Biking in San Jose is about to get a lot safer — and easier — for residents.
The City Council on Oct. 6 unanimously approved the Better Bike Plan 2025, which would prioritize rider safety while increasing the amount of bike lanes, bike parking and bike sharing services citywide.
The bike network would also help connect east and west San Jose to the downtown area, making commutes to work and school by bike more direct. It would also encourage more biking to reduce emissions from vehicle transportation.
“The great thing about our bike plan is its ability to connect everyone not only of all ages but of all income levels so that we can get around town and get to our employment centers,” Councilmember Dev Davis said at an Oct. 5 news conference announcing the bike plan. “I love the ability for all of us to choose a healthy way to commute as opposed to an environmentally unfriendly way to commute.”
The city intends to make biking safer and less stressful by adding more protected bike lanes — lanes that have a barrier between cyclists and traffic — to busier streets.
San Jose resident Mikhail Haurylau, who lives in Willow Glen and works in Milpitas, said biking has been his primary way of getting to and from work over the past decade. His children also bike to their neighborhood school.
“I feel safe enough to go with traffic. But suddenly I don’t feel safe for my kids to do the same thing,” Haurylau said during public comment. “I am really looking forward to this improved infrastructure.”
Haurylau is not alone.
Currently, three percent of residents report using bicycles as their primary mode of transportation, according to a city report, but three-fourths of San Jose residents said they did not feel comfortable using traditional bike lanes.
“You’re pretty exposed on a bike, said Ramses Madou, planning policy and sustainability division manager for the city’s Department of Transportation. “We really need to focus on getting people not to feel that exposure and be safe, be behind barriers as much as possible.”
Of the 52 traffic deaths in San Jose in 2018, 23 of them were bicyclists and pedestrians.
Sixty-five percent of residents surveyed said they would feel most comfortable using shared use paths similar to paths along the Guadalupe River trail. These paths would be away from cars and would only welcome cyclists and pedestrians. Bike boulevards, with increased bike signage would also be added to calmer neighborhoods.
Robert Jones, longtime resident of Willow Creek, said safe citywide bike routes will be especially important as Google’s new campus moves into town, but worried that the congestion from trash buildup and encampments alongside creek trails may deter residents from biking in certain areas.
“I support expanding and increasing the quality of the bike paths,” Jones said. “Let’s just work together and clean it up so people feel safe to transit these areas from one neighborhood to another.”
Councilmember Maya Esparza said the city needs to partner with various city departments including, public works, parks and the police department to ensure biker safety.
Families in East San Jose and downtown have an interest in biking more, said Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, but many are paying too much for housing and transportation.
“It’s time that we invest in our underinvested communities and make sure that the infrastructure is there so that our residents who really want to adopt these lifestyles — who want to be part of the bike culture and the biking coalition, who want to reverse the harmful effects on Mother Nature — have the infrastructure available to them to support that lifestyle,” Carrasco said.
A city survey found more than half of San Jose residents want to bike more.
Mayor Sam Liccardo strongly advocated for additional funding for a main connector between District 5 and District 3.
“When 66% of residents in districts say they want to bike more, I think we should definitely listen. We know that getting a connection downtown is important for jobs to get to San Jose State and a lot of other critical resources,” Liccardo said. “It’s worth investing the extra dollars.”
The city’s general plan set a goal of making 15% of trips in San Jose by bike by 2040. The Climate Smart Plan calls for 20% of trips being by bike by 2050.
Liccardo, Carrasco, Davis, Esparza and Councilmember Raul Peralez proposed that some streets closed during COVID-19 should stay closed permanently to allow for safer bike and pedestrian travel.
At an Oct. 5 news conference, councilmembers celebrated the city’s progress in making San Jose more bikeable. Since the first on-street bike lane was installed in the 1970s, the city has added an additional 320 miles of on-street bike lanes and an additional 59 miles of trails.
The Better Bike Plan 2025 would allow for 253 miles of existing bike lanes to become protected bike lanes and would create 104 miles of new protected lanes. An additional 102 miles would become bike boulevards.
The plan will coincide with the Measure T, Measure B and Senate Bill 1-funded pavement maintenance program. As the city repaves the streets, it will have the opportunity to reimagine a more bike-friendly system that will support the city’s Climate Smart and Vision Zero goals.
Costs range from $250 million to $420 million, depending on the materials used to create protected bike lanes. The city will also seek local and federal grants and will try partnering with developers.
“San Jose has become a model for cities across the country that seek to fight climate change, and pursue safe and healthy transportation options,” Liccardo said. “I am grateful to our community partners and city staff for their collaborative efforts as we together encourage more of our residents to move from four wheels to two.”
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.