Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Bicycle helmet bill – further study needed

April 11, 2015

Eastern descent of Mt. Hamilton, April 12, 1981. No helmets here. (Jobst Brandt photo)

Eastern descent of Mt. Hamilton, April 12, 1981. No helmets here (Jobst Brandt photo).


California SB-192, sponsored by 25th District Senator Carol Liu, has been sent back to committee for further study, according to the California Bicycle Coalition.

Liu’s office released a statement, first reported by former Streetsblog San Francisco editor Bryan Goebel, explaining the decision:

“The bill was amended to create a comprehensive study of bicycle helmet use in California and evaluate the potential safety benefits of a mandatory helmet law. Carol believes in consensus-driven policy, and there were too many conflicting opinions about helmet use. A study will provide the data needed to guide us to the next step.”

In a recent interview with Liu on KQED public radio (I listened to it but can’t find the recording), the senator was asked why she sponsored the bill. She replied that two close relatives (nephew, one killed while wearing a helmet) had been in serious bike accidents.

Far more effective would be banning people from driving. That’s coming. Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, said as much. While he later retracted his words, he meant what he said. It’s only a matter of time before the autonomous car eliminates the need for car ownership. My novel Skidders, published last year, goes into all that.

People need the “Freedom to Roam”

April 4, 2015

Gate 12 at China Grade in 2015. We get the message.

Gate 12 at China Grade in 2015. We get the message.


Gate 12 circa 1983. Out having fun. How times have changed. (Jobst Brandt photo)

Gate 12 circa 1983. Out having fun. How times have changed. (Jobst Brandt photo)

In my travels around the world, I’ve noticed that nowhere else is the concept of “private property” so zealously defended by landowners than the US of A.

I attribute some of that, especially in the Western U.S., to the persistent Old West mentality where a man defends his homestead from real threats with his trusty gun.

Times have changed and I wish our laws would change to keep up with the times.

In Europe the “Freedom to Roam” operates in many jurisdictions when it comes to allowing people to use others’ lands. As long as you’re just passing through, say on foot or on bike, not hunting, fishing or in any way defacing the land, public access is granted.

Civilized Europe has been around for millennia, which I believe is the reason for this enlightened approach. Likewise, some areas in Asia follow the same “Freedom to Roam” principle. For example, on Malaysia’s millions of acres of rubber tree farms, mountain bikes are allowed in many sections.

In the Western U.S., native Americans did nothing but roam, but this way of life came to a screeching halt with the arrival of settlers from back East and the introduction of barbed wire in the 1870s.

In the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Freedom to Roam principle could be applied in many locations, especially private logging roads. I’ve ridden these private roads, and others, for decades and never had any issues. It’s a different story today. Back in the early 1980s we didn’t have many mountain bikes, so seeing a bike was an oddity.

Lumber companies will claim liability issues, but the “Freedom to Roam” takes that into account. The land user accepts liability, not the landowner.

Public parks and agencies need to be more proactive about gaining easements on these roads, which often border their parks.

I’m not optimistic such an enlightened approach will happen in my lifetime, but it will happen, eventually.

Cyclists rattle the fence for opening the San Francisco Watershed

April 3, 2015

Charlie Krenz, Los Trancos Water Board member and active mountain biker supports opening the SF watershed.

Charlie Krenz, Los Trancos Water Board member and active mountain biker supports opening the SF watershed.


Imagine hundreds of people rattling that chain-link fence surrounding the San Francisco Watershed, demanding that we stop treating it like Area 51.

That was the impression I left with after attending a San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting on Thursday, which discussed opening the Public Utilities Commission’s San Francisco watershed, a measure sponsored by supervisors John Avalos and Scott Wiener.

More than a dozen speakers, mostly cyclists, lined up to weigh in on the issue, thankfully keeping comments to two minutes or less. The supervisors had a full schedule with many important matters to attend to.

The naysayers came from the Sierra Club, Committee for Green Foothills and California Native Plant Society. The plant society doesn’t want to see non-native invasive species introduced to the watershed (although they’re already there), while the Sierra Club flat out believes humankind is the invasive species. There might be some agreement on that point from Native Americans.

