New Silicon Valley leader to tackle bike safety
A cyclist rides over Highway 880 on The Alameda, a segment of the Shortliner route proposed for Santa Clara County's bike superhighway. File photo.

    Clarrissa Cabansagan began riding a bicycle at seven years old. Fast forward 30 years and not only is biking part of her daily life, she has also spent her adult years finding ways for bike transit to be safer across the Bay Area.

    It’s that same commitment she carries with her as she takes charge of the handle bars at Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, where she will soon be executive director after serving as deputy director of strategy and development for one year. It might not be the smoothest ride, at least initially—Cabansagan is stepping into the role at a time when traffic fatalities have plagued San Jose for years.

    San Jose has seen 23 traffic fatalities through June 30, and while slightly down compared to 37 this time last year, the city saw a record high 65 traffic deaths in 2022. These numbers worry Cabansagan, who noted most victims are from vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, youth and people of color.

    “In every city, we’re really focused on reducing traffic deaths,” Cabansagan told San José Spotlight. “We do see that as a priority for us as an organization, that when we design streets with people in mind, cars aren’t able to act as crazy as they have been.”

    Clarrissa Cabansagan is the new executive director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. Photo courtesy of Clarrissa Cabansagan.

    The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition launched in 1993 and focuses on making biking more accessible to all communities. The organization works across Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, spanning 35 cities, to promote safety and security in riding bicycles. It also works in stride with other local organizations vying to curb traffic deaths.

    One such organization is the Vision Zero Task Force, which San Jose established in 2015 and is the fourth of its kind in the nation to help generate solutions to reduce traffic deaths. The task force uses data analysis to create safety programs in sections of the city with the highest number of traffic fatalities. The city pinpointed 17 streets in 2022 that it considers the most dangerous.

    San Jose Councilmember Pam Foley, chair of the task force, said Cabansagan’s new role as executive director will help make San Jose streets safer by continuing their strong partnership.

    “Clarissa’s in-depth knowledge of both land use and transportation issues and focus on racial and social justice makes her a great pick for executive director,” Foley told San José Spotlight.

    The city and county have also made efforts to promote people accessing and riding bicycles. In May, VTA approved a basic design for the Central Bikeway, otherwise known as The Shortliner, a 10-mile stretch of protected bike lanes running between San Jose and Santa Clara. The bicycle highway system comes with a price tag of $213 million, with funding sources to be determined.

    “Overwhelmingly, people are saying, ‘I would bike more. I’m interested in biking, I just want it to feel safe. I want to feel less stressed out on the road,’” Cabansagan said. “And the superhighway like (VTA) is planning is one that we fully agree needs to happen.”

    The county currently has 800 miles of bikeways, including designated bike lanes on roads like San Fernando Street in downtown San Jose. Santa Clara County also has about 200 miles of bike trails, which includes many that are not connected via continuous, uninterrupted paths.

    Cabansagan said while there are some areas for improvement for cyclist safety in the area, the steps Santa Clara County has made in making biking more accessible and safe can serve as a model for neighboring counties.

    Specifically, she hopes to expand bike safety initiatives into San Mateo County, where she calls home.

    Shiloh Ballard, current executive director of the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition who is retiring next month, said she believes Cabansagan’s previous roles have prepared her to pedal the organization forward, including as program director at TransForm—a Bay Area mobility justice organization.

    “She’s known in the region as a thought leader on transportation issues,” Ballard told San José Spotlight. “She’s really perfect (for the job).”

    Contact Julia Forrest at [email protected] or follow @juliaforrest35 on Twitter.

    Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

    Leave a Reply