For City Councilman Jerry Pentin, his bicycle is not just a tool for exercising or commuting; it is an invaluable part of his everyday life.
"I ride where I can ride. Whenever there's a family event, my wife would drive and I would bike there," he said with a chuckle.
"I've been tagged as the 'bike guy' on the council," Pentin added. "I ride these streets all the time, know the traffic patterns ... I've ridden about every street in town, one time or another, so it definitely helps me when we talk about bikes."
Pentin said whenever he rides around town, he is glad to see ongoing improvements to bike infrastructure, projects he and other city leaders have championed to improve safety and usability.
"I foresee in the future a great bicycle route in Pleasanton, where people can say, 'If I go here, here and here, I'll have safe bike routes,'" Pentin said.
One city effort to improve bike safety involves the 500-foot stretch of green-tinted bike lane completed in June on Sunol Boulevard under Interstate 680. That project followed the green bike lanes added to the new Stoneridge Drive extension in 2013.
"When we constructed the Stoneridge Drive extension, we had a pilot project for green bike lanes," Pleasanton city traffic engineer Mike Tassano said. "It was an up-and-coming idea to add visibility of cyclists for motor vehicles. Other larger municipalities, like San Francisco, New York that are bike friendly, had started doing that."
"We wanted to determine the effectiveness and to determine the cost and the life-cycle of these lanes," he said.
Bike safety is a focus for city traffic officials. The section of Sunol Boulevard now with a green lane is dubbed by some cyclists as "the Valley of Death" because of fast-moving vehicle traffic through the area, Pentin said.
In 2014, there were 33 bicycle-related collisions in Pleasanton, excluding solo bike crashes -- out of 416 total traffic collisions, according to city statistics. Most of those crashes involved bicyclists colliding with motor vehicles; bike-versus-pedestrian and bike-versus-bike collisions are rare in Pleasanton, Tassano said.
Since 2006, crashes between bikes and others have ranged from a low of 21 in 2013 to a high of 34 in 2010, according to Tassano. The last bicycle fatality occurred on Foothill Road in June 2013.
Looking at bike-vehicle crashes during the past nine years, "the last five years seem to trend higher than the first four years, so it seems there is a slight increase in bike crashes," Tassano said, while adding that he could not reach a definitive trend conclusion without specific information about the number of cyclists per year.
When Tassano and the city traffic engineering team studied the Stoneridge Drive green lanes a year after installation, they decided to expand the green-lane program.
"We determined they seemed to last, and we found that they were very visible," he said. "The police officers, city manager, city council also provided positive feedback. It's pretty clear for drivers that there's a bike lane out there and recognize that there's a cyclist. That alone is enough for us to determine if it's a worthwhile thing."
Some members of Pleasanton's cycling community share the enthusiasm.
"They make me feel safer," said Jim Van Dyke, board member of the region's bike advocacy group, Bike East Bay. "Visibility is everything to cycling safety, helping us 'cageless' riders feel a bit less risky when 3,500 pound SUVs are coming by right and left. They also give benefits to motorists, by keeping cyclists in a predictable place."
"We're just thrilled to see the green bike lanes and the city expand the mileage," added Steve McGinnis, organizer of the Pleasanton Pedalers cycling group and member of the city's Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Committee.
Upcoming bike lane plans
The green lanes are only a part of Tassano's vision to create a "more complete biking network and safer and more comfortable biking experience."
Since Tassano was named traffic engineer in 2006, the amount of on-street (or Class II) bike lanes in the city, including both traditional and green lanes, has nearly doubled from 36 miles to 65 miles.
The city is exploring ways to improve freeway overcrossings and major intersections for bicyclists, Tassano said. "Our goal is to put green bike lanes on all arterial intersections where it's not clear where the bike presence is."
Currently, Tassano and the committee eye developing a master plan to complete bike lanes on Foothill Road.
"The Foothill corridor has a lot of incomplete gaps in between completed bike lanes," he explained. "Since we have a hard time controlling the speed of cars there, it's better to put in a separate lane for bicyclists."
He is also considering protective barriers to separate bicyclists on some roads, and he is looking into signalized crosswalks for bicycles at freeway entrances where it is not feasible to design a safe route for cyclists to cross traffic
"Another thing we do is whenever we do overlays of roads, we add in new lanes whenever is feasible," Tassano added.
New plans also bring in a set of new challenges. According to Tassano, "arguments have been going on for a long time" regarding whether bike lanes increase or decrease safety.
