Nationally, about 40 percent of all trips are less than two miles, an easy distance for cyclists. The latest census survey showed that the percentage of residents who commute mostly by bike in Palo Alto crossed the 10 percent mark, making our city second in the nation after Davis. Menlo Park (8.8 percent), Mountain View (6.2 percent) and other neighboring communities are close behind. But we can do better — much better. Just think about Amsterdam and Copenhagen where the weather is much less ideal and yet cycling has become part of the everyday culture and lifestyle. In Copenhagen, 36 percent of residents get to work or school by bike and 50 percent use a bike everyday.
Here are 10 things you can do to help the environment, avoid congestion, and most of all, improve your health and pocketbook:
• Take your bike out of the garage and get it tuned up. Biking is a lot more fun, easy and safe with a bike that works. Don't forget a helmet and lights.
• Get in shape! I was never a Spandex cyclist, but I signed up for a century ride (100 miles) around Lake Tahoe for my 50th birthday seven years ago. Once you do a century, you can breeze across town. Yes, it felt great and the coaching and camaraderie helped a lot.
• Learn the best bike routes around town. There are quick routes for experts and scenic routes for those who want to avoid traffic. (Check out bike routes on Google maps and http://bikesiliconvalley.org/content/67)
• Walk or bike to school or work — at least once a week. You'll be surprised how addicting it is.
• As a driver, share the road and obey the rules.
• The same for cyclists.
• For those going longer distances, consider combining biking with Caltrain or express buses.
• Support our city and region's efforts to improve our bike infrastructure. You could join the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition or support our Safe Routes to School.
• Just do it!
• And do it everyday.
The younger generation is leading the way with the strong support of the city, school and PTA. The resulting U-turn in our kids biking to school is inspiring and hopefully is the harbinger for the rest of us.
From a precipitous fall-off to a nadir in 2002 when only 11 percent of high school students biked to school, the new generation of students begin with safety training in elementary school and continue through middle school and high school with full support from our schools, PTA, and the city with school crossing guards, better bike parking, and constant encouragement. This year, Paly and Gunn are at an amazing 40 percent bike ridership.
Palo Alto has come a long way since former vice mayor Ellen Fletcher championed the bike boulevard in Palo Alto. Ellen, who sadly passed away late last year, also worked steadfastly but passionately to get bikes on Caltrain — now about 12 percent of Caltrain riders bring bikes on board to help with the "last mile". She also championed the successful bike valet parking at events such as the Stanford football games, allowing thousands of fans to bike conveniently and safely to just outside the gates.
The trend we see in our communities reflects larger trends in the Bay Area and the nation. Nationwide, we have seen historic decreases (although small) in vehicle miles traveled per capita over six of the past seven years. Ridership for Caltrain has been jumping every month for the past two years, often exceeding 50,000 riders every day. New express buses equipped with Wi-Fi, from San Jose to Stanford Research Park, are popular, often with every seat filled. Our representatives are committed to making the region even better for cycling. Santa Clara County supervisors just awarded $10.4 million to significantly upgrade regional bike and pedestrian paths, connecting across borders and barriers from the foothills to the baylands.
Ultimately, it will be up to us to wake up to decide to try biking or transit. One cyclist testified recently, "Biking to work really doesn't add any time to my schedule. My round-trip bike time is about 1.5 hours. That's about the same time I was spending driving and then working out after work. The workout I get from my commute has opened a door to a whole world of bicycling and new friends. I feel great and I'm about 15-20 pounds lighter."
With your good will and participation, we can double our biking and walking. Our newly updated bike master plan calls for 15 percent bike commute share by 2020, an entirely feasible goal. Just do it!