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Campaign seeks 1,000 new cyclists

Sunday’s launch of the 1,000 New Cyclists Campaign/Photo: Jason Meggs

Amid the plethora of activities on the 350 day of action on Sunday, a new initiative was launched with the aim of getting 1,000 people in the East Bay to use their bike for everyday transport.

“The idea is the East Bay is a fantastic place to ride for everyday transportation,” explained Stacy Jackson, campaign leader of 1,000 New Cyclists and a doctoral student in the university’s Energy and Resources Group. Jackson said that despite the good conditions in Berkeley and the rest of the East Bay, cycling rates are comparatively low.

“We have an amazing climate compared to places like Portland or even Copenhagen or Amsterdam,” she said. Jackson also cited Berkeley’s casual culture and the fact that the majority of the city is fairly flat. While the UC Berkeley campus has cycling rates around 10% of total trips, the East Bay as a whole is around 5%. Copenhagen has rates of around 40%, according to Jackson.

The 1,000 cyclists campaign is focused on what Jackson calls the “social support” side of cycling, where many cycling campaigns concentrate on building a better infrastructure. Jackson said there is a long list of infrastructure improvements that would help cycling in the East Bay, but the conditions are pretty good. “We’re working on getting people to ride in the infrastructure we have,” she said.

The campaign is, for example, organizing a network of “bike buddies” who would be riding companions for people new to everyday cycling. It is also establishing a group of mentors who can answer questions, ranging from what kind of lock to use, to what are the best bike lights, to finding Bicycle Boulevards in Berkeley. The campaign will hold a mentor and bike buddy workshop on October 26.

Jackson said the campaign has given itself a year to attract the 1,000 new cyclists, but it has no idea whether the goal is ambitious or modest. “We haven’t found anyone else who’s tried to do something like this,” she said.

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  • David

    I question the assertion “the conditions are pretty good” for biking. Berkeley is a terrible place for biking. The only streets with bike lanes are obscure, secondary roads. And those are not even real bike lanes. Real bike lanes have markings that distinguish it from the rest of the road that keep cars from driving into the bike lane. Berkeley does not have that, especially on main roads — Shattuck, in particular. It is terrifingly dangerous to bike from say, Elmwood to downtown Berkeley, pure and simple. Even Oakland has better lanes than Berkeley (Broadway for example). SF now is developing decent bike lanes. And Copenhagen has great bike lanes — that’s why you have 40% biking there.

    1000 New Cyclists is well intentioned, I’m sure, but they have it backwards. Get the city to put in proper bike lanes and more people will bike. It’s as simple as that.

  • not gruntled

    Agreed – I’d bike if Berkeley were bike-friendly, but it’s not. Too dangerous. It would be great if we could have real bike lanes, physically separated from car lanes as in Holland and other places. But then, we’d probably have to do away with parking spots and the American car is holy!

  • Geech

    Come on commenters – I’ve lived in Boston/Cambridge/Somerville and New York and by comparison Berkeley is far superior for biking. The hardest thing about biking here is the hills.

    As Berkeley is a grid, there are easy alternatives to busy streets. For example, you don’t need to ride down Shattuck or MLK, use Milvia instead. College, University, whatever, they all have alternative parallel streets. And because biking itself is so common here, for sport and transportation, all year round, drivers are much more used to dealing with cyclists here than lots of other cities or towns.

    And for the record, it isn’t even proven that bike lanes make biking safer: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-big-question-do-dedicated-lanes-make-cycling-less-safe-and-should-roads-be-redesigned-1785239.html.

    If you want to sit on the sidelines and whine about the lack of urban planning, that’s your choice, but there are plenty of people who consider biking to be a reasonably safe, viable option for getting around right now. I am one of them.

  • KPH

    Have to agree with Geech here. I just moved to Berkeley from Boston and am astonished by how bike-friendly it is relative to my experiences back East. Just today, I encountered cars which made no attempt to reclaim the entirety of the lane (on Univ, San Pablo, etc), bus drivers that actually slow down for cyclists (both near campus and Westbrae), not to mention the plethora of dedicated bike lanes and sharrows. The “bike boulevard” system? Tremendous! This is soooooooo far ahead of what I saw over the past several years in Boston, both as a daily bike commuter (even during the winter) and competitive cyclist*. Hope I can make it to the workshop on 10/26.

    * to be fair, Boston’s mayor has a program in place to improve urban biking conditions, which has already resulted incremental improvements…but it’s like leaping 10 years into the future out here…

  • Tim Dewey-Mattia

    “terrifyingly dangerous?” Come on, it takes about 5 minutes on Russell and Milvia to get to downtown from Elmwood, and there are far more bikes than cars on those streets. Bike boulevards are a safer step up from bike lanes.

    Plus, What’s great about biking in Berkeley is that you can take up the entire slow lane on 4 lane streets like Shattuck, MLK, San Pablo and cars/buses respect you like they are supposed to. The only time I get in uncomfortable situations is when some impatient commuter trying to take a shortcut home to Lamorinda honks at me when I’m biking up Grizzly Peak.

    Stop the excuses and start biking in the most friendly bike city in the nation.

