After Three Years, SF Bike Injunction is Closer to Being Lifted

2410349521_dc1753df9a.jpgFlickr photo: dustinj

Three years after a judge prohibited any bicycle improvements in San Francisco, the MTA Board and the Planning Commission are expected to finally approve and adopt the EIR and the Bike Plan this week, and legislate at least 45 of the 56 projects, which could bring up to 34 miles of new bike lanes to the city, hopefully within the next fiscal year.

“This is a momentous time for bicycling in San Francisco, as the city is poised to nearly double the number of bike lanes on city streets,” said Leah Shahum, the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which is encouraging bicyclists to continue sending letters of support to the MTA Board, and to turn out at its special meeting Friday.

The SFBC has been working to ensure that all 56 projects move forward, with grassroots-style activism in each neighborhood, but at least 11 of the projects have been tabled for now. Several months ago, Streetsblog wrote about nine projects expected to be delayed, and two more were tacked on at a recent administrative hearing: Upper Market between 17th Street and Octavia Boulevard, and the Polk Street contra flow lane. 

Andy Thornley, the SFBC program director, is troubled that those two have been added to the list, which he claims is due mostly to NIMBY and merchant concerns over lost parking. The fuss on Upper Market is over the loss of 14 parking spaces. Thornley said the MTA is pretty confident it can find replacement parking at a garage north of Market Street, but has shelved the project for now until it’s able to fully address the concerns.

"Market Street is such an important street for moving people on foot or on bike or on transit, that we really can’t afford to be storing cars in that space. So we’ll keep pushing on that, but the effect is that on June 26 the MTA Board of Directors won’t be deliberating whether to legislate parking conversion on that part of Market Street; we expect to see it come back to them in a second package very soon afterward."

In the case of Polk Street, many bicyclists have long wanted a safe, expedient way to connect to Polk Street from Market, but a project in the Bike Plan to create a contra flow lane that would run northbound on Polk against southbound automobile traffic is being delayed because of concerns from Bill Graham Auditorium officials, who are apparently worried that trucks hauling show equipment would no longer be able to stage and queue up on Polk. 

"Right now there is bike traffic that’s riding up north on Polk on the sidewalk, which is naughty and dangerous for pedestrians," said Thornley. "Or cyclists who are law obeying will overshoot and turn on Larkin and that’s quite an overshoot and then double back on Grove and then go north on Polk Street."

Wade Crowfoot, the Mayor’s director of climate protection initiatives, said even though that project is not on the MTA Board’s agenda Friday, he believes a solution can be worked out.

Thornley said although "the chickens won’t be hatched" until Friday, he is generally pleased that the MTA staff is recommending approval of most of the projects, and felt particularly victorious that the 2nd Street bike lanes — which represented an internal MTA battle over modes — were approved at an administrative hearing.

He credits the work to grassroots organizing on the part of SFBC volunteers: "We’ve had hundreds of members talking to thousands of neighbors and merchants and walking around neighborhoods all over the city, not only doing classic old school organizing and canvassing, and very effectively, but some fairly nuanced and sophisticated planning work, if you will."

He added that the projects that are coming to the MTA board "have in many cases really been improved by the on-the-ground experience that we’ve brought with the outreach that our volunteers have done."

Although excitement is building for Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting and Friday’s MTA Board meeting, it is tempered by uncertainty over when implementation will begin. For starters, bicycle advocates are anticipating that someone will appeal the EIR to the Board of Supervisors, which will drag out the process even further. Judge Busch can’t consider lifting the injunction until that issue plays out. 

But when it is lifted, Crowfoot — who has been working with the MTA and DPW on the implementation schedule — said the Mayor wants to get all of the projects "done as quickly as possible," at least in the next fiscal year. The MTA has said it could take up to three years to fully implement the Bike Plan.

"The challenge is that some of the funding for the 60 projects is in out year budgets — TA capital budgets and operational budgets. And so we’re exploring whether we can actually front money to do more of the work earlier on," said Crowfoot.

"We don’t just want to do the smallest projects so that we can say we’re getting like 14 or 15 out of the gate. We want to do meaningful ones," he added.

  • dramadama

    for what reasons did this idiot judge ban bike improvements in SF?

