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SPUR San Jose Takes to the Streets on Two Wheels

South Bay urbanists gather for a bike tour of downtown San Jose. All photos by Sergio Ruiz for SPUR.

A cadre of 45 urbanists gathered downtown on a recent Sunday morning to join SPUR San Jose Director Leah Toeniskoetter for a bike tour. Beginning in the urban plaza fronting Philz Coffee, our mighty bike train easily navigated its way along the brand new buffered bike lanes of Third Street, en route to Japantown. A project of the City of San Jose, the extra-wide bike lanes are a product of recent “road diets” on certain streets, where three lanes of auto traffic were reduced to two in order to add the buffered bike lane.

The new lanes easily accommodated the group as it cruised past St. James Park and through the Historic Hensley District, known for having the highest concentration of Victorian homes in the city’s central core. San Jose Director of Transportation Hans Larsen noted that the district really came to life in 2005 when road diets were applied to the section of Third and Fourth streets in the Hensley District, calming the fast three-lane, one-way streets to a slower two-lane, two way street with bike lanes. The transition has prompted continued investment in the historical character of the neighborhood.

In no time at all, the two-wheelers turned onto Jackson Street, the main road through the Japantown neighborhood — one of only three historical Japantowns in the United States. The heart of this district was embodied by the tables full of people outside of Roy’s Station, a gas-station-turned-coffeehouse on the corner of Jackson and Fifth streets. After passing the Sunday farmers’ market at the site of the old City of San Jose Corporation Yard, the group continued into the heart of the Northside Neighborhood District’s Luna Park Business District surrounding Backesto Park. Winding its way back through the neighborhood’s charming homes to the newly installed Tenth Street buffered bike lanes, the group made a straight shot back to the center of downtown and onto the San Jose State University campus.

As the oldest public institution of higher education on the West Coast, the SJSU campus is full of serene quads with surprises such as the Black Power Statue, the historic and architecturally significant Tower Hall, built in 1910, and the first library (Dr. MLK, Jr. Library) in the nation to be jointly owned by a city and university.

After snaking through the campus the bicycle caravan entered the city’s first protected bike lane, which runs along Fourth Street on the campus’ western edge. The group then circled back to San Fernando Street, the main bike route between campus and historic Diridon Station, the second busiest train station in California.

The tour then led to the Alameda, built in 1799 as the connection between Mission Santa Clara and the Pueblo of San Jose. In 1868, the Alameda became the state’s first interurban horsecar line and, in 1888, it became California’s second electric trolley line, after San Diego. Previously State Route 82 but now under the purview of the City of San Jose, the Alameda is expected to undergo an extensive upgrade in the Fall of 2012.

With a turn into the Rose Garden neighborhood the caravan passed the Rosicrucian Park and Museum, home to the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts on display in Western North America, and wound its way around another beautiful neighborhood, with homes dating to the 1920s and 1930s. A tour of the Rose Garden neighborhood wouldn’t be complete without passing its namesake, the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden, a 5.5 acre city park filled with more than 3,500 bushes and 250 varieties of roses cared for by local volunteers.

A quick venture into the Shasta-Hanchett neighborhood, lined with Craftsman houses built between 1900 and 1920, led the group back to the Alameda, through the Cahill Park neighborhood and then to Park Avenue, another bike route into the downtown. A turn onto the Guadalupe River Trail, a separated bike path that runs along the Guadalupe River Park, guided the caravan straight through the 32nd annual Italian Family Festa of San Jose. After riding past stands offering fresh cannoli and other treats, the group traveled just a few blocks further to finish the tour at the San Pedro Market, having experienced a new way to see at least a small portion of what San Jose’s biking landscape has to offer.