Kent's Climate Tour

My solo bike tour exploring climate change solutions


Santa Cruz Gets Gold

Continuing the theme of bicycles as a climate change solution, I recently explored what earned Santa Cruz a gold award in the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Community program. Claire Fliesler, a city transportation planner, met me at a local coffee place and described the highlights. Of special note was the role of their local bicycle advocacy group, Bike Santa Cruz County, that did the lion’s share of compiling data and filling out the 16 page application. I’m used to seeing cities do their own applications for various projects and grants so this volunteer effort seemed pretty extraordinary to me. Way to go BSCC!
In my trips to Santa Cruz I have long been impressed with the number of people biking but I had no idea that the rate of bicycle commute trips there is 9.5%, second only to Davis, CA. 30% of students bike to school. 60% of Santa Cruz’s arterial streets have bike lanes, many the result of 4 lane to 3 lane road diet conversions. And 93% of their roads have a posted speed limit of 25mph.

In recent years the city has built several major projects designed to provide connectivity across barriers. Most recently the Arana Gulch trail (above) with two associated bridges was constructed. The trail provides an important east-west connection across a 68 acre greenbelt area, offering cyclists a tranquil crosstown alternative to busy Soquel Drive. Whether to build the facility or not was a long-running debate in the community. Some locals felt a trail would compromise the habitat value of the property. The project went through extensive review by the CA Coastal Commission who ultimately approved the $6.8mil project along with a program to help preserve the endangered Santa Cruz tarplant in this unique setting of coastal prairie.

The Arana Gulch trail project includes some innovative features. The trail itself is made of a porous, permeable concrete designed to minimize water pooling on the bikeway during wet weather.

The Hagerman Gulch Bridge, below, was built using what’s known as a stressed-ribbon bridge design.
  This construction technique uses two “ribbons” of heavy steel rope that are anchored on either side and precast concrete decking sections that are placed onto the ribbons by crane. The ribbons are tensioned, bringing the deck segments tightly together. The joints are then grouted and railings added, resulting in a graceful catenary span sealed from the elements.

  Perhaps this would be a good bridge construction method for creating bikeways over some of our freeways in the LA area (I’m thinking of a replacement for the 7th St. bridge near Santa Monica High that was removed when Caltrans widened the freeway there).

Above is the Felker Street Bridge, a steel truss type bike and pedestrian bridge that connects a dense multi-family neighborhood with the River Street commercial corridor. It spans the San Lorenzo River providing a valuable bike-ped crossing where the only other one is about a half mile away.

Adjacent to the Felker St. bridge is the Highway One Underpass, above, which extends the San Lorenzo River trail under this busy freeway. The river trail connects to the downtown area in one direction and provides a non-motorized connection to the recently built Tannery Arts Center in the other. The arts center has 100 affordable live-work units for artists, studios, galleries, a cafe and performance spaces (below).  
A cantilever bikeway was added to this bridge, above, and well-marked routing on the other side offer a creative solution to a tricky transition, below.


Buffered bike lanes have been installed on some streets, above.  Note how the generous parking lane provides room for trash bins so they don’t encroach into the bike lane.

  Downtown Santa Cruz is very bike and pedestrian friendly with low speed streets, lots of destinations and plenty of bike parking, including bike corrals. 100 bike lockers, accessed with a smart card, are available on a first-come-first-serve basis for 5 cents an hour. The lockers below are located next to the city’s Metro Center where numerous bus lines converge. 

Green pigmented bike lanes are being installed, particularly at conflict points like those seen below (the rail crossing seen here is part of the line under study mentioned further below).    

Contra-flow bike lanes have been installed on some one-way streets. Those seen below are on Beach Street next to the popular Boardwalk amusement park. Rubber curbs create separation between traffic lanes and the bi-directional bikeway.

Thirty intersections in the city use inductive loops like those below to detect cyclists and 10 intersection have video detection. Sometimes it is a bit of a mystery to know how to get a signal to respond when you are on a bike. So the city publishes a useful brochure to help cyclists understand where to position themselves to be detected. Very thoughtful; I like that!

