“Idaho stop” the right way to go, but changing the law unrealistic

August 19, 2016

Here's one stop that requires your attention. Skyline traffic goes 50-70 mph.

Here’s one stop that requires your attention. Skyline traffic goes 50-70 mph.

At the Silicon Valley Bike Summit, Dave Snyder, Calbike executive director, made a good point while answering a question about the “Idaho stop,” (treat a stop sign as a yield sign) and why there’s no effort to make it the law in California.

“Obviously the Idaho law is the way it should be,” Snyder said. “But the task of changing the law is so difficult it would require a huge amount of attention and resources.”

Snyder said he doesn’t want to go off message. He argues that we need to transform our roads so that cycling is safe and not dwell on running stop signs.

Instead, Snyder wants cyclists to work with their local law enforcement to stop enforcing the law. “Use common sense,” Snyder said. The police use their best judgment all the time when they’re out on patrol.

He said that the Netherlands police look the other way (and they ride bikes) if someone runs a stop sign in a situation where it’s not hazardous. Netherlands law requires bikes to stop at stop signs in the bike-focused country.

From what I can find out about the Idaho law, it was passed way back in 1982. In that year the state did a comprehensive review of traffic regulations.

By a stroke of luck, the Administrative Director of the Courts in Idaho, Carl Bianchi, was a cyclist. He wanted to modernize the bicycle law as part of the traffic code revision.

He had first-hand experience in dealing with bicycle traffic tickets (a criminal offense!) clogging the courts. Judges didn’t want to have to deal with such petty violations, which pretty much assured that the law would be approved.

Some police officers disapproved the law, and even some cyclists.

I’ve never been to Idaho, so I can’t comment on how well the law works.

In San Francisco, cyclists recently drove home their argument in favor of the Idaho stop. They stopped at stop signs and immediately snarled traffic.

There’s a video with the above link that doesn’t do a good job illustrating the problem. That’s a busy intersection and I can’t imagine anyone riding right through without stopping. I know I wouldn’t.

I do the “Idaho stop” all the time, but only when there are no cars around. At busy intersections I always stop, and you should too.

Here’s a good video that shows how the Idaho stop law can work.

NOTE: According to Wikipedia, Richard Masoner, Scotts Valley author of the Cycleicious blog, coined the term “Idaho stop” as a noun in 2008.

Part 6: San Tomas Aquino Creek path offers commuter relief

August 17, 2016

San Tomas Creek Trail in 2009 prior to opening. Bike commuters could hardly wait.

San Tomas Creek Trail in 2009 prior to opening. Bike commuters could hardly wait.

I paid close attention to work progress on San Tomas Aquino creek path back in 2009, and for good reason. It promised a car-free commute.

My north San Jose commute had become routine after four years. I continued riding over Hwy 101, De La Cruz/Trimble Road in the morning, mainly because I was in a hurry to get to work.

On the way home I took the alternate, longer routes, like Guadalupe River recreation path. Traffic was more problematic in the evening compared to my relatively early Hwy 101 crossing at 7:15 a.m.

The San Tomas Aquino creek path quickly became my favorite ride home once the path opened in June 2009. I took Montague Expressway, turned right on Agnew Road and then left onto the creek path. It was a straight shot from there to Monroe Street, where I could go right on San Tomas Expressway or straight and pick up Los Padres Blvd.

That section of Montague eastbound has a good shoulder, only three lights and no driveways, so it was a quick ride. The only concern was the long Rivermark Parkway exit. Drivers sometimes cut me off in a hazardous manner. Agnew Road was great, with a bike lane.

When extension four of the creek path opened in 2014 (Monroe to El Camino Real), I started taking it in more often than riding on the expressway, but it came at a price. The El Camino Real intersection required a full stop and then gaining the attention of right-turning drivers. Anything less and you risked being hit in the crosswalk.

While my creek path route was about two miles farther and took at least five minutes longer, it was an enjoyable experience seeing the creek and avoiding intersections.

Note that bike riding is, technically, not allowed on the creek path after dark.

This experience changed my perspective on my route to work, which I took into account when I returned to my old commute route, up next.

Bicycle lobbyist gives outlook on state priorities, hot issues

August 15, 2016

Shiloh Ballard, SVBC director, interviews Dave Snyder, Calbike.

