The Bike Issue: Behind the pack - Page 4

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

"I don't see why we go out of our way to favor cars over every other form of transportation."

Like many advocates, he said a strong and consistently supportive mayor is crucial to change the priorities in cities.

"We have an executive leader in Mayor Daley who believes strongly that the bicycle is a big part of the solution to our environmental problems," said Rob Sadowsky, director of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation.

"We have an incredible partnership with the city," he said, noting that the organization often works directly on city contracts to create more bicycle facilities, something that happens in other bike-friendly cities like Portland and New York. But it doesn't happen much in San Francisco.

"There's a real sense that we've turned a critical corner and things that we're been fighting for, for years now, are in sight," said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives in New York. "In the last year, there have been some significant policy advances."

Like Mayor Daley in Chicago, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has become a vocal advocate of green transportation alternatives and has been willing to stand firm against displaced drivers.

"Anything you give to cyclists is basically taken away from automobiles," White said, adding that New York officials "have not shied away from taking parking away, or even a lane on Ninth Avenue. And that shows how serious they are."

The problem isn't just San Francisco's, but California's as well. It is the state's decades-old California Environmental Quality Act that was used to stall the Bike Plan and make bike projects so cumbersome. Sadowsky said bike projects in Chicago are relatively easy to implement, with little in the way of hearings or environmental studies needed.

Oregon laws also helped make Portland a national leader, with a requirement that all new road construction include bike lanes, paid for with state funds. Yet here in the small, 49-mile square that is San Francisco, with ideal weather and a deeply ingrained bike community, many say the city could be on the verge of regaining its leadership role in the bicycle policy.

A poll conducted in November 2007 by David Binder Research found that 5 percent of residents use a bicycle as their main mode of transportation, and that 16 percent of San Franciscans ride a bike at least once a week. Even more encouraging is the fact that most reasons cited for not biking — not enough bike lanes or parking, bad roads, feeling threatened by cars — are all things that can be addressed by smart bike policies.

"If it's going to happen anywhere, it's going to happen in San Francisco — as far as making more bicycling a reality," Gajda told us. "I really feel like we're poised after the injunction to take it to the next level."

GET INVOLVED

The SFMTA has a series of upcoming workshops on the city's Bike Plan and network:

Central Neighborhoods May 21, 6–7:30 p.m., SoMa Recreation Center Auditorium, 270 Sixth St.

Southeastern Neighborhoods May 22, 6–7:30 p.m., Bayview Anna E. Warden Branch Library, 5075 Third St.

Western Neighborhoods June 3, 6–7:30 p.m., Sunset Recreation Center Auditorium, 2201 Lawton.

Northern Neighborhoods June 4, 6–7:30 p.m., Golden Gate Valley Branch Library, 1801 Green.

BIKE TO WORK DAY, MAY 15

Biking is easier and more fun than many people realize, so Bike to Work Day is the perfect excuse to try it on for size. There will be energizer stations all over town for goodies and encouragement, and lots of fellow cyclists on the road for moral support, including group rides leaving 11 different neighborhoods at 7:30 a.m.