Shifting gears - Page 2

Safer streets for cyclists cause growing pains for motorists
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(The board okayed 45 out of 46 projects; the hotly debated Second Street project, which would have stripped out a handful of parking spaces to accommodate bike lanes, was continued for further study.)

Amid the hundreds of pages of comments submitted during the EIR process was a complaint that the Bike Plan — often touted as a win for sustainability — could adversely impact San Francisco's air quality by causing more drivers to circle in search of parking.

"More time will be spent by persons in cars as a result of a lack of on-street parking (already at a critical lack of capacity) searching for an available parking spot or stuck in traffic jams due to removal of car traffic lanes," one member of the public complained.

In response, the EIR points to San Francisco's Transit First policy, which essentially says that the city will provide more of an incentive to take public transit than drive. "The social inconvenience of parking deficits, such as having to hunt for scarce parking spaces, is not an environmental impact," the EIR notes. "There may be secondary physical environmental impacts such as increased traffic congestion at intersections, air quality impacts, safety impacts, or noise impacts caused by congestion. In the experience of San Francisco transportation planners, however, the absence of a ready supply of parking spaces, combined with available alternatives to auto travel ... induces many drivers to seek and find alternative parking facilities, shift to other modes of travel, or change their overall travel habits. Any such resulting shifts to transit service in particular, would be in keeping with the city's Transit First Policy."

The underlying idea is that the Bike Plan can help to clear the air, fight climate change, and boost public health by making it more convenient to go without a vehicle — and more of a headache to drive.

As one commenter pointed out, the Bike Plan could also make life easier for people with disabilities who have to drive by replacing cars with bikes and thus freeing space in traffic lanes.

BRAKING THE HABIT

There are, of course, many sound arguments for nudging people away from driving. At a June 26 press conference, Newsom noted that 54 percent of the city's greenhouse-gas emissions are related to vehicle traffic on the city's roadways — and reducing those carbon emissions would go a long way toward making the city more climate-friendly, not to mention healthier for cyclists and non-cyclists alike.

Meanwhile, Bert Hill, chair of the city's Bicycle Advisory Committee, noted that 40 percent of car trips in the city cover two miles or less, a distance easily traversed by bicycle. If more people opt to go by bike, the result could be calmer traffic, cleaner air, and possibly a boost for business. "No one goes shopping on the highway," one commenter pointed out during the SFMTA Board hearing. For all of these overarching benefits to be realized, of course, many motorists will have to change their behavior by electing to leave the car at home.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition points to evidence suggesting that many frequent drivers are in fact ready to transform into frequent bicyclists. "New bike lanes will ... attract tens of thousands of new bicyclists," an SFBC press release noted. "More than one-third of San Franciscans say they would ride if streets had more bike lanes and were more inviting for bicycling."

Newsom sounded a similar note, calling the Bike Plan "inevitable" and asserting that the debate that "used to be framed in terms of two wheels vs. four ... that is behind us." Instead, he added, it's time for "a new narrative of collaboration and partnership" between people who share the road.

Still, a battle continues to be waged against the implementation of the Bike Plan.