Shiloh Ballard, SVBC director, interviews Dave Snyder, Calbike.

After attending the bike summit, I came away realizing that “lobbyist” is not a dirty word. “Our” lobbyists are the cyclist’s best friend when it comes to influencing public policy drafted by elected representatives.

Dave Snyder, Executive Director of Calbike, is one of our best lobbyists. He gave his observations on advocacy wins and losses in the California state legislature at the Silicon Valley Bike Summit held on Aug. 11.

He said that Kate White, Deputy Secretary, Environmental Policy and Housing Coordination, state transportation agency (and avid cyclist) is helping “turn the ship of Caltrans.” “I have hope,” Dave continued. “It may not look like it from the outside, but the new strategic plan Caltrans adopted calls for tripling of bike mode share by 2020. Bicycle objectives we back are filtering down into the massive Caltrans bureaucracy.”

While there’s a lot to like about Gov. Jerry Brown’s fiscal conservative slant, Snyder said he wished it didn’t apply to bicycle facilities. “Quick and early investment in bicycle infrastructure saves us money in the long run, transit, health…”

Snyder touched on a theme of the day — equity and how to achieve it — by highlighting an effort in Los Angeles to redesign Figueroa Street in Cypress Park and Highland Park, a predominantly low-income, minority neighborhood. While the redesign also included pedestrian safety, residents focused on the loss of a lane and parking issues. Things quickly heated up, resulting in the district councilman deciding to delay the project.

Snyder credited Tamika Butler, Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition, for being a calming influence and working with the councilman to see the benefits from the cycling community’s perspective. Tensions ran high, with cyclists doing a die-in in front of the councilman’s condo.

On matters of state legislation and funding, Snyder said it hasn’t been a great year, but he said there’s a bright spot with low-carbon transportation funding that will expand to low-income neighborhoods.

Another win has been the protected bikeways act, Snyder said. Now every community can build a protected bikeway under state law.

He said California Sen. Jim Beall (pronounced Bell) has been a great help with a variety of bicycle issues, including side-by-side riding and clarifications to the state law that let cyclists take the entire lane.

Bike share facilities were discussed at the summit and on that topic Snyder said that bike share systems need to be supported the same as a public transit system. In other words, they’re most likely not going to make a profit and they shouldn’t be run with that in mind. “Bike share systems need to serve every neighborhood,” Snyder said.

On another funding matter, Snyder made it clear that the proposed half-cent sales tax measure for Santa Clara County will probably do more for cycling than any state financing could hope to achieve.

Snyder said he’s optimistic that the November elections could result in a legislature that is more partial to bicycle funding. Let’s hope so.

NOTE: Clarifications, corrections, comments, additions are welcome.

Bicycle summit brings together 220 policy makers to talk shop

August 12, 2016

SVBC and its sponsors hosted a bike summit in Mountain View.

SVBC and its sponsors hosted a bike summit in Mountain View.

At the sixth annual Silicon Valley Bike Summit hosted by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) on Thursday, Aug. 11, dozens of government transportation leaders turned out, and that’s a sign of good things to come.

SVBC Executive Director Shiloh Ballard opened the meeting by acknowledging those city council members and other important government officials attending.

Before I report on the day’s activities, in the coming weeks, let’s look at where Bay Area cycling advocacy has been in the past 30 years.

In the 1980s, bicycle advocacy was in its infancy. Few public officials gave much credence to bike transportation as a viable alternative to cars. That’s one reason why the late Ellen Fletcher, three-term Palo Alto city council member, became such a celebrity among cyclists. She was an elected official who rode a bike and worked tirelessly to bring cycling to the table on equal footing with the automobile.

Back then the focus was on winning access to expressways, allowing bikes on Caltrain and building more bike lanes.

I don’t know all the details of how SVBC got started, but its original all-volunteer membership maintained a newsletter, Spinning Crank, for two decades starting around 1986. SVBC has seen slow but steady growth, now at some 2,200 paid members.

The SVBC evolved into a non-profit with a paid staff and volunteers, working on a tight budget. It’s more tied in than ever to local governments, trying to improve all aspects of bicycling. The bike summit is one of its many advocacy gatherings held throughout the year.