A host of bureaucrats representing the public agencies tasked with managing the watershed laid out the issues and opportunities for granting increased access. Currently there’s a docent-led bicycle ride offered three days a week starting from the south end of the 23,000-acre watershed on Hwy 92. The complaint heard time again is that it’s inconvenient, especially for people living at the north end of the watershed, which would be all of San Francisco.

Steven Ritchie, SF PUC Assistant General Manager of the Water Enterprise, and Tim Ramirez, SF PUC Manager, Natural Resources Division, went into detail on a potential next step — allowing public access with only the requirement of online registration. It could happen within a year, as long as the other agencies involved buy into the plan, including the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), San Mateo County, and probably a half-dozen other agencies I’m not aware of.

What’s involved, exactly, took us down a rabbit hole of bureaucratic red tape, while Supervisor Avalos attempted to pin down a date for an opening while being careful to understand what measures would be necessary to mitigate potential environmental issues and protection for native species. The watershed has done its own environmental impact report, but it was not clear how that would play out with other agencies.

The area under discussion is mostly the north-south Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail that bisects the watershed. Avalos urged the PUC to work with other agencies to create an east-west trail to link up with open space areas on the Pacific Coast.

The PUC made it clear during its presentation that their first priority is to ensure water quality, which we can all agree is paramount. Let’s just hope there’s water to manage in the years ahead.

As I pointed out, Marin Municipal Water District allows public access and I haven’t heard about any water issues there. East Bay Municipal Utility District allows access on some of its land with paid permits ($10 for a year) and it’s one of the more conservative agencies. The Bureau of Land Management – Clear Creek area in San Benito County – also instituted an online permit to use its land. Bicycle access is free.

In his closing remarks Wiener said he believes there needs to be a balance protecting the watershed and allowing public access, while noting that an informed public with access to these areas can go a long way toward helping with the protection part.

Kudos to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. They handle their meetings efficiently and give everyone a chance to be heard. Avalos and Wiener have excellent credentials. I think the agencies and supervisors will do the right thing, no matter what the outcome.

For more about the watershed visit the Facebook site, “Open the SF Watershed.”

Squeaky wheels of democracy turning at the Santa Clara Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee

March 23, 2015

Bike and pedestrian committee information is found on the Santa Clara website.

Bike and pedestrian committee information is found on the Santa Clara website.


I’ve attended a couple meetings of the Santa Clara Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and witnessed the democratic process in action. Meetings are open to the public.

What I like about democracy is that everyone has a voice , even if you’re a tiny minority, which is true for bicycle commuters, who make up only about 2 percent of the population.

As I sat through the meetings, I remembered why I left the committee as a member back in the early 1990s. Government moves at its own pace.

I’m not complaining. It’s just the way things are. There needs to be consensus and that takes time.

Back in the early 1990s the grand plan in Santa Clara was to build a recreation path along San Tomas Aquino Creek. I’m happy to say that reach 3 to Monroe Street opened in 2009. That’s about a 20-year wait.

There’s more coming as the path inches its way south on San Tomas Expressway, ending at Stevens Creek Boulevard. It’s a huge improvement for pedestrians who live near the expressway and useful for cyclists who don’t want to ride on the expressway.

I’m not seeing any grand plans on par with San Tomas, but there’s only so much you can do in a city filled with cars.

Now here’s the rub. We all can agree on one thing: traffic gets worse every year and something needs to be done about it. Assuming we continue to see growth — that’s always the plan — something has to give.

Try finding a parking spot at Valley Fair on the weekend, any weekend. Apple is building a massive office in Cupertino right next to Santa Clara. I’m seeing office complexes mushrooming everywhere in Santa Clara, mostly north of Central Expressway.

Bicycle organizations are trying their best to work with local governments to develop a network of bicycle-friendly streets. They call it a “road diet” or “traffic calming” but the bottom line is that it means restricting the flow of traffic, typically from two lanes one direction to one lane and the addition of bike lanes with restricted parking.

Gary Richards, Mr. Roadshow, wrote about the trend in the San Jose Mercury News in 2011, about the time Santa Clara re-striped Pruneridge Avenue for a short distance either side of Lawrence Expressway.

