of being in the left side going south crossing El Camino. The small sign said “bikes left on green only.” I was kind of taking a left to get across to Calabazas, but when the car turning left from Calabazas nearly ran me over, I realized my mistake. Could have been fatal. This is an unusual left turn to begin with. Now it’s downright confusing.

Another oddity is the bike lane crossing Calabazas at an angle as it approaches Pomeroy. What if I’m turning left? It’s all wrong.

The old road alignment (two lanes one way both directions) was fine. The bike lanes were on the right. Now technically they weren’t perfect bike lanes because cars parked on the street take up too much of the lane (open door a hazard), but they could easily have taken out a lane and had parking as well as a bike lane.

Unfortunately the vehicle code (21208) says bikes must use the bike lane, with a few exceptions.

No doubt this street has a fair amount of traffic on weekdays with Wilcox High School nearby.

The city of Santa Clara, which has a bike committee, needs to revisit this road design and get it right: bikes keep right.

Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers

February 27, 2013

What do you do when you find a wallet or something of value? It's something to think about.

What do you do when you find a wallet or something of value? Think about it.

Cyclists, more than motorists, find things while riding. The questions is, what do you do when you find something of value? Keep it?

We all know the old saying, “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” I think most of us would rather do the right thing though. But just a minute here. I have a story to tell.

Jobst Brandt and Brian Cox were out for a Sunday ride on Skyline Boulevard when Jobst spied a wallet. He stopped, found the owner’s address, and realized it was just a short distance away on Las Cumbres Road.

I could tell you a story about some rides down Las Cumbres and beyond, but that’s one of those Once Upon a Ride events.

The riders pedaled over to the owner’s fancy house and knocked on the door. The occupant answered and Jobst explained how he found the wallet on Skyline.

Immediately the ungrateful owner started accusing Jobst and Brian of stealing money from the wallet. It was a ugly scene, one that caused Jobst to re-think what he would do the next time he found something of value.

From what I can find online, many people put wallets into mail boxes and let the postal service handle it. Or they give it to the police.

You can never free yourself from the potential accusation that you’ve stolen something, so maybe the postal drop is the best way to go, although it may be illegal, technically speaking, to put anything in a mailbox other than postmarked materials.

I’ve never found a wallet, but I found a cell phone on two occasions. I called the owners and both times they got their phones back. One owner worked just a mile from where I live.

We’ve all found money. I keep it but it’s small change. If you found money in a store and handed it over to the clerk, do you really think the owner would stop by looking for it? Or that the clerk would return it?

That’s a dilemma and one that I’ve never entirely resolved. Since the amount of money isn’t going to change your life, I think the best thing to do is donate it to charity and have a clear conscience.

Of course most of what I find on the road is the random tool and work gloves. Those go into my garage where they have a home and will be put to good use.

Trail Work Moves Ahead in South Bay

January 12, 2012

A dodgy section of trail from Zanker Road to Coyote Creek next to Hwy 237 is being paved in 2012. The sheep stay.

We have lots of good trail news in the South Bay to start the new year. First, the unpaved portion of the Guadalupe River Trail from I-880 at the San Jose airport extending to Alviso at Gold Avenue will be paved starting later this year.

The bad news is the trail will be closed for up to a year.

On another bright note, the notoriously bad section of trail (0.6 miles) paralleling the north side of Hwy 237 from Zanker Road to Coyote Creek will be paved in 2012. It’s actually not bad if you like a funky mix of old pavement and firm gravel. I will miss it in a way.

Now if only we could see the Coyote Creek Trail opened under Hwy 237. That one has always been a mystery to me.

Finally, it took millions of dollars to buy the land from Union Pacific, but we now have the land needed to build a trail linking Los Gatos Creek Trail with Guadalupe River Trail. It’s called the 3 Creeks Trail extension.

I didn’t see any projected opening dates, so I imagine it will be a few more years before we have a place to ride.

A Mad Max Future One Road at a Time

July 28, 2011

A short stretch of Pruneridge Avenue in Santa Clara has been re-striped from two lanes to one.

As we move at glacial speed to a sustainable future (everyone rides a bike), note that the first step on that long and uncertain journey began at Santa Clara’s Pruneridge Avenue this June.

On Thursday, Gary Richards, aka Mr. Roadshow, writes in the San Jose Mercury News about the move to reduce lanes on some streets to better accommodate bikes and pedestrians, including a tiny stretch of Pruneridge. It’s happening all over the San Francisco Bay Area, although it’s really only a few streets at this point.

