Archive for the ‘Commute Adviser’ Category

Bike riding on Hedding increases by 23 percent

November 4, 2019

A cyclist rides by during my bike survey on Hedding.


Before cyclists jump with joy and motorists fume, first read the details of my bike survey on W. Hedding Street at Park Avenue in San Jose.

I’m comparing today’s results (November 4, Monday) with those for November 14, 2017, a Tuesday. The weather couldn’t have been better this morning. In 2017 it had rained the previous day, although the streets were dry.

Here are the numbers:

2019 / 2017

Cyclists on Hedding – 37 / 30
Cyclists on Park – 39 / 27

Pedestrians – 52 / 73

The time of day for both counts was 6:45 a.m. – 9 a.m.

I consider a 20 percent increase a modest gain. There are many variables to consider, but the two dates are essentially the same. Today was the start of standard daylight time, so there’s more light in the morning.

I saw several youths pedaling, probably to Herbert Hoover Middle School on Park, or Lincoln High School on Dana Avenue. I’m always amazed to see students riding bikes to class. It used to be common, a century ago.

Car traffic was not nearly as bad as two years ago. I credit this improvement mostly to commuters finding different routes to work. I saw only one instance where a few cars missed the light at Park due to congestion.

Based on my recent observations, there’s a lot more traffic in the evening clogging Hedding.

Nearby Naglee Avenue, not on a road diet, has absorbed some of the change in traffic patterns.

My survey on Pruneridge Avenue near the Apple HQ showed 50 cyclists pedaling to work. There aren’t many large businesses near Hedding at Park.

It’s pretty obvious who is commuting and who is just out for a bike ride, based on how they dress. I saw only one rider who looked like he was out for exercise.

As I’ve said before, the Hedding Street restriping has greatly improved bike safety. One of these days, let’s hope, more cyclists will take advantage of the benefits.

Cycling Dangers in the Night — and the Simple Solution

November 2, 2019

My favorite light, EagleTac D25LC2. Super bright with Li-ion batteries.


San Francisco Chronicle
October 21, 1985
[One of my old columns. Used with permission. While digitizing the columns I came across this one.]

The end of Daylight Savings Time on Sunday is an ominous occasion for bicycle commuters. Your risk of injury while cycling home from work increases ten-fold.

Those peaceful rides on warm fall evenings, catching the last sun’s rays reflecting off the golden hillsides, are replaced with a sinister darkness.

Fall evenings on the eve of Halloween are better suited for sitting home and reading a Stephen King horror novel than braving the inky blackness. Riding bicycle at night is unquestionably hazardous to your health. I went to the trouble of digging up some sobering statistics.

More than 40 percent of all bicycle fatalities occur at this time, even though it only accounts for four percent of total miles cycled.

Now I know why I never like to ride at night without a light. That’s enough incentive to make the most confident bicyclist think about buying a searchlight and mounting it on his handlebars. Of course a searchlight won’t fit, but you can equip your bike with smaller lights to reduce the risks. Wearing reflective clothing, attaching reflectors and using a light are inexpensive and sensible means for being seen at night.

Most bicycles must be sold with a reflector in the front and rear, and reflectors attached to the spokes of both wheels. They’re a good backup in the event of a light failure. No matter what type of lighting system — even a combination of systems — you use, there’s always a chance that some drunk motorist careening down the highway won’t see you. So you have to ride as though you can never be seen. That means ride defensively.

There’s an assortment of lighting hardware available, including reflectors, lights operated by a generator or battery, flashing battery-operated lights and reflectorized clothing, tape or tires.

Reflectors are definitely not the final solution to being seen at night. In tests by Bicycling magazine, author Fred DeLong said his confidence in reflectors was shattered while re-creating an accident. He was surprised how hard it was to see a bicyclist equipped with only reflectors.

DeLong observed that flashing or moving lights on a bicycle or rider were the best attention-getters. Recent tests by “Bicycling” (July ’85) show that some reflectors can now be detected by an approaching car on a clear night as far as 1260 feet away. A car traveling 55 mph usually needs a 550-foot stopping distance.

