SJ Q&A: Corinne Winter, Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition
Fighting for a bike-friendly San Jose
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CORINNE WINTER has been the executive director of Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition for eight years.
As executive director of Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, Corinne Winter plays a major role in the effort to adapt San Jose into a bicycle-friendly place to live and commute. An advocacy group and educational non-profit, SVBC sponsors Bike to Work Day all throughout Silicon Valley, as well as the Safe Routes to School program that encourages children to walk and bike to school safely. The coalition is also primarily responsible for getting Caltrain to allow bikes on trains 20 years ago.
Winter studied physics and environmental studies at University of California, Santa Cruz and travelled extensively after graduation, backpacking through South America for six months. Upon returning to the Bay Area, she entered into a Masters program in engineering at San Jose State while designing systems in the solar industry, where she met a member of the SVBC Board of Directors who convinced her to begin working with the coalition.
“It became a full-time thing, because I love this job,” says Winter. “Very quickly, my entire world became focused on bikes.” In the past eight years, she has been working toward the vision of making San Jose completely safe, convenient and comfortable for biking. “We want grandmas, moms and kids out there riding bikes and feeling completely safe. That’s really our vision. It’s not just about biking, it’s about community, health, the environment and joy. Life is better when more people bike.”
Name: Corinne Winter
Occupation: Executive Director of Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition
How long have you lived and worked in San Jose?
I have lived and worked in San Jose for about 10 years.
What brought you to San Jose?
I was living in Santa Cruz when I went to school, but I was working over here and eventually decided I did not want to be doing that commute, so I bought a house in Willow Glen and moved over.
What do you like most about San Jose?
I love the weather here. It’s also an exciting time for the city, a lot of things are changing and it seems so ripe with potential. There’s also a lot of flower planting the city has done downtown, which does so much for the pleasant downtown ambiance. I think as a cyclist or a pedestrian, you notice those little things more. We really do have good downtown ambiance, which is why San Jose should become to best city in the Bay Area.
I work a lot with people in San Francisco and Oakland, and they usually have no reason to come down here, so they never visit. But when they finally do, they’re always completely amazed at how great it is. We’re like the Bay Area’s best kept secret.
Also, San Jose is perfect for biking with the weather and topography. If you want a hill, you have to find a freeway pass.
What have been some of your best experiences since working with Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition?
I have a couple: One thing is that although San Jose is really big, it’s not too difficult to get to know a lot of people here who are really involved. That means you’re actually be able to really affect change, which is exciting for somebody who works with an advocacy group.
Like these great new bike lanes we have downtown, for instance. That basically happened because I had a conversation with Hans Larsen in the Department of Transportation. I was having lunch with him one day and we were talking about ways to improve bike ways downtown, which is difficult because the city doesn’t have a lot of money. There’s a lot of fiscal strain, but they were able to make it happen and we got 10 miles of amazing buffered bike lanes.
What do you like most about being executive director?
My favorite part is that I’ve been able to grow the organization. When I started, I was in that stage in my mid-20’s when I was trying to figure out what would be fulfilling work, and I had just bought a house and figured I would need to actually have a salary. But then when I started here, everything totally clicked and I realized this is what I need to be doing with my life. I was the first full-time staff person, and now we have eight full-time staff. One of my favorite parts of my job is working with my team. They’re a great group of people.
What are some of your favorite places to bike in San Jose?
If I really want to go on a long bike ride, I’ll go to Alum Rock Park and bike up Hamilton Road, which is so gorgeous this time of year. It amazes me what a gem Alum Rock Park is and how underutilized it is. Most people don’t know where it is. Another place that amazes me is the Rose Garden. They have nice big lawns you can just flop a blanket on. We actually just had our weekly staff meeting on the grass at the Rose Garden, since our office is only a mile away.
Where in San Jose do you like to hang out?
Mostly downtown because that’s where I live and downtown is great. I basically go between downtown, Willow Glen and the Alameda. I’m biking, so I like to localize my life. I like Aqui a lot, and I really like Mezcal. I just discovered Korean Food in Japantown at Omogari, which I’m really excited about. The best restaurants are the local places, like Good Karma and Naglee Park Garage.
If you could change on thing about San Jose, what would it be?
I’d like to see it become more vibrant. A lot of our work is trying to push it in that direction, with more people hanging out in the community, more sidewalk cafes, more good places to bike and more food trucks. I would love to see more great local businesses and it seems like there’s a lot of expansion in that area. I hope it continues.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met in San Jose?
Councilmember Sam Liccardo. He’s a huge proponent of everything we’re looking to see in downtown San Jose. We’ve worked with him for about five years, and he’s been an amazing leader in making downtown more bike-friendly and he knows having more bikes downtown will make the city more vibrant.