Guest Opinion: Just do it! Biking will make you healthy, wealthy and on time | February 1, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - February 1, 2013

Guest Opinion: Just do it! Biking will make you healthy, wealthy and on time

Start the year out right by exploring the city's numerous opportunities for easy cycling

by Yoriko Kishimoto

How are you doing on your New Year's resolutions? It's not too late to start a lifelong habit to truly make you healthier, wealthier and wiser. You guessed it — it is walking and biking on a daily basis.

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

• 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!

Yoriko Kishimoto is a director of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Ward 2 and former mayor of Palo Alto. This column is written in memory of Ellen Fletcher, our late bicycle pioneer, with special thanks to Kathy Durham and Penny Ellson and all who champion Safe Routes to School.


Like this comment
Posted by Driver
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 1, 2013 at 3:46 pm

I would like to see a greater move to get bike riders to use lights at night.

It is starting to stay lighter later, but over the past couple of months I have seen many, many bikes being ridden by people wearing dark clothes and not using lights at evening commute time. This has been on residential "safe" streets as well as busier heavy traffic volume streets.

It is no good a bike rider saying I can see OK. The reason they need them is so that they can be seen. This is particularly true when they are doing illegal things (which they shouldn't do anyway) such as riding on the wrong side of the street or not stopping at stop signs. Even on intersections without a stop sign, an approaching vehicle's lights at 90 degrees will not catch the bikes rear reflector making the bike completely invisible if it is in the vehicles left horizon since vehicle headlights angle towards the right.

It is illegal for bikes to not have lights at night. So be lit, be legal and be safe.

Like this comment
Posted by tries to bike
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Palo Alto has done a decent job in improving bike safety around the city, especially in north-south bike routes. I think a few more changes can make a big difference, however, especially for east-west bicycle travel. Bicycle routes that safely cross Hwy 101, Alma, El Camino, or Hwy 280 are too sparse. I do hope that the city can work on these to give us a complete network of bicycle-safe routes around the city and connecting to neighboring cities.

Like this comment
Posted by Sparty
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 2, 2013 at 12:53 am

I'd say 1/3 times I drive down Lambert, there is a bike or bikes running the stop sign at Lambert and Park. How about the police write a few tickets--I know they're not busy, I see them sitting/standing around in the Stanford Ave starbucks parking lot 2,3,4 at a time. It's bad enough the bikes run the stop sign, but the kids almost never even look, just ride on through.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Palo Alto is incredibly flat so there's really very little excuse not to bike except for the temperatures :-)

Like this comment
Posted by green acres
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 2, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Just don't wear the ballerina tights. Men look downright silly in them, with their behinds stuck up in everyone's face. The colors are atrocious also. Peacocks in spandex.

"hey everyone, look at me and my...." Seriously, what man (with daughters,) would prance out of the house wearing those????

Walk. Lift. Jog. Yoga. But if you ride, wear something loose and don't pretend to be a ballerina. Talk about mixed messages.

Like this comment
Posted by Check it Out
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 2, 2013 at 1:16 pm

On recent trips to the Netherlands, we noticed that there appeared to be no overweight Dutch people, in spite of the fact that the Dutch eat a lot of cheese, meat and Nutella, and drink a lot of beer. However the majority of the Dutch people bikeride everywhere they go, rain or shine. Their bikes are built to accommodate dresses, children, groceries, and come with covers to keep kids and groceries dry, leaving no excuses for not biking. The roads have berms separating bike lanes from pedestrian lanes, and bike lanes have a slightly higher berm separating them from traffic.

I have not been to Denmark, but have been told by those who have that the roads are similar to those in the Netherlands, and that the Danish have a variation of the Dutch bike. And again, the Danish eat rich food and drinks lots of beer, but seem to have no national obesity problem.

Like this comment
Posted by green acres
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 2, 2013 at 1:32 pm

The Dutch don't drink a lot of beer. They're 17, the US is 10. Web Link A lot of countries have "rich food" they just eat less of it than the gluttons in the US.

And they don't wear silly outfits that scream 'LOOK AT ME!'

Web Link

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Neener
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 4, 2013 at 10:25 am

Dutch drink BETTER beer, a s do the Belgians,, Danish, and French.

Most people in Europe bikeride wearing street clothes, because their bikes are built to accommodate long skirts, pant legs, etc. No need for silly outfits.

Most Europeans never wear helmets, nor do their children.

Food in Europe is a much bigger portion of one's budget than it is here, so I assume they choose more carefully. European refrigerators are very small, necessitating daily shopping.

I must add that I have seen Japanese tourists in Paris licking their dessert plates, a gross violation of their code of manners!

Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Portola Valley
on Feb 4, 2013 at 10:49 am

"I have seen Japanese tourists in Paris licking their dessert plates, a gross violation of their code of manners!"

Yeah, but dessert in Paris? Hey, if you're going to do it anywhere... that's the place!


Mega ditto's on the whole stupid outfit thing with a bunch of drama queens screaming "LOOKITME!"

How long does the average rider wear that girly spandex before a friend saddles up to him and say "hey, joe, I know you really dig the new sport and everything, but any idea what everyone is whispering about your spandex and love handle combo? It reminds me of that summer you thought speedos were a good idea, and the year you thought mullets were cool, and the time..."

Like this comment
Posted by tax payer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I had posted this on the thread about city priorities, but perhaps it's more appropriate here...

"I'm not happy with the city "services" so I'm not sure who was surveyed. It's pretty astonishing to see the mediocrity and inefficiency of the various administrative departments. Add to that the embarrassing condition of our local streets and it makes me wonder where the money goes.

"For all the talk about promoting green living by riding a bike or walking, it's downright hazardous to do that in my neighborhood. The pavements are so broken up that it's more of an obstacle course to find a safe path for bike tires. No safe routes to school at all. It's a basic govt service to maintain the local roads and you're telling me they want a bond measure to do that?!?!"

If the city truly wants to promote bike riding, then start with the basics - just make the pavements smooth! The lifted concrete slabs and enormous cracks make it impossible to ride in a straight line. If you do, the wheels get trapped, tires get punctured, and riders go flying. If you zigzag to avoid the problems, then riders get hit by cars and then go flying. And none of this has anything to do with following street signs or traffic signals or wearing lights.

My kids ride their bikes everywhere - they have lights and extra reflectors. Now that I bike commute, too, I am outraged at the state of our roads! City hall, are you listening???

Like this comment
Posted by tax payer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Earlier, I posted about the sorry state of the roads.

Now, I'm posting about the sorry state of the drivers. My son just came home from Paly after sports practice and was struck by a car turning right on red, from southbound Alma onto westbound Churchill.

Yes, he stopped before entering the cross walk across Alma. Yes, he had the pedestrian "white walking man" signal. Yes, he had his helmet on and his headlight on and his taillight on. Luckily, he was alert enough that he just has a bad bruise on his leg BUT he was wigged out. AND the driver stopped briefly... wide-eyed... then sped off and was gone.

Slow down people!

Like this comment
Posted by Tell me
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2013 at 11:03 am

Tell me about it. It has happened to me three times in the 19 years I have lived here. It is Important to get the CDL number, so the driver can be tracked down and charged.

In my case, two of the injuries were severe enough to require surgery, and my health insurance company refused to pay until the driver ( liable third party) paid. In one case, we had to go to court. In the most recent, the guy was very wealthy and well-known, and settled out of court. Ironically, he had no plates on his car, but he lived very close to where he hit me, and I managed to follow him home.