Councilmember Teresa O’Neill, who chairs the committee (and who actually commuted to work by bike), said the Pruneridge re-striping brought a wave of complaints to the city.

I’ve driven that section of Pruneridge numerous times at rush hour and I’m not seeing any change in traffic patterns. If anything, the Lawrence/Pruneridge intersection is less chaotic.

I think the city should take all of Pruneridge from four lanes to two because it’s really just a continuation of Hedding Street in San Jose, and Hedding was changed from four lanes to two in 2013. It’s a great start to having a bike-friendly boulevard across Santa Clara Valley. The obvious continuation would be Homestead Road.

In addition, put every road next to a school on a road diet where bicycle traffic is heaviest.

I’m not under any illusions about the bicycle and its popularity as a transportation option. It will never be as popular as other transportation methods because it requires physical skills and some level of fitness.

However, when it comes to finding ways to reduce traffic, accommodating bicycles by creating a network of bike-friendly streets will increase the number of people who choose to bike commute.

That’s good for the environment and good for transportation in the Valley. With fewer people driving, the road diet won’t be such a bad idea after all.

I’ll share more about what’s happening with the committee down the road. Basically, this is where the cyclist’s agenda meets political reality, but at least our voice is being heard.

Personal freedom vs. safety obsession

February 26, 2015

A broken crank sent me head-first onto the pavement.

A broken crank sent me head-first onto the pavement.


On the face of it, the bicycle helmet law is a no-brainer. Helmets have saved many lives and prevented concussions, myself included.

I almost always wear a helmet. I say almost because once in a while I like to ride without one, like when I ride a few blocks to the barber shop for a haircut or on an all-day ride over Mt. Hamilton.

There was a time when we didn’t have helmets and those we did have were a joke — the leather hairnets that provided zero protection. Modern materials changed all that in the 1980s.

But it was Jim Gentes and his Giro that really made the helmet “cool” in 1985.

Pretty soon the elite riders started wearing his lightweight, stylish helmet and now the only people who don’t wear helmets are casual cyclists or those who can’t afford them. And…friends of Jobst Brandt.

Jobst famously never wore a helmet and lucky for him he never will. He hated helmets and swore he would never wear one. He didn’t care what others did for their safety. He wanted no part of it.

Jobst argued that helmets make cyclists think they can’t be hurt and thus more prone to taking chances. I’m not sure I buy that notion. He stubbornly believed that his riding skills would keep him safe.

For the most part he was right. It was only later in life when those skills had degraded that Jobst fell and hit his head on Mt. Hamilton (tire blowout). He had other incidents, but they were never serious.

It was Jobst’s choice to not wear a helmet.

Those choices are narrowing. In today’s world the bicycle helmet is one more indication that we have become obsessed with safety. In one Wyoming school an innocent outdoor activity of tag was banned for fear that students would harm themselves. Four-square and tetherball have been eliminated in most school yards.

I can’t tell you how many times people have told me riding a bike is dangerous and I should always wear a helmet. Sure it has its hazards, but so does all outdoor activity. I’m not any more fearful of cycling than I am driving a car, probably less.

While nobody can argue against taking safety precautions, there has to be a limit. Life cannot be lived free of risk.

Yet another bicycle helmet law heads our way

February 20, 2015

Sen. Bill 192 takes away personal choice.

Sen. Bill 192 takes away personal choice.


California Senate Bill 192, submitted on Feb. 10 by Carol Liu (D, 25th District Southern California), amends the California vehicle code to make it mandatory that everyone riding a bicycle wear a helmet, as well as reflective clothing when riding at night.

As it stands now, anyone under age 18 must wear a helmet when riding a bike on public roads. So this bill extends the law to include adults. There is currently no law about wearing reflective clothing while riding a bike at night.

Require helmets while driving
The senator, who happens to be the wife of Michael Peevey, recently retired president of the Public Utilities Commission, mentions safety as the main reason for the law in her press release.

If she’s so concerned about bicycle safety, why not ban cars? In the U.S. they kill more than 30,000 people annually, about 3.5 million people in total.

