With the Bike Injunction Lifted, SF Starts to Build Out Its Bike Plan

newsome_et_al.jpgMayor Gavin Newsom addresses the press. SFMTA Chief Nat Ford, SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan, Bicycle CAC Chief Bert Hill, Livable City Board Chair and SFMTA Board Nominee Cheryl Brinkman in pink and D-5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi at far right. Photos: Matthew Roth.
Because official word about the lifting of the four-year-old bike injunction in San Francisco came so late on Friday afternoon, Mayor Gavin Newsom and his city staff had to wait until today to have their celebratory press conference and symbolic lane striping on Townsend Street at 4th Street, across from the Caltrain Station. 

There was a palpable sense of relief in the air and in the formal comments delivered by a host of speakers, from Mayor Newsom to Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) head Nat Ford, and Renee Rivera, acting executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

"It's a new era for bicycling and for San Francisco," said Rivera. "We are on our way to being the most bike friendly city in the country."

Rivera threw out numerous statistics pointing to the surge in bicycle riding in San Francisco, despite the injunction, and she vowed she would never say the word "injunction" in public again.

In addition to the Townsend Street lane, the SFMTA is moving forward on striping 35 bike lanes that are part of the Bicycle Plan, projects the agency expects to complete in the next year and a half.

The SFMTA's Ford said they planned to add 5,500 more sharrows to the exisiting 2,500, as well as another 500 bike racks and 31 miles of new lanes, a 64 percent increase over the existing 48 miles.

"You're going to see a lot of visible infrastructure improvements for the bikes," said Ford. "What we're able to do with this Bike Plan is clearly delineate the part of the street and the infrastructure of the street that belong to bicyclists."

painting.jpgMayor Newsom, Rene Rivera, Ross Mirkarimi, Nat Ford, and Tom Nolan triping the first lane since the injunction was lifted.
Mayor Newsom deflected a number of questions from reporters trying to play up the potential for discord as car parking and travel lanes are removed for bike lanes. Newsom pointed to the new green bike lanes on Market Street and the green bike box on Scott Street as successes and said, "Since November of last year, when we had the partial bike injunction lifted, we've done a lot of work and I haven't gotten one complaint. In fact, all we've been is complemented by folks that have noticed the improvements and are kind of excited again by their city."

Newsom downplayed any divisiveness that could present itself around improved bicycle infrastructure and said the old cyclist-driver enmity wouldn't be in play.

"I think we've moved away from the old dynamic, that friction that existed in the late 90s, where it was bicyclists versus cars," he said. "It's a different era now and we're working collaboratively together, there's not the sort of tweaking that goes back and forth."

Newsom also focused on the changing business climate, where merchants who used to resist the addition of bicycle lanes now readily support them. "I think it's suggestive of the business community, a lot of merchant groups that recognize this is not gonna hurt their business. In many ways it's enhancing their business, it's creating more livability, more identity for their neighborhoods," he said and referred to the "I Bike SF" campaign in Hayes Valley and the Fillmore.

Newsom also latched onto statistics from surveys conducted by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which found transit riders and cyclists spend more money in aggregate than drivers in the downtown commercial district.

"Bicyclists are more apt to walk around and stay a little extra time and to peruse and shop and support their neighborhood merchants," he said.

Shortly after the official press conference, Newsom, Rivera, Mirkarimi, Nolan, and Ford grabbed a can of paint and striped the first official lane since the injunction was lifted. Despite the symbolism, Mirkarimi joked with the mayor that it wasn't as exciting as painting the street green, as they did last December on Scott Street.

Andy_cigar.jpgSFBC Program Director Andy Thornley was one of the first to ride the new lane after the thermoplastic dried. He even puffed on a stogie.