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Friday, January 28, 2011

San Francycle: Ed Lee and Bikes from the Bay to the Beach

Posted By on Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 9:31 AM


What does an Ed Lee mayorship mean for bicycles? Well, for one thing, you may see more bike moustaches around town.

But what will Mayor Lee do to make biking safer, comfier, and more popular? The Bike Coalition didn't waste any time asking him just that. No sooner was he sworn in than they sent him a two-page letter, asking him to support the Bay-to-Beach phase of their Connecting the City plan.

The Coalition is asking for three things this year from Mayor Lee: better lanes on Market, which carries more cyclists than any other street west of the Mississippi; better lanes on Fell and Oak, connecting the western neighborhoods to downtown; and a bikeway on JFK drive to carry visitors to cultural institutions and the ocean.

Together, those three components form the basis of Bay-to-Beach, carrying cyclists from the Ferry Building all the way down to the Zoo on an uninterrupted path that's easy enough that young kids can use it.

The SFBC is leading a tour of the route this Saturday, the 29th. Pop on over to Pier 14 (that long thing sticking out into the bay, just south of the Ferry Building) at 10 a.m. for the start of the ride. We'll be livetweeting and reporting on the ride next week.

So far, the response from City Hall has been a mix of good news and less-good news.

"In general, as with Mayor Newsom, Mayor Lee is supportive of the bike program," said Johanna Partin, San Francisco's Director of Climate Protection Initiatives. "Some of the things that the Bike Coalition has suggested are already in the works. Others, we need to sit down and work with stakeholders and work out more details."

Delightfully, the work on JFK drive has already been funded and inserted in to the MTA's work plan. "By summer would be do-able," said Partin.

The route's not without some controversy, though. Some bike nerds have pointed out that JFK is already a pretty easy commute, and they don't want it to change. But as relatively low-hanging fruit, that's a portion of the Bay-to-Beach trail that's easy to complete and will prime expectations for improvements elsewhere.

The scene on Market Street.
  • The scene on Market Street.

Things are a little more complicated when it comes to Market. Improvements like more green lanes, more physical separations, and bike boxes might start this spring ... or they might not.

"A lot of the funding was coming through the Redevelopment Agency," Partin said, and Governor Brown is taking a hard line on cutting redevelopment expenditures.

It remains to be seen how soon Market Street will get its makeover. But Leah Shahum, Executive Director of the SF Bike Coalition, remains optimistic. "We think those things could be done easily by Bike to Work Day," she said.

And fixing Fell and Oak is even trickier. The Bike Coalition's vision -- "and we're open to suggestions on this," Shahum said -- is to put bikes on the street, instead of within the Panhandle. UPDATE: Shahum informs us that the on-street lanes would be in addition to the Panhandle path, not a replacement.

"Either you could make room for the bikeway in the places where on-street parking is now, or you could keep the parking there and put the bikeway in the place of one of the travel lanes," she said.

But wait. Removing a travel lane would trigger the California Environmental Quality Act, said Partin, requiring extensive and expensive study. And removing parking spaces would cause asphalt-greedy drivers to jump up and down and gnash their terrible teeth. (That's our analysis, not Partin's.)

"We're asking the city to study these two options and do so in a timely way," said Shahum, again with the optimism. "The Fell and Oak improvements could be implemented by late fall."

Maybe they could be. But don't be surprised if we have a few more hills to climb before it actually happens.

Ultimately, said Shahum, the question is this: "How do we create the next generation of bikeways? What kind of streets will be be comfortable bringing our 8-year-old kids on?"

She pointed out that 58% more people are biking than there were four years ago. And that's with no bike improvements; now that the city is reconfiguring streets, expect to see an even bigger surge.

"Our goal is to help the city meet its goal 20% of trips by bicycle by 2020," Shahum said.

Do say hello if you're going to be at the bike tour this weekend! We'll be on a green Bianchi with red stripes on the wheels.

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Matt Baume


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