Care not crash

The Bike Plan is finally free. Can it help soothe tensions between cyclists and motorists?

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rebeccab@sfbg.com

Fresh coats of paint are hitting the pavement in San Francisco, creating new zones of supposed safety for bicyclists. But that long-awaited change comes at a time when local cyclists are as fearful as ever of automobiles, particularly following a horrifying incident in which a motorist intentionally ran down four cyclists.

On Aug. 6, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch announced that a four-year injunction against projects in the city's Bicycle Plan would be fully lifted, freeing an ambitious package of bike-related infrastructure from legal limbo and effectively kick-starting 35 new bike lanes throughout the city, bringing San Francisco's bike network up to 79 miles.

"A world-class city is a city that tries to democratize its streets," Mayor Gavin Newsom noted at an Aug. 9 press conference held to celebrate the newly liberated Bike Plan. "This is not the old days when it was about bikes versus cars."

New lanes will soon materialize on Townsend, North Point, and 17th streets, as well as Portola Drive and Ocean Ave., with many more projects soon to come.

"This is a great day for bicycling," San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Acting Executive Director Renee Rivera said at the event. "We are beginning a new era. The city is going to become the most bike-friendly city in our country."

Bicycle ridership in San Francisco has increased 53 percent since 2006, according to city traffic surveys, and the 11,000-member SFBC has become the city's largest grassroots advocacy organization. SFBC officials say the trend is likely to continue, citing survey results showing that more than a third of city residents say they would occasionally swap their steering wheel for a set of handlebars if streets were more inviting to cyclists.

Does all of this mean it will get easier for cyclists and motorists to "share the road," to borrow an oft-repeated mantra of the bike community? While San Francisco is hailed by some as way ahead of the curve on bikeability, others argue that there's a steep uphill climb ahead before a real sense of equilibrium can be realized. In a dense urban environment like San Francisco, where even the paved streets are highly sought-after real estate, tensions routinely flare between drivers and bicyclists as they wheel through the same arteries.

All modes of transportation are not created equal. It's inherently riskier to ride bikes than drive cars that are built to keep their occupants safe in crashes. Yet bikes are a key component in the city's and state's long-range goals of reducing carbon emissions, limiting traffic congestion, and reducing dependency on oil.

Still, it's all too common for motorists to become irate at cyclists, and vice-versa, giving rise to aggressive exchanges, unfriendly gestures, bitter resentments, and worse. Sometimes, much worse.

 

THE NIGHTMARE SCENARIO

Rolando Casajeros, known to his friends and coworkers as "Allan," shuffled into a law office conference room and gingerly lowered himself into a seat before a set of news station microphones on June 24.

A scar zigzagged across the top of his shaved head, and another crossed vertically down his forehead — marks from surgery he'd undergone to alleviate bleeding in his brain a couple weeks earlier. His front teeth were missing. His lips were swollen and purple. He'd suffered 12 facial fractures, plus mouth and jaw injuries, followed by 19 hours of intensive surgery.

Casajeros was the first and most seriously injured victim of a hit-and-run rampage that occurred June 2 when a motorist behind the wheel of a blue Nissan Rogue SUV struck four cyclists in San Francisco's Mission and Potrero Hill neighborhoods, allegedly on purpose. At a press conference in the downtown San Francisco law office of his attorney Claude Wyle, Casajeros recounted what happened.

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