Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Breaking Micromobility in San Jose

Lime Scooter (pre-recall) as spotted in downtown San Jose Nov. 8, 2018

Last week I began the unpleasant task of returning the prizes that were donated by sponsors of Cranksgiving San Jose. As most of you know, the Camp Fire smoke made the air in the Bay Area unhealthy to breathe so I made the unhappy decision of cancelling the bike-based food drive

I needed to go from my office on Santa Clara Street to La Dolce Velo on The Alameda and then to 947 Park Avenue to Be The Change Yoga & Wellness

That day (since the air was still smoky and I had a car-based errand after work) I drove to the office - like most people in the Bay Area do.

With limited time for both tasks but not wanting to use the car, I opened the Lime App on my phone, unlocked a scooter that was parked in front of Chromatic Coffee, and set off slowly down Santa Clara St.

And I do mean slowly: the scooters are now governed to a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour. This was put into place a few months ago - after pedestrians complained the scooters were too fast.

Being passed by a 30 pound scooter at 12 miles per hour while you're walking on a sidewalk isn't nice, but using a scooter that can't go any faster than 12 miles an hour on a city street is downright stressful. 

For the first time probably over a year, riding on San Carlos Street, I was honked at - by the driver of a blue Chevy sedan.

Before a public hearing in June, the city had done research on scooters and found that when there is a bike lane most riders of scooters use it. A huge chunk of the route to La Dolce Velo doesn't have them, and several motorists were giving me the 'angry pass.' I scowled at them but they couldn't tell because I was wearing my N95 mask.

Be The Change Yoga - 947 Park Avenue in San Jose
After spending maybe two minutes at La Dolce Velo, I headed to Be The Change. I could feel the minutes of my valuable break slipping away and, when I needed to make a left turn onto Park, I had to take into account that I couldn't (like you do on a bike) engage in a sudden burst of acceleration to stay out of the travel lane as much as possible. This is something I have to do every day I ride my bike on Monterrey Road: there is always at least one dumpster, one car, one obstruction in the bike lane that sends me into traffic so I try to get around it as fast as possible so I am in harm's way for the shortest possible time.

When returning to work, I had to make another left turn onto Alameda. I followed the rules and stayed in the left turn lane, and when the light changed, I moved through.

The white Mitsubishi sedan behind me wasn't having it. It honked at me and tailgated me in mid-turn - apparently unaware I couldn't go any faster and not caring that moving further to the right would put me in the path of the cars on the other side of the street turning left.

Back on San Carlos Street (right turns are always easier on a bike or scooter) a filthy late 1990s Corolla tailgated me for half a block and then passed me with less than 3' of space. It also did it slowly, possibly because the driver wanted to make sure I would hear her shout the words: "Get off the road!" at me before (you guessed it) accelerating fast before turning right on Market Street - putting her out of range of any kind of response from me but endangering pedestrians crossing Market Street.

I finished the ride not far from where I started and took a screen shot of the results.

I had traveled 3.6 miles in just under a half hour. Because it costs $1 to start and $0.15 per minute to use, the low speed hit my wallet to the tune of $5.35. I removed my N95 mask and my helmet (yes, I was wearing one the whole time!) and returned to work. 

I sadly concluded scooter share is truly at risk of being micromanaged out of existence. By adding the speed governor (I traveled on a Lime scooter that maxed out at 18 or 19 miles per hour in San Francisco several months earlier) we have officially created a vehicle that is too fast for the sidewalk and too slow for city streets. If I had taken my car I would have spent less money, experienced less stress, and have been done with my errands sooner. 

The San Jose City Council will soon consider regulations on scooter share. People everywhere were caught off guard when they first showed up on the streets - and even though San Jose has killed and is killing more people with cars that remains in our blind spot as we punish scooters for the unpardonable sin of having the potential to disrupt transportation. 

At the World Day of Remembrance for traffic victims event at Akiyama Wellness Center on Nov. 18th. 

Motor vehicles are bigger, faster, and deadlier but nobody seems interested in adding a speed limiter to those.

I understand the pressure from some people - some of which, I should point out, have never used a shared scooter that is limited to 12 miles an hour - to make these things slower, but  If I could speak to Mayor Liccardo and the members of the City Council, I would ask the following question:

Do we want micromobility to succeed?

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

You Are The Luckiest Person in California - And So Am I

Note: Please do some good - register for the San Jose Turkey Trot (which is tomorrow/Thanksgiving Day

I did not have a bad day on Friday.

What I did that morning - not 30 hours before Cranksgiving San Jose was supposed to start - was put on a N95 mask before heading into my garage, finding a roll of masking tape, and drawing the word 'cancelled' with an orange Sharpie across it before taking the photo you see above.

