Santa Clara Bicycle Master Plan spinning its wheels

A main street in Zurich. This is how our main streets should look in Santa Clara (Google Maps).


Santa Clara’s traffic engineering department issued its latest bicycle master plan and it’s more of the same.

We need to shake up the system, if we’re going to fix our transportation problems. Instead of a bicycle plan, we need a Public Transportation Plan, and the bicycle plan would be a subset of the transportation plan. I couldn’t find a transportation plan, but there is a General Plan.

I wrote this response to the city:

“The Bicycle Master Plan [2018] is professional in all respects. In general, I agree with all its recommendations, if we are to follow down the current path, the status quo if you will. What will that get us in five years? 3 percent ridership? Maybe even 5 percent, according to the bicycle plan.

That’s not good enough to warrant spending an estimated $15-30 million in project costs. We’re wasting our money on a lost cause, as things stand now. (That’s cheap considering that the Mary Avenue I-280 overpass cost $14 million.)

We have another choice. Spend our scarce dollars on programs that will incentivize the public to ride bikes. Take $10 million and use it to subsidize bicycle commuting. Money talks. There’s no greater incentive to getting someone to change a habit than a meaningful financial incentive. With today’s GPS systems, mileage can be measured and monitored. The system can be cheated, of course, but most people are honest.

If asked, residents will tell you that riding a bike is onerous during commute hours. It’s not pleasurable in most instances for most people. They’re not going to start riding a bike to work or to the store because it’s the “right thing to do,” or “it’s good for the environment,” especially when it will get them to work 15 minutes slower, sweaty, and inconvenienced in so many ways I can’t list them all here.

That 2 percent figure cited in the report for bicycle commuting is exclusively those individuals who love cycling. They’re crazy in love with bike riding. The rest of the public is not in love with cycling, never will be, no matter how many bike lanes we have. Electric bikes will help though.

However, they might ride a bike, if it can put a dent in their commuting expenses. While it’s true we gain benefits by leaving our cars at home, it’s not tangible. If they see a check in the mail for their riding to work, that will be a little more persuasive. Current dedicated bike commuters would be encouraged to give up their earnings to help fund new bike commuters, or “pay it forward.” These benefits would tend to help lower income individuals who commute to work by bicycle because they can’t afford a car.

Now, this ride-for-dollars incentive is only half the battle. The other half is to build cycle/pedestrian paths. Bike lanes don’t cut it. Take the rest of our money and build a bike network like San Tomas Aquino Creek Path, only wider. Ideally, we need two north-south and two east-west corridors dedicated exclusively to bicycle/pedestrian traffic. It can be done. We just need to think differently.

Commuting is a hassle, whether by car, train, bus, or bicycle, but it’s a necessary evil. Nobody wants to give up his car, but the way things are going, it looks like that’s our future as traffic worsens. Bicycles can play a significant role, but only if we do something radically different. Staying with the status quo won’t cut it.

Remember the old expression. ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.’ Let’s stop the insanity.”

The city’s bike plan could just as well be the city golf course plan. Solving our transportation problems can’t be resolved by increasing bicycle usage a few percentage points.

Light rail would be huge. We used to have light rail throughout Santa Clara Valley.

Light rail ties visible on The Alameda at Camino Drive during road realignment for Santa Clara University in 1984.

Who’s going to pay for it? We are. All we do is shift our priorities and put most of our transportation dollars into light rail. The Green New Deal will help us prioritize. What’s crazy about shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy? Easy oil won’t be around forever.

Finally, it’s true our transportation issues are regional and require cooperation among cities, counties, state, federal agencies. Let’s not forget that Santa Clara has its own fantastic utility. It’s part of a larger power grid. We helped pay for a massive stadium. I think we can do more with transportation.

Peninsular Railway in 1915. From “Tracks, Tires & Wheels,” by Charles S. McCaleb.

4 Responses to “Santa Clara Bicycle Master Plan spinning its wheels”

  1. jamesRides Says:

    Thanks for posting the city’s plans. After reviewing I have to endorse their plan. I think they are doing what it right for their city. Unfortunately Santa Clara is a city that resides in the middle of mostly crosstown commute traffic so they can’t really do more than offer attractive paths.

    To your point Ray, though, their should be attempts to try innovative ideas but at the regional level. Most commuters traversing Santa Clara don’t live in Santa Clara and probably don’t work there.

    An idea we discussed a few months ago regarding your post about a bike lane on the bay bridge is applicable in Silicon Valley. For the bay bridge, a bike shuttle would probably be a better idea towards increasing bike traffic across the bridge rather than spending multi-millions on a bike lane. And you mentioned that they had a bike shuttle for the bridge, so the idea isn’t outlandish.

    So for regional commuters: consider Lawrence Expressway as an analog to a bridge. No one wants to bike/commute down Lawrence. But if there were a scheduled bike shuttle serving Lawrence starting at Westgate in West San Jose and extending to Tasman in Sunnyvale/Santa Clara, how much more interest might we have in bike commuting between these heavily trafficked points? Such a shuttle solves multiple problems for a potential bike commuter:
    1. Does away with hygienic issues at work (no clothes change/shower at work).
    2. Removes danger of riding on Lawrence
    3. Flexible easy mileage from house to station (say Westgate)
    4. Flexible easy mileage from station (Tasman) to work
    5. Flexibility to ride all the way home from work at end of day
    It seems like ideas like these could be implemented at low cost and they could be scaled easily by adding corridors and adding shuttles.. And such an idea has the potential to remove a lot of cars from busy streets while allowing people to use the bike ways on terms they are comfortable with. What do you think?

  2. Raymond Hosler Says:

    James – A bus shuttle as you describe could pull in residents around Westgate, maybe as far away as Los Gatos. I consider it a stopgap measure until light rail can be put down Lawrence. Speaking of Los Gatos, I can’t imagine any cyclist riding on the Quito Road narrows during rush hour. Take Sobey Road instead.

    I rode Lawrence a few times during rush hour. Besides the air pollution/noise, El Camino’s off ramp was risky.

    • Jeff Budzinski Says:

      Oh, you would be surprised how many cyclists still use Quito. I agree, Sobey is the way to go and my preferred route. But for some reason, most cyclists take Quito in both directions — even in rush hour.

  3. Raymond Hosler Says:

    People can ride wherever they please and I wouldn’t have it any other way (except for freeways) but I don’t like riding in traffic. I abhor the pollution and the noise. I think Sobey is safer and more pleasant than Quito, but that’s just me.

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