The magazine’s tests revealed that the lower the reflectors are mounted or worn, the greater the distance at which they are first perceived. I like to wear yellow reflectorized leg bands with Velcro. They are low to the ground and move up and down as you pedal. They’re a good addition to pedal reflectors.

Reflectorized vests and other special clothing will help, although the Bicycling test showed that reflective tape attached to a helmet was invisible until the driver was only 386 feet away. (A new windmill reflector that extends on an arm-like device toward traffic may be a prospect. The device, called The Whizzzz, is made and used in Finland but will be available to U.S. cyclists next spring.)

Generator-operated lighting is popular because there is no need to deal with batteries. The generator is either attached on the rear stay of the frame or on a tube brace near the bottom bracket. But when you stop pedaling, the lights go out.

Some cyclists, who would easily qualify as master electricians, jury-rig elaborate systems with batteries and generators to get around this.

Generator light bulbs burn out quickly; be sure to have spare bulbs handy. You must also check the generator adjustment, which has a tendency to become misaligned and reduce lighting.

One generator light was cleverly made to run off a bicycle hub. The generator is enclosed near the front hub with a light attached near the fork dropout. Unfortunately the hub is hard to get and requires building up a new wheel. [Jobst Brandt’s favorite. Not hard to get now, but requires a new wheel.]

We all know the hassles of battery-operated lights. Batteries don’t last forever. A flashing light or beacon that clips to your bike or clothing is a good way to get motorists’ attention. It costs about $15 and uses batteries.

Personally, I’m never without my battery-operated leg light. It’s easy for motorists to spot when you pedal. Sorry. You’ll need a more powerful light if you want to see the road. Of course night riding can be fun. Did I ever tell you about the time we rode up Mount Tam via the railroad grade under a full moon?

[I didn’t do that ride, but Jobst Brandt and friends did. I rode down Mt. Hamilton under a full moon. Not fun.]

Santa Clara Bicycle Master Plan spinning its wheels

March 5, 2019

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.

Santa Clara parking garage misses the mark for bicycles

December 28, 2017

A bicycle rack exposed to the elements next to a $24 million parking garage. What gives?


In case you didn’t know, Santa Clara spent $24 million on its six-level, 1,821-space garage off Tasman Drive, complete with charging stations, but the bicycle accommodations fall short.

It looks like an afterthought, the lone bike rack at the entrance. I can see the planners looking at a long list. “Bicycle parking — check.”

The wave style rack is exposed to the elements. Santa Clara can do better. If nothing else, put a roof over the racks. More could be done, of course.

In a day and age when we desperately need commute alternatives, I can think of ways to put the garage to better use. Someone might want to drive to the garage (parking is free) and then ride from there to work on the bayland trails, avoiding traffic. They could keep their bike in a locker at the garage.

About 20 lockers are located at the train station at Lafayette and Tasman, but it would be inconvenient since there’s limited parking close to the lockers.

Hedding Street bike survey

November 22, 2017

Tantau Avenue and Apple HQ looking north. Will employees ride bikes to work?


While I don’t think road diets and protected bike lanes will make much of a dent in the way people get to work, those who do ride bikes today will not be complaining about changes coming down the road.

Local residents (read Nextdoor) were up in arms about the road diet that went into effect on Hedding Street in November between Coleman Avenue and Winchester Boulevard in San Jose.

Some people who contributed their thoughts favored the change, but most were against it. The main argument — and a valid one — is that too few cyclists take Hedding and the road change would have little effect.

On Nov. 14, from 6:43 a.m. – 9 a.m., I conducted a traffic survey of bicycles and pedestrians at the Hedding – Park intersection in San Jose. Here’s the result:

Cyclists:
Hedding – 30
Park – 27

Walkers:
Hedding – 21
Park- 52

The transportation/housing problems we face today are systemic and a road diet for one street isn’t going to make much difference. However, it certainly does make the pedestrian’s walk and the cyclist’s ride safer. I noticed minor backups on Hedding eastbound, but it was hardly apocalyptic as characterized by some who posted comments. By 9 a.m. there was no traffic to speak of.