Santa Cruz’s education programs also contribute to the city’s gold status. Green Ways to School (a program of Bike Santa Cruz County) provides school-based cycling instruction as well as their popular Bike the Bay youth ride that has introduced many young people to cycling. Bike Smart (run by Ecology Action) also provides in-school education, skills courses and rides. Santa Cruz schools also hold annual Bike and Walk to Schools days. Seven schools also hold these events on a monthly basis resulting in significant increases in biking and walking to these campuses throughout the year. Three schools are using RFID tags worn by kids biking and walking which log their trips when they arrive at school.

For enforcement the city not only targets speeding motorists but has a ticket diversion program for cyclists cited for moving violations. Offenders can take a bike safety course in lieu of paying a fine.

Looking to the future, Santa Cruz County and the city are participating in planning for the 50 mile Monterey Bay Scenic Trail, 32 miles of which will utilize a rail corridor now owned by the county for a rail-with-trail.
Over $20 mil in public and private funds have been secured to build four segments of the trail, or 8 miles. Construction is to begin soon as design, engineering and permitting are completed.

This same 32-mile corridor is part of a longer-range vision for a regional passenger rail line that will roughly parallel Highway 1 in the area. The concept is the subject of a rail transit study underway including surveying the public about their needs and preferences.
The city of Santa Cruz, with a population of 63,000, has set ambitious goals for greenhouse gas emission reduction: 30% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. To achieve this the city’s Climate Action Plan has begun several programs, including:

 – 7 large municipal solar projects generating 1,200,000kWh of electricity (as of 2014).

– Over 1000 solar installations throughout the city and growing. The city provides technical assistance and is piloting a streamlined permitting process.

– The EnergySage solar marketplace assists residents and businesses finding and comparing pre-screened installers and identifying rebates.

– Energy efficiency programs, such as LED street lights, have cut municipal energy use 40%.

– Expanding the city’s zero-emission vehicle fleet (10 vehicles now) and installing EV charge stations. 

– Promoting the city’s Green Building program, which has 76 award-level projects around the city.

– Promoting the city’s Green Business program, now with 125 certified green businesses.

– Car sharing. 9 Zipcars are available in the city.

– And of course, expanding the use of bicycles and transit.

 Santa Cruz is doing a lot of wonderful, forward-looking climate solution stuff but I would be remiss not to mention another important climate change-related campaign in the city. Unfortunately, Hwy 1 is in the middle of an ongoing widening project, expanding it from 4 lanes to 6 with extensive merge lanes making it even wider. This really makes my heart sink. Haven’t we learned the futility of adding more capacity to an obsolete transportation paradigm? Judging from the plethora of widening projects we’ve had in LA, the only changes that I’ve seen them bring are more cars dumped onto our surface streets, more fuel burned, no improvements in congestion and huge sums of money squandered.

Sorry to end this post on a down note but we really need to learn from our mistakes and stop digging ourselves in deeper. Our country just set ambitious goals in Paris to drastically cut our CO2 emissions. To stand any hope of meeting those targets we need to divert funding from the highway engineering-industrial complex* and put these folks to work on projects that prepare us for the future!


(*A term I’ve coined. Many similarities to the military-industial complex: both are juggernauts made up of myriad contractors, consultants and suppliers, consume huge sums of public money on misguided projects to protect us from trumped-up threats, wield massive political influence and are enabled by sympathetic government bureaucrats whose careers are tied this work.)

For more info about Santa Cruz’s bicycle programs, check here.


Below are more images of Santa Cruz’s bikeway infrastructure.

Traffic diverter that prevents motor vehicle through traffic.


New access ramp to multi-use path on rail bridge over San Lorenzo River.

San Lorenzo River trail and wayfinding signs


The scenic West Cliff Drive multi-use path


Reflecting on Paris

A historic climate agreement was reached in Paris a week ago Saturday.  This was very likely a watershed moment that will change the course of the climate crisis.  I am still moved as I read the accounts of the extraordinary effort and innovative diplomacy that went into it.

But many within the environmental / climate activist community have called the agreement inadequate to the task at hand.  It is widely acknowledged that the Paris agreement alone does not stipulate the changes needed to keep global warming in the safe range.  But it is nonetheless a significant, unanimously endorsed start and probably the best plan possible now.  Here’s why.

