Shifting gears

Safer streets for cyclists cause growing pains for motorists
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rebeccab@sfbg.com

Bicyclists throughout the city cheered as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board unanimously approved 45 new bike-network improvement projects June 26, a move that was hailed as a major step forward for cyclist safety on city streets and a win for the environment.

In a historic decision, SFMTA accepted the findings of an environmental impact review associated with the long-stalled San Francisco Bike Plan and green-lighted almost all of its near-term project proposals, a decision that could trigger the construction of 34 new miles of bike lanes throughout the city starting as early as August.

Plans also call for innovative improvements such as colored bike lanes, converting on-street parking spaces from cars to bikes, thousands of new bike racks, and an effort to ramp up education about safety for bicyclists and motorists. Three years after a court injunction came down on bike-network improvements in the wake of a lawsuit for failing to conduct a full EIR, the board's vote was widely applauded as a pivotal moment for bicycling in San Francisco. Now that the EIR has been adopted, the process of lifting the injunction has been set in motion.

The vote followed more than three hours of testimony from avid San Francisco cyclists, who asked for more bike lanes and greater accessibility for would-be bicyclists such as children and seniors. Fewer than 20 people turned out in opposition and most people on the thumbs-down side voiced their general support for enhanced bike lanes, but took issue with some flawed aspects of one of the projects.

For a comprehensive design that could ultimately remove more than 2,000 parking spaces from city streets to accommodate bicycle infrastructure, there was remarkably little discussion about the loss of parking.

An old familiar debate about bikes vs. cars continues to grind away — but even Mayor Gavin Newsom called this squabble a thing of the past, touting the Bike Plan as progress for San Francisco and focusing his comments at a press conference on sustainability and livability instead the competition for space on city streets.

IF YOU BUILD IT ...

Moments after the MTA Board announced its decision, a crowd of die-hard bike enthusiasts from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition exchanged hugs and congratulations outside the City Hall hearing room. The vote was hailed as a major, hard-won victory.

"This is a momentous day for better bicycling and a better San Francisco," said Leah Shahum, executive director of the 10,000-member organization. The city "has taken a significant step forward in proving its commitment to smart, sustainable transportation choices, and we expect to see the numbers of people choosing to bicycle to increase dramatically."

Still, there are undoubtedly some who only expect to experience a dramatic increase in frustration when looking for a parking space. There are 880 lane-miles of streets in San Francisco's roadway network, and according to SFMTA spokesman Judson True, a total of 880 parking spaces throughout the city would've been removed if the MTA Board had approved all 46 Bike Plan projects.

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