I can comment with authority on Pruneridge because I’ve been riding and driving on that street almost daily for more than 20 years.

The re-striped section of Pruneridge is between Pomeroy Avenue and Lawrence Expressway, maybe a quarter mile. My understanding is that this stretch of road is being changed because it’s part of a network of inter-city bike routes. The plan is to extend the re-striping to Tantau Avenue. I don’t know that it’s part of some grand plan.

Of course, as a cyclist I have no complaints. As a motorist, I also have no complaints. In fact, it’s a blessing in disguise. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been driving in peak traffic on Pruneridge when someone signals a left turn. I dread the left turn signal.

Invariably, there’s traffic to my right, and I know of no better way to get into an accident than moving quickly into the right lane. That’s no longer a problem because there’s a turn-only lane in place of the second lane. I’d like to see all of Pruneridge re-striped this way.

Commute Bill Creates Bureaucracy We Can’t Afford

July 24, 2011

California state legislature chambers.

As a daily bike commuter it pains me to oppose California SB 582, a commute benefits bill proposed by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco.)

If you read the bill it comes across as bureaucratic entanglement that companies and our state can’t afford.

I wonder who will administer the program? Who will monitor employees to be sure they’re not taking advantage of the bill’s benefits, and who will monitor businesses to be sure they’re honest? A company with only 20 employee may find the bill’s requirements a burden.

While I would like to receive a tax credit for riding my bike to work, isn’t our state government bankrupt? Do we want to add to our financial insolvency? Aren’t we all opposed to big government?

However, there are some situations where such an arrangement could be a win-win for companies and employees. For example, if a company could save on parking costs (all subsidized, unseen costs) because employees mostly commute by public transit, ride a bike, walk, etc., that’s great. Maybe it could be applied to new buildings as they’re built.

Companies can offer incentives without government involvement. The Bay Area is built around the car, so incentives may not be enough.

For now, I say let the free market decide how we commute. As the price of oil rises, people will find cheaper ways to get to work without the car. It may mean changing jobs.

I ride my bike because I enjoy it. Inevitably, that’s how any activity becomes a lifelong pursuit.

Commuting in the Silicon Valley Triangle

November 9, 2010

Silicon Valley triangle

Creek trails in red. From left: San Tomas Aquino, Guadalupe River, Coyote Creek

If you work inside the Silicon Valley triangle – highways 101, 237, 880 — you have quite a few options to use creek trails, which can relieve some pressure from the daily grind on busy city streets in this area.

The Silicon Valley triangle is home to hundreds of technology companies, such as Intel, Cisco, Samsung, Broadcom, BAE, Citrix, Coherent, Cypress Semiconductor, LSI, San Disk, Cadence, Qualcomm, Yahoo, and the list goes on.

I commuted from Santa Clara for four years in this area, taking the De La Cruz/Hwy 101 overpass. In that time I never found a better route of equal distance. Other routes added about a mile each way, so I mostly rode over De La Cruz.

I can’t tell you how many close calls I had, because I lost count. Most of the road angst occurred going north. De La Cruz lanes narrow as they approach the Central Expressway traffic light, beyond which there’s a double-right exit to 101.

My advice is to move left out of the right-turn-only to 101 where the traffic sign says traffic merge left for Trimble Ave. I had too many close calls with trucks when I stayed in the far right lane.

Going north over the De La Cruz 101 overpass, there’s a right lane exit to 101. I usually stayed left of that lane to go straight, but it also works to stay right and look back at cars to indicate you need to move left. Every time, cars slowed to let me head up the overpass.

Creeks, Creeks, Creeks
The big three are: San Tomas Aquino, Guadalupe River, and Coyote Creek. All have levee paths in the triangle, mostly dirt. It’s suitable for all tire sizes.

An alternative to the De La Cruz overpass is to take the frontage road (Ewert) around the San Jose Airport. A bridge over the Guadalupe River for the old car rental parking area provides trail access. The trail goes under Hwy 101, paved for a short stretch.

San Tomas Aquino path is paved north of Monroe Street in Santa Clara, going under all but one street, highway, and train track. Just beyond 237 it links up with the Sunnyvale Baylands 237 frontage road and the paved trail to Alviso.

Coyote Creek is rideable all the way from Fremont (paved to Ranch Road at McCarthy Blvd.) to Montague Expressway. South of Montague you’re on your own. This portion will link to the existing Coyote Creek Trail, eventually.

