Parking my car has never been so fun

Mercury News May 13, 2015

By Raul Peralez

May is Bike to Work Month and Thursday is Bike to Work Day in the Bay Area.

I myself didn’t know until after conversing with Shiloh Ballard, the new executive director of Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. Last year, while campaigning for the city council, I encountered an organization called, “I Walk, I Bike, I Vote.” The engagement from the downtown bicycle community was inspirational, and I myself was supportive of their many ideas to create a more bike-friendly city. In fact, back in 2009, my predecessors on the council approved our “San José Bike Plan 2020” as a plan to transform San Jose into one of the best bicycling cities in the United States.

Having been a downtown resident myself for nearly a decade, I was disappointed by the fact that I was still attached to my car. So, during the campaign, I made a commitment that if I were to win I would give up my car for an entire month during my first year. As I took office I thought about how and when I would make good on my commitment; originally I had intended to choose the month of April, but once I found out that May was bike month, the decision was made easy.

More than 1 million Bay Area residents live within just five miles of their workplace, yet too many of us still prefer our cars. When I brought the challenge up to my team it was met with interest and enthusiasm. We all agreed that our city is very much car-centric, and much to my pleasure, everyone agreed to join in on the challenge.

I have staff coming from Japantown, East San José, and Campbell, but I was most notably surprised to learn that my executive assistant had already given up her car years ago, and she has regularly been taking public transportation daily all the way from Hollister. With my entire team on board, we began May 1 with our no-car challenge.

Since May 1, my car has been parked in front of my house and it hasn’t moved. I pulled out my old blue Scwhinn and have ridden it to work every day. I have also found a number of other ways to manage without my car. I just recently gave the light rail a chance and lugged my bike onto it. The light-rail bike storage is a little difficult to manage, but overall it was a smooth ride and cut down my travel time.

Living only 2.5 miles from city hall, I have actually found my commute to be very short. It takes me about 15 minutes to bike to work. In fact, starting at city hall, I can bike just about anywhere in District 3 within about 15-20 minutes. Parking my car has been a blessing in so many ways. Primarily, I have surpassed the most difficult hurdle in simply just knowing I don’t need a car to get around. Additionally, I have saved money on gas, I’m helping the environment, and I’m helping myself by being more active and healthy.

My team has also enjoyed the healthy exercise, smelling flowers or feeling the breeze, and saying hello to their neighbors or meeting new people and making new friends on the VTA.

About 62,000 Bay Area residents bike to work, and Thursday, tens of thousands more are expected to take to the road on two wheels. I encourage everyone to join in and take this challenge for at least one day and see how rewarding parking your car really can be.

Raul Peralez represents District 3 on the San José City Council. He wrote this article for this newspaper.