Silicon Valley Bike Summit Speakers Call for Equity & Safer Engineering

Silicon Valley Bike Summit Speakers Call for Equity & Safer Engineering

It was great to see many of our local bike advocates at the Silicon Valley Bike Summit on August 22nd. Several of the day’s speakers challenged local leaders to make brave choices. It’s time to create equitable communities that encourage people of all ages and abilities to bike, walk, and use other healthy non-auto modes.

A few takeaways from the day:

  1. True public engagement is difficult and time-consuming but absolutely essential in a search for fair, equitable solutions.

  2. For our communities to succeed in keeping people safe on our streets, sidewalks, and bikeways, will take real change.

  3. Active Transportation will be an equitable answer to climate change when communities install protected bike lanes and off-street paths designed to encourage the huge population of bike riders who are interested but concerned’.

  4. San Jose is committing to better bikeways.

  5. Seattle is committed to bike facilities that accommodate all ages and abilities.

  6. California is embracing active transportation. Hopefully Santa Cruz County will switch gears and jump on this forward-thinking bandwagon soon!

Each year families flock to the streets to enjoy Bike Santa Cruz County’s Open Streets and Ecology Action’s Bike to School and Work Day showing how many would ride bikes daily if it were safe to do so.

As Greg Becker points out in his recent Register Pajaronian op-ed, both of these trusted bike advocacy organizations receive funding from the RTC, which creates a conflict of interest for groups that should feel free to advocate for or against RTC proposals. We need advocacy groups to think beyond painting lines on the street, a technique that modestly encourages cycling, but does very little to actually make it safer. Santa Cruz has a growing network of bike lanes, yet it is one of California’s most dangerous cities for biking.

Slide from  Bike Lanes 2.0 presentation by Peter Trinh , Multi-Modal Engineering Supervisor for Seattle Department of Transportation

Slide from Bike Lanes 2.0 presentation by Peter Trinh, Multi-Modal Engineering Supervisor for Seattle Department of Transportation

In her August 22nd Silicon Valley Bike Summit presentation, Leah Shahum, Director of the Vision Zero Network and former director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, pointed out that the “share the road” cycling movement that dominated U.S. bike advocacy in the 1970’s and 80’s is one of the main reasons few children bike and walk to school in 2018. While American planners put up signs allowing bicycles to “share the lane”, planners in Amsterdam and Copenhagen built separate lanes for bikes creating the amazing bicycle-friendly communities they enjoy today.

Shahum also said the six "E's" in the Vision Zero framework are not equal. We must honestly evaluate the equity of our streets and prioritize safer engineering over education, encouragement, and enforcement. We need to create safer options. No amount of paint or ‘bike safety education’ will keep a 1st-grader safe from distracted drivers.

Many U.S. communities are creating protected networks and prioritizing bus service to offer people of all ages healthier transportation options. Santa Cruz County can make similar choices if we if we can convince the Regional Transportation Commission to refocus their priorities from advocating for a train to supporting a modern bus system connected to an effective active transportation network.

Let’s encourage the RTC to take another look at how to use our precious rail corridor. The results of the bid process for the first and simplest section of the rail trail came in more than 50% over budget, sending the project back to the drawing board. At over $4 million per mile, this unequivocally ends the debate about the cost-effectiveness of the RTC strategy. Yet bike advocacy groups remain silent—seemingly content to keep waiting for an expensive, ill-conceived “rail trail”.'s, "A People's History of recent Urban Transportation Innovation," describes why groups like Greenway that function outside of government echo chambers are essential in successful efforts to creatively re-envision cities to build safer, more livable and human-centered streets. Without Greenway, no one would be working to show how many people will choose to ride bikes when it is truly safe to do so in our county. I, for one, am grateful to the many people supporting Greenway's efforts!

Gail McNulty is Executive Director for Santa Cruz County Greenway and a mother of three children ages 6, 11, and 13. An interested but concerned rider, she is advocating for the types of infrastructure changes that will allow her, her family, and many others to make healthier transportation choices for themselves and our planet.