Unscientific study: San Mateo Bike Riders vs. Oakland Bike Riders

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For the past couple of months I have been working in San Mateo (and biking).

I’ve noticed some key differences between bike riders in each city, in four key categories: bike accessories, attire, behavior, locking and parking. Here are the results of my highly unscientific study.

Let’s start with parking and locking. I noticed downtown San Mateo has a lot of bike parking. ¬†Some cute bike shaped racks. ¬†Yarn-bombed racks.

Yarn Bombed in San Mateo

Yarn Bombing in San Mateo

Parking meter racks. ¬†But the odd thing is, I rarely see bikes parked in the official racks. ¬†I see them chained to trees, street signs. ¬†And some that aren’t even chained at all. ¬†I saw a bike parked outside with just a kickstand for an hour. ¬†Only half of the bikes are using the proper locking technique and a hefty U-lock. ¬†I’ve seen cheap chains and cheap locks that left me thinking, I could steal that bike with some pliers.

I decided the people who locked up their bike properly must live in SF (since most of them have Caltrain tags).  And that bike theft must  be pretty rare in San Mateo.

Next up, accessories. ¬†Oakland has a lot of “utility” and “transportation” bike riders. ¬†These practical riders tend to have lots of accessories like racks, child seats and panniers. ¬†Not very many of these people in San Mateo. ¬†I rarely even see racks. ¬†It is more like people on bikes wearing backpacks. ¬†Also MIA in San Mateo? ¬†Lights! ¬†Hardly any bike riders have lights. It seems a little dangerous to me, as I spend a lot of time around El Camino, and it is both dark with fast moving traffic.

And following up the accessories, let’s talk about the attire too. Bike riders in San Mateo are frequently of the sporty variety. ¬†Most people seem like they have special “bike riding clothing.” ¬†Or they are wearing exercise gear. ¬†Not so many people wearing “normal clothes.” ¬†Except for the people with the Caltrain tags on their bikes. ¬†I haven’t seen the hip Nutcase or Giro helmets either. ¬†Most helmets look pretty utilitarian. ¬†And everyone in San Mateo seems to have a helmet, whereas in Oakland, helmet penetration is more like 50%. ¬†Another note, not much reflective gear in San Mateo. ¬†And way too many people wearing all black at night. ¬†I was shocked when I saw a father/son duo in all black biking around at night with no lights on El Camino. ¬†Scary!

Lastly, let’s talk about behavior. And by that I mean following the rules of the road (and infrastructure). There must be bike lanes somewhere in San Mateo. ¬†And bicycle boulevards. ¬†But I see little evidence of their existence. ¬†I have now confirmed that they are pretty rare, the city offers up 4 featured routes. ¬†And they don’t seem to be downtown. San Mateo County seems to be seriously lacking in bike infrastructure, there is a bike lane on Delaware. ¬†I have seen a few cyclists brave El Camino. ¬†And cars honk rudely at them.

But mostly I see people biking on the sidewalk at near full speed. And unlike in Oakland, they don’t warn you when approaching behind. ¬†Or respond to the pedestrian death stare. ¬†They kind just look annoyed that you are in the sidewalk impeding their path. ¬†The lack of infrastructure probably means the bike riders feel like they belong on the sidewalk, since it is safer than the street. ¬†But bike riders and pedestrians don’t mix well on sidewalks, and this surely leads to conflicts between the natural allies.

In Oakland, I don’t see many bikes on the sidewalk. ¬†It happens on occasion, but most riders stick to the streets. Or risk enduring the wrath of the pedestrians…and occasionally the police handing out tickets. Many bike riders ring their bells to warn you. ¬†I have yet to hear a bell before being overtaken by a bike rider here in San Mateo.

Riding a bike in San Mateo vs. Oakland is like a different planet. ¬†Even though we want more bike lanes (in Oakland), and a safer Telegraph, we have it pretty good in Oakland. ¬†At least in downtown, and most of the adjacent neighborhoods. ¬†Yes, Jack London Square isn’t fully connected to Uptown with a bike lane. ¬†And Chinatown doesn’t have any lanes yet. ¬†But all in all with the Bicycle Boulevards, and quieter parallel streets, it isn’t so scary.

We have more infrastructure, lots in the works and a detailed bike plan. Our bike racks are packed (have you ever tried to park at Whole Foods on the weekend with a bike?).  As a result, we see more types of riders: parents with kids, people with dogs, people riding for leisure, people riding for exercise and people riding for transport.

In San Mateo, bike riding feels like something for the adventurous, brave and committed cyclists. Riders do not seem to take as many precautions for safety (besides helmets) as our Oakland riders with lights, light colored clothing and reflective gear on those dark streets with high speed limits.

To quote Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come,” and the mass of bike riders in San Mateo are waiting.

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