The Bike Issue: Behind the pack - Page 3

Can San Francisco regain its leadership role in making bicycles a safe and viable transportation option?
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Illustration by Danny Hellman

"To the extent that the bike network continues to be a patchwork, people won't get on bikes."

But the mayor also has been fully supportive of the Transit Effectiveness Project's proposal to reform Muni, even though he recently suggested opposition to proposed parking fine increases might mean that some TEP proposals need to be scaled back.

Skeptics also note that Newsom removed Shahum from the MTA and has appointed no one else with connections to the bicycling community since then, even though that body has sweeping new authority under last year's Proposition A to implement the bike plan and make decisions about which transportation modes get priority and funding.

"I'm pushing for that, and we'll see what happens," Crowfoot said of his efforts to get a complete bike network going during the Newsom administration's reign, acknowledging that, "the proof is in the pudding."

ZERO-SUM GAME

San Francisco's strong bicycle advocacy culture, the creation of lots of new bike lanes between 2000 and 2004, and innovations like Critical Mass and the sharrow (a painted arrow on the road indicating where bikes should safely ride) made this city a leader in the bicycling movement.

Yet it is only in the last few years, when San Franciscans have been sidelined by the injunction, that the movement really gained mainstream political acceptance and begun to make inroads into the dominant car culture of the United States, slowly and belatedly following the lead of European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

"Interest in bike-friendly policies is surging, along with the growing number of adults who are riding more. Moreover, the movers and shakers of the biking scene are often smart, always passionate, and they believe strongly in what they are doing. Even when such groups are in the minority, they often enjoy significant political success, and they should never be discounted," J. Harry Wray, a political science professor from DePaul University in Chicago, argues in his new book Pedal Power: The Quiet Rise of the Bicycle in American Public Life (Paradigm, 2008).

Jeffrey Miller, executive director of Thunderhead Alliance, a national umbrella organization supporting regional bicycle advocacy groups, told us he's pleased with the movement's progress in recent years.

"There's been an awakening by the decision-makers in both government and businesses that bicycling and walking can solve a lot of the environmental problems we're facing," Miller said.

He cited Portland, Ore., Chicago, Seattle, Washington DC, and New York as the cities leading the way in prioritizing bicycling and creating systems that encourage the use of bikes, and said he was sad to see the setbacks in San Francisco.

"But advocates in each of those cities will say there's so much more work to be done," Miller said.

Most of that work centers on changing how drivers and planners think about cities, and especially with those who see the competition for space as a zero-sum game. Miller noted that it's good for motorists when more people are encouraged to opt for alternate forms of transportation.

"If you just get 10 to 20 percent of the drivers to use those other modes, it frees the freeways up for cars as well," Miller said.