Tuesday, October 4, 2016

10 Ways to Reduce Traffic Congestion in the Bay Area (No. 4 Will Surprise You)*

I need to thank the San Jose Mercury News for providing me with inspiration with the click-bait headline Bay Area’s 10 Most Congested Freeways (No. 3 is a Surprise) from yesterday.

I create content for a living so I’m in on the click-bait joke - and I’d like to issue this follow up on that story. 

So here we go.  

10. Leave the Car

Traffic isn’t caused by other people. It is caused by you and me when we choose to get in a car to go somewhere. 

That's worth reading again. Traffic isn't caused by other people. It is caused by you and me when we choose to get in a car to go somewhere. 

Millennials are a generation with many flaws but they are collectively smart enough to realize that owning a car is pointless and expensive. They bike. They walk. They rideshare. They take the train. Be like millennials. Leave the car.

9. Vote for Measure B

On the ballot next month in Santa Clara County there is a 1/2 cent, 30 year sales tax measure. In my opinion not enough of the money expected to be raised by this very small tax will go to bike and pedestrian infrastructure, but a lot will. The bulk is going to improving a ton of interchanges and expressways around the county, and also fund the completion of the BART extension to San Jose (means fewer motorists and more people taking the train). So read about it and vote for it. 

Oh: another reason to vote for it - I am told this is important for Santa Clara County residents - is that this measure will also pay for fixing potholes. 

I understand the hatred of potholes, but I lived in New Hampshire for 11 years. You may know a lot of things, Silicon Valley, but you don't know potholes. Go to the Granite State if you want to learn something about potholes. And in one winter new and unwieldy terms will become part of your vocabulary. Like frost heaves.

8. Raise the gas tax

The worst place in the world I have ever ridden a bike is Greenwich, Connecticut. A close second is Cherry Hill, New Jersey. A little New Jersey quirk: in addition to most of the car infrastructure looking like it was pulled from an erotic dream of Robert Moses you can’t pump your own gas. That’s right. Gas is pumped for you so you never, ever have to be uncomfortable.

But they just raised the gas tax. California can too. 

7. Focus on “Low Stress Bicycle Networks”

This was a theme of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition’s summit back in August. If you really want to get people to drive less and bike more we have to go beyond peppering the landscape with incomplete bike lanes and SHARE THE ROAD signs. Roads need to be designed for bikes and cars together and in such a way the cyclists are protected from cars. 

Even if you will never, in a million years, ride a bike to work or to the In-N-Out Burger others will. That means more space on the road for your electric or hybrid car. 


6. Kick Electric and Hybrid Cars OUT of the Diamond Lane

That’s right, I’m going there. 

After sixteen months of living here in California I am tired of the spectacle of protecting the environment. A hybrid car used to drive a mile or two from your house to pick up eggs or flour from the grocery store or a meal from In-N-Out is not good for the environment. An all-electric car charged from a coal fired power plant is not good for the environment. Perpetuating the use of cars is not good for the environment. Creating and maintaining a system that coerces people to use cars is not good for the environment. 

I used my homemade cargo bike made from mostly thrown away bike parts to pick up environmentally-friendly detergent. How did you pick up your detergent? Your Chevy Volt? How environmentally friendly of you!

Showering environmental praise and pouring weird benefits on hybrid and electric car owners (such as giving solo drivers of such cars access to the diamond lane) is also not good for the environment. 

And it slows everyone down. Peel off those damn ‘Access OK’ sticker/trophies and get in the middle lane where you belong or bring a passenger. 

In the interest of full disclosure: I own a ten year old gas-powered four wheel drive SUV. But I am better for the environment than some of the irate Smugmobile owners reading this post since I rarely use it for any trips within four miles of home. Let’s stop issuing merit badges to everyone who can afford to spend money on the newest hybrid or all-electric wonder and put that money towards bike, pedestrian and mass transit projects instead. 

5. Get rid of parking minimums

The San Jose Mercury News talked about the horror of parking minimums quite well in a recent story about Palo Alto. Also, the organization Strong Towns is bringing the conversation about parking minimums into the mainstream too. If we enable car parking, we get car traffic. 

