This website promotes more biking in Cupertino to help solve its traffic and pollution problems by creating a more growth sustainable and green community. It cannot solve all such problems but it can play a valuable role to mitigate them. And a case can be made that bicycles may ultimately replace cars in the distant future as traffic and pollution are the primary consequences of our current growth. Cars simply take up too much space on roads and parking when space is at such a premium for habitation and produce climate changing gases. That is what this blog is largely about.
In order to make bicycles more mainstream as a method of commuting we must overcome the reasons for it not being very popular today. According to 2010 census data bicycles account for 0.9% of all modes of commuting in Cupertino so there are plenty of opportunity for growth in its popularity. After all bicycles are The Most Efficient Means of Transportation Devised by Man. So why do so few people commute by bicycle and what motivates those who do to do so?
The latter question is probably more easy to answer. Those who use their bicycles as the primary means of transportation are typically very fit individuals largely doing it for its health and fitness benefits. Secondarily they do it because it is a lot more economical than driving. And to a lessor degree they do it for environmental (reduce greenhouse gases) reasons. As a form of exercise one can get quite high on it which encourages one to do more of it. I used to bike part way to a carpool going to work when much younger when gas was around $0.75 per gallon and know the feeling.
So the broader question is what is stopping most of those driving from biking. There will always be 25-35% of people who never learned to ride a bike. So that leaves 65-75% who know how to bike but don’t. Riding a bike is also quite easy to learn and it can be a lot of fun and very rewarding. Since I am most familiar with myself I’ll list my reluctance to bike more than I do which are likely similar to others:
UNSAFE – after retiring I took up low impact biking to improve my health. But our streets have far more threatening traffic now than when I was young which is the first and primary reason I restrict my biking to a smaller area around my neighborhood. The fear of being hit by a car is probable 90% of the reason why I am reluctant to ride my bicycle more extensively. If Cupertino had bike lanes that I fell safe riding that physically separated me from traffic I would probably cycle daily throughout Cupertino which is physically a relatively small city by Bay Area standards. It is less than 10 miles across, something a casual cyclist can do in a little over an hour and a strong cyclist can do in half that time depending on signal lights and traffic. So for me Safety is the single greatest factor that inhibits me from bicycling more frequently and extensively and I believe also why biking is not more popular. So streets must FIRST BE MADE TO FEEL SAFE before more people will try cycling. Survival is an overriding instinct.
Unappealing – the second reason for my reluctance to bike is the noise and distractions of cars whizzing by on our streets. I really enjoy riding bicycle trails away from traffic such as the Stevens Creek Trail in Cupertino. But it is far too short and leads to nowhere of great interest except on special occasions. Four cities along Stevens Creek are collaborating to see if they can join segments of this trail into a single continuous trail though all four cities which would go all the way to the Bay Shore in Mountain View. This would be so fantastic! Mountain View has done an excellent job of developing this trail through their city leaving it as natural as possible with an asphalt trail for bikes and pedestrians unlike in Cupertino where it is over developed with a wide concrete trail. I’d also like the Southern Pacific trail along the railroad tracks made into a bikeable bicycle trail. You can bike it now in the dry season but there are sections where you must ride feet from the tracks on loose gravel next to culverts and the utility road is badly rutted. This trail can run all the way from the city of Saratoga’s Joe’s Trail through Cupertino to near the Lehigh Cement Plant. It provides several shortcuts through parts of town such as between Rainbow Dr. and McClellan Rd. providing a safe route for students to bike and walk from Rainbow Dr. to the tri-school area and a nice route for people to bike or walk from near Rainbow Dr. to the Post Office on Stevens Creek Blvd. if culverts could be bridged and the trail paved or properly maintained as a walkable/bikable trail with safe crosswalks across interesting streets. But as it stand right now it is dangerous to cross streets intersected by the trail and the trail is badly rutted and unridable after a rain.
Inconvenience – the third reason for not biking more is inconvenience. Navigating some of our urban sprawl mazes of streets to try to bypass more dangerous heavily trafficked streets to get around and dodging cars in shopping centers parking lots is not very inviting. Designing parking lots at shopping centers and places of interest to stop would be convenient. Currently bicyclists and pedestrians must keep a sharp eye out for cars backing out of parking spaces. Having more paths between parking rows would be nicer for both those walking to their cars and biking to shop and draw more bikers who don’t take up so much parking space. Shopping areas need to make themselves far more bicycle/pedestrian friendly with areas where bicycles can ride without worrying about running into cars. In cities such as New York Time Square they close off traffic to cars on certain days to encourage people to walk and bike. Local businesses thought this would discourage shoppers and would become a big flop but it grew to be such a big success drawing in even more shoppers and diners that they now do it on a regular basis. It would be nice if Cupertino could do something similar by closing off certain streets to traffic on certain days or even encourage certain shopping centers to prohibit parking on certain days with flee/farmers markets in the parking lots. Shortcuts around town to popular locations that cars are prohibited from taking will encourage more to bike instead of drive. The Bicycle Pedestrian Commission is opening up some blocked paths to bicycles. If the major roads can be made safe for casual bikers these shortcuts might become more popular for biking. I can bicycle from Stelling Rd. through Jollyman Park on the sidewalk to take a short cut to De Anza Blvd. But I am not sure if biking on the sidewalk in the park is legal and from Jollyman Park to De Anza Blvd. requires a bit of navigation since there are no signs pointing out directions and the streets go in many different directions. But it is a more convenient and safer shortcut. Having a lot more secure bicycle parking racks scattered throughout town would also make parking bicycles more secure and worry free and convenient.
These are only a few examples. I feel that if the city added many features such as these more than 20% of our residents would eventually start to bicycle around town instead of drive. Biking with the entire family is a fantastic experience as long as it can be done safely.