Safe cycling a matter of political willpower and a change in values

A short stretch of Pruneridge Avenue in Santa Clara was restriped from two lanes to one in 2012.


San Jose Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold delves into the reasons why more cyclist don’t commute to work in today’s paper. The answer, he says, and as we all know, is that it’s not safe.

Robert Ford, the late mayor of Toronto, summed it up best when he said cyclists are “swimming with sharks.” He said that as downtown Toronto eliminated a bike lane, putting the cyclist even more at risk for being hit by a car.

I’m no longer a cyclist who believes that safe cycling is simply a matter of learning to ride your bike in traffic. I’ve concluded that the only way for there to be safer cycling is to separate bikes from cars. One way to do that is by putting some busy streets on a “road diet.” It’s a term many people disparage, myself included.

A great example of road restriping is Hedding Street in San Jose. It went from two lanes each direction to one lane with a center turn lane and wide bike lanes. I use it all the time and I feel safer here than on, let’s say, Pruneridge Avenue, the extension of Hedding through Santa Clara.

It’s not that Santa Clara doesn’t appreciate the value of this road restriping on Pruneridge. The city has the street listed for restriping in its 2009 bike master plan. However, these days it’s looking more and more like it won’t happen anytime soon.

The reason is pretty simple. It’s not politically popular, considering the hue and cry raised by the January 2012 restriping for a short distance on Pruneridge between Lawrence and Pomeroy. I guess the city decided it would dip its toe in the political water. It got burned. Lots of motorists complained.

I can see why. Lawrence is a huge bottleneck during commute hours. Cars stack up both sides of Pruneridge. I would have started at Hedding and worked my way west for the restriping.

While the complainers were loud and numerous, a study proved them wrong. Kimley-Horn Associates concluded that traffic volumes dipped by less than 5 percent after the restriping. Bicycle counts went way up, weekday usage increasing 350 percent. Admittedly, the numbers are small, but it means fewer cars on the road and that’s the lesson we need to take from the road diet.

Given a chance, restriping encourages more people to ride bikes to work and that means fewer cars on the road. If just 15 percent of all commuters biked to work you’d see a noticeable improvement in traffic.

The reason this matters now is because the new Apple campus is weeks away from opening. More commuters will be using Pruneridge. Wouldn’t you rather see those Apple employees riding bikes?

6 Responses to “Safe cycling a matter of political willpower and a change in values”

  1. Jon Spangler Says:

    Ray,

    Nice post. I agree with your approach.

    It would be great if you could add more options for sharing your posts in social media. Lots of people are on FB, Instagram, Pinterest, and other platforms in addition to Twitter. I usually share things like these on both Twitter and FB, as well as via email when I want to make it more personal and FWD items to city staff here in Alameda or the LAB’s LCI Google Groups list for instructors nationwide.

    You might be interested in the BART Bicycle Advisory Task Force meeting on April 3, 6-8 PM in Oakland: all about bike theft prevention and Project 529. BART-accessible (19th Street), and Warm Springs opens on March 25…I’ll buy you a beer/beverage afterwards! 😉

    See attached for specifics.

    Jon

    >

  2. Fiesole1978 Says:

    Ray, I agree wholeheartedly with your post.

    As an example, my neighborhood street, Mary Avenue between Fremont and El Camino in Sunnyvale recently underwent restriping to provide dedicated bike lanes. While this meant reduction in car lanes creating longer cues of cars during high commute periods, the change was long overdue.

    Over time, this once residential street with a neighborhood park and a school had become a major commute thoroughfare. I suspect popular apps like Waze may be redirecting traffic from arterials to our neighborhood streets. Recent car-bike accidents no doubt encouraged the City to act. While I can imagine irate commuters now complaining to the City, I for one applaud the City for their political willpower to increase bike safety over increasing car traffic, and enabling our residential neighborhood to reclaim it’s residential character.

    • Ray Hosler Says:

      Waze can wreak havoc. I found out the hard way when I rode Calaveras Road on a weekday. I was lucky I made it on my bike as hundreds of cars drove the narrow, winding road to avoid 680. The good news is the road is closed weekdays for Calaveras Reservoir work. The SF water district won’t let hikers/cyclists use their SF watershed but they don’t seem to mind cars.

  3. Robert Neff Says:

    Whatever the consultants say, Pruneridge at Lawrence is a mess, and it was made worse by the road diet. The Lawrence light is so long that the queue backs up past the first block short block to Harvard, so there is only one lane feeding both 2 left turn and 2 through lanes. As a result, the left turn signal may clear the que, but if you are stuck back in the lane you cannot make it to the left turn cycle. I see many left turning vehicles going straight across, then doing a U turn on Pruneridge on the other side of Lawrence, and taking the free right turn to make their eventual connection to southbound Lawrence. The net is that for many left turning vehicles it takes 2 or more cycles to make their way onto Lawrence. Maybe a second left turn phase could be added at the end of the cycle.

    I just have to watch out for those mid-block u-turns.

    On my bike, I love the road diet, and the way it has civilized the 4-way stop just to the west of Lawrence. I certainly wish it extended all the way to Pomeroy (it ends a block short), and there is plenty of road width to extend bike lanes, maybe even buffered bike lanes, to San Tomas.

  4. Raymond Hosler Says:

    Robert: I used to take that left from Pruneridge to Lawrence in a car, but just as you said, it became an exercise in frustration waiting through two lights. I quit taking that route. The scenario you describe is not unique to Pruneridge/Lawrence. I’ve seen it elsewhere in places with high traffic volume.

  5. tfunk408 Says:

    Restriping efforts seem like good ideas but they are terrible for cars that have no alternatives to getting around. Restriping by itself is not effective at discouraging driving if no public transportation solutions exist and everything is so sprawled out. But we love our single family homes and suburban culture so this is the mess that results. Sigh.

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