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?