Bike to Work Day at City Hall: Lots of Pro-Bike Talk, Few Real Commitments

Elected officials and thousands of commuters took to two wheels for the 19th annual Bike to Work Day, welcomed by the new protected bike lane on Oak Street and the city’s first bicycle counter on Market Street. As in the past few years, the mayor and city supervisors gathered on the steps of City Hall to give speeches cheering bicycling, with some calling for the implementation of more bike lanes.

Supervisor David Chiu neglected to mention Polk Street in his Bike to Work Day speech. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The event saw record-breaking bike traffic counts, according to manual counts by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency, which found that bikes accounted for 76 percent of eastbound vehicle traffic on Market at Van Ness Avenue between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. — a three percent increase in bike traffic over last year, and a nearly 30 percent increase since 2009.

By 9 a.m., the new digital bike counter on eastbound Market between Ninth and Tenth Streets displayed a total of 1,300 bicycle commuters. (That may be an underestimate, as riders who didn’t run over sensors in the bike lane appeared to not be counted.)

While city leaders had a few recent improvements to point to, important issues went unaddressed. At the podium, Mayor Ed Lee made no mention of the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy, which he has so far refused to fund.

Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors’ supposed bike champion, David Chiu, said nothing about Polk Street – the vital bicycling corridor on which the rally was held, where the SFMTA has ruled out plans for protected bike lanes on all but six blocks. His omission didn’t seem to sit well with several rally attendees, who, after Chiu’s speech, shouted “Polk Street!”

Mayor Ed Lee made no mention of the need to increase funding for bicycle infrastructure on the 19th annual Bike to Work Day. Meanwhile, Morgan Fitzgibbons (out of the frame) holds a sign in the back reading, "19th Annual Photo Op & Empty Promises Day.” Photo: Aaron Bialick

After the rally, when Chiu was asked if he planned to take a stand for protected bike lanes on Polk, he declined to do so, instead characterizing himself as a mediator between street safety advocates and parking-obsessed merchants. “I think there has not been enough dialogue between the various sides of this perspective,” he said. “On the one hand, we’ve had significant safety issues for pedestrians and cyclists on a thoroughfare that is used every single day by thousands of folks. On the other hand, the plight of our small businesses is very, very real.”

“I do hope we will have more protected bikeways around the city,” he said. “The question is if that should be for all of Polk Street.”

Chiu, along with Supervisors Scott Wiener and David Campos — who represent San Francisco on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission – did call for an increase in the city’s abysmal level of investment in bicycling, currently 0.46 percent of the capital budget.

“We’ve got to get real here,” said Wiener. “If we don’t put our money where our mouth is and start investing in bike infrastructure, in Muni, it’s not going to happen as fast as we need it to happen. I want to move fast, and I want us to invest and transform our city into a city where we can get around in all sorts of different ways, including biking.”

Bike commuters roll past the bicycle counter on Market. (Note: The digital display seems hard for cameras to read, so some digits are missing in this photo.) Photo: Myleen Hollero/SFBC

The partially-completed Oak Street protected bike lane. Photo: Aaron Bialick

While Wiener has stood out as the Board of Supervisors’ most active advocate for increased funding for safer streets and faster transit, one of the city’s newest supervisors has emerged as a bicycling champion with her efforts to help get San Francisco’s latest protected bike lane on the ground — D5 Supervisor London Breed.

D5 Supervisor London Breed rolls up to City Hall. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

It was because of pressure from Breed that SFMTA planners found a way to get the essential components of the Oak Street bike lane on the ground in time for Bike to Work Day, according to Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “We at the Bike Coalition had been working hard on that, but it really was her office’s extra pushing that got their attention and helped them quicken the pace,” she said.

“Its not just because bicycling is green and efficient,” Breed said at the rally, “it’s because a lot of folks in San Francisco are bicycling and we have to make it safe — and we have to do it faster.”

With Supervisors Breed, Eric Mar, and Mark Farrell pushing to procure a regional funding grant for a safety overhaul on Masonic Avenue, Shahum said City Hall’s support for the expansion of protected bicycle infrastructure still holds a lot of promise. ”I think there’s real value in our supervisors riding in from their neighborhood, and not only experiencing it, but seeing so many people out riding,” she said.

Morgan Fitzgibbons. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Perhaps no one is more skeptical of the politicians’ annual show of pro-bike rhetoric than Morgan Fitzgibbons, co-founder of the Wigg Party, a group that promotes sustainability in the neighborhood around the Wiggle bicycle route. Fitzgibbons stood behind the mayor during his speech, holding a sign that, on one side, read, ”19th Annual Photo Op & Empty Promises Day.” On the other: “All Talk.” Fitzgibbons said he was asked by police to leave the steps of  City Hall.

“I wanted to point out the absurdity of today,” he said. “Every year we come down here on Bike to Work Day and talk about how we’re going to fund those bike projects, and how it’s so great to have more and more people on bicycles, but then tomorrow, when we’ve gotta make a hard decision on Polk Street, there’s no political leadership.”

“The sign was mostly for the mayor, because he’s up here every year, and yet he’s not willing to put money behind bike infrastructure.”

Bike traffic on the Panhandle at Masonic next to an energizer station. Photo: Aaron Bialick