While we’re at it, let’s have a law requiring drivers wear helmets, as NASCAR racers do. Consider the facts: Among all age groups, motor vehicle crashes were the third overall leading cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI) (14%). When looking at just TBI-related deaths, motor vehicle crashes were the second leading cause of TBI-related deaths (26%) for 2006–2010. CDC

Of course we won’t see any such laws. Why? Because it would inconvenience millions of people who drive to get around.

Bicycles. That’s a different story. They’re toys and they can be regulated with little opposition. The bike lobby, after all, has almost no visibility. How much does the bike industry donate to political coffers? Don’t forget: We have the best government money can buy.

Meanwhile, Sen. Liu comes across as a politician who’s only concerned about the public safety. “Motherhood and apple pie” is hard to oppose.

The inconvenience of wearing a helmet is not an issue for most well-to-do cyclists, who only ride for sport.

It’s a different story for minimum-wage workers who only ride a bike because it’s all they can afford. Reflective jackets? How about a jacket that doesn’t have holes in it.

I for one look forward to the day when we legislate private car ownership out of existence. Believe me that day is coming. The autonomous car will change our lives, for the better.

If you don’t believe it, read my novel, Skidders.

Sign the petition opposing Sen. Bill 192.

Note: Today I rode in “God is my helmet” mode, and will continue to do so until the bill is withdrawn.

Electric bicycles, mushrooms and solid tires

December 7, 2014

Skyline Boulevard looking at Old La Honda Road.

Skyline Boulevard looking at Old La Honda Road.


Saturday I tried out an electric bicycle at Bicycle Outfitter (BO) and had a chance to discuss its prospects with the staff.

At BO, as with most bike shops, electric bikes are greeted with mixed feelings. I can relate to that. When a rider goes blasting by on an electric bike, I’m none to happy, then wish I had one.

However, electric bikes are already well established in China and are gaining a following in Europe. They have their place for commuting, the market they’re going after.

The bike I rode Saturday is a commuter with a top speed of 20 mph, if you’re just running on battery power and not pedaling. It looks like the typical commuter bike with a long wheel base, solid frame, motor in the rear hub. The battery is removable and sits over the rear wheel.

While the bike had heavy, durable tires, I wouldn’t ever want to have a rear flat. Were I to own one, I’d mount the new Tannus solid tire out of Korea. Solid tires have been around for decades, but this latest version looks promising. (One user’s experience.)

Tannus solid tires eliminate flats. (Tannus photo)

Tannus solid tires eliminate flats. (Tannus photo)


It’s lightweight and has decent rolling resistance, not as good as a pneumatic tire of course, but close enough. From what I’ve read, the only drawback is that it’s a bear to mount on a standard rim. It’s rated for 6,000 miles. That means it will probably last at least several years for a commuter.

So what about the performance rider who still wants go to electric? I’ve found two wheels that hold promise — the FlyKly and the Copenhagen. They’re similar in design and both have something else in common that has many buyers frustrated. The wheels were supposed to be available months ago.

As with any new product, production delays can be expected, and because there’s electronics involved, it gets more complicated. The product has to work flawlessly. If it doesn’t, someone could be injured and lawsuits would quickly shut down the companies.

While I won’t go into the details, I would be torn between which one to buy. The FlyKly appeals to the minimalist in me. It’s unobtrusive and weighs only 6.6 pounds. The drawback is that it only works with a single speed.

The Copenhagen is painted a garish red, weighs 13 pounds, but works with any standard road bike. Just swap wheels and you’re all set. Both wheels are wireless and require an app running on a smartphone, iOS or Android.

Once they come out, I’ll be interested to read the reviews. At about $700, they’re relatively affordable. For someone who commutes longer distances, they could pay for themselves in short order.

Meanwhile, with the recent rains my chanterelle friends have finally returned after a two-year absence. They’ll join me and spaghetti for dinner in the coming days.

Chanterelles are back after a long absence. They like rain.

Chanterelles are back after a long absence. They like rain.

Wurr Road bridge a sign of the times

November 18, 2014

Wurr Road's Pescadero Creek bridge makes it pretty clear you need to cross with caution.

Wurr Road’s Pescadero Creek bridge makes it pretty clear you need to cross with caution.


While I can’t deny Pescadero Creek bridge on Wurr Road in San Mateo County has seen its share of bike crashes, do we really need a sign suggesting that we walk our bikes across?