Important parts of the deal are non-binding and the regulatory mechanisms each country will use to achieves their reductions were left up to them.  This voluntary nature was apparently essential to get universal buy-in.  And for that we can largely thank the Republican leadership in the US Congress that has gone on record with their intensions to scuttle a binding agreement.  Because of the US’s role as the 2nd largest CO2 emitter, the world’s largest economy and a technological powerhouse, this agreement had to accommodate our political reality or leave out a pivotal player.  Other large countries were also unwilling to legally commit themselves to specific targets.  In light of this, a legally binding agreement may have simply been impossible.

And even the voluntary targets that were set by countries, while inadequate in themselves, will require extraordinary changes and have major negative impacts on fossil fuel industries.  We can expect strong pushback from them and their supporters in Congress.  Unless and until there is more intense popular support for stronger actions, the Paris agreement looks like the best tool we have to work with for now.

Like many others, I’ve been wondering how this non-binding agreement could motivate nations to begin making the really tough changes needed.  Does it all just hinge on promises?  Part of the answer may lie in the the intense level of preparation, the dead-serious negotiations and the general gravitas that all participants brought to the talks.  By the accounts I’ve read, there was no room for or tolerance of climate change denial; everyone seemed to be on the same page that this must be done.  The eyes of the world were truly upon this event and will remain on the follow-through, thanks to the reporting requirements of the deal.  And everyone knows that the eyes of future generations will look back and judge us as we move forward from here, either taking the tough steps to transform our societies or taking the easy way out.  There is probably no better motivator than one’s own conscience (though one’s pocketbook may dispute that).

Yes, some countries may re-neg on commitments (some for legitimate reasons).  But if the majority of signatories keep their word this can still have a huge impact.  The effects of major shifts in policies, subsidies, technology and investments should ripple through commerce in profound ways.  Perhaps individual nations and large corporations could discourage trade with countries that aren’t living up to their commitments.  All of this should make fossil fuels increasingly obsolete.   This shift may even spur a sort of green renaissance when the multiple benefits of de-carbonizing and improving energy efficiency demonstrate just how well we can live when unshackled from the tyranny of cheap, dirty energy and wasteful consumption.

But it is probably that tyranny – the influence of powerful special interests preventing or slowing progress – that will determine our ability to meet the goals set in Paris more so than national resolve or the availability of resources.  Wresting our future from the grip of the entrenched energy goliaths will be our biggest challenge I think.

We now move from planning to implementation.  Many states, cities and businesses are already doing this, requiring more renewable sources of energy, providing incentives and investing in clean technologies.  And Obama’s Clean Power Plan is a good start (assuming it can survive Republican efforts to kill it).  But the federal government must do much more, giving clear direction to agencies to make this a priority.  A starter list could include shifting subsidies and tax breaks away from dirty energy to instead fund research and commercialization of renewable energy and green technologies, cutting back and ending leases for coal and oil on public lands, implementing ever-stronger efficiency standards for vehicles and appliances, and hopefully putting a meaningful price on carbon to create a strong economic incentive to change.

Climate change activists will have a big role to play, holding our federal government to a high standard, pushing industry to move faster and keeping the message in the media.  The 2016 elections will be an important place to focus our energies.  The Paris agreement can be both a rallying cry for organizing and a litmus test for candidates.

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A visit to Bike East Bay

Wonk alert: One of the themes of my tour is to explore the work of bike advocacy groups in CA cities, particularly to learn from the strategies and experiences they’ve had dealing with the pushback to bikeway proposals that they’ve encountered from community groups and others. The following is more technical than my other posts, intended for those interested in this work.
 I met recently with Dave Campbell, Bike East Bay’s Advocacy Director (seen above with Executive Director Renee Rivera) at their office on Jack London Square in Oakland. He gave me a rundown of some of their campaigns and strategies.  


