Google Tries to Make Silicon Valley Bicycle Friendly

Cycling infrastructure is a common theme on this blog, so Adele Peters’ Google Wants To Make Silicon Valley As Bike-Friendly As Copenhagen for Fast Company caught my interest:

In theory, the heart of Silicon Valley—towns like Mountain View and Santa Clara—should be the ultimate place to bike. It’s usually 72 degrees and sunny; it’s mostly flat. But it’s also a classic example of suburbia designed for cars, bisected by 10-lane freeways and extra-wide streets filled with speeding cars.

Google is hoping to help turn its home turf into something more like the bicycle paradise of Copenhagen, minus Copenhagen’s snow and bracing Baltic wind.

My cynicism gets activated pretty quickly whenever I hear about a corporation trying to solve public infrastructure. Actually, no it doesn’t, since when have you ever heard of that happening? Obviously they’re doing it for the sake of their own employees, but better cycling infrastructure will actually also serve the public.

Google’s approach is classically Google:

“Rather than looking at what bike infrastructure is there, they looked at the user experience, which makes sense for a successful tech company,” says Colin Heyne, deputy director of the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition, which partnered with Google and Alta Planning to create Google’s Bike Vision Plan for the area.

“They looked at levels of stress faced by bicyclists, and how those could change based on the infrastructure that could be there in the future,” Heyne says. “By doing that, they’re painting a picture of how we can really initiate behavioral change rather than just check items off a list and say we’ve put a bike lane in there—now we’re done.”

This is a good approach. I live pretty centrally here in Winnipeg and, while I have some decent bike routes available to me, there are also plenty of journeys that involve interrupted bike lanes and/or worse-than-useless Share the Road signs. If I know that one of these interrupted, higher-stress journeys is in the cards, just driving becomes more likely.

One great reminder in this article is that cyclist paradise Copenhagen wasn’t always that way:

“It’s important to keep in mind that Copenhagen was not built for bicycles, either,” says Heyne. “In the ’70s, they were very much a car culture. When they put in their first pedestrian streets to go through the heart of downtown, there was a huge backlash. People weren’t ready for it, and people didn’t think it was going to be a success. Now that is the most prized real estate in the city.”

If they can do it, so can we.


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