Advocating for a bicycle culture by the Bay

By Ryan Johnson, Planner, Alta Planning + Design

“Mainstreaming the Bike in California.” That was the objective on everyone’s mind this past weekend at the California Bicycle Coalition’s statewide summit in Oakland. I traveled from L.A. with my colleague Jessie Holzer to share our experiences working on Safe Routes to School projects in Southern California, while also soaking up knowledge and experiences from the other 200 attendees. The positive energy at the summit was palpable, and it reminded me why I got into this line of work in the first place.

We saw many of our friends from Southern California, but we also made new friends from other parts of the state. I was very impressed by the strides being made in San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, and other cities to make bicycling safer and more attractive for people of all abilities and backgrounds. The many panel sessions had an overarching theme of building a diverse community of bike riders, which will be achieved through encouragement, education, compassionate enforcement, and the provision of high-quality bicycle paths, cycle tracks, and traffic-calmed streets.

photo credit: Maria Sipin
photo credit: Maria Sipin.

On the summit’s first day, I was part of my first-ever conference panel, titled “Creating a Comprehensive Safe Routes to School Program that lasts.” I joined our partner Cynthia Rose from Santa Monica Spoke to share lessons learned from the Santa Monica Safe Routes to School pilot program. I was nervous in the days leading up to the summit, but I immediately became comfortable when the session started. An audience of 30–40 people crowded into our small room to hear about our innovative collaboration between the City, bicycling advocates (SM Spoke), and Alta Planning + Design.

ryan j conference 2

The group was especially interested in the Family Bike Fest that we organized to kick off the program and in the City’s first Kidical Mass ride — both of which encouraged hundreds of families to get on their bikes. Cynthia explained how the in- and after-school bike skills classes have made children more confident cycling on city streets. Finally, we made clear that an actively involved advocacy group is the key to making a Safe Routes to School program sustainable after the consultant’s contract ends. I had fun talking to other advocates about the Santa Monica program and answering their questions about specific components. I hope they go home and replicate the success that we had.

Santa Monica’s first Kidical Mass ride.

I attended several other panels over the weekend, including sessions on the Bay Area Bike Share program, model bicycle parking ordinances, innovative funding sources for active transportation, and group bicycle rides and parties as a tool to encourage new bicycle riders. I also caught my fellow Altoid Jessie presenting with Cynthia Rose on “Promoting Safe Active Transportation in Schools & Communities.”

Alta's Jessie Holzer

After the summit ended, Jessie and I spent time in Berkeley and San Francisco to check out some excellent bicycle infrastructure and observe the local bicycling culture. Berkeley’s numerous “Bicycle Boulevards”, with a steady flow of families and commuters cruising around the signature landscaped traffic circles, always impress me.

In San Francisco, we instantly became fans of Market Street’s protected bicycle lanes and the region’s beautiful blue Bike Share bicycles.

All in all, our visit to the Bay Area for the CalBike summit was very fun and educational. I’m excited that California and its many cities are moving forward toward a safer and more inclusive bicycling future, and I’m fortunate to be a part of this movement.