Supervisor Mar: Abysmal Funding for Bicycle Infrastructure “Not Acceptable”

It looks like Supervisor Eric Mar is ready to make some noise about the need to fund the SFMTA’s vision for a major expansion of bike-friendly streets — which Mayor Ed Lee hasn’t prioritized at all since the agency released its Draft Bicycle Strategy earlier this year.

Supervisor Mar speaking at last week's Bike to Work Day rally. Photo: Aaron Bialick

At yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Mar issued a request to the City Budget and Legislative Analyst and the Controller’s Office for a report on potential opportunities to increase the abysmal amount of funding currently devoted to bicycle infrastructure — 0.46 percent of the city’s capital budget.

“It’s time that the city walks the walk when it comes to funding bike improvements,” said Mar. “Less than a half of one percent is not acceptable.”

While pro-bike talk from elected officials abounded at last week’s Bike to Work Day rally, Mar noted that “there were no commitments to step up and deliver the funding that our fledgling bicycle network needs.”

In February, when Mar asked Mayor Ed Lee how he planned to help fund the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy — a vision for making bicycling a mainstream mode of transportation — the mayor made it clear that he has no plans to back up his pro-bike rhetoric with a commitment to implementation.

With the SFMTA set to approve its next two-year budget a year from now, “Now is the time where we can start planning and working proactively to make these plans a reality,” said Mar.

Mar pointed to SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin’s remarks at last October’s NACTO Conference in New York, reported by Streetsblog, when Reiskin stated that “the most cost effective investment we can make in moving people in our city is in bicycle infrastructure.”

The efficacy of bicycle infrastructure is already evident in neighborhoods like the Inner Richmond, which Mar represents, where bicycle commuting increased by 167 percent from 2000 to 2010. During that time, bike lanes were installed on Arguello Boulevard and Cabrillo Street. Mar also pushed for the recent implementation of the Fell and Oak protected bike lanes, which now provide a safer commuting route for District 1 residents. “I think the improvements to bike lanes, making them safer for families, has had a real impact in the Richmond,” said Mar.

“We know that improving the bicycle network in San Francisco leads to healthier communities, less car congestion, less pressure on Muni lines already at capacity, healthier commuters, and many other economic benefits,” he added.

  • mikesonn

    Mar meet with Chiu, a funded project that is going to lose proper bike facilities is on the line.

  • Mike

    I hope Supervisor Mar follows his words with action. I have faith he will but we will see. Given the wide ranging societal benefits associated with cycling – lower health costs, improved worker productivity, less parking and roadway infrastructure need, cleaner air, etc etc etc – and the limited transportation funds available to bikes AND transit, hopefully Sup Mar can find new funding for bike projects, one that does not simply shift limited funds around within SFMTA and steals from Mary to pay Paul.

    I think it needs to be a multi-faceted approach, that includes a number of funding sources. Perhaps some funding from health care sources given cycling’s health benefits? Maybe establish more Mello-Roos Districts to help pay for streetscape projects, which undoubtedly improve property values.

    One idea that will generate debate but I think whose time has come is to add a surcharge/tax on new bikes sold in SF – perhaps 1-2% of the bikes value. As a cyclist, I’d be happy to pay such a tax if the fees went to more bike projects, even while knowing that the property taxes and sales taxes I pay already more than cover the cost of my impact (as a cyclist) on the transportation system.

  • Mike

    For those not familiar with Mello-Roos Districts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mello-Roos

    Info about the Colorado Springs bike tax: http://www.trailsandopenspaces.org/biketax.html

    And some food for thought regarding a bike tax. It would be more of a practical/political move rather than a tax for fairness:
    http://www.bicyclelaw.com/blog/index.cfm/2008/12/18/A-bicycle-tax

  • I can think of several bike stores just across the city line, and several dozen within walking distance of a BART or Caltrain station. If I am buying a $4000 Specialized Tarmac, 2 percent is 80 bucks. If I go to Mike’s in Sausalito to buy the Tarmac, SF loses out on 300-400 bucks in general sales taxes to Marin’s benefit.

    And forget fairness – it’s just plain bad policy to add taxes onto items we want people to buy instead of items we don’t want people to buy. Tax soda/liquor/cigarettes, not bikes.

    The political backlash from the cycling community would be much worse than any positive reaction from outside the cycling community. Much like there is no evidence that a sudden outbreak of stop sign compliance would not quell the complaints of those who dislike cyclists, I see no reason that a surcharge would suddenly make cycling an “approved activity”.

  • AMEN!

  • gneiss

    How do you reconcile the taxes bicyclist would pay under your scheme with the tax rebates provided to people who purchase electric cars? An electric car needs road infrastructure just like a gasoline powered car, yet each person who purchases one gets a $7,500 federal tax rebate and up to $2,500 tax rebate from the State of California. If anything, people who purchase bicycles for transportation should get a similar sized credit, particularly since the roadway infrastructure requirements are far less for bikes then for cars, electric or otherwise.

    In addition, current funding levels for bicycle infrastructure in San Francisco are woefully low, even given the minimal 3.5% mode share for all trips made by bicycle. The city is spending only 0.64% of the SFMTA budget on cycling ‘improvements’. I’m not prepared lobby for any extra tax dollars unless there’s a commitment from the city to increase their funding past the 3.5% level. We should at the minimum be spending money in proportion to our mode share.

  • Tom

    Never trust a politician who doesn’t remove his sunglasses when giving a speech.

  • Anonymous

    You had me at “Never trust a politician…”

  • Mike

    The fee could be less. Whatever. We’re looking for funding for more bike projects here. I would be willing to pay $50 or so every 3 to 5 years for more bike facilities. You’d rather put your money somewhere else to avoid paying for bike facilities in the city you ride.

  • Anonymous

    No, we want the taxes we already pay into the general fund to be more equitably allocated. We want our taxes to go into building and maintaining critical bicycle infrastructure, as opposed to the status quo allocation of less than one half of one percent for bike facilities. Change that, and maybe later we can talk about which road users should pay additional money into the system.

  • greasybear is right. If you ride a bike in SF, you are *already* putting in the funding for more bike projects but it’s being used for non cycling projects.

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