Cyclists cheer as SFMTA Board approves Bike Plan projects

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By Rebecca Bowe

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San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum (right) and cyclist Lynn Howe moments after the SFMTA Board declared its unanimous support for 45 new Bike Plan projects.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board approved 45 San Francisco Bike Plan projects earlier this afternoon, a move that will nearly double the number of bike lanes in the city.

The unanimous decision prompted cheers and applause from cyclists who turned out at the MTA hearing en masse to voice support for the citywide Bike Plan. Some 200 people signed up to comment at the hearing, and the overwhelming majority were supporters donning hot-pink stickers distributed by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition that screamed, “Double the number of bike lanes.”

For more than three hours, the board heard personal stories from people who get around by bike: parents, seniors, students, health-care workers, teachers, lawyers, landlords, scientists, and even a 14-year-old boy named Cameron who told the MTA Board that he gets nervous about getting “doored” while riding his bike. ("Sharrows," the San Francisco-grown road markings that depict arrows in the bike lanes, are designed to keep cyclists out of the car-door zone to reduce the danger of being doored, or slammed by an unexpected door. The bike plan calls for marking 75 miles of on-street bike routes with sharrows.)

Fewer than 20 speakers voiced opposition to the plan, and most took issue with a proposal for Second Street that would reduce parking to accommodate new bike lanes and restrict left turns at various intersections. Several representatives from the South Beach Mission Bay Business Association and the South Beach/Rincon/Mission Bay Neighborhood Association said there hadn’t been enough community outreach conducted in their neighborhood, and called the plan for Second Street “flawed” -- but most voiced their general support for enhancing bike lanes in the city. The MTA Board ultimately voted to remove the Second Street project from the package of projects up for approval, setting it aside for further discussion.

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They want to ride their bicycles. They want to ride their bikes.

There was one speaker, however, who voiced very strong opposition to the plan. Mary Miles, an attorney who successfully sued the city on behalf of client Rob Anderson for moving the Bike Plan forward without first conducting an Environmental Impact Review, secured a three-year injunction on the plan that has been an endless source of frustration for the cycling community. “Let me remind you that the injunction is still in effect,” Miles said. “We are appealing these actions. I strongly advise that you stay your actions. Just stop now, instead of wasting everybody’s time.” It may have been a tense moment inside the hearing room, but in the overflow room on City Hall’s first floor, the crowd was laughing out loud. Shortly after, a representative from the City Attorney’s office noted that there were no legal issues barring the MTA Board from approving the 46 near-term bike projects that day. However, there will almost certainly be several more legal hurdles to clear in the short term before the plan can be implemented.

According to Mayor Gavin Newsom, who spoke at a press conference later that afternoon on the steps of City Hall, the new bike projects will be underway by the end of the summer. “By sometime in August, we will hit the ground -- literally -- not running, but sprinting,” Newsom said. He also said the debate should not be framed as one of cars and parking vs. bicycles, instead calling for “a new narrative of collaboration and partnership.”

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum, whose organization has some 10,000 members, was clearly thrilled about the passage of the bike plan. “I’ve been doing this for 11 years,” she told the crowd outside City Hall. “And this is the most significant step the city has chosen for sustainable transportation.”