Did you know that here in San Francisco, we under invest and under spend on biking and are still considered a major cycling capital? We spend less money per person on cycling infrastructure than other comparable cities, and we spend less proportionally on bike transportation than on other transportation modes.
But that will have to change if we're going to hit our 2020 goal to get more bikes on the road, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority astutely noted this week.
Transportation officials presented a series of budget plans at a recent and Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee where they discussed how the money flow could effect cycling in San Francisco.
"San Francisco needs to be seen as a bike-friendly city, but when you look at the funding, it's neglected in many ways." Supervisor Eric Mar noted. "After the deaths of Amelie Le Moullac and others, I, along with bicycle advocates, felt pissed off that there's not enough work being done to make our streets safer -- or even to follow up after deaths happen."
The group detailed how every city that has a larger cycling population than San Francisco spends more money on biking infrastructure. Investment in cycling drives more people to ride bikes; a city can effectively buy its way into the Copenhagenize Index. What's surprising is this: So far, San Francisco has gotten lucky. Some 3.5 percent of trips in San Francisco are by bike yet we spend less than .5 percent of the total yearly SFMTA budget on bike infrastructure. And since bike infrastructure requires way less maintenance and upkeep and staff than something like, buses or highways, it's even more of a bargain.
We also underspend compared to other cities per capita: we spend around $9 per person on cycling infrastructure annually. Remember that's with 3.5 percent bicycle mode share and .5 percent of total SFMTA budget. A city like Amsterdam spends over $22 per person on bicycle infrastructure while boasting a 38 percent mode share. Which brings us to the SFMTA's point: Shelling out $191 million on San Francisco bike infrastructure by 2018 would boost ridership to 10 percent of total transportation share in the city.
Increasing ridership and reducing car traffic has plenty of benefits. Air quality would be better, road upkeep costs would be lower, and there's health benefits, as one speaker noted at the meeting.
"My demographic is profoundly unhealthy and addicted to their cars and that is something we can not afford. Spending this amount of money is trivial. We should increase the amount we spend with the understanding that it's going toward future health," the speaker noted.
Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bike Coalition, tried to appeal to drivers. "The investment in bicycling is a cost-effective way to move more people in our city. Investing in cycling benefits more than just those on bikes: we know if we open more space on transit and parking lots for those that need to drive everyone benefits."
The message at the end of the meeting was pretty clear: Money might not buy you happiness or love or whatever else, but one thing it can buy is bicycle infrastructure and mode share.
Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He can be spotted dragging himself up a hill -- literally and metaphorically.