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the warm, fuzzy politics of bike-to-work

By enelson
Thursday, May 15th, 2008 at 11:53 pm in Bay Bridge, Bicycling, Bridges, Caltrans, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), driving, global warming, Retrofitting, Transit vs. driving.


My Bike-to-Work Day started out really well this year, at least on a personal level.

Last year, I was a total fraud, driving the Honda Civic with the bike shoved in the back so I could use it as a prop to blend in. It’s not easy to get from Point A to B to C in the space of two hours and still report on this thing when you have to pedal a good distance.

But this morning I got off the train at Emeryville at 7:15 a.m., did some reporting at the Civic Center, and managed to get to Oakland City Hall quick enough to spend some quality time with the city’s most notable cyclists.

And a funny thing happened on my way to shrink my carbon footprint.

The traditional bike-to-work story is somewhat fluffy, but in a good way. It’s about the ordinary people who participate, why they do it and how it makes them feel.

But a strange series of events took me off of the path I had mapped out and forced me into the maelstrom of two-wheeled, human-powered politics.

It really started Wednesday night, when a colleague wise in the ways of Emeryville came to me with an e-mail. The writer wanted us to know that the city cares not for the cyclist and wants only to placate they of the internal combustion engine, the parking garage and the grade separation.

So there I was this morning standing in front of that very municipality’s civic center, chatting up a landscaper and a gardener with cute little squash plants in her bag and feeling good about the world and pedal power.

Then I was introduced to Emeryville City Councilman John Fricke and his two adorable twin daughters. Were he not a member of government, the scene would have fit my plan perfectly. All three were sporting propellers atop their bike helmets and arrived upon a bicycle built for three. I yearned for a professional photographer.

The councilman proceeded to tell me almost exactly what the e-mailer had said. That the city, in particular a majority of its council members, were about motor vehicles and when it came to alternative modes of transportation, they did not walk the walk.

While this pleased the muckraking journalist pounding on inner recesses of my cranium, it did little to advance the warm and fuzzy theme of my story.

I proceeded south on Mandela Parkway through West Oakland, and thought about how a mighty freeway once stood here but through force of community solidarity was banished after its tragic collapse in the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

And as I was also noticing it was getting difficult to dodge the broken glass in the bike lane, I heard a wicked ka-SPRONGG beneath my skinny high-pressure tires. It was such a sound that I had to turn around and investigate. It turned out to be a steak knife, but luckily, it was laying flat and my tires were intact.

It also occurred to me that this was a route I’d pedaled down before, to get from the train station to Burma Road in the Port of Oakland, and Caltrans’ media office for the Bay Bridge project. The last part of that is one of the more challenging ridest in town, from a cheating-death-among-the-tractor-trailers standpoint.

Arriving at Oakland City Hall, who should I run into but Bijan Sartipi, Caltrans director for the Bay Area district. Next thing you know, we’re talking about the quest for a safe route to the Bay Bridge, which after all the fuss about building a new East Span, complete with a add-on bike lane, still hasn’t been figured out.

And after 2 1/2 years on the transportation beat, it seems that half the officials at this event knew me, and kept coming up to chat. It was kinda nice, although we journalists like people to think that everyone despises us, or else maybe we’ve grown too soft.

Still, it was interesting. I learned that Oakland has a major bike parking crisis, caused by move to electronic parking meters (who knew?). For you non-bicyclists (and that means you, Mayor Dellums and Attorney General Brown), I need to explain that old-fashioned coin-operated parking meters were perfect for U-locking a bike to, and because they were everywhere in Oakland (and nowhere in Emeryville, Councilman Fricke explained), you could secure your bike even more easily than drivers could find a parking place.

I also learned more about the looming battle over transit funding in Sacramento, that advocates have been reduced to asking for half of the nearly billion in gas tax “spillover” that the law would ordinarily reserve for city buses, trains and ferries.

I also realized that I was neglectful in not mentioning that Robert Raburn, executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, is trying to convince our local courts to formalize a program of teaching good, safe, law-abiding riding habits to cyclists who run stop signs or red lights. I quoted him saying he longs for the day cyclists are treated equally by authorities, but I left out the more positive aspects of that philosophy.

All-in-all, not a bad Bike-to-Work Day, even if I didn’t connect with the human-powered proletariat the way I’d planned. I got some riding in, I’d learned some new things about two of the East Bay’s fine cities and the next time I’m feverishly pedaling over the West Grand Street viaduct with a container-toting 18-wheel rig bearing down on me, I can take comfort that someone in the recesses of Caltrans District 4 headquarters at the other end of the same street is puzzling over how to save my life. 

Many thanks to John Fricke and two very special young ladies for lending me a digital camera and e-mailing the results.

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5 Responses to “the warm, fuzzy politics of bike-to-work”

  1. V Smoothe Says:

    The bike parking shortage caused by the move to the pay and display meters is a stunning example of the City’s incompetence. The City agreed, when removing the old meters, to retain two meters per block as bicycle parking. The meters meant to be retained were parked with a spray-painted x on the sidewalk (an instruction for crew to simply gut the meter, but not remove the head). You can walk around town and see plenty of these x marks on the ground, mostly next to headless meters. An internal audit from last November showed that less than half of the 579 meters marked for retention were actually spared.

  2. murphstahoe Says:

    At least Oakland could do something about it. San Francisco is currently paralyzed by a lawsuit brought by a crank. No bicyle improvments for at least another year, nary so much as a bike rack can be installed by the city. Argh.

  3. rogue cyclist Says:

    Emeryville anti-bike? Really? With all that’s going on: the Emeryville Greenway, Horton St bike boulevard, future Bay Street bike/ped bridge, and Bay Bridge path touchdown at IKEA. I can’t believe those in charge would go the other way.

    By the way, CC, when you were at E-town’s city hall energizer station did a certain Emeryville citizen ask you to sign a petition fighting the removal of the Horton St bikeway?

  4. Capricious Commuter Says:

    RC, as a occasional rider through town, I certainly don’t see any evidence that the town has slacked off on making room for bikes. I guess it depends on your perspective. As for the petition, I didn’t see it. That bikeway is one of the main features I use when I get off the train there.

  5. george Says:

    I found Emeryville to be have a bicycle unfriendly, suburban feel – most operators are motor vehicle operators, and expect to race between destinations. That, and it’s a little isolated BART wise, with mostly high intensity arterials getting everybody from place to place.

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