The following excerpt is from Chapter One of “How America Can Bike and Grow Rich, the NBG Manifesto” (HBGR). As a visualization well steeped in experience, we are using our 11th annual, now international, Mayors’ Ride HERE as a tune-up for the proposed 2015 Mayors’ Ride that will make a lot of what we are calling for in this new book real. And yet, as you will see if you read all of Chapter One, the City of San Jose, where our ride starts, is leaving very little to chance. They are very serious about becoming one of the Nation’s top bike cities:
“Hey Hans, looks like we got a good crowd this year,” I observed as I looked around the massive city hall complex. It took up a full city block. City Hall itself stood 18 stories tall as a gleaming structure that was at the center of a downtown that had undergone a complete facelift. As with all our previous Mayors’ Ride visits, on our way in, we were reminded how thoroughly San Jose had reinvented itself in the last decade.
For block after block, there were new street lamps, benches and other new street furniture. Power poles and power lines were absent. The streets had been narrowed to make way for the wider and far more walkable sidewalks. All the storefronts along the way had been modernized. The infrastructure needed to support the city’s extensive light rail network, could be seen everywhere. New parks and wide promenades seemed to tell of a municipality fueled by a bold vision.
Just outside the doors to one of City Hall’s several entrance ways, folding tables had been set up with NBG literature, copies of our books, bagels and several tubs of bottled water and juice. Despite all the attention my group and I were getting, I knew the real focus would soon be on the inhabitants of the building that anchored this complex. We were all waiting for the Mayor to greet us with the first of this year’s 20 other NBG Day proclamations.
Hans represented the San Jose Department of Transportation. He was its director and he and I had talked a lot over the last few years about the logistics of our annual celebration. We shook hands. “Come on Martin, the Mayor’s almost ready for you guys,” he said as he signaled to the media that we had to relocate while we waited for the Mayor.
As we started to walk the short way to where our event would take place, he continued, “So you’re ‘gonna do the whole thing this year on that thing, huh. That’s impressive – I’m always amazed when I see you demonstrate for the press. I ‘gotta admit you do make it look easy but how you get so high up there and then float around just looks so cool”.
Hans looked the part of the cyclist he was. Fit and sandy haired, he was a bit taller than myself. He and I were headed to an area in the wide-open plaza that filled almost half of the massive City Hall complex where a podium with the official seal for the city of San Jose and a microphone had been set up. Behind it, a small stage was covered with wires, amplifiers, and a handful of musicians and their instruments. The small band was playing a blues tune that became more and more audible as we approached.
“I say we get this show on the road,” Hans said as we strolled over to where all the attention would soon be focused.
Just as we got to the speaking area, Mayor Reed appeared. A man with strong features and a receding hairline, Chuck was respected widely and I felt honored that he always made time for our annual event. But how could he not? He shared the enthusiasm of his fellow city and staff leaders to turn San Jose into the world leader in sustainable transportation. Armed with a general plan within which the bicycle filled a big part of the equation, he is blessed with some of the best weather on the planet and a healthy smorgasbord of mostly flat roads that make up the valley floor his population center occupies.
Nor could it hurt that some of the world’s best back road cycling could be found in the two mountain ranges that border both sides of his city. On one side is the beautiful Coast Range that separates his constituents from Santa Cruz and the Pacific Ocean. While on the other are the gentle, bike friendly switchbacks of 4,300 foot-tall Mt Hamilton. It is this hill work that modern day cyclists on their geared two wheelers enjoy today, while long ago, at the turn of the last century, its many many miles of level terrain established San Jose as a Mecca for San Francisco Bay Area cyclists. And it is this preponderance of even turf today that has helped to make its monthly San Jose Bike Party, a ride that attracts thousands, the biggest in the world as it grooms a whole new generation of far less car dependent bike riders.
Led by the bicycle in its plan to get people out of their cars, the new San Jose that has emerged in the last decade and a half, long has felt the pull of its rich two-wheel heritage. In the late 1800’s, even when there were only 4,000 people living there, there were still 27 bike clubs, an equal number of bike shops and its bike racing was the most popular spectator sport in the entire state. In fact, its velodrome, Hellyer Park, after it was built in 1963, to honor its original 1892 two wheel raceway, stood for two decades as the only bike racing track west of the Mississippi until one was built near Los Angeles for the 1984 Olympic games.
As testimony to the honor the city holds for its bicycle roots, on one of our recent Mayors’ Ride visits to City Hall, John Brazil, their Bike Coordinator, took several of us on a tour of the many exhibits they have of bikes at work and play in turn of the 20th century San Jose. From olden day mail carriers to the bikes that moved fruit around in the many orchards that used to fill these lands, each display was made up of a bike that had been fully restored along with its history tastefully displayed on a handsome plaque. At the ground level floor of the cavernous city business building, it seemed like every time we turned a corner, a new two-wheeled presentation appeared.
“So we have come here today to honor the possibilities that the National Bicycle Greenway can mean for Americans and for our great city,” the Mayor began. Holding the San Jose proclamation before himself, he read,
WHEREAS, San Jose’s bicycle heritage dating back to the 19th Century has been rich and multi-faceted; and
WHEREAS, the city of San Jose foresees a safe bicycle connection that connects our city with Washington, DC; and
WHEREAS, in its general plan, the city of San Jose recognizes the bicycle as an important part of its goal to become this nation’s leader in sustainable transportation; and
WHEREAS, San Jose’s weather and plethora of bike paths and flat traffic calmed streets, as well as its abundant smorgasbord of back road biking, long have combined to make it a place where cyclists place their wheels.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, THE MAYOR OF THE CITY OF SAN JOSE, do hereby proclaim May 2, 2015, as “NATIONAL BICYCLE GREENWAY DAY” in San Jose, CA
After he read the last sentence, he turned to me as he said, “And this year we have NBG Founding Director, Martin Krieg, present to tell us what other cities they will be visiting here in the Bay Area and in the rest of the State. But before I do that I want to give him and his fellow riders a gift they can deliver to DC Mayor Vincent Gray from the citizens of San Jose.”
Handing me a plaque set on a hard plastic base, obviously to make it light, he continued, “Martin, can you read this to our guests today?”
Smiling, I replied, “Wow, this is really awesome, and yes, I’ll be happy to.”
I set it on the lectern and read the words:
“To the elected officials of Washington, DC and the public they serve:
As your city and ours join hands with other great bike cities to make it safe for cyclists to move about, we acknowledge Washington, DC for the example it has set to make the bicycle an important part of its transportation infrastructure. This as we look forward to joining you on the National Bicycle Greenway ”
Holding it up for the crowd to see, I continued, “and then it has Mayor Reed’s signature, and then it has the colorful seal for the city of San Jose on it and today’s date.
This is so beautiful, thank you Mayor Reed and we will all be so proud to deliver it.”
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