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[whitespace] Pedal Pushers

Silicon Valley cyclists struggle to find space in growing congestion

Sunnyvale--Cyclists in Silicon Valley are finding it harder and harder to ride safely through the streets and trails of this area.

Many bike riders feel that their favorite recreational activity and mode of transportation is being neglected by the people and government of Silicon Valley. Local mountain trails have recently been closed to bikes, and many roads don't have proper bike lanes.

Bay area mountain bikers have realized the need for joining together in order to overcome these difficulties since at least the early 1980s. A group called ROMP--Responsible Organized Mountain Peddlers--first got together casually in Los Gatos in 1982, as a sort of riding club. By 1986 they were an official organization fighting for access to more trails. In 1988 members of ROMP, along with several other bay area groups, formed the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

ROMP has a membership of about 300 people in Sunnyvale, Cupertino and throughout the Bay Area. "Our objective is to educate cyclists and open up more trails for bike use," says ROMP President Rod Brown. "More and more trails are being closed to bikes. Bikers are finding themselves concentrated in smaller and smaller areas."

The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) closed many preserves to bikers over the past summer. Mountain peddlers are no longer welcome in Foothill-De Anza, La Honda Creek, Los Trancos, Picchetti Ranch, Pulgas Ridge, Teague Hill and Thornewood Open Space Preserves. According to Brown, only 59 percent of MROSD trails are open to bicycles. He also notes that only 11 percent of single-track trails, more coveted by mountain bikers than wider fire roads, remain available for bikers.

MROSD Public Affairs Manager Stephanie Jensen says, however, that although seven of 25 district preserves have been closed to bikers, they were very small preserves. She notes that only 13.6 miles of 165 miles of bicycle trails have been closed--just 8 percent.

"MROSD has to provide something for everyone," says Jensen. "Our district is still looked upon as the most friendly to bikers. In Marin County things are so hostile that people have begun laying traps for bikes that make the bike flip over. If pressure grows worse here, we'll have more conflicts like that. That's why we're trying to give hikers more space."

Jensen says that MROSD is looking to obtain more land, perhaps in this region's coastal area, so they can provide more trails to keep everybody happy. She also says that they are looking into opening some bike-only trails.

But these efforts don't satisfy a lot of mountain bikers in the area. They feel that the recent trail closures have caused the ones that are still open to them to become severely overcrowded. This has forced many avid mountain bikers off of the mountain trails and onto the paved roads of Silicon Valley, causing more logistical problems on local roadways and at local facilities.

The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) is a local group that is pushing for changes within the urban areas of Silicon Valley. They call for better bicycle parking facilities at Caltrain and other commuter stations as well as at multi-family residences.

SVBC views cycling as an effective alternative to driving that will help curb the traffic commute problems this area faces. One of their goals is to persuade recreational cyclists to use bicycles for every day transportation purposes. They want more cyclist input on local road projects, which will lead to expanded and better-maintained bike-friendly streets.

Members of SVBC believe that government policy needs to shift away from their traditional 'autos first' policy toward alternative forms of transportation. They believe that educating cyclists, pedestrians and motorists to share the road can reduce traffic accidents.

The lack of bike lanes on roads has also been a major issue with bike enthusiasts. Sunnyvale Traffic Engineer Ray Williamson says, "The reason that it's so hard for bikers to ride on our roads is that most of our roads were built 30 years ago with the tremendous commute demand in our minds. Right now we're trying to retrofit our infrastructure. We are going to spend $5-6 billion on bike projects in the next three or four years. That will include bridges over highways, underpasses under railroads and bike lanes on many main roads."

Williamson hopes that, along with these physical changes, the attitudes of Sunnyvale residents will change, too. "Drivers are becoming more aware," he says. "It's just a matter of education."

According to local Cupertino and Saratoga bike shop employees and bike enthusiasts Trevor Forster and Clayton Hirst, many people in Silicon Valley still don't have any idea how to share the road.

Hirst, who has raced bikes for 13 years, is one of those local mountain bikers who have been forced to switch to the local roads because of the lack of trails provided for them.

"I used to be a mountain biker," he says. "But that became too difficult because the equestrians and hikers didn't like us--so I had to switch to road racing." Hirst speaks of hikers sticking their heavy-duty boots out in front of mountain bikers in order to throw them off course or even off their bikes.

Although Hirst thinks it is now easier to ride on the roads than on the trails, he makes an effort to dispel all thoughts that 'easy' would be the right word to describe road biking in this area.

Hirst and Forster have faced many obstacles trying to bike the roads of Silicon Valley. "People just don't like bicycles around here," says Forster. "Many of my friends have been intentionally run off the road by unfriendly motorists."

"When a car comes by I don't know whether someone's going to throw a bottle at me, force me off the road, or shoot at me," adds Hirst. He's not kidding. Hirst and Forster both recounted several stories to this effect about themselves and friends being harassed by angry motorists. One of their friends actually survived a shooting attempt on a curvy mountain road.

Neither Hirst nor Forster sees much hope for the future of biking in Silicon Valley. They believe that a major, valleywide attitude adjustment would be necessary before bikers will be accepted in this area. They believe that the people of Silicon Valley are too wrapped up in themselves and their "European cars" to care about other people and other modes of transportation.

"Nothing will change until some big-shot tech guy, or someone who is in good with the media, gets hit by a car while he is biking," says Forster. "Then it'll be all over the newspapers and TV, and it will become this major issue."
Daniel Hindin

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Web extra to the September 14-20, 2000 issue of Metro.

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