So how do we enable bike parking? Glad you asked.

4. Tax breaks for businesses to provide bike parking/bike infrastructure

Like a fine wine, this is best paired with No. 5. We get traffic when we enable driving. If you want to reduce traffic, you need to enable other modes of transport. Providing safe, secure and convenient bike parking helps (if it isn't confusing all the better).

Every time I park here in San Jose I think that if I stare long enough a tear in the universe will appear. 

And if we need space for bike parking we must take it away from cars before we take it away from pedestrians. Before any diehard motorists are triggered at the thought of having to circle the block another time for parking, let me remind you that you spend an awful lot of time looking for a space to put a motor vehicle that you no longer need to use. It makes more sense - as the great coffee shop in Stamford Lorca is doing - to get rid of a parking space and get something better in its place.

3. Cut the Tax Break for Electric and Hybrid Cars

That’s right. I’m going there again. Car Culture 2.0 is officially on notice. 

One of the best recent books I read was The Worst Hard Time - which is about the Dust Bowl. It noted that the 1930s gave birth to agricultural subsidies that helped rescue small farms at the time but ended up being the wasteful subsidy for agribusiness it is today. 

What are we going to say about the hybrid and electric tax breaks five or six decades from now? The technology is proven and getting better all the time. It a lot of places it's easier to park a $100K Tesla than it is a $100 Roadmaster**.

A tax break on cars - if one should exist at all - needs to apply to low income people (especially, as the Mercury News recently reported, a place with a hollowing middle class) and maybe married couples who have only one car between them. Why my tax dollars need to go to the $100K Tesla sitting right next to a top-of-the-line GMC Yukon in the same driveway of a $3 million house hasn’t quite been explained to me. Thoughts, Mr. Musk? 

2. Take the train - and demand more service

As I’ve written about before (in Uncle Traveling Matt***-like dispatches when I first moved to California) the trains in California are superior to the trains in Connecticut. The VTA is fantastic and so is Caltrain - they both allow bicycles on board (and yes, I had VTA in mind when I designed my folding cargo bike). 

Where Connecticut beats California has to do with frequency. There are a lot more trains. So demand more service - and stop demanding for more car infrastructure at the same time. 

1. Take the Bicycle

I’m still culture-shocked after moving here 16 months ago. In some ways (particularly professionally) I’m still waiting for California to love me back. But I’m also surprised that so many people here would choose to drive when you have so much nice weather. Why so many choose to drive when there are so many great bike trails and parks? Why so many choose to drive when so much of the area is flat enough for a fixie?

Remember the thirteen words: If you have a bike and can ride it safely, please ride it. I you don’t have a bike go to Good Karma Bikes on 460 Lincoln Avenue or another local bike shop and pick one up. You save money, you actually help the environment instead of add to the spectacle of helping the environment, and you get fitter. You also get to meet nice people, don’t have to pay for parking, and you give a parking spot to someone who needs it more than you.

I’ll watch out for you on the roads. Watch out of me, too. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

* I actually have no idea if No. 4 will surprise you or not. To be honest, I wrote this so fast I don't even remember what No. 4 is.

** That is sadly true in a lot of places. Something’s wrong there. 

***The Internet doesn’t have that many Fraggle Rock references. Congratulations for reading one.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Die in a Car Crash in New Jersey? No NBC News Animation for You

Once again my week was thwarted. I didn't get to make the YouTube video I wanted because the New Jersey Transit Accident happened.

The thing is, I was going to make a video featuring a train for another purpose, but my inspiration left me. Besides, news organizations like NBC Nightly News put together a very professional digital animation of the accident that looks better than anything I can make with my HO scale miniatures. 

They sure work quickly. 

