If we’re to mitigate the issues of traffic and climate change, we have to work vigorously at providing viable alternatives to driving to work such as transit and biking. This position paper will look at biking.
Alameda County needs to adequately fund bikeway infrastructure when allocating transportation funding. Most transportation improvement packages (like Measure BB) allocate most of their funding towards expensive roadway improvements. Bikeways are much cheaper to build than roadways. With modest changes to our funding priorities, we could have world class bikeways.
The County also needs to work with other counties to provide seamless, safe bike routes so commuters will feel safe taking their bike to/from work.
Fremont has recently implemented Vision Zero which is an attempt to minimize the number of serious and fatal traffic accidents. This involves improvements like changing the roadway striping to narrow lanes and provide separated rights of ways for bikes. Numerous studies show that these measures significantly reduce injuries and deaths caused by traffic collisions.
Unfortunately, given our auto-oriented history, many drivers aren’t used to the idea of sharing the roads with those who, for whatever reason, are unwilling or unable to drive.
A common argument against adding protected bikeways to our streets is that there are very few bicycles on Fremont’s roads. It is true that Fremont currently has few cyclists. This is to be expected in a city that, until recently, had few safe routes for bicyclists to use.. If we make our streets safer for cyclists, the number of people using bikes will grow.
I currently ride over 80 miles a week, much of it in traffic. I really enjoy it. However, cycling in traffic can be quite frightening. I often need to be hyper aware of my surroundings. I have no air bags, nor do I have a metal frame around me. Simply being knocked off of my bike by a car could result in broken bones or worse. Indeed, there was a recent bike fatality in Fremont. If we really want people to get out of their cars, we need to make it safe for them to do so.
The benefits of cycling are many. It’s great for one’s health compared to driving. More cyclists on the road results in less air pollution, less traffic congestion and decreased parking requirements. Studies have also shown that cyclists are more likely to shop in their local neighborhood.
What can be done?
Many cities have worked hard to create a robust cycling culture. Copenhagen and other European cities, and Davis, California have clearly shown that it can be done. San Francisco and New York, despite being crowded cities with lots of vehicular traffic, have also invested in becoming very supportive of bicycling.
I’m proud of the work the City of Fremont has done in this regard. When roads are repaved, it gives the City a chance to change the lane striping. The City has been reducing the size of the travel lanes, putting in new bike lanes, and providing a buffer strip when possible. This is a simple and cheap way to improve bike safety with minimal impact on motorists. These changes should be standard practice for all cities in Alameda County.
The next step is to provide physical separation for bike lanes using plastic poles. These are minimal infrastructure changes that don’t require extra roadway width while providing a much stronger degree of safety for cyclists. While more expensive, an additional level of safety can be provided by adding curbs or gutters that give more assurance that cars won’t enter the bike lanes. Examples of this are on BART Way or Walnut Avenue in Fremont.
The above improvements are embodied in the concept called “Complete Streets” that has been put forth by CalBike, a statewide cycling advocacy group. The idea is simply that streets should safely accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and motorists together.
Alameda County could also pursue the creation of more Class I bikeways. These are paths that are fully separated from streets. These facilities aren’t cheap but they are orders of magnitude cheaper to build than roadways. There are many rights of way, such as abandoned rail lines and creek paths, that are ideal candidates for these.
The County should work with surrounding jurisdictions to see how our Class I bikeways could be connected to similar facilities in adjacent counties, creating long, continuous stretches where cyclists could ride without having to deal with traffic. An enhanced network of these would greatly encourage people to consider commuting via their bicycle.
Finally, CalBike is trying to get the State to implement a rebate program for electric bikes similar to the one they have for electric cars. Electric bikes significantly extend the distance that someone would consider as a reasonable distance to bike to work. Alameda County could consider such a program or, at a minimum, advocate for the State to implement this.
Biking and transit improvements need to go hand in hand. Many cyclist’s commutes, including mine, require one to take transit as well as bike. Transit and biking together greatly increase the feasibility of people commuting without a car.
As a County Supervisor, I will work to make sure that any major transportation funding measures include adequate funding for bicycling improvements that will help foster a significant change in the percentage of people that are willing to commute by bike instead of driving.