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Friday, February 4, 2011

San Francycle: Bike-Friendly City Could Divide the SF Bicycle Coalition

Posted By on Fri, Feb 4, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Commuters and people out to get exercise want to go fast. - TANYA DUERI
  • Tanya Dueri
  • Commuters and people out to get exercise want to go fast.
Brace yourself: things may get a bit testy this year as the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition pushes its Connecting the City plan, designed to make bike trips more attractive to more San Franciscans.

Who could object to more cyclists on the street? Well, very few people, actually. The real objection stems from the changes that the SFBC wants to make in order to draw those cyclists out.


Commuters and people out to get exercise want to go fast. - TANYA DUERI
  • Tanya Dueri
  • Commuters and people out to get exercise want to go fast.

So far, little skirmishes have been breaking out on Twitter, Facebook, and the comments of blogs, which is a big deal because those are the most important communications media of our time.

The most controversial point in the plan is Golden Gate Park, where a big wide street with bikes and cars mixed together would be transformed into a big wide street with cars and bikes confined to separate sides.

The way some folks see it, that's a problem because it could slow some cyclists down.

"This is the worst idea I have ever seen," writes one commenter on Streetsblog, possibly the owner of a comic book shop. "Tourists want to go slow and enjoy the park, which is great. Bike commuters want to get to work on time. Cyclists riding for exercise want to get their heart rates up. Don't force these users of the road -- especially in the middle of a park that should be car-free anyway -- to compete with one another for space."

On Facebook, John Riley writes, "the park should be a place where a cyclist is free to ride as fast as they can."

And that's what the opposition to the plan basically boils down to: an unwillingness to share.

Of course, it's fair to feel a little put-out when someone proposes that you slow down. That's totally annoying! Experienced cyclists like to go fast, and they don't like to swerve around kids and old people and fatties and tourists.

Some cyclists don't like the idea of having to slow down for kids, older people, and more casual riders. - SAN FRANCISCO BICYCLE COALITION
  • San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
  • Some cyclists don't like the idea of having to slow down for kids, older people, and more casual riders.

That's the problem, though: If San Francisco is going to reach its goal of 20 percent of trips by bike by 2020, we're going to need to get more kids, old people, fatties, and tourists out of cars and onto bikes. And to do that, we'll need to make roads safer and more comfortable for people who feel a little nervous on bikes -- and don't travel as fast.

And in order to do that, a few people might not be able to travel as fast as they once did.

JFK in Golden Gate Park isn't the scariest stretch in the city, of course, and the Bike Coalition is also addressing messier areas such as the transition between the Wiggle and Panhandle. But as pleasant as it is, a lot of San Franciscans still can't be persuaded to venture out onto JFK.

Revamping the road provides two important opportunities: demonstrating just how inclusive a bike lane can be, and making newcomers feel safe on their bikes for the first time.

But while the Bike Coalition is making life easier for 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds, longtime members might start to feel a little neglected.

It was the hardcore cyclists who stood by the coalition and over the past few decades built the group into a 12,000-member powerhouse. Those folks may start to chafe as the organization takes on a new group of users whose needs include greater comfort and safety.

It's just like how the old-timers got upset when Burning Man built a subterranean luxury hotel beneath the desert. (That's a secret, don't tell anyone.)

So whose Bike Coalition is it -- the old-timers? The weekend riders? Little kids? Can the organization be sustained as its membership moves toward ever-increasing diversity?

Well, yes. As long as we promise to share.

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Matt Baume

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