 A significant success they have had recently is the approval of the addition of protected bike lanes to a southern section of Telegraph Ave., a major commercial corridor and one with some similarities to the My Fig project in DTLA. The project has been fully funded. The inclusion of these innovative (for the U.S.) bikeways is the result of some diligent lobbying and collaboration with the city and community, demonstrating how a cordial, persistent, well-informed campaign can change outcomes.    
The city’s initial plan was for a straightforward lane reduction from 5 lanes to 3 lanes with bike lanes added to the left of curbside parking. Bike East Bay’s analysis showed that the project actually had the opportunity to create protected bike lanes with the bikeway situated on the right side of parked cars. The city’s initial rejection of the concept might have stopped less informed advocacy efforts. But, drawing on an arsenal of recently approved roadway design documents while developing rapport with city staff, Dave and his colleagues persevered and their proposals gained respect.   
Another factor that needed to be addressed in the project was the heavy bus traffic on Telegraph Ave. Introducing conventional bike lanes there also meant introducing potential difficulties that can arise when cyclists are stuck behind buses stopped at the curb to pick up passengers. The solution they found was to create bus islands at key stops, routing the protected bikeway to pass behind them (see illustration for Hearst, further below). This will allow boarding to occur without blocking cyclists. An added benefit will be realized by the buses as they will be able to stop in their travel lane and not have to wait to get back into traffic, thereby helping to keep them on schedule. Funding was also found to provide communication between buses and signals so they are able facilitate bus travel with green lights. These two project enhancements served to make the local transit agency a valuable supporter of the new design. 
Equally important to getting this project approved was winning the support of the merchants on the street, especially since 18% of curbside parking would be lost, often considered a deal-breaker by businesses. Overcoming merchant objections required extensive door-to-door outreach, meeting with numerous groups and individuals, circulating a petition that was signed by scores of supportive businesses and ultimately winning the support of the local business improvement association. Many businesses were finally convinced when they were able to see a pop-up, one-day demonstration of the new configuration.  
While the southern segment of the project won the support of a majority of merchants, those in the northern segment remain unconvinced. This district is enjoying more commercial success with lots of new restaurants and shops and and merchants there are not yet willing to take what they perceive as a risk. So the project is being envisioned as two phases, with the southern segment moving ahead and the northern merchants waiting to see how it plays out before deciding whether it’s right for them. Bike East Bay didn’t get the whole project they had sought but this incremental strategy to demonstrate the success in the first phase seems smart to me.
   Another protected bike lane campaign that the group has underway focuses on Hearst Ave. For this project they obtained enlarged copies of the city’s concept illustrations and added overlays of the improvements they want incorporated (above). These are used in community meetings to help community members visualize the benefits of their recommendations. Like the Telegraph Ave. project, a pop-up, temporary installation of the recommended features was also created for Hearst.
  This project would also benefit from bus boarding islands, which Dave is pointing out above.  

 Above, illustrations that Bike East Bay created for their desired improvements to 14th St. in Oakland and Bancroft Way in Berkeley. 
Here is a compilation of some of Bike East Bay’s strategies for building support for challenging bikeway projects: 
– Circulate a petition that project supporters sign. It may be necessary to augment the often limited outreach that municipalities are able to do. The petition should be worded carefully so that solutions are not too specific, allowing concerns to be addressed as the design evolves.

– Get accident data for the project area to demonstrate the need for improvements.  

– Create a well-illustrated handout to distribute to community members and decision makers. Include (for instance) crash data, survey results, photo examples of alternative treatments, simple map of project area, traffic data, etc. 

– Compile letters of support from respected groups and individuals.

– Present a list of groups that advocates have spoken to about the project, meetings held, etc.

– Insist that the city track the public input they are receiving so they have some tally of numbers for and against.

– Concerns about congestion and delays that the project might cause are common but perceptions about delays are often exaggerated. Address these with real traffic counts and delay numbers from similar projects.

– Use your membership database to map members who are closest to project and target them for focused outreach.

– Get to know opposition leaders. Meet with them to listen, understand their concerns, explain the project better. Stay in touch with them, alert them to steps in the process so they feel included.

– Understand who is influencing recalcitrant elected officials by researching who their big donors are.

– Do the technical homework, learn what bikeway design practices are being recommended and used elsewhere. Cite recommended designs. 

