The bicycle has become a metaphor for progress that is long overdue. So mount up on May 14, Bike to Work Day, if you'd like to be a part of the solution to what's ailing our city and planet.
I love my bike, and so do most people who see it. San Franciscans appreciate the little things, like someone who rides a silly-looking bike.
It started as a basic used mountain bike, but I styled it out for Burning Man a few years ago, covering it with heavy red acrylic paint that looks like stucco, a big basket covered in fake fur and ringed with electro-luminescent wire, and custom-welded high handlebars topped by a lizard horn.
Maybe you've seen me around town and if so, maybe you've seen me blow through stop signs or red lights. Yes, I'm that guy, and I only apologize if I'm stealing a motorist's right-of-way, which I try to avoid. Rob Anderson, who successfully sued San Francisco to force detailed studies of its Bike Plan (and blogs at district5diary.blogspot.com), regularly calls me and my ilk the "bike fanatics."
I've interviewed Anderson by phone a few times and tangled with him online many times. He's actually a pretty well-informed and well-reasoned guy, except for his near pathological disdain for bicycling, which he considers an inherently dangerous activity that government has no business promoting and is not a serious transportation option.
But San Francisco would be a gridlocked nightmare without bikes. Transportation officials say this is already one of the most traffic-choked cities in the country (second after Houston), a big factor in Muni never reaching its voter-mandated 85 percent on-time performance. During peak hours, most Muni lines reach their holding capacity. Imagine 37,500 additional people (the estimated number of San Franciscans who primarily travel by bike) driving or taking Muni every day.
Conversely, imagine the transportation system if bicycling rates doubled and some of those bulky cars and buses became zippy bikes. Quality of life would improve; the air would be cleaner; we would emit far less greenhouse gases (transportation accounts for about half of the Bay Area's carbon emissions); housing would get cheaper (building parking increases costs and decreases the number of housing units); pressure would decrease to drill for oil offshore and prop up despotic regimes in oil-rich countries; pedestrians would be safer (about a dozen are killed by cars here every year); and public health would improve (by reducing obesity and respiratory ailments associated with air pollution).
Increase bicycling rates even more, to the levels of Berlin, Copenhagen, or Amsterdam, and San Francisco would be utterly transformed, with many streets converted to car-free boulevards as the demand shifts from facilitating speeding cars to creating space for more bicyclists and pedestrians.
Sure, as Anderson points out, many people will never ride a bike. The elderly, those with disabilities, some families with kids, and a few other groups can credibly argue that the bicycle isn't a realistic daily transportation option. But that's a small percentage of the population.
For the rest of you: what's your excuse? Why would you continue to rely on such wasteful and expensive transportation options a label that applies to both cars and buses when you could use the most efficient vehicle ever invented?
At the SFBC's annual Golden Wheels Awards banquet on May 5, SFBC director Leah Shahum described a bike movement at the peak of its power, reach, and influence.