South of 237 frontage path from McCarthy Blvd. goes to Coyote Creek and ends at Zanker Rd.

Looking at the map, you will start to see possibilities for incorporating the creek trails into your commute. You’ll find the route longer, probably, but more enjoyable and there’s no stopping, no cars, not as much pollution.

Light Rail
Light rail winds through the triangle, adding more options for the bike commuter, especially someone coming from San Jose or Mountain View. However, if you’re coming from the east, you’re out of luck. In my experience, Milpitas and Fremont are not bike friendly. The primary roads have plenty of traffic.

I’d take the Great Mall Parkway 880 overpass, if convenient. The Coyote Creek Trail will provide a suitable route under 880 and Montague Expwy. My guess when — the year 2030.

Accidents Will Happen

August 23, 2010

Cycling in the Netherlands - Hembrow Cycling Website

As promised, here’s the list of the “most dangerous” countries for cycling. It’s not an easy thing to draw conclusions from because the data is only comparing bike accidents versus other types of transportation accidents – car, motorcycle, pedestrian.

I don’t think you can draw any conclusions beyond this: the more people who rides bikes, the more accidents we’ll see. That’s why the Netherlands has such a high percentage compared to other accidents.

Does that mean it’s more dangerous to ride a bike in Holland than it is in the U.S.? I don’t think so.

What does seem dangerous though is riding in Japan, which has a large number of fatalities for its population. (Data from the 2008-2009 International Road Traffic and Accident Database)

Country Fatalities % of all road user fatalities
Netherlands 138 21.4
Japan 933 16.2
Denmark 54 13.3
Hungary 109 10.9
Germany 456 10.2
Czech Rep. 84 9.3
Belgium 86 9.1
Poland 371 8.1
UK 117 4.1
USA 716 1.9

On a side note, my mother almost nailed a cyclist while driving in Denver. She was turning right when a rider came flying by into the intersection off a sidewalk.

I had just gotten through telling my mother how dangerous it is to ride on a sidewalk. The cyclist took the sidewalk to avoid the train underpass.

You are much safer sharing the road than riding on the sidewalk!

Redwood Shores Has its Oracle

August 1, 2010

Click on map to see PDF. Bike routes to Redwood Shores. Google map.

Redwood Shores, the area north of Highway 101 opposite the cities of Belmont and San Carlos, is home to one of the largest technology companies in the world – Oracle.

The good news is that the office complexes in this area are modern and easy to reach on wide streets. The bad news is you have to cross Hwy 101 overpasses to get there.

Of course, there is some housing in Redwood Shores, so you may be lucky. Also, paths wind their way along sloughs (waterways), leading to Foster City north of Hwy 101.

The last time I visited this location was around 1984 when I attended a triathlon at the Marine World-Africa USA theme park. The park was located at the end of Redwood Shores Parkway, but moved to Vallejo in 1986.

Businesses: Oracle, EA (Electronic Arts), Kensington Computer Products Group, Proteus Biomedical, Check Point Software Technologies, Jameco Electronics, Tragon Corp., Aero Scout, Qualys, Shutterfly, Trilliant.

[A reader (see Comments) informs me that an overpass close to Ralston Road is being built by the city of Belmont. You can find more about it on the Belmont website.]

Ralston Road overpass, as a partial cloverleaf, is more modern and easier to negotiate than Holly Street/Redwood Shores Parkway. There’s a strange appendage called Island Parkway on the north side of Hwy 101, linking to Ralston, which essentially goes nowhere.

Holly Street is the classic double cloverleaf, which makes it more of a challenge to cross at rush hour. It’s best ridden earlier in the morning, or after the rush. I found worn striping, no bike symbols on the pavement, and no help for cyclists in the form of dashed lines at merge areas. Belmont and San Carlos do not rate highly on my bike-friendly list. (Website discussing Holly Street and Ralston Road overpasses)

Holly Street overpass approach from Redwood Shores Pkwy.

Cyclists will find paved paths in Redwood Shores, some that go past Oracle. There’s one nearby bridge crossing a slough to the north. Across the bridge, the path splits. The right path connects to Foster City. The left path gets you to Foster City, but it’s a chore. You have to circle a baseball field on a bumpy path. The path ends at an undeveloped area (no doubt to be built on), where there’s a break in the fence to the left. Riders can join up with Concourse Place and continue on paths into Foster City.

