Bikes and sailboats

With a little vision, the America's Cup could mean great things for bikes


OPINION I'm not much of a sailor. In fact, I've been known to turn more than a little green when venturing out on the bay under sail. So it may seem a little odd that I am excited about the America's Cup regatta coming to San Francisco. This high-profile international yacht race has the potential to accomplish even more impressive feats on land than on water, ultimately leaving a legacy of safer streets and more accessible neighborhoods.

An anticipated five million spectators will put the city's transportation infrastructure to the test. It starts this summer with the qualifying races, then ramps up in summer, 2013, when upward of a half million people are expected to travel to the waterfront on peak race days.

There's no possible way to move all of these people around this tightly packed city in cars. For proof, talk to anyone who's been near the waterfront during Fleet Week, a traffic nightmare at a fraction of the size of the America's Cup.

The Mayor's Office plan for the America's Cup wisely puts bicycle transportation front and center. Event planners and politicians know that traffic and parking constraints will preclude many from driving, and transit capacity can be stretched only so far so fast.

Event organizers propose investing in a robust bike share program, park-and-ride lots where visitors can ditch their cars on the edge of the city and pedal the last few miles, and plenty of secure valet bike parking lots.

The most important component is ensuring that the city also invests in safe, comfortable routes welcoming the wide diversity of people who will be trying out two wheels — people who are likely to continue biking long after the events if they have a good experience.

A top priority must be the Embarcadero. Already an enormously popular — and overcrowded — bike route for locals and visitors, the Embarcadero should be made more welcoming to the huge numbers of people who will be drawn there on bikes and by foot.

On big event days, the plan calls for temporarily designating an existing travel lane as bicycle-only space and freeing up the pathway for walking — a more comfortable set-up for everyone.

I urge city leaders to take advantage of this opportunity to pilot a permanent, dedicated bikeway on the waterside of the roadway — the EmBIKEadero. It's a low-cost, easy way to reconnect people with the waterfront and offer an unparalleled biking experience.

Imagine riding on a mini-version of Sunday Streets on the Embarcadero any day of the week. Imagine a New York City-style high line for S.F.'s waterfront, from Mission Bay to the Golden Gate Bridge. Imagine a way to connect diverse neighborhoods and draw people to local businesses...long after the yachts have left the bay.

The city should also use the momentum behind the America's Cup to test other opportunities for safe, more welcoming streets, including Polk Street, a major connector to the northern waterfront and already an important route for the growing number of people biking in San Francisco.

Market Street should continue to be a site for innovation. Recent pilot programs prioritizing biking, walking, and transit are already proving to save bus riders time and the Muni system big dollars.

The America's Cup is our opportunity not only to stage a world-class event, but to build toward a world-class bicycling city.

Leah Shahum is executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. To learn more about the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's vision for the EmBIKEadero, see


You've got to be kidding, the america's cup will only bring accommodations for limos and chauffres.

Posted by Meow sf on Jan. 11, 2012 @ 9:34 am

For the record, my wife and I are planning on visiting SF for the entire duration of the America's Cup regatta (from FL.) Yes, we'll be renting accomodations (hopefully, a local condo.) Yes, we'll be eating in your restaurants, and probably shopping a bit too. Yes, we'll be renting a car and driving to Napa/Sonoma on the non-race days, plus visiting friends and business colleagues there.

But, NO! ... we won't be riding in chauffeur driven limos. We'll take public transport, maybe renting a motor scooter, or buying (then selling) a bike to get around on.

The America's Cup certainly WILL have its share of wealthy visitors, but, as with the rest of the population, they'll only represent 1% of the total visitors. The rest of us 99%ers are just normal sailors and spectators who work hard for our vacations.

San Francisco residents ... please don't be afraid of us! We're just like you. Instead, please be friendly and welcome your out-of-town visitors for the America's Cup like you do for World Series or Super Bowl visitors.

Posted by Guest - pdw on Jan. 11, 2012 @ 3:18 pm

You'll probably encounter a few extremists here who equate sailing with privilege and politics. But the vast majority of us here welcome visitors and tourists, and offer you a strictly non-political welcome.

There will probably be some road closures and special routes for the crowds, as you'd expect. But nobody here will judge you regardless of whether you elect to travel by bicycle or rolls-royce.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 11, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

Like Shahum I know little about sailing and wonder whether there are really half million people the organizers say will be coming. It is great to hear from a regular sailor and spectator and to find out not only billionaires care about the event.

Welcome to San Francisco and I hope you'll have a great time next year!

Posted by Guest - wy on Jan. 12, 2012 @ 10:50 am

While I think it may still be in a pilot stage now (so I can't really say whether it works well or not), you might want to have a look at when you are in town. The concept is that locals list their bikes for people to rent. May be a good option for you. Let me know if you need any help planning or advice on SF riding!

Posted by SF Resident on Jan. 28, 2012 @ 8:29 am

When the infrastructure for safe cycling -- separation from cars -- is available, many people around the world make the switch to cycling for urban trips. The virtuous cycle of reduced greenhouse gases, increased physical activity, reduced gasoline expense and increased interpersonal interaction are boons for public health. Because bicycles offer greater ease to stop and shop, this in turn is great for business and for tourism.

The EmBIKEadero is a great way to transform San Francisco into a world-class green city, especially when combined with the upcoming bicycle sharing program along the Embarcadero.

From "merchants along Sunday Streets routes have been pleased to see an increase in business during and after the event hours." This sounds like a win for everyone.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 03, 2012 @ 8:45 pm

Enjoy your visit. I'm almost 70, lived in SF for 40 years, never owned a car, bike and Muni work fine for me. A little advance planning may ease your travels. Get copies of two maps.
1) 'San Francisco Bike Map & Walking Guide
. There are lots of hills in SF many of which are 'challenging', however with a little planning you can get within a few blocks of most anywhere and only have to climb those last few blocks to the stars.
2) 'San Francisco Street & Transit Map'
Our Public Transportation is pretty good, when it works. Get a Muni Fast Pass, it'll save you money and, more importantly, avoid pissing people off while you fumble for exact change.
Visit these sites for more complete info:-
1) San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. You don't have to be a member but joining would help support the work they do in promoting bicycling as alternative transportation.
2) MUNI. Can be a little 'confusing' but lots of info, especially on Fast Passes.
3) BART. Bay Area Rapid Transit. If you want car free access to the East Bay.

Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Mar. 04, 2012 @ 9:12 am

I am glad that the city is also actively promoting bicycles as a form of transport and as a sport. Its great for the environment, and its cheap too! We do not have to worry about rising fuel costs and keeping up with the latest auto accessories. With the proper bike sharing program, more people could be encouraged to cycle.

Posted by Melanie on Mar. 08, 2012 @ 11:03 pm

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