Supervisor David Chiu has paid more lip service to making San Francisco a bike-friendly city than any other politician in recent years. Yet even as the SFMTA backs away from protected bike lanes on Polk Street — which not only lies partially in Chiu’s District 3, but also serves as his own bike commute route to City Hall — San Franciscans have yet to see the Board of Supervisors president stand behind the vision he’s touted.
Chiu has taken just about every opportunity to portray himself as City Hall’s champion for bike-friendly streets. During his short stint as acting mayor in January 2011, he invited the press and bike advocates to join him on a ride down Polk to City Hall, where he told Streetsblog that his top transportation priority “is ensuring that we’re expanding our bike network, starting with Market Street, but through all of the major thoroughfares in San Francisco, creating what I think of as bike thoroughfares that we can use to easily get folks around the city.”
But when it comes to the actual decisions that shape the city’s streets, Chiu hasn’t backed up his rhetoric with action. As soon as the Polk Street redesign hit a political rough patch, drawing fire from merchants with a cars-first mentality, Chiu had no bold words about making SF more bike-friendly. Instead of setting the record straight when merchants spread misinformation about the project and throwing his support behind a real-life protected bike lane proposal, Chiu said he had not taken a position.
So perhaps it’s fitting that while the SFMTA holds two high-profile public meetings about the Polk Street project, Chiu is absent, on a study trip to Israel. His office has yet to respond to Streetsblog’s request to weigh in on the current state of the Polk Street project, and the news that protected bike lanes are no longer under consideration for most of the corridor.
At a November forum about how San Francisco can follow in the footsteps of Copenhagen, Chiu himself provided an apt description of the political state of bike policy in the city: “I think we have a little bit of a politically correct culture at this moment of a lot of elected officials who say the right things when it comes to our commitment towards biking, but I don’t think we’re pushing the edge.”
For Chiu to pass his own litmus test, he’ll have to show some courage at times like this — when the future of a major street is actually at stake — not just pro-bike rallies. This is the only time when championing safer streets really counts.