Six big ideas to boost SF's bikeability
San Francisco's bicycle advocates have been focused on winning approval for 56 near-term projects outlined in the city's bike plan, which would increase the number of miles of bike lanes from 45 to 79, and quadruple the number of city streets bearing "sharrow" markings (see "Street fight ," 2/4/09).
But bike-related projects farther out on the horizon could significantly raise the bar for a bikeable San Francisco. Here are a six long-range concepts that could make cycling in the city more safe, enjoyable, and accessible to people who might otherwise be driving solo.
Cyclists who commute between San Francisco and the East Bay have asked an obvious question for years: why must I spend money on BART fares or bridge tolls to get across the bay when I know I'm capable of biking there? When construction of the new east span of the Bay Bridge is finished, cyclists will finally get a bike path but it will only get them from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island. Luckily, the idea of installing a complementary bike path along the west span to San Francisco is being entertained. It's expensive (estimates place the cost at $200 million) and complicated (a 2001 feasibility study found there would need to be tracks on both sides of the bridge for balance). But in early April, the Bay Area Toll Authority agreed to spend $1.3 million on an 18-month study so the project could be shovel-ready when funding becomes available.
Market Street is a popular thoroughfare for bicyclists even though much of its design creates tight-squeezes and conflicts with automobiles. For years there's been talk of making it car-free, an idea once advocated by former Mayor Willie Brown. It was studied in 1997, but never received enough support to move forward, in part because area merchants worry their business would be hurt by restricting motorists. But the latest attempt to quell Market Street traffic may get more traction. Sup. Chris Daly, who also sits on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, requested a comprehensive study on restricting Market Street traffic and a draft report is expected by early summer. Andy Thornley, program director at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, notes that the overarching idea is not to make Market Street exclusive to bikes and pedestrians, but to improve it as a whole. "A car-free Market Street may be the route," Thorney says, "but it's not the reason."
Ask Dave Snyder, transportation policy director at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), what constitutes an ideal bike lane, and he'll say it has to be safe enough for parents to feel comfortable allowing their eight-year-old to ride a bike there. "That's a very high standard," he says. "But it's a correct standard." One approach for safeguarding bike lanes, adopted in New York City and elsewhere, is to color them in. Bike activists have been pushing the idea here, but the monkey wrench in the works is a sort of national bible of traffic symbols that lacks a standard for colored bike lanes. If the city rolls with a concept that's outside the rulebook, the thinking goes, it could be a liability. But bike advocates hope to incorporate colored bike lines into the standard via a pilot program. In coming months, be on the lookout for more colorful city streets.
A bike box is a colored bike zone just before an intersection designed to let cyclists get out in front of traffic at a red light so they can be more visible. SF has two low-profile bike boxes, Thornley notes, but plans are on the horizon to install more. When the city of Portland, Ore. installed them, it produced a video called "On the Move with Mr. Smooth" to promote the concept. Hosted by a greasy character in a neon green shirt, the video makes a big deal about how motorists get a great view when they stop behind the bike-box line. "The bike box," Portland's slogan proclaims. "Get behind it."
Blue for the water, green for the parks and open space, the Blue Greenway is envisioned as a 13-mile corridor along the southeastern waterfront that would connect a string of existing parks from the Giants' stadium to Candlestick Point State Recreation Area. "We want to connect not only parks along the Blue Greenway, but connect people to the waterfront," explains Corrine Woods, who is working on the project through the Neighborhood Parks Council. The corridor will serve as the city's southeastern portion of the San Francisco Bay Trail, a massive interconnected trail network planned by the Association of Bay Area Governments that is envisioned as a 400-mile recreational "ring around the Bay."
For now cyclists aren't allowed to bring their bikes not even the folding kind on Muni trains or buses (although some buses have bike racks outside). But it's something the Municipal Transportation Agency has on its radar as a possible policy change, according to spokesperson Judson True. "As we move forward and people become more aware of the benefits of public transit, our vehicles become more and more crowded," True notes. This may be a good problem to have, but it means the agency must work out a strategy to accommodate wheelchair-bound passengers, strollers, walkers, bikes, and other essentials that passengers bring on board. Once the bike-plan injunction is lifted, True says, he expects MTA to approve a pilot program for bikes on Muni. In order to discourage more people from driving, he says, "linking sustainable modes of transportation like biking and transit is key."