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Friday, July 18, 2014

San Francisco Is the Perfect Place for Bike Elevators

Posted By on Fri, Jul 18, 2014 at 3:35 PM


You might be sweating it out and dragging yourself up the steepest streets in the city, but do you really want to be? Wouldn't it be nice to arrive at your destination, be it home or work, with a dry brow and back, plenty of air in your lungs, and a normal heart rate?

It's called bike elevators and we don't have them.

But over in Trondheim, Norway, there's been a bicycle lift giving cyclists a ride up a steep hill since 1993. The video above shows how the thing works. This is the original lift, called a Trampe, which means "stomp" in Norwegian. You can see that you have to take your foot of the right pedal and put it on a step, that then propels you up the grade. Keep in mind that this grade is only 20 percent.

The gradients in our fair city climb all the way up to the 41 percent on Bradford at Tompkins down in Bernal Heights -- the steepest so far plotted by intrepid surveyors. Bradford probably doesn't exactly need a bike elevator, because it isn't exactly a bustling thoroughfare. There are plenty of other steep streets in the city that have both a 20 percent-plus grade and plenty of bike traffic. Over in Norway, local city officials prefer not to worry about inducing cardiac arrest among their citizens, and installed this pleasant bike elevator on a grade half as steep, and probably half as trafficked, as many of the streets in San Francisco.

The Norwegians recently tore out the original Trampe and replaced it with an infinitely more marketable, but just as questionable sounding, CycloCable. The new system works the same -- you put your foot on a little pedal and it pushes you up a hill at a few miles an hour. You can hop on and off at your convenience. The big difference is that CycloCable will be packaged for sale to other hilly cities. That's where San Francisco comes in.

The installation of a bike escalator would cost about $1,000 per foot. That might sound like a lot, but a bike lane can cost that much, and a road definitely costs more. So it's really not that high when you consider how tough it is to bike the hills of San Francisco.

Okay so maybe sweaty backs aren't the most pressing issue facing cyclists, cycling advocates, and city officials here in San Francisco, but the bike escalator could have some major benefits. First, it might get more people to ride bikes. Secondly, it might let more people ride bikes in San Francisco that otherwise wouldn't be physically able to tackle the incredible steep hills in the way.

But I don't think we'll get anything like the bike elevator, ever. It's not for lack of funds. We manage to throw $700,000 at an electric wheel, $70,000 at turn signal gloves, $120,000 at an iPhone handlebar mount, $60,000 on a foldable bike helmet. So I feel like maybe there's enough money floating around in the pockets of well heeled cyclist to fund a few feet of CycloCable up the steepest hills.

click to enlarge Russian Hill, seen from Telegraph Hill, San Francisco, California, USA - BERNARD GAGNON
  • Bernard Gagnon
  • Russian Hill, seen from Telegraph Hill, San Francisco, California, USA

But the reason that we won't have elevators is the same reason that these Kickstarter things probably do work: we love buying things for ourselves, and we don't love investing in something that everybody can use. We love being early adopters if that means buying something before everyone else, but not when it comes to infrastructure that makes the city better for everyone. No doubt, if somebody tried to install something like the CycloCable on Fillmore, or Duboce, or Jones, or Webster, or 24th, there would be a decade-long fight.

Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He can be spotted dragging himself up a hill -- literally and metaphorically.

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About The Author

Leif Haven

Leif Haven

Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He can be spotted dragging himself up a hill — literally and metaphorically.

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