Some documents to use include:

NAACTO Handbook

NAACTO Urban Street Design Guide

Massachusetts DOT Separated Bike Lane Planning & Design Guide

Copenhagen Focus On Cycling guide (pdf is online)

Seattle bus islands (example to cite)

Consider supporting or running desired candidates on key boards and commissions if needed for approval.

– Obtain drawings of the project area and overlay desired features onto them.
As I prepared to leave members were arriving for one of their regular volunteer get-togethers with food and socializing, below. 


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Climate activists rally in Santa Cruz


I returned to Santa Cruz this past Saturday so I could be in town for a climate action rally. On Sunday a crowd of over 150 marched from downtown Santa Cruz to San Lorenzo Park for this event to raise awareness about global warming and draw attention to the upcoming climate talks in Paris.   
As the marchers made their way down Pacific Garden Mall their placards drew attention to a host of interconnected issues and perspectives: divestment from fossil fuels, the folly of widening Hwy 1, the need for locally grown food, putting a price on carbon, stopping fracking, adopting renewable fuels, support Bernie Sanders, etc. One even warned of the danger of angering St. Precaria (?).

  At San Lorenzo Park, above, Santa Cruz’s Mayor Don Lane led off the afternoon’s speakers with a proclamation from the City Council urging strong action to avert climate change and pledging the city to do its part. In fact the city is already doing a lot as I learned when I spoke with the Mayor later. I’ll be exploring their many green programs in a later post.

Prof. Rick Nolthenius (above) who teaches climate science at Cabrillo College sobered the crowd up when he explained that even stopping carbon emissions won’t be enough to stabilize the climate; we must also find ways to pull carbon out of the atmosphere if we are to avoid the devastating impacts that we are on course for. (I sat in on one of his classes last night where he discussed the implications of polar, glacial and tundra ice melting around the world at an accelerating rate.)  

 The last group to speak were students from the Fossil Free UCSC group who are urging the university to divest its holdings in fossil fuels. These investments still represent about $3 billion of the school’s portfolio according to the speakers. They expressed anger and disappointment that they have not been able to participate in any of the meetings where these matters are decided, despite repeated requests.

 The rally participants were diverse and eclectic, reflecting Santa Cruz’s unique culture and long history of political activism. It was heartening to see the many young people taking a lead on this issue which will surely have a dramatic impact on them as their lives unfold.

As the date of the UN climate talks in Paris approaches, rallies will be held around the world this coming Sunday, the 29th, including a big one at City Hall in Downtown LA at 1PM.

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San Francisco bikeways

I think I was the 2,368th eastbound cyclist on Market street yesterday.  The city has an impressive volume of cyclists which really picks up during the evening commute, below.   

Market Street’s bikeways were recently upgraded to a variety of buffered and pigmented lanes.  Private vehicles are still allowed though discouraged from the red zones reserved for trains and taxis. 

In other stretches bikes share the space with cars, below. 

In some places bikes can bypass right turn lanes… 

 .. in other places they share them with cars.  Here that’s seen with a speed restriction posted (though neither cars or bikes seemed to abide by it). 

Polk Street (below) is a one-way street that comes into Market that recently got a contra-flow bike lane.  Here it is even protected with a narrow island. 

Closer to the City Hall it is just striped and equipped with bike-specific signals. Note the back-in angle parking on the far side, a nice way to orient parked cars so drivers have a direct view of cyclists as they prepare to pull out. It looks like the parking access lane runs opposite the main traffic flow, which seems odd to me but I’m glad to see that the city is willing to try unique solutions.

Bike boxes are sprinkled throughout the city where needed.  They allow cyclists to position themselves at the head of the line so they can make a safe start when the lights change.   

The one below is designed to facilitate a two-step left turn. 

Yep, the city has bike share, apparently well used, judging from this near-empty dock area along Market, below. 

Below you can see the density of docks throughout the downtown area. 

This bike corral is protected with very beefy bollards, a much different approach than the plastic, deflectable bollards that Santa Monica uses around their corrals.  

Below, a clever high-capacity bike rack integrated into a parklet in front of Four Barrel Coffee on Valencia.  Not compatible with my Brompton, but I just brought it in with me as usual. 

