SF Celebrates Bike to Work Day

Margaret McCarthy, Interim Executive Director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, gives a rousing speech in front of SF City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.
Margaret McCarthy, Interim Executive Director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, gives a rousing speech in front of SF City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

San Francisco has come a long way. That was the theme of a rousing speech delivered by Margaret McCarthy, Interim Executive Director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, at a ceremony this morning in front of San Francisco City Hall. “We’ve seen a 184 percent increase in cycling in the past decade,” she said with her trademark ebullience. “San Francisco is a biking city!”

Bike to Work day, of course, is a chance to grow those numbers and take a look at what still needs to be done to make cycling accessible to all. It brings together advocates and lawmakers and helps them focus on getting more and better bicycle infrastructure everywhere in the city. But for Julia Schaber, a graphic design intern with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the ride had a greater significance: it’s her first ride since a crash on April 7. “I hit the Muni tracks on Ocean and San Jose, behind Balboa Park BART–it’s one of the worst,” she said, referring to the cycling conditions at that dangerous intersection. “I went over the handlebars, went to the ER in an ambulance, and spent about a month recovering.”

The crash, still evident by a spot of blood on the white of her left eye, left her understandably shaken. So she took advantage of Bike to Work day to get past that. She was there bright and early, at 7:15, in front of the Foglifter Cafe–just down Ocean street from the site of her wreck.

Shaber joined the commuter convoy from Ingleside (the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, SFBC, organized convoys leaving from eleven locations throughout the city). It was led by Janelle Wong, operations manager at the SFBC. The convoy was joined by Isabel Huo, a student in accounting at Golden Gate University, and Mak Gill, a nurse at SF General Hospital. Mak cycles to work daily and Huo is a novice, so it was a mixed group.

Mak Gill, Julia Schaber, Janelle Wong, and Isabel Huo gathered in front of the Fog Lifter, one of 11 start locations for commuter convoys on Bike to Work Day. Photo: Streetsblog.
Mak Gill, Julia Schaber, Janelle Wong, and Isabel Huo gathered in front of the Fog Lifter, one of eleven start locations for commuter convoys on Bike to Work Day. Photo: Streetsblog.

The ride started on Ocean and, under Wong’s confident lead, the group made its way Southeast to Phelan.

Wong led her convoy through this precarious left turn from Ocean to Phelan. Photo: Streetsblog.
Wong led her convoy through this precarious left turn from Ocean to Phelan. Note this is the same location where Anthony Ryan was attacked last year. Photo: Streetsblog.

Between the Muni tracks, heavy traffic, and lack of bike lanes or protection, Shaber seemed understandably skittish—especially since they were cycling so close to the site of her crash. “I’m still feeling some PTSD,” she remarked. Oddly enough [heavy sarcasm here], the occasional sharrow marking didn’t seem to provide much comfort. But once the group turned onto Phelan, and then eventually made its way to San Jose Street, Shaber seemed more relaxed. Some of that was no doubt because the group was encountering some of San Francisco’s steadily improving infrastructure, such as the sections of bollard-protected bike lane on San Jose.

Schaber started the ride a little skittish, especially when navigating a stretch of Muni tracks just a few hundred feet from where she crashed last month. Photo: Streetsblog.
Schaber started the ride a little skittish, especially when navigating a stretch of Muni tracks just a few hundred feet from where she crashed last month. Note to the motorist behind her: do you really need to be that close? Photo: Streetsblog.

Shaber recalls the last time she felt truly comfortable riding a bike. It was while visiting her sister in Maastricht, in the Netherlands. “It was incredible. Fully protected. And fun!” she recalled. “And then I moved to San Francisco…I didn’t feel safe or comfortable.” But she tried to ride anyway and: “I hit the Muni tracks.”

What about streetcar tracks in the Netherlands (Dutch cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam also have lots of streetcar lines)? She recalls the lanes keep bikes completely separate from nearly all conflicts. “The biggest thing you have to look out for are cobblestones.”

Wide, buffered bike lanes help make cycling safer and more comfortable, although it's unclear why the protection bollards don't continue the whole way. Photo: Streetsblog.
Wide, buffered bike lanes help make cycling safer and more comfortable here, although it’s unclear why the protection bollards stop on this stretch of San Jose. Photo: Streetsblog.

On today’s ride, Shaber was, albeit indirectly, bothered by other cyclists. “I was super hesitant today…there were too many bicyclists for one lane, passing on the left and the right.” In the Netherlands, there’s “more than enough space on a bike lane for cyclists to pass.” Shaber argues that San Francisco needs protected bike lanes but they have to be wide enough for cyclists to overtake comfortably–not to mention evade car doors and other obstacles. That said, she felt great about the fully protected contra-flow bike lane on Polk.

One of several "Energizer Stations," complete with snacks and air pumps, along the commuter convoy routes. Photo: Streetsblog.
One of several “Energizer Stations,” complete with snacks and air pumps, along the commuter convoy routes. Photo: Streetsblog.

Shaber had a little trouble keeping up at the start of the ride, but was back with the group as it rode the Polk lane to the finish, where they watched the closing event at City Hall. In addition to McCarthy, several supervisors who had participated in the ride addressed the crowd, including Katy Tang, Scott Wiener, and Jane Kim.

