In 2015 at a convening of bike coalition executive directors from all across California, one of my counterparts said that if a community opposed a bike lane, they would stop their advocacy of that bike lane.
I remember being shocked by that statement. How bizarre that a bike advocacy organization would not push for a bike lane due to the undoubtedly irrational concerns of a neighborhood. I couldn’t imagine a scenario where SVBC would do the same. But now I can.
Over the past four years, SVBC has done a lot of self-reflection in order to better understand how to accomplish its goals. That self-reflection resulted in a new vision and values statement that advances a pro-bike agenda through a humble and socially just lens. SVBC is now working on understanding that there may be scenarios where spiffy bike infrastructure might, on balance, be detrimental to a community in ways that aren’t obvious to those of us wearing spandex…And in ways that would hamper, long term, the bike movement.
That kind of scenario is playing out in San Jose with the planning for San Antonio Street.
San Antonio is a part of San Jose’s Better Bikeways Network, a dense network of enhanced bike lanes in the Downtown core of San Jose. The idea behind BBSJ (Better Bikeways San Jose) was to rapidly design and build, through paint and plastic, not just one pretty bike lane but a network. This safe and stress-free network of bike lanes has put San Jose on the bike mecca map, an example for other cities to emulate. The first ten miles have been completed with more to come, including San Antonio Street. It is also important to note that this network is extremely well thought out. Each street has a role to play in the grand mobility puzzle. Some are for bikes, some for moving cars and together, once complete, people will be able to get around more sensibly.
I use San Antonio on my way home from pre-work rides up Sierra Road. The road has one lane in each direction and it is very narrow. There is on-street parking and in peak commute hours, traffic crawls. There is barely room for a bicyclist between traffic and parked cars so I usually either annoy drivers and take the lane or wiggle up and down between the street and sidewalk.
Also of note is that San Antonio cuts through a working class neighborhood. As someone who pedals through the community but is not a part of the community, my outsider eyes tell me that based on the number of cars parked on the street and crammed into driveways, the houses are providing shelter beyond their capacity. This is an important element to notice. People can’t afford to live in Silicon Valley, something the media reminds us of every day. The recent homeless census saw a 40% increase in the number of individuals living outside in San Jose. How would the every day experience of someone struggling to make ends meet be impacted by removing their parking? (I say this as someone who almost always preaches against free on-street parking.)
In the distant past, when thinking about building out a bike network, SVBC would have not noticed these elements of the community. The organization would have concluded, without hesitation, that we need to remove on-street parking and replace it with bike lanes.
In this case, the City of San Jose has been extremely mindful of the constraints of this street. For that reason, bike lanes were not seriously considered as a part of the plan. Instead, the City looked at solutions that would:
1) Improve the quality of life for residents on San Antonio by reducing the amount of traffic on their street
2) Make San Antonio more safe for all, including bicyclists and pedestrians
In one of my recent rides down San Antonio I stopped to talk to a resident who was emptying his trash. He told me he has lived in one place or another his whole life on San Antonio. For him, he said the issue with San Antonio is the quality of the pavement and that San Antonio is jammed with folks cutting through his neighborhood to get across town. With that as the on the ground context, were the bike movement to come into his neighborhood and advocate for bike lanes without an understanding of what is truly important to the people who live there, we would do a disservice to the first part of our mission, to build community through the every day use of the bicycle. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t advocate for a bike lane in some circumstances but SVBC is now more mindful in its approach.
Thursday night, the City of San Jose will hold a community meeting to discuss solutions for bringing San Antonio into the Better Bikeways Network. How does this get done? Similar to the measures taken on the St. John bike boulevard, the City should consider design treatments that discourage drivers from choosing San Antonio as their east/west commute option. Traffic diverters, traffic circles and traffic calming are all ways that San Antonio can be transformed into a low volume street. Lower volumes of cars equals a more inviting place for the people who live there and for people who bike too.
Make your voice heard and come to the community meeting on May 30, 6:30pm at the Mexican Heritage Plaza. Note: This meeting has passed.