As someone who has been involved in land use planning for two decades now, one thing holds true regardless of the project type. Working with the community is often a no-win situation. No matter how hard you try, how sincere your efforts are to make sure folks have opportunities to participate from the ground floor, someone always gets left out. And then out come the pitchforks and torches.

SVBC was reminded of this fact during the Lincoln Avenue Road diet in San Jose. There, businesses and residents took up arms against the project complaining that they were not consulted in the process.

They were right. The City did not, up front, partner with the community. The end result was a lot of anger and distrust that did not, long term, help any of us achieve the vision laid out in the City’s General Plan for a great city.

This is exactly the scenario that SVBC was intent upon avoiding with the Better Bikeways project. For those of you who haven’t been following the project, Better Bikeways is a City of San Jose-lead initiative supported by the Knight Foundation to create a network of protected bike lanes in the Downtown Core. In pursuit of many City goals – safer streets, environmental sustainability, human health, a fun city – the project is an exciting step that will serve as an example for communities nationwide.

The City of San Jose took to heart the lessons learned from the Lincoln Avenue project. As a result, for Better Bikeways, the City worked with SVBC to map out a community engagement strategy that recognized the community as an essential, knowledgeable partner. That strategy included the standard community outreach, conventional community meetings (where people don’t typically show up) as well as snail mail postcards to properties within 200 feet of Better Bikeway corridors.

That’s standard operating procedure – community meetings and mail. But, on top of that: 

  • SVBC reached out to 14 community groups to ask for time on their agenda to bring in the City.
  • SVBC also reached out to the Downtown Association and some of the larger employers to make sure people commuting into Downtown were aware of what was going on.
  • The City deployed interns to flier local businesses about the program.
  • The social media accounts of the City and those of SVBC, neighborhood associations, and council offices were used to further spread the word.

Before the postcard and meeting blitz, the City had begun introducing the idea of the Better Bikeways network to the community. The first meeting was back in August of 2017, at a community roundtable that SVBC helped organize. The roundtable was scheduled to coincide with a “pop-up” temporary protected bike lane that was set up along Fourth Street for a week, with participants asked to take a survey and weigh in on future designs. Later in the fall, SVBC and the City conducted “intercept outreach” along one of the corridors in East San Jose, talking to students, parents, and customers as they came and went. They also put out an online survey, in three languages, to learn more about what people’s perceptions of protected bikeways are and what elements they value most.

After all that, the City had another meeting on July 11th where it became apparent that, while there was overwhelming support for the project in the room, there were also many concerned business owners. Their concerns mainly have to do with parking for customers and how that might impact their business, especially as small business owners struggling to contribute to the success of San Jose. City staff made it clear that they are committed to working with those who are directly impacted by the project.

It is worth noting that almost all the City employees in attendance at the meeting rode their bikes to the meeting. Many live in Downtown and are committed to San Jose. They are passionate about street safety for all users and dedicated to making this a great place to live.

We also want to take a moment to thank those of you who came out to support the project. It’s not everyone’s ideal way to spend their Wednesday evening but it’s democracy in action. You showed up and helped the City understand the Better Bikeways program is on the right track. Thank you!

In the next few months, stay tuned for updates on how you can continue to be helpful on this project. And, SVBC hopes to work with you all to organize fun rides for folks to experience the new bike lane network, rides where people can go out on a bike together, visit some of the local shops, learn how to ride safely and start to get a whole lot more comfortable riding for every day use in an urban environment. When those rides start to materialize, please bring your non-riding friends so that all of us can continue to spread the joy of riding a bike.