“Steve Jobs was a customer,” and Jeff Selzer, General Manager of 81 year-old Palo Alto Bicycles tells a favorite story. Who wouldn’t want to be a customer of this beautiful, well stocked and staffed bike shop in downtown Palo Alto?
Jeff’s fortunate; he has Stanford University and all those bike-needy students only a mile away, plus, after years of diligent advocacy work, Palo Alto has earned a Gold rating as recognized by the League of American Bicyclists.
With all these advantages, it might strike you as funny that the Palo Alto Mayor declared 2011 as the Year of the Bicycle. Advocacy hasn’t stopped to take a bow or sit on its laurels, not according to Jeff. So what are the issues that he sees locally? You may be surprised; they’re not that different from our neighborhood: University Ave, right in front of the bike shop, is crowded with traffic each afternoon and bicycle advocates want to remove some parking, narrow the traffic lanes and slow it even more. Why? To encourage more cycling. Those cars, many of them are leaving Stanford on their way home, and all that congestion discourages others who might come to shop and dine. Make the roads less attractive for motorists and they’ll find an alternate route leaving more parking and less traffic for those wishing to shop locally. But for many merchants who cling to the status quo, it’s a leap of faith.
“The challenge lies with educating both the city and the folks that are driving back and forth. If they realized that there’s probably 25% of those folks that are in the car, that if it were safe, if it were convenient, and if they had the resources to be able to get on a bike, they’d get out of the car. Now you’d have 25% less cars out there. You’d have less traffic.Jeff Selzer
Resistance to change, that comes with the territory when you’re out to influence public policy and make conditions more favorable for cyclists. Jeff uses an analogy to Kevin Costner in the 1989 Field of Dreams, “If you build it they will come.”
Due to family ties to Palo Alto, I’ve been a customer for years — not bikes, apparel; Palo Alto Bicycles has great cold-weather-California clothing — stuff that’s hard to find around Los Angeles. Jeff talks about the challenges of the seasonal nature of cycling.
The interview is over and as we walk to the front door — it’s still quite early — Jeff hands me 2 business cards and points out the window as he explains: “See that arc across the street? That’s a bike arc I designed.” I remember when these were installed; they’re the most beautiful bike racks I’ve ever seen. “And on your way out, behind that building on the corner, go check out the umbrella racks.” I do.