Commuters coming from Belmont, San Carlos, and Redwood City have some decent roads to travel, although this area is not known for scenic beauty.

To the south of Hwy 101, Industrial Road is a designated bike route as far as Harbor Blvd. Old County Road, paralleling El Camino Real, is another bike route going north-south. El Camino, known for traffic and lights, is relatively free of both impediments here.

If I were coming from the north to Oracle, I’d take Old County Road, left on Dale View Ave., right on Hiller St. Hiller offers a left-turn light onto Ralston at the overpass, reducing the amount of traffic to deal with on the ride up.

North of Hwy 101 there’s Shoreway, a frontage road right next to the freeway and suitable for cycling between Holly and Ralston. Enjoy the view.

Public Transit
Caltrain has stations conveniently located in Belmont (El Camino and Ralston) and San Carlos (El Camino and Holly St.). It’s not much more than a mile from either station to businesses north of Hwy 101. Oracle and EA have a shuttle bus service.

Are You Going to San Francisco?

July 25, 2010

Click on map to see PDF of recommended streets. Google map.

Many people ride bikes to work in downtown San Francisco. It’s nowhere near as bad as big cities like Tokyo or Bangkok. However, rush hour is no picnic.

I would get to work by 7:30 a.m. to beat the crowd, or arrive at 10 a.m. In the summer, due to heavy fog, a late arrival may be better. Most people take BART or Muni, but that costs money. Cycling is free.

Google maps has bicycling routes for San Francisco. Select “bicycling” under “More” in Google maps to see green lines designating bike routes or lanes. Another source for this information is, “Maps and Reference.”

Businesses. Bank of America, PricewaterhouseCoopers, PG&E, Gap, Levi Strauss, Bechtel, Industrial Light and Magic, Charles Schwab, Craigslist, BitTorrent, Wikipedia, Yelp, Yammer,, CNET, Chronicle Books, Flickr, etc.

Commute tips
* Avoid rush-hour traffic. Market Street sees gridlock. The combination of cars, pedestrians, light-rail rail tracks, and buses make commuting a hassle. Motorists are also much less accommodating during rush-hour.

However, the off-peak riding experience is acceptable. Most of the streets are in decent shape, although downtown San Francisco will never be a smooth ride.

* Know the hills. They’re killer. Streets like Gough going south, or Taylor Street going north, have grades up to 18 percent. While I like Page Street for riding east-west, it has a couple of steep hills (12 percent) a block or two long, riding west. If you’re in shape, it won’t be a problem. I gray-shaded the hills on the map, but it’s an approximation.

* Take one-way streets. Traffic is less chaotic. Wide streets are better than narrow streets. Howard Street is as good as it gets.

* Avoid Chinatown, due to congestion. Same goes for Market Street. It has a bike lane, but it’s crazy downtown.

* Golden Gate Bridge. Commuters over Golden Gate Bridge to downtown have two good options: ride through the Presidio or stay along the shoreline north of Fort Mason. If you take the Presidio, you’re headed to Greenwich Street. It has light traffic and it’s mostly flat. Doyle Drive will be replaced in the coming year(s), so the Presidio will be less accessible.

Ride to Polk and turn left. Polk has a moderate hill going south. Take a right on North Point Street, which is mostly flat to The Embarcadero. Turn right (no right on red here!). The Embarcadero is busy, but has bike lanes. Be sure to claim your right to the road, especially at right turns.

The real gem, not noted on bike maps, is Battery Street. It’s one way from The Embarcadero and flat — one of the best streets for riding to the business district.

Public transportation
Muni buses go everywhere in San Francisco and they have a front rack for two bikes. BART is accessible to bikes, but not during rush-hour. Ferries let you bring your bike for free.

The map shows bicycle parking areas. Personally, I would try to bring my bike into the office.

Caltrain. There are one or two cars for bikes per train, one in the rear of the train, and one farther up. About 80 bikes can be accommodated, but the trains are often full during rush hour.

Riding from the train station to downtown, I recommend Townsend to Third Street, which is one way. Take Fourth Street coming back, also one-way. Beware of the triple-right turn on Fourth Street at the 101 on-ramp! You need to be in the first left lane with a straight/turn arrow.

I have marked on the map some of the roads I prefer for commuting across the city and to downtown. Veteran San Francisco commuters will have their favorite routes. Enjoy your ride.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 101 other followers