Bike commute stagnation
You’d think that the bicycle lobby would be a force to deal with today, judging by all the recreational cyclists on the road. However, when it comes to bike commuting, there’s stagnation (I’m seeing a recent uptick). So long as that’s the status quo, local governments, even those that want to do the right thing and provide bicycle facilities, have a hard time justifying the increased funding or taking away lanes from cars.

That’s where SVBC’s efforts are focused. After this meeting I’m beginning to see a sea change in the way bikes are accommodated on the road. It’s no longer the “effective cycling” mantra where bikes mix freely with cars. It’s more like “separate but equal” road sharing with protected bike lanes.

That leads to the never-ending debate over why more people don’t bike commute. Is it the result of our streets being too dangerous? That’s the most popular answer and I think it’s true. If we build bicycle-safe streets, will they come? Of course.

The good news for cycling is that our freeways are jammed with cars. Google employees in attendance told horror stories about the drive to the Google campus at Shoreline Boulevard and Charleston Road in Mountain View. Cars stack up on Hwy 101 daily. Clearly, commuters are looking for alternatives.

What’s encouraging from the day’s proceedings is that government is beginning to act, designing roads with bikes in mind and making accommodations even when it’s politically unpopular. Investing $1 million in a Davis, California, bicycle-safe intersection tells me that people are getting serious about making our streets safer for cyclists.

Down the road, I see bicycle commuting rising to as high as 30 percent. It will never overtake the car, especially once the autonomous vehicle comes along, but our streets will be far safer for cycling thanks to this technology and the efforts of the SVBC.

That’s all for now. Summit topics I’ll cover include: California state investments, protected bike lanes, local city projects, Vision Zero progress.

On an uplifting note, 90 attendees out of 220 rode bikes to the summit held on the Microsoft Mountain View campus.

Dave Snyder, Calbike director, addresses the bike summit.

Dave Snyder, Calbike director, addresses the bike summit.

Part 5: North San Jose commute alternatives, at a price

August 8, 2016

Route in red recommended. Gray routes are OK, but not great. Google Maps

Route in red recommended. Gray routes are OK, but not great. Google Maps

As I studied the map for alternate routes to North San Jose, I found a few options and tried them all. They required at least an extra mile of riding, or an extra 10 minutes daily. It starts to add up.

I was well aware of the Guadalupe River recreation path, which I used right away. Its big benefit is that you ride under Hwy 101 without cars. I took it quite a bit, but not always.

At the time I started riding there, the path was still unpaved. That’s not an issue in the summer, but in the winter the road could be muddy and the 101 underpass flooded, and still floods even after paving.

There’s a frontage road around the north runway at San Jose International Airport, Ewert Road. I took that from De La Cruz about a half-mile before the Hwy 101 overpass. It was fine, with little traffic. At the time the long-term parking lot was located near De La Cruz, so there was an occasional bus.

I found alternate routes, such as W. Plumeria Dr., but there is no connection between Orchard Parkway and the river path. There’s private property between them. Sadly, the city of San Jose never anticipated a need for connector paths to the water department maintenance road that lines Guadalupe River. Its original purpose was strictly for water department trucks.

I tried Lafayette Street, but while it crosses Hwy 101 with no ramps to deal with, I had to take busy Montague Expressway the rest of the way. Lafayette has a lot of traffic as well. Lafayette to Aldo to Montague was tried, but I was not crazy about Aldo. It’s an industrial area with many driveways and parked vehicles.

One time I tried taking Montague all the way home. The Hwy 101 overpass is wide, but there’s a two-lane exit ramp to Hwy 101 that ruined the route. Plus, there’s a lot of traffic on Montague moving at high speed.

I even tried Zanker Road/Brokaw Road, then around the airport on Ewert. Too much traffic on Brokaw, at times, with people in a hurry to catch a plane.

Nearly four years into the commute I found a better route, about two miles longer, but it had a lot going for it. Up next, the best route.

Crossing under Hwy 101 on the scenic Guadalupe River trail avoids traffic.

Crossing under Hwy 101 on the scenic Guadalupe River trail avoids traffic.

Mount Hamilton enjoyable with air conditioning on full

August 7, 2016

Lick Observatory, built around 1875, backside.

