Thanks mostly to Mountain View's expansion of its creekside trails and a bike sharing program set for installation this fall, Mountain View earned a spot as a silver-level bike friendly community on Oct. 18, the city's best showing. It had been ranked at the bronze level in 2004 and 2008.
The designation was made after a routine application this year by city officials seeking to keep Mountain View as one of the country's 242 "Bicycle Friendly Communities" picked by the Washington, D.C.-based League of American Bicyclists.
"While we are proud of this new designation, and the improvements that have been made in recent years, we know there is still much more that can be done to make Mountain View more bike- and pedestrian-friendly and I'm sure we will continue to work toward that end," said City Manager Dan Rich, who occasionally commutes by bike from Palo Alto to City Hall.
Mountain View leaves the ranks of neighboring bronze-level cities like Menlo Park, Los Altos, Sunnyvale and San Jose, but it's still behind Palo Alto, Stanford and San Francisco, the Bay Area's three communities that have a gold rating.
Several Mountain View cyclists who have been pushing for better bike routes in the city cheered the achievement, calling it "good news" in emails. But they said the city still has some difficult work to do. Some point to what Palo Alto has done, with high rates of biking among students, its innovative bike boulevards which allow through-traffic only for bicyclists and pedestrians and its narrowing of Arastradero Road. The "road diet" is something bike advocates want to see for California Street and Shoreline Boulevard in the wake of fatal accidents that killed three pedestrians on those streets this year. It would eliminate a traffic lane to allow for wider bike lanes and encourage lower speeds for cars.
To achieve the new rating, city officials pointed to a bevy of improvements since 2008, including over $16 million in new bike bridges on extensions of the Stevens Creek and Permanent Creek trails. Also considered was a new bike boulevard, finished in fall 2011, from the downtown train station to Knickerbocker Drive and Heatherstone Way. While it doesn't favor bike traffic like a Palo Alto bike boulevard, it includes large directional signs with key destinations, distances and estimated travel times, as well as improved bike lane striping on The Americana, special pavement markings, traffic signage and additional traffic signal loop detectors for bicycles, said public works engineer Helen Kim in an email.
The rating also took into account a regional bike-sharing system set for installation late this year, placing 117 bikes at stations around Mountain View for use by anyone who pays a nominal membership fee.
"Bike-sharing systems have had really tremendous impact on not just getting mode share, it also provides a really low barrier to start riding," said Carolyn Scepanski, director of communications for the League. "Here in Washington, D.C. and other places like it, you see that more women are riding with the bike-share system than you would see in the general population."
There's also the fact that Mountain View hasn't seen a bike-related fatality in over five years, which is "huge" Scepanski said. And as bicycling rates increase, bike advocates say collisions involving bikes become fewer and fewer.
Scepanski had several suggestions for improving the rating. Perhaps the biggest challenge is that the city needs more "protected bike infrastructure," Scepanski said, such as bike lanes with extra width or bike lanes placed between parked cars and the curb. To promote that, she said, the city could adopt a "complete streets policy," as other cities have done, which encourages the development of bicycle and pedestrian-friendly streets.
Scepanski also mentioned the use of "Cycle Tracks," a smart phone application used by San Francisco, Monterey and other cities to track routes that cyclists favor in order to better plan the placement of new bike infrastructure.
The League also promotes enforcement as one of its guiding principles for cities. Police should have special training on bicycle laws, have a "point-person to interact with cyclists" and distribute share-the-road brochures, preferably in English and Spanish, Scepanski said. Such efforts generally target motorists to raise awareness that cyclists have a right to use the road, and to educate them how to safely pass a cyclist, she said.
Only three cities in the country have reached the League's platinum rating: Boulder, Colo.; Portland, Ore. and Davis. The League recently introduced a yet-to-be-achieved diamond rating in order to push the bar even higher.
Mountain View's bike use among commuters is rapidly rising, from 4.1 percent of commuters using bikes in 2010 to 6.2 percent in 2011, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data on hOw commuters use different modes of transportation.
"If mode share is going up, the community is obviously doing something right," Scepanski said. "Mountain View needs to be looking more like Davis or Boulder," Scepanski said, which have 16.6 and 9.6 percent of commuters travel by bike, respectively. "Smaller towns tend to have a higher bike mode share than a major metropolis like Portland," which has a bike commuting mode share of 6.3 percent despite its platinum rating.