It Takes a Village

How Pleasanton Residents Came Together to Build a Protected Intersection

By Susie Hufstader, Community Organizer

In fall 2017, Pleasanton became the first city in the Tri-Valley area to install a protected intersection. By closing a gap in the Iron Horse Regional Trail, this protected intersection will help people walking and biking easily cross a major intersection and connect to parks, trails, and BART. On September 23, the Pleasanton Pedalers and Bike Pleasanton will host a bike ride to celebrate the project’s grand opening and to remember the life of Gail Turner. RSVP for the ride.

One year after her first big advocacy win on the job, Bike East Bay’s Community Organizer Susie Hufstader reflects how this project has taught her about bike advocacy in Pleasanton. 

Just one week after I started work as Bike East Bay’s Community Organizer last summer, we received the news of a fatal bicycle crash in Pleasanton. Seventy-two year-old Gail Turner had been struck by a car at the intersection where the Iron Horse Regional Trail crossed Stanley Boulevard. Bike East Bay, the Pleasanton Pedalers, and Bike Pleasanton had already been working to connect this major gap in the trail system, but any possible solution had been delayed for years. After this tragedy we jumped into action to ask for an immediate fix.

I went to Pleasanton that week and things did not look good. As I rode toward the site of the crash, the Iron Horse Trail ended in a sidewalk at the intersection. Standing there facing seven lanes of heavy traffic, I knew the intersection needed a big change. A protected intersection, which provides shorter crossing distances and improved visibility for people walking and biking, would be an great solution. But at the time, there was not a single protected intersection built anywhere in the Bay Area, even in our most bike-friendly cities. It looked like improving this trail connection would be an uphill battle, if even possible.

But Pleasanton proved me wrong. Over the next weeks and months, I came to know the dedicated community of bicyclists, students, parents, and grandparents who stepped up to champion the Tri-Valley’s first protected intersection. When it came time for an important vote to approve the project, they showed up to completely pack the city council chambers. Half the room was students from Pleasanton Middle School and Amador Valley High. They joined local advocates from Bike Pleasanton and members of the Pleasanton Pedalers ride group, Gail Turner’s club, in making impassioned pleas for the city to fix the street.

“My goal this year was to ride my bike to school every day,” one middle school student said, “but it is not safe enough yet.”

Teacher Rebecca McClaughlin added, “My daughter wants to ride her bike to Pleasanton Middle School, but there is no way. We would like access. It needs to happen for the rest of us and not just experienced cyclists.”

Together, the community sent a clear message to city council that Stanley Boulevard and Valley Avenue, along with the rest of Pleasanton, needed bikeways for riders of all ages and abilities. When city council unanimously approved the protected intersection design, we cheered and shared hugs all around. This was my first big advocacy victory in my new job and I was almost in tears.

The outpouring of community support for bike facilities has rippled across Pleasanton. Over the past year, I have watched the changes happen, from an ambitiously updated bicycle master plan to miles of new buffered bike lanes already on the ground, spearheaded by city traffic engineer Mike Tassano. Downtown Pleasanton added a new parklet and bike corral, and just one day after installation, the brand new racks were packed with bikes. Bike Pleasanton and the Pleasanton Pedalers have maintained a strong and visible presence, hosting a weekly bike tent at the farmer’s market with free parking and resources.

After stopping by the bike tent this summer, I hopped on the Iron Horse Trail to see the now-finished protected intersection at Stanley Boulevard and Valley Avenue. The three protected corners provide bicyclists a safe space to wait for a green light, shortening the crossing distance to get to the next leg of the Iron Horse Trail. Plus, the green “bike crossing” parallel to the white crosswalk is one of the first dedicated bike crossings in the East Bay.

When I first arrived as a community organizer in Pleasanton, all I saw were hundreds of cars and a huge, crazy intersection. Now I know a community of people who care deeply about Pleasanton. Together, we did more than fix a gap in the Iron Horse Trail. We fired up the local biking community. We showed the city that residents want a bike-friendly place to live, work, and play.