Lick Observatory, built around 1875, backside.

Here it is August when it should be stinking hot, but instead I enjoyed the Bay Area’s natural air conditioning, running full blast, on my ride up Mt. Hamilton.

Lick Observatory was as regal looking as ever, a lasting legacy to one of the state’s wealthiest early Californians, James Lick.

As I was climbing, I saw the daredevil longboarders, with follow car, descending at breakneck speed. And I thought cycling was dangerous. Example here:

Part 4: North San Jose commute a tough nut to crack

August 4, 2016

My shortest route commute to North San Jose required taking Trimble Road. (Google Maps)

My shortest route commute to North San Jose required taking Trimble Road (Google Maps).

When I signed up to work in North San Jose, I knew my cream puff commute was about to turn into something much less appetizing.

For starters it was a mile farther. That doesn’t sound like much, but on a bike that’s 10 minutes a day, almost an hour a week.

It’s the little things that can make the bike commute easy or hard, such as the ride direction in the morning. I went from having the sun at my back to it being in my face.

Then there’s the 800-pound gorilla — traffic — to deal with. I would be seeing a lot more of it.

Checking the map, Hwy 101 is the deal breaker. I had to cross it and the most direct route was De La Cruz Blvd./Trimble Rd. That’s one of the old, traditional cloverleaf overpasses, two narrow lanes each direction.

I quickly developed survival skills crossing 101. The double-right-turn on-ramp required particular care. I always extended my left arm to indicate I was headed straight, and stayed left.

Despite my finely honed commuting skills, it was never easy.

Even the ride onto De La Cruz Blvd. proved a challenge. I rode through downtown Santa Clara and took the Caltrain/El Camino Real flyover onto De La Cruz. If you’ve ever tried that, you’ll discover that you need to cross three lanes of De La Cruz, cars moving at 40 mph.

If traffic was coming my way (it was usually a platoon) I stopped and waited on the ramp, which has a wide shoulder.

Once over Hwy 101, at least Trimble Road has bike lanes, so I had a decent shoulder that took me to Montague Expressway.

I had to cross Montague and that proved difficult when the light wasn’t bike-sensitive. In the early morning I was often the only one crossing. I complained to the county. They fixed it.

One of the most important rules of bike commuting is to leave early. I did that and it made a huge difference. If you don’t leave by 7:15, you’ll see a lot more traffic.

I looked around for other routes. More on what I found up next.

Part 3: My years as a San Tomas Expressway commuter

August 3, 2016
Some sections of San Tomas Expressway look like this.

Some sections of San Tomas Expressway look like this.

After abandoning Pomeroy as the main route to and from work, around 2000, I decided to try San Tomas Expressway. It’s ironic that I waited so long, considering my history with the road.

Back in the mid-1980s, when I lived in Menlo Park, I got swept up in the cycling-community frenzy to see the expressways opened to biking. Santa Clara County had a blanket prohibition of bikes on expressways, except for Foothill Expressway (not sure about Oregon Expressway).

That always seemed odd, allowing cycling on one expressway and not others. In addition, it went against state law, which allows bikes to use all roads except freeways. It took a lot of advocacy and political pressure on the county and cities, but it finally happened.

At a Santa Clara City Council meeting attended by dozens of cyclist, I got up and said a few words. The way I said it was lame, but I was glad to give my support back when I had a voice as a San Francisco Chronicle columnist.

The late Mayor Eddie Souza, one of the more liberal-minded mayors in the county, seemed to be in favor, going against the wishes of the Santa Clara city traffic engineer.

In late 1991, Santa Clara County supervisors began taking measures to allow bicycles on the expressways. San Tomas was opened for cycling in 1992, maybe later, and it wasn’t long before all the county expressways were open for cycling. Today you can still see signs where “bicycles prohibited” is covered over.

I quickly discovered the advantages. During commute hours the traffic signals stayed green longer. I got to work faster than before.

As time went on, I saw more cyclists using the expressway, but when I started I rarely saw other cyclists.

After a year it was routine riding the expressway. I usually turned left on Monroe and took a side street to Kiely, which I was on long enough to cross under the Caltrain tracks. That route served me well for quite a few years, until I started working near Trimble and Montague Expressway.

