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The bike lobby
March 23, 2009, 12:00 AM

They may not have an expensive office on K street in Sacramento and they are not known for their generous campaign contributions, but the bicycle lobby is one of the best organized and most effective locally, regionally and in the state. CalTrans now has a full-time bicycle expert in many of its regional offices; the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has one to handle bicycle issues in the nine Bay Area counties and most cities in San Mateo County have a bicycle pedestrian advisory committee in addition to the county’s bike commission.

As cyclists gain political clout they have become less confrontational, as in the disruptive Critical Mass rides during Friday evening commutes, and are more willing to work with the authorities to accomplish their goals. What they lack in dollar power they make up in people power. And the cyclists are smart and in vogue as more people turn to two wheels to commute to work, to stay fit and to drive less.

Peninsula cyclists won a major victory when they convinced Caltrain that more space was needed on trains for bicycles and bumping cyclists was no longer tolerable. The cyclists wrote letters, many of them printed in the Daily Journal, sent voluminous e-mails to Caltrain elected officials and staff and turned up at meetings of the Joint Powers Board (the three-county board which runs Caltrain) to make their case. They took time off from work to present a well-researched and well-presented argument for allowing more bikes on trains. Bike riders make up 2,400 of Caltrain customers each day out of a total ridership estimated at 41,000. They are extremely loyal customers and Caltrain was smart to meet them half way.

By mid-spring, bike capacity on the trains will increase by 27 percent. Gallery train sets will increase to 40 slots (versus the current 32) and Bombardier trains will have 24 bike spaces (versus the current 16). Of course, cyclists wanted more but this is a good first step. Caltrain will have to find $200,000 to remove seats from existing cars and install new bike racks. The staff also committed to assign two bike cars to peak-period trains as operations allow. Caltrain was a pioneer in allowing trains on board in 1992. Mark Simon, former San Francisco Chronicle columnist, and now the special assistant to the executive director at Caltrain/SamTrans, was the liaison between the JPB and the cycling advocates. Mark has been an organizer of the Tour de Peninsula, a charity bicycle ride, and has good relations with the cycling community. But the major credit goes to CEO Mike Scanlon who is a tough executive but knows how to listen and when to be flexible.


Rich Hedges, looking tan and rested from a visit to Hilo, Hawaii, is still contemplating whether to run for the San Mateo City Council. Rich was one of those seeking appointment for the vacant seat. But the council appointed Fred Hansson who will have to run in November. In the meantime, Jan Epstein will be termed out so there will be two openings. Rich has many advantages if he decides to run. He has strong support from labor (he once served as a local labor leader); from homeowners (he was a member of United Homeowners and a longtime member of Harbortown Homeowners Association) and is well known and admired in the San Mateo community. If Rich chooses not to run, he will certainly play the role of a king-maker. He will support Fred Hansson for one of the spots, but the second spot will be the key. Look out for an announcement that Rich will run or for a surprise endorsement.


U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a critic of earmarks, has created a citizens oversight panel to review federal funding requests. The chair of the panel is the brilliant and charismatic Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, who once thought of challenging Speier, D-San Mateo, for the congressional seat which became vacant after the death of Tom Lantos. Lessig, realizing how popular Speier was, decided not to make the race.


Oskie beware!!! Sorry Cal fans but the news is bad. A local San Mateo boy is the new Stanford Tree and he is an accomplished fellow. The Tree is Stanford’s mascot, and the head cheerleader at football and basketball games. Jonathan Strange, son of Laurie Strange, assistant to San Mateo City Manager Susan Loftus (and formerly Arne Croce), is a graduate of Hillsdale High School. He won the competition to be Tree by doing a variety of stunts including dressing up in a gorilla suit as "Shu King” and being chased around, unsuccessfully, by a not-too-hostile group armed with torches and pitchforks.

"Against a backdrop of machine fog and red lights,” according to a Stanford Daily report, "he was captured by an angry mob and welded into a cage ball that he had constructed earlier.” But Jonathan broke out with the strength of 10 men. What does proud mom Laurie think about all of this?

"Jonathan is full of school spirit, creativity and school pride,” she said, adding she loves to watch him perform. And for Stanford fans, there is new hope to BEAT CAL!!!!!

Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at

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