Brown skies continue in Bay Area

August 29, 2016

Montebello Road summit looking west.

Montebello Road summit looking west.

If you think the forest fires are out, not quite. Check out the skyline from the summit of Montebello Road. Fabulous weather though.

My last commute: Los Padres Boulevard

August 27, 2016

One of the joys of bike commuting, checking out the creek trails in the rain.

One of the joys of bike commuting, checking out the creek trails in the rain.

Back to work at Kifer Road and Lawrence Expressway, I began commuting on San Tomas Expressway once more.

After a year or so on San Tomas, I came to the conclusion that riding on the busy expressway no longer appealed to me, for two reasons: air pollution and noise.

I had enough of both, so I started taking Los Padres Boulevard to Monroe Street, then the San Tomas Aquino Creek path, left onto Walsh/Kifer.

Los Padres is my favorite street with a bike lane. It cuts through residential Santa Clara and has light traffic, speed limit 25 mph.

Going home I took Central Expressway to the San Tomas bike path.

I never liked the narrow section of Kifer/Walsh near Costco. It was always busy. I had easy access to Central from my work and I could fly. There’s a wide shoulder all the way. Even though the expressway is jammed during rush hour, it never slowed me down.

With the daily bike commute behind me, I avoid all the heavily traveled streets whenever possible. After so many years riding in traffic, I’ve come to appreciate lightly traveled roads and all they offer.

Los Padres Boulevard became a favorite route to work.

Los Padres Boulevard became a favorite route to work.

Purisima Creek Road cuts through a heavily logged canyon

August 23, 2016

Purisima Creek Road just below the Grabtown Gulch Trail junction.

Purisima Creek Road just below the Grabtown Gulch Trail junction.

If you were to go back in time to, let’s say 1880, and visit Purisima Canyon, you wouldn’t recognize it. The loggers clear-cut the canyon starting in the 1850s and ending in the 1920s.

There was ongoing logging here into the 1960s, but it was more like tree thinning.

On Monday morning as I rode down the “trail” from Skyline Boulevard, which I’ve been doing since 1980, I was struck by how much more brush and undergrowth I saw compared to the old days. It used to be pristine, redwoods and little undergrowth. I suppose the difference in plant life is mostly from the lack of logging, but it may also be climate change at work.

Water source for the Alvin Hatch Mill. I took a beautiful photo of Jobst Brandt drinking from the creek here in 1981.

Water source for the Alvin Hatch Mill. I took a beautiful photo of Jobst Brandt drinking from the creek here in 1981.

Most of the redwood was turned into shingles back then, mainly because it was hard to remove trees from the steep canyon over the hill to the port of Redwood City. There weren’t any harbors nearby on the Pacific Coast.

The first mill was water-powered, where Harkins Fire Road joins Purisima Creek Road at the canyon entrance. Later sawmills relied on steam engines, or steam donkeys.

Borden & Hatch Mill  in the 1880s, near where I took the first photo, top of page (From Sawmills in the Redwoods).

Borden & Hatch Mill in the 1880s, near where I took the first photo, top of page (From Sawmills in the Redwoods).

Going downhill, the first location where two sawmills existed is located where Purisima Creek runs under the road through a large steel culvert. That’s where the road levels out somewhat and there’s a sharp right turn. Right here is where a cable way was installed to haul logs uphill to Swett Road. Purdy Pharis, Shingle King, sunk a lot of money into the project, but it never was successful. He died about the time the operation was underway in 1884.

Farther down, at the Grabtown Gulch trail intersection, were two more logging camps, Charles Borden Mill and Hartley Shingle Mill, both operating around 1900-02.

Finally another half mile or so below this site was the Borden & Hatch Mill, which ran from 1871-1900.

While most of the wood went to making shingles, some was used to build a flume for Spring Valley Water Company in 1871. The nine-mile long flume, located in what is now the San Francisco Watershed (Frenchman Creek and stone dam) lasted 20 years before being abandoned.

This was the first time I rode in the Santa Cruz Mountains on a Monday. There’s no traffic to speak of on Kings Mountain Road (2 going up, 5 going down) and the same goes for Tunitas Creek Road. However, Santa Clara Valley traffic during rush hour is no picnic. I’ve learned how to get around it mostly car-free though.

“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.