Archive for the ‘News’ Category

A bridge for rich and poor

January 8, 2021

New bridge on Three Creeks Trail in San Jose.

There’s a chasm between San Jose’s rich and poor, but now they’re united by a new bridge over Los Gatos Creek.

I’m talking about the bridge for Three Creeks Trail, which replaces an ancient railroad trestle spanning Los Gatos Creek. The other two creeks are Guadalupe (River) and Coyote Creek.

The bridge sat in storage for seven years while a citizens group battled to preserve the Union Pacific bridge, whose timbers were soaked in creosote and other potentially dangerous chemicals.

Old trestle in 2013.

As much as I enjoy trains and appreciate their utility, that trestle was downright ugly. We’re talking about a minor spur line. If this were something with more historical importance, I would have hoped for its preservation.

The piers residing in the creek accumulated debris, another reason for removal. It also caught fire on several occasions. Homeless encampments line the creek and nearby trails.

What we have now is a stylish bridge that enhances the trail and commemorates the trestle with a descriptive placard. See it soon before the Vandals attack. (Where are the Huns and Goths when we need them?)

A placard gives the area’s history.

While the bridge has a lot going for it, I can’t say as much for Los Gatos Creek Trail leading to downtown San Jose. It winds through a ragtag industrial area where I passed numerous encampments. And garbage. Lots of garbage.

Heading southwest Three Creeks Trail makes a beeline through portions of Willow Glen, an upscale neighborhood where Teslas can be found. The trail only goes for a mile before dead-ending at Falcon Place.

One of these days it could be extended to Guadalupe River and its trail, but there’s a lot of work to be done.

Lonus Street and the environs where the new bridge is located are about as transient-ory as there is in San Jose, so I would never encourage the trail’s use going north.

One of these days, when we figure out a way to end homelessness and clean up the garbage (don’t hold your breath), these trails will offer a great way to get around San Jose’s downtown.

John Forester and Kittie Knox fought for cyclists to have a place on the road

November 24, 2020

Kittie Knox, shown here in 1895, battled racist elements of the League of American Wheelmen.

It is only now that I learn of the passing of John Forester in April, an influential cyclist in the 1970-80s for his insistence that cyclists adhere to the same rules of the road as cars.

I met Forester when he lived in Palo Alto in the 1980s. I bought his nylon bike bag that mounted behind the saddle, using it on my trips through the Alps.

I knew Forester’s reputation and background when I met him, so I was not taken aback by his quirky personality and abrasive manner.

His strident views about cycling were both his strength and his downfall. He couldn’t compromise and in politics that’s a recipe for disaster.

Forester wrote and advocated the principles of Effective Cycling. I bought his self-published book mainly to show my support for cyclists’ rights to the road.

I agree with pretty much everything he advocated, but where we part ways is when it comes to bicycle facilities.

Forester disparaged bike lanes, bike paths, and other amenities for the bike.

Over the years I’ve gradually shifted my thinking from battling cars on equal footing to supporting a bike network separate from cars.

The deal is, we need both.

Bike advocate Ellen Fletcher, who served on the Palo Alto City Council when Forester was living in Palo Alto, didn’t always see eye to eye with the outspoken bike advocate. She was a politician who understood the importance of compromise.

Their political rivalry came to a head at an organization called the League of American Wheelmen. I won’t go into the details here because I was not privy to the situation. However, there is an outstanding article written by Joe Biel that delves into their differences that came to the forefront within this organization.

All of this is irrelevant today. The American Wheelmen was a seriously influential group in the 1880s, but not much more than a mouthpiece for disenfranchised cyclists in the 1980s.

The dark history of the League of American Wheelmen and its racist past is exposed by Biel in his story about a young black woman from Boston who could ride circles around most men — Kittie Knox.

Biel’s story is an eye-opener and one that everyone should read to understand that racial prejudice runs deep in this country.

Thanks to the Internet, I can share some excellent writing about cycling matters from the past. Still relevant today:

How Kittie Knox changed bicycling forever by Joe Biel

Bicycling magazine interview with John Forester by Peter Flax

E-bikes on trails — Not so fast

October 24, 2020

Fremont Older open space sign. Ebikes are not welcome, for now.

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) has put the brakes on ebikes using their trails. The signs have gone up.

I’m neutral on ebike use, as long as it’s one with a motor assist that’s not too powerful. They have their place on trails, as long as they obey speed limits.

The kind that caused Simon Cowell (America’s Got Talent) to crash and break his back is what needs to be banned.

The Swind ebike has a motor 60 times as powerful as a standard ebike.

By contrast, the Specialized S-Works Turbo Creo SL ($13,000) should be fine on trails. Most rangers wouldn’t even recognize it as an ebike, unless they were close enough to hear it buzz by.

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.

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.

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.