Apple backs protected bike lanes

Now Apple is pumping $1.8 million into Cupertino city coffers for protected bike lanes on Stevens Creek Boulevard. With their spaceship HQ about to open, they must be nervous about its affect on commuters.

Over the years I’ve slowly changed my thinking about protected bike lanes and multi-use trails from neutral to all-in. It’s the best way to reduce the number one objection to bike commuting — dangerous in traffic.

The plan is to head west from Tantau in phases. Details have yet to be worked out.

I’ve long advocated greater commitment by corporations for supporting non-auto commuting. They should flat out pay employees to ride to work, as well as cover bus and train expenses. The use of corporate buses is a step in the right direction.

As far as systemic changes, we need to see more people living close to work. City governments are doing their part now by requiring sufficient housing near business parks. Our sacred American way of life– single-family homes — is a big part of the problem. European and Asian communities don’t have them. Concentrating populations makes commuting by bike and public transit less of a burden without urban sprawl.

In the meantime, our governments are doing their best with what they have to work with. They look to the bicycle. It’s a fantastic machine, no doubt, but making it the commuter silver bullet is asking a lot.

San Tomas Aquino trail link a bright idea

October 21, 2017

Looking north, new ramp off San Tomas Aquino Creek trail makes for easy access to nearby stores.


A new office building/parking garage bordering San Tomas Aquino recreation trail near Hwy 101 was designed with the handicapped, pedestrians and cyclists in mind. Bravo.

The ramp and short staircase connects the trail to Augustine Drive in Santa Clara.

So what? It’s a way for someone wanting to avoid taking busy city streets to access the Whole Foods Market, the new AMD buildings, new apartments and other stores at Scott Boulevard and Bowers Avenue.

That’s a big deal in the scheme of things. It must have cost at least $25,000, but money well spent.

Caltrain proposal for bikes on electric trains

August 16, 2017

Bike stacking proposals for the new Caltrain cars. Which do you prefer? Vote now.


Caltrain is soliciting your comments on how bikes should be stacked on its new cars, which will be part of the electrification plan.

I prefer the traditional stacking method. Over the years I’ve never had an issue.

Most cyclists tag their bikes, which says where they’re off-boarding, so it’s easy enough to find the right place to place your bike.

The disadvantage of the alternate single-bike stack is that it reduces the number of bikes that can be carried.

I anticipate we will have an increasing number of riders on Caltrain in the coming years, and I’d like to see as many people as possible riding bikes.

Here’s a link to where you can vote.

The presentation was made during the Silicon Valley Bike Summit, held Aug. 8 in Mountain View on the Microsoft campus.

Cycling to Foothill College? Here’s the expected route

August 3, 2017

El Monte Road path under I280. Cyclists are expected to use this path, or didn’t you know that?


I’ve been riding on El Monte Road into Los Altos Hills since 1980 and in that time I have not seen one finger lifted to make it safer for cycling. Or so I thought.

You see, I always assumed the improvement would come with bike lane striping as the road heads through the classic cloverleaf intersection at Interstate 280.

There’s a lot of traffic on a weekday at hours when a student cyclist attending class would be expected to ride here. However, I NEVER see cyclists riding on El Monte Road at these times.

For good reason. Drivers blast through this intersection, always in a hurry to get onto the freeway for a meeting, to which they’re already late.

After seeing some cyclists stop at a crosswalk prior to the freeway, walk across, and then ride under the freeway on a paved path, it occurred to me this is what the state of California and Los Altos Hills expect us to do.

So I tried it out, several times. I can’t say it’s terrible, just bad. For starters, I would never use the crosswalk to get to the path. That’s silly. I’m a cyclist, not a pedestrian. Check the video below to see how I handled it.

