Image: View of El Camino Real in front of Kaiser Hospital in South San Francisco, looking south

It was day three of the Climate Ride and I was relaxing with members of the SVBC team. We had been joined by another rider while chatting over beers and learned that he worked for Kaiser and was starting up a green film festival.

This casual conversation after a long day of riding proved to be fortuitous a few weeks later.

Back at work the next week one of the first things on my schedule was a Grand Boulevard Initiative meeting. For those who don’t know, this is an initiative geared towards turning El Camino Real stretching from Daly City to San Jose into a boulevard that connects communities by a mix of land uses designed to attract people. A priority initiative of SVBC is to get high quality bike lanes on El Camino Real.

Emma Shlaes, the incredible SVBC staff member who handles all policy advocacy in San Mateo County briefed me on the meeting and flagged an issue for me.

“South San Francisco is making a presentation at the meeting on the Complete Streets Plan for El Camino Real,” she said. “I’m hearing that a portion of it omits bike lanes. Question them on this.”

I always do what Emma tells me and sure enough, during the meeting the consultant mentioned that bike lanes would stop on a certain stretch of El Camino Real.

Diplomatically I asked, “Can you say more about why the bike lanes will end on that portion of the road?” In response, the Task Force was told that the on-street parking was needed by Kaiser Hospital there.

Could this be?! Kaiser Hospital is an organization that is a committed and dedicated advocate of policy and programs that support a healthy lifestyle. For example, they are the title sponsor of Bike to Work Day. Could it be that Kaiser would insist upon a plan that would discourage a more healthy way of getting around? No, I didn’t think so and I wondered if there had been an explicit conversation with Kaiser about the trade-off in favor of on-street parking over a complete and connected bike lane .

I also wondered if the contact I made at the Climate Ride might able to help and reached out to him to explain the problem. He immediately started researching the issue internally.

Soon thereafter, Emma pulled together a conference call between Kaiser, the City of South San Francisco, Caltrans District 4, and SVBC to discuss whether we could make sure the bike lane remained continuous. We found that all parties wanted the same thing: a continuous bike lane. As a result, Kaiser is now working to expedite the paving of a parking lot so that on-street parking is not needed in that location and the bike lane is able to continue uninterrupted. (Thank you Kaiser for your commitment to active transportation and the prioritization of transportation planning that values health!)

As it stands today, the plan is in the process of being revised although it is not yet a done deal.

Why is this story worth highlighting?

First, it shows the importance of organizations like the Climate Ride that bring powerful and committed folks together by bicycle. The ride connects people who can then use those relationships to work together for better environmental outcomes.

Second, this story highlights the role that SVBC plays. SVBC is on the ground monitoring obscure planning processes that have significant implications for mobility. Too often complete and connected bike networks get shoved aside to avoid inconveniencing those who drive. SVBC’s role is to keep on top of what is going on, build relationships with people who make decisions, and jump in when things start to go off the bike path.

Third, it highlights the importance of the Grand Boulevard Initiative in providing a forum for decision makers and advocates to keep on top of what is going on.

Thank you Kaiser, Climate Ride, Emma, Grand Boulevard, City of South San Francisco, Caltrans, and to all of you who support the Bike Coalition so that we can catch mistakes like these before it’s too late. This may seem like a small project, but all these road projects add up.  When we’re able to watchdog these obscure planning processes, we’re able to ensure that the community is improved through complete and connected bikeways.