  • http://www.preservenet.com Charles Siegel

    I have to agree with both sides.
    –People who are used to bicycling in city traffic find that Berkeley is more bike-friendly than most cities.
    –People who are not used to bicycling in city traffic find that Berkeley is not bike-friendly enough to make them feel safe.
    We need both better bike infrastructure and campaigns like this to get people used to bicycling.

    Incidentally, the downtown Street and Open Space Improvement Project (SOSIP) includes plans for a bike lane on Milvia downtown – the first safe bike route into downtown Berkeley. Initially, the cover letter of the SOSIP said that this bike lane should not be added because of objections during public review. People from BFBC went to the final meeting of the SOSIP committee, and we convinced them to vote for the bike lane, so it is now back in – but we have to work on it to make sure it is not pulled out again. The SOSIP also includes a bike lane on Hearst connecting with the UC campus.

    If you want better bike infrastructure in Berkeley, you can start by supporting these improvements in the SOSIP. You might want to get on the BFBC announcement list to receive updates: go to http://www.bfbc.org, click the Contacts tab, and ask to be put on the announcement list.

  • deirdre

    Getting me out of my car more often requires getting my kids to ride their bikes with me, with which I’m not 100% comfortable yet. I know Berkeley has the occasional bike rodeo aimed at kids, but I am looking for a program aimed at caregivers who are leading their younger kids along, and how to safely orient kids to be responsible riders.

  • laura menard

    Tim,

    Berkeley has one of the nation highest rates for bike thefts in the entire nation. We have the highest rates of pedestrian and bike accidents in the state.

    How is it possible to make a claim that Berkeley is the most bike friendly city in the nation?

    absurd!

    What I really dislike about Berkeley is the ideological fringe who prefer cheer-leading as opposed to addressing real problems and making progress.

    Berkeley ain’t Portland.

  • David

    Right on Laura Menard. Exactly right.

    Comparing us to Boston, etc, underwhelms me. That’s a pretty low benchmark. How about comparing us to Copenhagen? Amersterdam? Davis? Portland? How about Montreal, which is a terrific biking city? That’s what we should looking towards, not congratulating ourselves that we are better than NYC, for goodness sakes.

    And I must disagree with Charles Siegel. I am well experienced biking in cities and find Berkeley a terrible place to bike in (fear of having my bike being stolen is just one of those reasons, by the way. As a separate question, why don’t we have those street bike rentals like they have in Paris and other cities?). I used to live in Washington DC and would argue that is a much safer place to bike than Berkeley.

    This whole debate points to a sad truth about Berkeley today. We like to pat ourselves on the back for our commitment to progressivism and progressive causes, but we are no longer actually committed to those causes — like creating a city that puts bikes and pedestrians first.

  • TN

    One of the aspects of bicycling in Berkeley that makes it more dangerous than necessary is the behavior of some of the bicyclists.

    Yesterday I was riding north on San Pablo Avenue to get from Delaware Street to the Adult School entrance. As I rode up on the right hand side, I saw that another bicyclist was coming at me riding the wrong way directly in my path. Panic stop time. Luckily there wasn’t a car directly besides me which gave me a little room. This rider wasn’t a child. He was an adult who should have known better. He not only put himself at risk, he put me and any driver who happened to come by at risk.

    As much as some bicyclists are justifiably critical of some car drivers, some level of criticism needs to leveled at some bicyclists. Don’t be idiots on the street!

  • Robert

    Most of the comments on this article so far are valid but please note that the point of this campaign is not about infrastructure, but about just getting as many new people riding bikes on the streets as possible, and to do so in a responsible way that makes these new cyclists feel safe and be safe so that they want to continue riding.

    Beyond infrastructure, which is an debate outside of this campaign but a good one to have, the best thing we can do to increase safety is to simply get as many people out there biking as possible. With more people out of their cars the median speeds go down, and cyclists and pedestrians become a more expected and predictable part of traffic.

    As a side note, I think the “good conditions” quoted in the article were more in reference to the temperate climate of the bay area and the high number of sunny days per year.

  • Lindsey

    Great to get more folks out there riding their bicycles. I hope part of the training will include calling out to other cyclists when passing or and the importance of signaling for the cyclist behind you. And then there’s the ipod wearing cyclists… As a long time cyclist, I am seeing the increase of more cyclists creating a more dangerous riding environment as most cyclists don’t signal or call out to other cyclists. I’m happy to many folks are getting into cycling, and I wonder how we can encourage courtesy and safety amongst the cyclists?

  • Phil

    Berkeley is one of the safest cities in which to ride.

    There are many more cyclists on the roads in Berkeley, so it’s not surprising that there are more accidents. That’s a sad fact. But take heart. There are __fewer__ accidents per bicycle mile traveled in Berkeley. In fact while the probability of someone in the city being involved in a bicycle accident is greater, the probability that __you__ will be in an accident is lower. And the more bicycles there are, the more motorists will take note of them. As noted, drivers appear to have become more courteous.

    As far as better road manners are concerned, we will all (cyclists and motorists) do will to develop habits of patience and tolerance. If we can allow enough time to get from point A to point B we are less inclined to put ourselves and others at risk. Slowing down to a pace where we can relax a bit goes a long way to improving our attitudes.

    Wagging your finger at the other reckless cyclists and motorists is not an effective teaching method. A smile and a wave go a lot further to fostering communication, and to building the community we are glad to be part of.