I first rode over the bridge with Jobst Brandt in 1980. He occasionally spoke of a huge crash here in the mid-1970s. Jobst and friends came flying down the road one frigid winter morning and the result was chaos as they skidded on the icy bridge.

Several riders crashed, broke bones, or were knocked out.

Today the bridge could use a little work, but better yet, replace it with something modern.

The good news is that few cyclists venture onto Wurr Road near the sleepy town of Loma Mar. Instead they stay on the busy Pescadero Road.

The fact that these signs just went up makes me wonder if there wasn’t another bike wreck here recently.

A road too narrow

November 1, 2014

Scene of the bike accident on McCllellan Road. Images taken from Google maps. Yellow speck represents a cyclist. (Click on image for larger size)

Scene of the bike accident on McCllellan Road. Images taken from Google maps. Yellow speck represents a cyclist (Click on image for larger size).

The death of a 15-year old cyclist on Monday, October 27, on McClellan Road in Cupertino bothered me. I’ve ridden that stretch of road many times, mostly during weekend rides.

The fact that a double-trailer big rig was involved didn’t surprise me, although the location did. I’m sure those trucks are not supposed to be on McClellan.

I’m guessing the driver was shuttling between a construction site and the Permanente Quarry on Stevens Canyon Road and got lost or tried to take a shortcut.

I took a screen capture (to scale) of a similar truck and overlaid it onto the scene of the accident. It’s immediately obvious what could have happened. There’s just not enough room for bike and truck on that stretch of McClellan. The driver was turning right onto Bubb and was probably moving right after passing the cyclist.

What happened next is what has happened on more than one occasion. The second trailer struck the cyclist.

From what I’ve read, the Monta Vista High School student who died was an avid cyclist. No doubt that’s why he rode his bike to school.

If you think a double-trailer truck is bad, imagine a triple-trailer. They’re allowed on highways in 10 states, fortunately not California, although the truck industry has lobbied for it. Let’s keep them out of California.

While Cupertino has a great reputation for accommodating bikes on its streets, every community can do better. What happened Monday morning on McClellan shouldn’t happen again.

If you want change at MROSD, you’ve got to vote

October 13, 2014

Are you frustrated with the way things are over at the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD)? If you’re someone who feels shut out from the district’s “open” space, you should be. Now you can do something about it.

Two candidates, Mike Buncic (Ward 1) and Brandon Lewke (Ward 6) have made their positions clear: They want more open space opened and they’re proud to say they ride bikes.

If there’s ever a time when your vote matters, it’s here and now. MROSD board elections for four of seven wards are on the Nov. 4 ballot. Unfortunately, two are uncontested.

I’ve seen what a grassroots campaign for change can do. No entrenched elected official is safe. I was one of a small group of local residents in Menlo Park who banned together to vote out the city council incumbents in the mid-1980s elections.

One evening we showed up at a city council meeting, upset by a plan to increase traffic on our local streets. It was all a misunderstanding, but that wasn’t what mattered that evening. We were told by several entrenched city council members to take a hike. Big mistake.

I was so upset I took out an ad in the local paper and endorsed a candidate over the incumbent, who happened to be a cyclist. Didn’t matter. It was out with the old and in with the new. I could not have been happier that election evening. We said goodbye to the old guard and welcomed in the new.

If you want to learn more about Buncic and Lewke, check out their Facebook sites and read an article by San Jose Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold.

Lewke wants to preserve the Mt. Umunhum concrete silo. I’m all for that, just as long as we can get the road open to the summit, ASAP. None of us is getting any younger. I’ve been waiting nearly 30 years. It’s time for a change at MROSD. Go and vote!

Be sure to vote Nov. 4, especially if you're in a MROSD Ward with elections.

Be sure to vote Nov. 4, especially if you’re in a MROSD Ward with elections.

MROSD Elections
Ward 1
Pete Siemens (Incumbent)
Mike Buncic (I endorse)

Ward 2
Yoriko Kishimoto (Incumbent)

Ward 5
Nonette Hanko (Incumbent)

Ward 6
Larry Hassett (Incumbent)
Brandon Lewke (I endorse)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 66 other followers