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Monday, September 24, 2012

Report: More People Biking than Ever, but S.F.'s Infrastructure Lags

Posted By on Mon, Sep 24, 2012 at 11:30 AM

Something seems a little off here. - FLICKR
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  • Something seems a little off here.

Two years ago, after a fact-finding trip to a few bike-friendly cities in Europe, some S.F. heavy hitters came home glowing with good ideas.

Forthwith, the Board of Supervisors approved legislation laying out a goal for the year 2020: that 20 percent of our city's vehicle trips be by bicycle. Hurrah! Also, holy shit! That'd mean an increase of, um, 571 percent.

Sure, biking is infectiously popular here (up 71 percent in five years), but it ain't the Spanish Influenza.

Don't worry, when the MTA released its five-year strategic plan this January, it offered a more reasonable target. By 2018, we'd see an increase -- to 50 percent of all trips -- in biking, walking, public transit, car-share and taxi use, and hopefully rollerblades too. Right now, we're at 38 percent. As for that 12 percent spread, the director of the MTA's Sustainable Streets division told SF Streetsblog's Aaron Bialick that the agency expects half to come from more bike trips. Doable!

Still, the specter of that post-European hope hangs over the MTA's newly released State of Cycling report. In short: We've got a lot of cyclists suddenly, but the city's entrenched and auto-centric political climate means we're falling behind advancements in places like Chicago, where, on one main thoroughfare, cyclists have accounted for 51 percent of rush-hour traffic; Minneapolis, which, at almost $10 per rider, nearly quadruples our paltry spending on cycling infrastructure; and New York, where there's this special force known as Michael Bloomberg.

"The state of bicycling in San Francisco is indeed strong," says the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's Leah Shahum in a statement, "but it can and should be much stronger by connecting our city more quickly with great bikeways and welcoming more people to biking with a robust bikeshare program and great bike parking options."

Morgan Fitzgibbons of the Wigg Party puts it more bluntly: "Biking is increasing in San Francisco despite the city government's tremendous foot-dragging on a host of infrastructure improvements. Mayor Lee and his administration continue to bank on the legacy of San Francisco as a leader in the sustainability movement while doing everything they can to ignore the actual improvements that are so direly needed at this important moment in history."

Meaning, for instance, letting the Fell and Oak Street separated bikeway project languish so that 80 parking spaces (overseen by District 5 supervisor Christina Olague) could remain. "The prioritization of political maneuvering over basic safety for thousands of citizens who depend on this route to move around the city every day is incredibly irresponsible," says Fitzgibbons.

No one wants to see our city's ridership level off through foot-dragging or yet another needless and high-profile accident. But if the number of riders on the streets today continues to rise while our current infrastructure barely evolves ... yikes. The long-delayed study on the feasibility of reaching that 20 percent goal -- especially through the Connecting the City project -- is reportedly due from the MTA in January, so expect this patchwork of expectations to find some better stitching. Will our infrastructure follow? 

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