However, the NJ Transit accident did make me think once again about how lousy biking can be in New Jersey (particularly Cherry Hill, which I rode in last year) and the disproportionality of fear and of media attention - something I covered a few months back for Blaze in the UK and something Cyclicious summed up in a perfect Tweet

But here's what I found when I did a Internet search for "New Jersey Car Accidents" and found almost a dozen stories (just from this month) in minutes. In case the graphics person at any news organization is overworked, here are a some other horrible commuting stories that may just have gotten a wee bit less attention than the New Jersey Transit Crash:

That one is awful, but it's worse still knowing that a five-year-old also died in the same crash but I guess that isn't tragic enough to make the national news and lead to a huge series of discussions about auto safety, 

Now before anyone accuses me of being insensitive in terms of the NJ train crash, let's look at the insensitivity of not just news headlines (when you can find them) on car crashes, but on the lens in which we look at them. Car crashes - even fatalities - are often discussed in terms of 'what does this mean for my commute?' instead of anything that remote closes in on compassion. In the minds of most editors a train crash can be described as a 'horror' but a car crash that makes you 15 minutes late? That's just an obstacle between you and enjoying your driving experience. 

I am going to go to yoga today at St. James Park in San Jose (very thankful to the city and Be the Change Yoga & Wellness for doing that). I am going to ride my bike to the VTA and take the train in. It's safer. Easier. Better for my health and better for the environment. As for you, please travel safe no matter how you get around and please, for the love of whatever you pray to, question the headlines and don't sweep car crashes under the rug. Ever. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Parking Spot Isn't As Valuable As What Lorca Wants Instead

From Parking Day 2014, in front of Lorca in Stamford, Connecticut

You might remember a couple of years ago Emily and Meg asked me if I wanted to do Parking Day - which I had never heard of at the time. My role was mainly quartermaster as I provided most of the furniture that we used to make a fun living room in front of Lorca, my spirit animal in coffee shop form. 

I'm hoping not all of my Stamford readers have abandoned this blog even though I moved from Connecticut to California a year ago and haven't had the pleasure of Lorca since a visit in December (also, in spite of finding some good coffee shops here in San Jose, I haven't found a Lorca substitute yet).

If you are a Stamford reader or visit Lorca often, please sign their petition to change one of the parking spaces they have in front of their building into a seasonal parklet

This is the parking space in front of Lorca. Shouldn't something more befitting to the image of the finest coffee shop in all the land go there instead? 

I hope the powers that are in Stamford listen to Leyla, the business owner of Lorca. She has given life to the business with every breath and made Stamford feel like the city a lot of people wanted it to be. 

And between figuring out the right bean-to-water ratio and developing recipes for some of the most fantastic cookies in the Western World, she has decided that, as a small business owner, that a rectangle of asphalt meant to hold an unoccupied motor vehicle is not as valuable as a small outdoor space where friends can meet and be outside. 

So if you have been to Stamford, you've been to Lorca, so please sign Lorca's petition and make it easier for businesses to decide how to deal with the legacy of increasingly unnecessary on-street parking. Thanks for reading, thanks for riding, and hope to visit Stamford soon. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Viva Calle SJ is Sunday!

Viva Calle SJ is on Sunday. If you live in Silicon Valley and are tired of having to cross the street the way you're used to, you should go. Say hi to me. I'll be there. And share the daylights out of this video. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Use San Jose Trails? Take the Survey

I spent a couple of hours yesterday at the Los Gatos Creek Trail. Counting people.

It was a lot more fun than it sounds. I got to meet interesting people and marvel at the huge number who use the trail: joggers, bikers, walkers, babies in strollers* one guy on a skateboard (he was in the ‘other’ category). 

The only thing that threw me off is the city told me I needed to bring my own clipboard. As it happened, the only clipboard I own was the one I had converted into a bike box for the 2013 Five Boro Bike Tour, so it still had my site name on the sides and reflective stickers on the back. 

You’ll also notice that the trail survey cards they gave me fit perfectly in a little notch on the frame of my homemade cargo bike, which was both my transport and my place to sit while I counted people. I also used one of my bungees to jazz up the sign at the trail count station. 

If you didn’t pass me and take one of the cards yesterday, you can still fill out this important survey today -  the link is right here:

Please, San Jose trail aficionados, fill it out and tell your friends to do the same. And if your city asks you to volunteer, stand up and be counted.