I used the homemade bike trailer frequently to promote Cranksgiving - even lashing 'Wally' - the decoy turkey bought from a hunting supply store  - to the top as a decoration. I had a plan to get sponsors. I had a plan for social media. I had a plan for the manifest, the weigh-in, the volunteers (and did I have some great ones and am forever grateful to them). 

I had found the perfect venue, too: San Pedro Square Market in downtown San Jose. 

I didn't have a plan for wildfire smoke.

Early morning on November 10, 2018. San Jose/Morgan Hill Border
The Camp Fire - which has been accompanied by the kind of news coverage and graphics that make most of my friends who aren't in California certain the entire state is on fire - began burning more than 150 miles away on November 8th. Eleven days have passed and it is still burning, and according to the most recent Associated Press story it has killed at least 81 and the list of people who are missing hovers around 800.

Last week I kept one eye on the smoke levels and another on the remaining tasks. When I learned even the most hardcover riders I knew weren't even taking short trips by bike - even with an N95 mask -  I knew it was looking unlikely by Wednesday. The next evening, San Jose Bike Party cancelled their monthly Friday night ride - the first time they've had to do that in 11 years.

So early Friday morning I went to my workshop, flipped my trailer on its side, made the sign (since I had no other ideas on how to convey the message Cranksgiving was being cancelled) and dutifully put the word out. I managed to return the bike racks I rented from the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition the same day and I'm returning the prizes to the sponsors this week. And wow, the sponsors this year were great:

Beryl - the bike light company in London I've had a long relationship with - donated both a Laserlight and their Burner tailight (they used to be known as Blaze) just like they did last year. They do have other products and new ones coming out - their latest Kickstarter campaign for Laserlight Core started last month and blew past $135,000 when their goal had been $50,000 - and it's still going

Ford GoBike - they're the bike share company in the Bay Area. I own a membership and even though I don't use it a lot I like that I have it. A bike share membership is the confidence that comes with carrying a folded umbrella when walking under an angry sky: knowing a bike is there when I need one, I walk taller.

Be The Change Yoga & Wellness - moving here three years ago and little to put my back up against, I met Be The Change Yoga & Wellness - a nonprofit yoga studio. They just moved to 947 Park Avenue and donated T-shirts and gift certificates for free classes. If you want to manage stress and just be in better shape, visit them. They're amazing. 

Good Karma Bikes - This is a nonprofit bike shop on 460 Lincoln Avenue in San Jose. They sell a few new bikes and parts but they also sell used bikes and parts. Just thinking about it the Mystery of South Norwalk, my City Bike and my California Cargo Bike all have hard-to-find or interesting components on them thanks to frequent shopping at Good Karma Bikes. A must for a maker on a budget. 

Retail Extraordinaire Francois, at left, with Good Karma Bikes founder Jim Gardner

Community Cycles of California This is another bike-based nonprofit in San Jose that gallops in the same direction as Good Karma Bikes but isn't in the same harness. They work in 

La Dolce Velo - This full service bike shop in The Alameda (not far from Recycle Bookstore) is probably one of the most well-curated I've ever been to. They also offer spin classes now that is it winter in California - even though California's definition of 'winter' differs from my own. 

Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition - if you ride a bike in the Bay Area get a SVBC membership. The bike lanes and traffic improvements that appear don't appear on their own and not without a fight. I borrowed five bike racks from them to use at San Pedro Square Market and they even gave me two helmets and two water bottles to use as prizes. Right now they're gearing up for #GivingTuesday so make sure you donate to Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition here

Gemellos Murals - Lila Gemellos is a local artist who has painted murals you have seen if you live in or around San Jose. I didn't know who she was until she showed up at last year's Cranksgiving San Jose without explanation and painted faces (and also my left forearm) while people were getting registered. She made the process feel more like a party and the cards she makes are beautiful thank-you notes that accompany the prizes being returned to sponsors.

As I write this, I'm looking out the window of a VTA light rail train on my way to work. My home is standing. My family and friends are healthy. I am not living in a tent in a parking lot. I'm not waiting to find out if a loved one is dead or alive.

Canceling Cranksgiving San Jose doesn't mean there aren't other ways to get your good on this holiday season, and in the coming days I'll post some ideas. In the meantime you can register for the Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot which takes place in downtown San Jose tomorrow. It helps a lot of great area nonprofits, including Second Harvest Food Bank, which can use funds every bit as much as it needs good donated by bicycle. 

I took this picture this morning of the sunrise in San Jose. The AQI is under 50 and the air doesn't smell like my college roommate's car. We were only inconvenienced by smoke but didn't have to run from the cause of it. 

I feel pretty lucky and hope you feel lucky with me. Thanks again to everyone who supported Cranksgiving San Jose - and thanks for reading and thanks for riding.