Every year the League of American Bicyclists publishes a list of “bicycle-friendly businesses”, which employers (including governments and non-profits) can apply to be on.
I was surprised at how few Santa Cruz employers were on the list:
- Ecology Action (silver)
- County of Santa Cruz (bronze)
- Santa Cruz Seaside Company (bronze)
The League also has listings for communities, universities, and states. The City of Santa Cruz has a silver listing, as does UCSC. UCD is platinum; UCSB is gold; UCB and UCI are also silver; UCLA and UCSD are bronze. UCSB and UCD are also listed as businesses (their bike-friendliness towards employees, rather than towards students), with the same ratings.
UCSC does do a fair amount for bicycle commuters. I know of free showers in at least 4 buildings on Science Hill, and there are probably others. Most buildings allow people with offices to bring their bikes into their offices and there are card-operated bike lockers next to some of the more popular buildings. Bike posts and other low-security bike parking are provided in adequate quantity (though the quality is not aways the best). There are free tool stands at several places on campus and an on-campus bike shop (the Bike Co-op, which is not a full-service bike shop). All the campus buses and the SCMTD buses that serve campus have racks for 3 bikes, and UCSC runs an uphill-only shuttle with a trailer for a dozen bikes from the Westside several times an hour.
Having seen what UCSB does, it looks like the main differences in bike friendliness come from UCSB’s campus being flat and compact, while UCSC’s is sloped at 4% and spread out. The ravines and hills on the UCSC campus make it very expensive to provide additional roads and bike paths, and the 4% climb for a mile from the entrance to campus to Science Hill is daunting for many beginning bicyclists.
UCSC could do more to promote bicycling to campus, but there is a point where even large investments result in only small increases in bicycling—UCSC has invested much more heavily in transit options than in bicycling, as they expect that to make larger changes in student and employee behavior. (And it seems to be working—UCSC has tripled in size in the last 30 years, with only modest increases in motor vehicle traffic.)
I don’t know whether Santa Cruz has been slipping as a bike-friendly place, whether other places have overtaken Santa Cruz, or whether businesses and governments in Santa Cruz simply can’t be bothered with the bureaucratic process of the League’s classification scheme.
What is the return to the community if more businesses were listed as bike friendly, or the community rating were higher? The listing is primarily a marketing tool—from a bicyclist perspective, what matters is what the infrastructure and policies are, not whether the LAB knows about them. And marketing is not that valuable to the community right now. It isn’t as if Santa Cruz were trying to lure more people to move here—we already have a serious housing crunch, particularly for the rental market. (Prices are high also: studio apartments are about $1600 a month, 2-bedroom about $2200 a month, I think.) I do think that Santa Cruz would benefit from more ecotourism marketing—getting tourists to bicycle around town rather than clog the streets with their bad driving would be an improvement.
What Santa Cruz is trying to do is to lure more tech companies to Santa Cruz, to take advantage of the highly educated people already here and reduce the long-distance commuting to high-paying jobs in Silicon Valley. It is not clear whether getting a better bike-friendly community rating would help with that effort or not, though one of the big attractions for tech workers in Santa Cruz is not having to do the Highway 17 commute. Being able to bike to work is a big attractor for engineers, particularly in software businesses (it is often our only source of exercise). Whether it is an attractor for tech companies is a somewhat different question.