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

*they weren't moving independently - someone was pushing the stroller at the time. 

Monday, September 12, 2016


    Danika Tyler Garcia (photo credit: Danika's mom)

I see ghost bikes wherever I ride all across the country - and the world, for that matter. Part of why they are made is to memorialize a person who was killed while riding their bike.

One of those killed - here in San Jose - was a teenager named Danika. While I was volunteering for Good Karma Bikes (which I sadly haven’t been able to do for a few months since keeping my freelance writing hamster wheel spinning has become a full-time job in and of itself) I helped her mom locate an old bicycle that could be turned into a ghost bike. 

She contacted me again last week: twists and turns in life meant the ghost bike couldn’t be put up right away. She decided to put it up this past Friday, which was Danika’s 17th birthday. That means she was born on September 9th, 1999 - 9/9/99. 

As some of you know already, I am miffed at the collective way cyclist deaths are covered in the press. Not just because one can play a macabre Cyclist Death Bingo game and - in terms of the scant information conveyed - get five across every time, but because nobody follows up. 

Well, I did. 

In an email, I asked Danika’s mom how she was and asked her to tell me about her daughter. This is what she wrote me (and she gave me permission to reprint it here):

“Danika was a nerd. A big, gentle nerd.”

“She hated bullies, and stuck up for the outcasts. Her friends were the choir/drama kid, LGBTQ kids, anime kids, the kids that are considered "different". The day after the crash, the students at Del Mar had a memorial for her. It lasted until the next morning. Supervised by Danika's best friends Mom.”

“One boy came up to me, wearing a three piece suit that was 3 inches too small for him. He said, "Danika was the only one to talk to me on my first day at school”.” 

“She was kind. Babies loved her. We have a huge Nicaraguan family and lots of little ones. They all flocked to her. Like the Pied Piper of toddlers.”

“I remember how, when I was a teenager, I would tell my mom (I) hated her. All the time. The thing that comforts me now, is she never, not once, told me she hated me. I'll hold that in my heart until I see her again.”

                                 Danika's Ghost Bike (photo credit: Danika's mom)

I mentioned the last time I wrote about ghost bikes that when I pick one out I just look for the biggest one I can find so it can be seen easily. But all of Danika’s mom’s words? All her grief, all Danika’s friends, family and teachers’ grief? There isn’t enough space on the bike frame to write it. 

When someone takes a ride somewhere, they should get to where they are going without incident. Yes, cyclists need to take ownership over their safety and absolutely, drivers need to slow down (and, as Cyclelicious just showed in his coverage of yet another unnecessary road death, never pass cyclists unless you have plenty of room to do so). But street design is also a ‘person of interest’ when a cyclist or pedestrian is hurt or killed on the road. 

So that’s my plea to the media: not only do I want you to follow up on the grieving done by survivors but also follow up with the ‘person of interest’ in every one of these cases: the road itself. In the time that has passed since the death, has the road been redesigned to encourage slower speeds? Has a road diet been done or complete streets initiatives implemented? Are there adequate warning signs of dangers? When you observe people at the site, do you see them engaging in the same behavior that led to the death? What do elected officials have to say? 

                                 Danika's Ghost Bike (photo credit: Danika's mom)

I know journalists are overworked and underpaid but follow up stories like this are more important than stories about Donald Trump’s hair or any ‘daily tracking poll.’ The kind of stories I’m talking about might encourage safer driving, safer cycling and smarter road design - all things that can save lives and up the chances someone like Danika will live to see another birthday (and, from what her mom described, touch more lives). 

Thank you, Danika’s mom, for talking with me. I am thinking of you and of the empty space at a table in a school cafeteria your daughter should be sitting and the empty spot on the street where she should be biking. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

"Amateur Drivers on a Crowded Course"

I know I've used the term "Amateur Drivers on a Crowded Course" before (naturally inspired by the "Professional Driver on a Closed Course" disclaimer that accompanies nearly every car commercial since "Homicidal Maniac Out to Kill Cyclists and Pedestrians" would require a smaller font.

Please like, please share, and as always thanks for watching and thanks for riding.