The fully protected bike lane on Polk Street. Bike advocates agree it's this level of infrastructure that's required to make cycling truly safe and comfortable for all. Photo: Streetsblog.
The fully protected bike lane on Polk Street. Bike advocates agree it’s this level of infrastructure that’s required to make cycling truly safe and comfortable for all. Photo: Streetsblog.

“It was such a great ride,” said Tang, adding that “…when I was first riding, I was riding on sidewalks, I felt unsafe on the streets, and today it just so much different.” “I can claim the shortest cycle ride to work today, a full whopping five blocks,” joked Jane Kim, whose district encompasses City Hall. “I was one of those SFBC coalition members who biked to work for the very first time on Bike to Work day in 2011. We have to make sure we get fewer people into cars and more onto their feet, on bikes and onto public transport.” She also extolled continued work on protected bike lanes on Turk, Golden Gate and other streets. But “we gotta keep resurfacing these roads,” said Scott Wiener, in his speech. “It impacts bikes a lot more than it impacts cars when you have chopped up roads.”

The crowd at SF City Hall after a cool morning bike-to-work-day ride! Photo: SF Bicycle Coalition.
The crowd at SF City Hall listing to advocates and lawmakers. Photo: SF Bicycle Coalition.

Shaber, meanwhile, was busy taking photos during the presentations at SF City Hall. But is she over her crash? “A little,” she said. “I’ll probably always have an association with tracks, but riding with a group helped build my confidence back up a bit.” And we think she’s off to a good start: look at the smile on her face in the photograph below. It’s amazing what a bike ride with new and old friends can accomplish.

Although visible skittish at the start, after a few miles Schaber was smiling and grooving the ride. Photo: Streetsblog.
After a few miles Schaber was groovin’ the ride. Photo: Streetsblog.
  • Printtemps

    District 11 represent, big hug Julia, thanks Roger.
    -Anthony

  • Justin

    “San Francisco has come a long way.” When it comes to cycling? Well kinda, more like rather San Francisco has a long way to go, especially if we want to really make San Francisco a GENUINE biking city, because honestly it still isn’t, at least not yet.

  • RichLL

    Reminds me of discussions about civil rights between whites and blacks. Whites always point out how far civil rights have come in the last 60 years, whereas blacks always focus on what they claim is still be done.

  • p_chazz

    “We’ve seen a 184 percent increase in cycling in the past decade,” she said with her trademark ebullience. “San Francisco is a biking city!”

    From < 2% to 4.4%. When you have a small base figure a small gain can look large, when expressed as a percentage.

  • thielges

    Both can be true at the same time. If you’re in Salt Lake City on a trip from San Francisco to New York you have certainly come a long way. And there’s still a long way to go.

  • What about streetcar tracks in the Netherlands (Dutch cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam also have lots of streetcar lines)? She recalls the lanes keep bikes completely separate from nearly all conflicts. “The biggest thing you have to look out for are cobblestones.”

    Either she has very bad memory or hasn’t spent a lot of time in either city, especially Amsterdam. The reality is that there are numerous instances where trams and bikes share the same space or where bikes and cars share the adjacent travel lanes. The real issue with the situation there in SF is that what should be a transit-only area is serving double duty as a left turn lane. That is something that is something that needs to be addressed.

  • jd_x

    And yet it’s still true that the number of people bicycling tripled. Or do statistics and data only count when the number is above some arbitrary threshold you determine?

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Names New Executive Director

|
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Board of Directors has selected Brian Wiedenmeier as the organization’s next executive director. Wiedenmeier is not a newcomer to the SFBC. He spent the last two years as the organization’s development director. “Brian’s professional accomplishments and experience really stood out throughout this hiring process,” said Brianne O’Leary Gagnon, president of […]

More Views of Bike to Work Day

|
Thursday was Bike to Work Day in many parts of California, including the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas. That meant: lots of bikes on the road—maybe more than usual, maybe not—but also lots of smiles, bike-bell-ringing, and high fives all around for everyone who chooses to use this most environmentally friendly way to get […]

Bay Area Set for Its Biggest Bike to Work Day Yet

|
Bicycle coalitions around the Bay Area will be rolling out the red carpet for bike commuters for the 17th annual Bike to Work Day (BTWD) this Thursday with energizer stations, commuter convoys, after parties, and other fun events. As cycling continues to grow throughout the Bay Area, bicycle advocates and city officials are expecting it to be the biggest […]

Bike to Work Day Draws Record Crowds of Cyclists

|
Leah Shahum addresses hundreds in the crowd at City Hall San Francisco’s annual Bike to Work Day drew a record 200,000 bicyclists this morning, according to early estimates, making it the most successful bike to work day since it began 15 years ago. Crowds of cyclists took advantage of the SFBC Energizer Stations to get […]

Two San Francisco Cyclists Killed: What Now?

|
The deaths of Heather Miller and Kate Slattery highlighted the obvious: San Francisco is not on track to Vision Zero, a commitment to eliminating all traffic deaths by 2024. That was echoed by Supervisors Jane Kim and Scott Wiener, as well as advocates from the public who spoke at Thursday afternoon’s meeting of the SF County […]