In Marin / CONVERSATION
This bicycle and pedestrian
transit planner sees big things
on the horizon for Marin.
BY JIM WOOD
PHOTO BY LENNY GONZALEZ
MEET MICHAEL JONES. Starting in 1996, from a converted summer cabin on Creek Road in Fairfax, he built Alta Planning + Design into the largest bicycle and pedestrian transportation planning company in the world. It now has over 200 employees working in 35 offices in places like Seattle, Portland, St. Louis, Boston and Singapore.
This passion has taken him around the world. Stateside, he’s managed bicycling and pedestrian
master plans in Nevada, Minnesota, Hawaii and Tennessee, among other states. Internationally,
Jones has overseen projects in Dubai, Qatar, Mexico, Singapore and Guangzhou, China. Closer to
home, his fingerprints are on such projects as the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail, the Napa
Valley Vine Trail and the East Bay’s Ohlone Greenway.
Here in Marin, important projects he’s been involved with, recently completed or has in
the planning process include improved bike and pedestrian access to SMART stations, a bike-
and-pedestrian-friendly Miller Avenue in Mill Valley, an extension of the Samuel P. Taylor bike
path to Point Reyes Station, bikeway improvements between Fairfax and San Rafael and a Safe
Routes to School segment in San Anselmo.
Jones is a third-generation Marinite: his grandfather moved to Fairfax in the 1920s. He grew
up in San Rafael’s Bayside Acres neighborhood, graduated from San Rafael High School in 1973,
and received his bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in planning from
George Washington University in Washington, D.C., in 1988. Now 62, he has two grown daugh-
ters and lives in Tiburon with Anne, his wife of 30 years.
A recent Time magazine article titled “The
Bicycle Kingdom Goes Global” claims that
China’s bike-sharing companies are changing the world. What do you know about bike
sharing? And is that headline hyperbole or
an accurate assessment? I know more than a
little about bike sharing. In 2010 I started Alta
Bicycle Share, which by 2014 was the largest
bike-share company outside China, with over
15,000 bikes in operation in New York City,
Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston, Seattle,
San Francisco and other cities. It was an adventure — and a headache. In regard to Chinese
companies such as Ofo and Mobike, they have
dramatically changed the game by introducing
dockless bike share — bikes that can be parked
any where and have their own computer on
board that can unlock or lock the bike, allowing it to be rented with a smartphone. Their
service is usually free to cities and very low cost