I’m not going to completely dismiss the intended route, because it does work after a fashion, but anyone new to the area riding west on El Monte would have no clue that the path existed, nor would they have any idea where it went even if they got on it for the first time.

The issue I have with the route is that anyone riding on the path has to be especially alert at the left turn for Stonebrook Drive and access to the path from El Monte calls for a complete stop before crossing, assuming you can’t see what’s coming.

I’m not crazy about this stretch of El Monte, even with the path, which is why I always take Stonebrook Drive through Los Altos Hills over to Magdalena Avenue. I think the I280 – Magdalena intersection is far safer.

Of course, that route does nothing for a student trying to get to class, but then nobody rides a bike to Foothill College, and I can hardly blame them, considering how the death-defying El Monte Road freeway interchange stands in the way.

Sunnyvale improves signal light for bikes, San Jose fills potholes

December 5, 2016

The signal at The Dalles Ave.  and Mary Ave. in Sunnyvale has been adjusted for bikes so that it's a short wait. (Google Maps photo)

The signal at The Dalles Ave. and Mary Ave. in Sunnyvale has been adjusted for bikes so that it’s a short wait. (Google Maps photo)


Every little bit helps, including making traffic signals “bicycle friendly” as was done recently at Mary Avenue and The Dalles Avenue in Sunnyvale, after I made inquiries.

Sunnyvale public works, Sunnyvale Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (SBPAC), as well as John Cordes, SBPAC member, paid attention to my request and now the Mary intersection signal turns red for bikes on Dalles after a brief wait of about four seconds. I registered my concern when the light did not turn for long periods, or not at all. A local cyclist I spoke with at the intersection said she had the same issue.

I can’t say for sure it will always change in that time, but it has behaved that way for me on a couple of occasions, weekdays non-rush-hour.

San Jose fills dangerous potholes: And not to forget San Jose, they quickly filled in some seriously deep potholes on McKean Road near the Cinnabar Hills Golf Club after I reported it. The holes presented a severe hazard for cyclists speeding down McKean. Thanks!

Transportation manifesto for Silicon Valley

November 14, 2016

Silicon Valley rail plan. We have a lot of work to do. (Google Maps)

Silicon Valley rail plan. We have a lot of work to do. (Google Maps)


Since we’re in the mood for blowing away the entrenched establishment, it’s time we remapped the valley’s transportation network — more light rail and fewer cars.

I’ve been seeing what’s coming down the pike — the urban village — which is another word for Europeanization. I’m all for it. It’s happening in your back yard, along Winchester Boulevard, Stevens Creek Boulevard, Mountain View’s San Antonio area, Tasman Drive in Santa Clara, north First Street in San Jose.

Denser housing is a way to maintain regional growth, but when it comes to finding ways for these new residents to get around, we bury our heads in the sand and rely on cars. This lack of transportation planning can’t continue on its present trajectory.

All we have to do is adopt the model of cities like Zurich, which rely on light rail for short trips and regional trains between cities. There are still cars, just not so many. Bicycles play a bigger role, especially in the Netherlands where 31 percent of the populace count cycling as their main mode of transportation.

I included a map of Silicon Valley where light rail could run, shown in red. We can start with major corridors like: Stevens Creek Boulevard, San Tomas Expressway, El Camino Real, Central Expressway, Lawrence Expressway, Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road, Homestead Road, Winchester Boulevard, etc. Many of these historical routes had light rail, back in the late 1800s.

There’s plenty of room for a lane of car traffic (more one-way roads), maybe even two lanes, and bike lanes. We can keep the freeways as is.

You might think that the autonomous car will solve all our traffic problems. Not so. Some experts predict there will be even more traffic. Robot cars will greatly reduce accidents, but they’re not the answer. Light rail is the ultimate solution. Autonomous vehicles will be useful for those with special needs and, of course, the uber wealthy.

From attending recent community outreach programs with Caltrans and Valley Transportation Authority, I get the impression these government entities are stuck in the past. They need a wake-up call.

Zurich transportation map. Rail line everywhere.

Zurich transportation map. Rail line everywhere.