Uphill climb - Page 3

Bicycles can improve the city and save the planet. So why are bike riders still treated as second-class citizens?

"In the last two years, we've seen an unprecedented political embrace of bicycling," she said, praising Mayor Gavin Newsom for his championing of the Sunday Streets car-free space and calling the progressive-dominated Board of Supervisors "the most bike-friendly board we've ever seen."

In just a few years, the SFBC went from fighting pitched battles with Newsom over closing some Golden Gate Park roads to cars on Saturdays — a two-year fight that ended in a compromise after some serious ill-will on both sides — to Newsom's championing an even larger Sunday Streets road closure on six days this spring and summer, even fighting through business community opposition to do so.

As with many Newsom initiatives, it's difficult to discern his motivation, which seems to be a mixture of political posturing and a desire to keep San Francisco on the cutting edge of the green movement. Whatever the case, the will to take street space from automobiles — which will be the crux of the struggles to come — is probably greater now than it has ever been.

Because at the end of the day, Anderson is right: bicyclists do have a radical agenda. We want to take space from cars, both lanes and parking spaces, all over this city. That's what has to happen to create a safe, complete bicycle system, which is a prerequisite to encouraging more people to cycle. We need to realize that designing the city around automobiles is an increasingly costly and unsustainable model.

"The streets do not have to be solely — or even primarily — for cars anymore," Shahum told an audience that included City Attorney Dennis Herrera, top mayoral aide Mike Farrah, and several members of the Board of Supervisors (including President David Chiu, a regular cyclist and occasional bike commuter), drawing warm applause.

Shahum was certainly correct when she called the politically engaged community of bicyclists "one of the strongest and most successful movements in this city," one she believes is capable of moving an ambitious agenda. "During the next six weeks, we have the opportunity to win a literal doubling of the city's bike network."

She's referring to the imminent completion of environmental studies that support the city's Bike Plan, which will allow the courts to lift the nearly three-year-old injunction against new bike projects in the city. The SFBC has been aggressively organizing and advocating for the immediate approval of all 56 near-term bikeway improvements outlined in the plan, which have been studied and are ready to go, most with grant funding already in the bank.

"I think San Francisco is hungry for a higher use of public space," she said. "Imagine streets moving so calmly and slowly that you'd let your six-year-old ride on them."

That's the standard advocated by the international car-free movement, which I interacted with last year when I covered the International Carfree Conference in Portland, Ore. These influential advocates believe bikeways should be so safe and insulated from fast-moving traffic that both the young and old feel comfortable riding them.

"Streets belong to us — they are the public spaces of the city — but they don't feel like they belong to us," said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, a sponsor of Sunday Streets, which was honored at the Golden Wheel Awards. The streets, he told the crowd, "don't need to be the objects of fear."

Later, as we spoke, Radulovich said it's not enough to create narrow bikes lanes on busy streets.