During my time on San Tomas I never had a single incident with a car beyond the usual driver turning right and cutting me off. The only flats I had were from puncture vine, which grew in profusion in the pumpkin/Christmas tree lot near Monroe and San Tomas. I complained and the county responded with spraying, to such an extent that today it’s gone.

Traffic volumes have spiked on the expressways since I started riding. Traffic engineers have responded with proposals for more road widening. San Tomas will have an extended bike path, but I’d much rather see my taxes spent on trains and light rail than I would on road widening.

Up next: my four years commuting to North San Jose.

Part 2: Evolving my commute route

July 31, 2016

Lawrence Station underpass was a welcome addition, for the most part.

Lawrence Station underpass was a welcome addition, for the most part.

It takes time to find the best route to work, and experimentation. You’ll never know if a route is good unless you try it.

It took me more than a decade to settle on the ideal route to work in the area of Kifer Road and Lawrence Expressway in Santa Clara. The route has changed in part because I got tired of dealing with the Caltrain railroad tracks.

Early on I tried taking Kiely Boulevard north from Pruneridge. If ever there was a road to avoid, Kiely is it. It’s bumper to bumper traffic, lots of stop lights and downright miserable riding. I quickly gave up on that option.

I then settled on Pomeroy Avenue (bike lane), jogging left on Warburton to Nobili Avenue (light traffic) north to Monroe Street. I’d take a left onto Monroe (no stop light so it was a chore) and pick up a frontage road, French Street, next to Lawrence Expressway. Today there’s a massive apartment under construction at the Lawrence/Monroe intersection.

However, I had to walk my bike up stairs and down stairs on a Caltrain overpass. It was a big pain. Once the Lawrence Station was remodeled in the early 2000s, I could take the underpass, although bikes must be walked through the subway.

There’s a handicap ramp, but it’s also prohibited to ride bikes on it. After a while I got tired of the hassle and quit taking that route. (The Lawrence Station area will be built out with housing and retail in the coming years. I’m not sure bicycle access will improve, but city planners do seem to have bikes in mind these days.)

Another issue cropped up when going home by that same route. I cut through an office complex parking lot to get to Nobili. Eventually I couldn’t cut through the parking lot when it was closed off, so the route home no longer appealed to me. French Street is one-way going north.

I also tried out Willow, Monroe, Timberpine, Halford Avenue, Benton, but it took me out of my way and the roads are congested from high-density housing on Halford.

Next I’ll discuss San Tomas Expressway and how I rode it daily for many years.

Pomeroy route, used for about five years. Caltrain underpass was the only issue. (Google Map)

Pomeroy route, used for about five years. Caltrain underpass was the only issue. (Google Map)

Bike commuter’s credo: cars are assault rifles

July 28, 2016

As much as I dislike all the traffic these days, Central Expressway was my daily route home.

As much as I dislike all the traffic these days, Central Expressway was my daily route home.

Before I continue with my analysis of bike commuter routes, it’s important to understand the bike commuter’s credo: cars are assault rifles.

Let it dictate how you choose your best route to work. That may sound harsh, but it’s nothing against cars or assault rifles. It’s just that cars can hit you, by accident or on purpose. Either way, the results are going to be dire, just like being shot by an assault rifle.

Wearing a helmet isn’t going to save you all the time, nor is taking the right of way when you clearly have it as a car is bearing down. Never think that a car is going to do the right thing. Assume the driver will do the wrong thing, and be ready.

I’ll tell you how well that served me: In my 45 years of daily bike commuting (except for six months when my job required driving) I never had a bike-car accident. But hundreds of close-calls.

However, I’ve had more than one bike-bike accident, which says something but the meaning is open to interpretation.

Over the years, I became less interested in the shortest/fastest route to work and more interested in taking streets with light traffic. It’s all about playing the odds. Keep that thought in mind.

The more you mix with high-speed traffic, especially large trucks (heavy artillery), the greater your risk. Additionally, study after study has shown that riding next to air-polluting cars is bad for your lungs, not to mention your hearing from cars buzzing by.

Next up I’ll discuss a couple of other routes I took and why they fell to the wayside, including San Tomas Expressway.