 Elsewhere in the city the bikeways inevitably encounter hills,

  Useful wayfinding / route markers, below. 
 I didn’t go out of my way much to avoid the hills.  In my limited explorations I didn’t find them to be insurmountable.  I did see some electric bikes, too, a good strategy if you need it.  Here’s a classy example, the Faraday, seen at Huckleberry Bikes on Market Street.   Batteries concealed in the down tube, belt drive, integrated lights, fenders and a frame-mounted front rack.  About $3500.


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Bikes on board in Bay Area


 Bound for the Bay Area from Santa Cruz, I took the Highway 17 Express bus from the Santa Cruz Metro Center to Diridon Station in San Jose. From there I took the Caltrain (above) to San Francisco. This is a well established commuter rail system that serves many of the penninsula’s cities from San Jose to San Francisco. It’s been in operation since 1987, is 77 miles long, has 32 stations and sees about 58000 boardings a day.  
 I had been hearing about the bike cars on Caltrain for years but this was my first chance to use them.  Initially, they just removed a few seats to make room for bikes.  They eventually dedicated a whole car to bikes, then two cars and now have custom two-level cars for bikes and their owners.  You can see the seating area above the bike storage space in the above photo (there are about 20 seats on the upper level and eight on the bike level).  
From the upper level you can keep an eye on your bike (look closely in above photo).  There’s a capacious luggage tray between the two rows of single seats. Very clever use of space.

Out the window as we went by the Palo Alto station, below, look closely and you can see a lot of bike parking, including lockers.  Sure hope we’re able to add more bike parking to the Expo Line stations if a need like this arises over time. 

  Google bike directions indicated Cesar Chavez (below) was a good route to get from the 22nd St. station to my destination. Sure enough, it had buffered bike lanes in the first stretch, an extra margin of safety for cyclists in this industrial area with lots of trucks.  
Below, a separated bike path and bridge provided a safe undercrossing of the 101 freeway, a welcome facility for what is often a treacherous place for cyclists to navigate.


  Above, extensive wayfinding signage at an important fork in the road, a bit hard to see though.

Nice seating in this generous curb bulbout at the foot of Van Ness at Cesar Chavez.

 I needed to use my lowest gears but made it to my friend Paul’s in Noe Valley.  Tomorrow I visit the folks at Bike East Bay.


On the rails north

I decided to leapfrog the fierce Central CA headwinds this time of year and take Amtrak to the Bay Area Monday.  This part of my tour will demonstrate how well a folding bike can work for multi-modal travel.   

 I jumped on the #10 Big Blue Bus (above) with my gear to get Downtown.  Bike goes under the seat, no worries about the rack on front being full.  

 At Union Station I walked my bike and luggage through the lobby…   

 …and onto the train platform.  If I had a full-sized bike I’d have had to box it and send it as checked baggage on the Coast Starlight train (Pacific Surfliner allows bikes to roll on but it only goes to San Luis Obispo).  With my folding bike I just bring it on board and put it in the luggage area of my car.  Then I relax for a very civilized journey up the coast.  

Chatting with fellow travelers can make train travel a very social experience.  This woman runs a whale watching tour out of Santa Cruz.    
We get a rare view of the front of our train as we climb inland east of San Luis Obispo.   
Hwy 101 and the Cuesta Grade come into view, above.  As I was enjoying this lovely sunset vista I was startled to see what looked like so many dead oak trees on the hillsides.  Look closely: over half the trees are brown.  If this is tree die-off from the drought, it looks pretty serious.  Gov. Brown has declared a tree emergency, calling this “the worst epidemic of tree mortality in modern history”.  Among other things, he is encouraging utilities to accelerate contracts for bioenergy projects that can use forest products, presumably dead trees.  Better to use them for fuel in a controlled combustion process than to see them burn in a wild fire.

I got off the train in San Jose around 9:30PM and caught an express bus to Santa Cruz then rode my bike with luggage to my destination.  That’s two bike rides, two bus rides and one train ride to get here.  It all worked very smoothly.  I’ll set off to San Francisco Wednesday with plans to visit the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and Bicycle East Bay.