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