Nationally, some critics have advocated against separately painted bike lanes, contending cyclists should act and be treated the same as motorists to safely ride on the road.
But for Pleasanton and many major cities, separate bike lanes seem to be the favored solution.
"I prefer bike lanes," Tassano said. "Ultimately, I want that artificial buffer. I want to know the car's going to stay in its lane, and that if the drivers don't, they would be at fault."
Another factor is funding.
The newly painted green stretch of bike lanes on Sunol cost $3.75 per square foot. For a total of two coats over 2,900 square feet, the price was $10,000.
"That can be cost-prohibitive," Tassano said. "However, if we have a (pavement) overlay project and there's a contractor that's doing overlay, adding $20,000 of green paint for a $3 million project is not the same issue as using general money."
He said he plans to use the strategy of adding lanes in larger overlay projects in which federal, state and regional money is often available.
"We get money from Measure B to overlay, a half-cent sales tax, and Measure BB, another half-cent sales tax. Some of that money goes to the city for transportation while a portion goes to competitive grants offered by the Alameda County," he said.
Part of Tassano's job is to apply for these regional, state, and federal grants to help fund transportation projects.
"Our hope is that (green lanes) don't wear out yearly. It has not been the case yet. In two years, we haven't needed to refresh the Stoneridge extension," he said.
When asked if he thought bike lanes were worth the cost, councilman Pentin weighed safety over money.
"Yes, absolutely. It's a visibility thing," he said.
A 'Bike Friendly Community'
The percentage of cyclists who commute by bicycle in Pleasanton has doubled, from 1% to 2% of total respondents, from 2002 to 2013, according to residential and employer commute surveys conducted by the city every three years. The state average was 1.1% in 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
"The bike community in Pleasanton, I'd say it's growing. It's a vibrant part of the community. Pleasanton Pedalers had no members when it started, and we have 135 people who joined since then," said McGinnis, who noted that he also sees growth in senior cycling.
Last fall, Pleasanton received its first bronze-level designation from the League of American Bicyclists "Bicycle Friendly Community" (BFC) program. The city received honorable mention three years earlier.
"The bronze designation signifies that Pleasanton is making it a priority to be a bike friendly community," said Lisa Adamos, city economic development specialist. "We are the first to receive this designation in the Tri-Valley, and it grows the awareness that people can bike in Pleasanton."
Adamos led the application process last year, working with the Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Committee, city traffic engineering and the police department.
"Going through the application was a learning process. We were really investigating the questions and finding out new ideas and that there was maybe something that we need to do later," she said.
The communities in the BFC program were scored in five categories: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation and planning. Biking has to be supported by the community, as well as by the municipal government and facilities.
"I think the green bike lanes helped considerably in the bronze designation," Tassano said. "I think what the League wanted to see was a focused effort to place higher priority on bikes and bike infrastructure. The addition of the green bike lanes helped show that commitment."
Adamos also directs the city's promotion of cycling and bike safety.
The city holds an annual Bike to School and Work Day, family cycling workshops for elementary school students, "bike-to-market" for farmers' markets, bike safety workshops for commuters, and "community rides" in which bicyclists can drop in and join.
"It benefits by attracting visitors and definitely for people to come live here. The bike-friendly community designation definitely has a positive impact," Adamos said.
Future of Pleasanton's bike community
On the horizon is the new Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan update process, set to be completed by September 2016.
The master plan outlines the various pedestrian and bike projects in the city and establishes a system to prioritize future projects.
"Just a list doesn't help," said Tassano, pointing to the weak prioritizing mechanism of the 2010 master plan. "Next year after this is completed, we'll have a direction of where to go."
"One of my goals on the master plan is turn some of the terminology from should to shall," Pentin added. "There is a significant difference between should and shall. Should leaves a lot of leeway while shall means you're required to do so."
The city is also exploring other new bike facilities, such as protected bike lanes, a bike sharing program and bike corrals -- on-street bicycle parking facilities that can accommodate more bikes than sidewalk racks.
"I also want to see bike corrals down on Main Street somewhere where bikes are visible, not shoved somewhere else," Pentin said. "If you see a safe place to park your bicycle and a safe place to ride, that will encourage more people to bike than drive."
To the councilman, bike corrals are just one new strategy to accomplish an overarching goal: changing the driving culture of Pleasanton to a healthier, more active lifestyle.
"It's a culture thing. We're used to our cars. We have to change the culture of Pleasanton from a car-centric one to a running, biking, hiking and healthy community," he said. "It should be definitely the direction we're going, and the city staff are all on the same page."