  • dramadama, here’s a link for you 😉

  • “Right now there is bike traffic that’s riding up north on Polk on the sidewalk, which is naughty and dangerous for pedestrians”

    The sentiment makes me smile, and the language choice makes me giggle

  • I just wanted to thank all of their volunteers for their hard work at talking to all of the neighbors and business owners. Even if its 3 years delayed, its a step in the right direction.

  • g

    A lot could be said about ways to avoid such problems in the future, how much money was wasted for nothing, how much available funding passed while that useless mess was prolonged unneccesarily, how many other important subjects were neglected, and how it was all actually caused by a cycling advocacy org being very sloppy and privatizing an entire planning process.

    But for now thank god its apparently over.

    It will be really nice to see bike lanes striped.

  • It’s way too early to be celebrating, bike fans. Also see today’s front page story in the Examiner, which confirms what we’ve been saying for years: the Bicycle Plan will in fact screw up city traffic.

    Since there are already 12 people working in the Bicycle Program in MTA, why does the city need an overpaid ($160,000 a year) bike guy in the Mayor’s Office?

  • @Rob Anderson
    I think slowing traffic down is a good thing. Safer streets, more incentive to not drive.

    Since the Examiner was bought, it has always been in San Francisco’s best interest to do exactly the opposite of what they suggest. They endorsed McCain and Palin to run this country. Don’t use them in your arguments.

  • thegreasybear

    I look forward to the eventual striping of new bike lanes and installation of new bike racks in our busy cycling city. More infrastructure will help compliment and sustain the astounding gains in ridership we’ve made in recent years, and perhaps draw in even more new cyclists than we already expect to see.

    In the meantime, I savor and salute San Francisco’s organic, do-it-yourself cycling revolution, a revolution that has only continued to grow and intensify in the face of anti-cycling obstruction and civic neglect over the past three years. Government lags behind the paradigm shift, but there’s no turning back. An entire generation has been turned on to two wheels, and we are the future.

    What reactionary petroleum-pimps like Rob Anderson don’t seem to understand: cyclists are going to be “screwing up” the whole planet-wrecking car thing from now on, with or without a single new inch of bike lane. The days of auto-dominance on the streets of San Francisco are numbered–regardless of the Bike Plan.

  • This is great news and will hopefully no longer be delayed by needless appeals. A city with more bikes is a better city.

    If you’re interested in urban biking, particularly in San Francisco, check out the latest post at and let me know what you think.


    p.s. to Mr. Anderson: the bike plan will not “screw up” city traffic, but rather help us transition to a new kind of traffic that uses less space, burns less fuel, endangers less citizens, and gives people more opportunities to interact with their city and improve their physical and mental health

  • I’m a “reactionary petroleum-pimp”? I haven’t owned a car in more than 30 years; I walk and take Muni everywhere I need to go in SF. The reality is that Muni, not bicycles, is the real alternative to driving in SF for the overwhelming majority. As the Examiner article says, some of the Bicycle Plan projects are going to delay Muni lines in our “transit first” city. We’ll see if implementing these projects to the detriment of Muni is politically sustainable, even here in Progressive Land. Bicycles will never be anything but a minor transportation “mode” in the US. In fact, the electric car technology is already here to replace cars that run on gasoline.

  • More bikes makes for a better city and a huge reason that less people ride bikes is that they are concerned about their safety. A better bike plan goes a long way toward allaying those fears.

    And as to Mr. Anderson’s speculation that the bike plan will “screw up” city traffic: the bike plan will not screw up traffic, but rather assist us in transitioning towards a new type (old type?) of traffic that uses less space, burns less fuel, allows riders to interact with the physical space of their city and improve their physical and mental health at the same time.


    p.s. for anyone interested in urban biking, check out the latest post at and let me know what you think

  • Aaron B.


    Any resulting Muni slowing will be caused by automobile traffic that would be initially congested following a bike lane. But that’s only temporary. Take a look at any other bike-laned street and show me one that is heavily congested because of it. Your claim about the “reality” of Muni being the only real alternative is based on a lot of loose assumptions – have you ever considered that more people will bike with dedicated infrastructure because of the perceived improved safety (and speed)? And what about all those who already DO rely on their bike as their main mode of transportation? Ever look at cities like Portland or Amsterdam, where you have 40% bike commutes? If you want to attack the City’s failure to adhere to its “Transit-First Policy”, you’re looking at the wrong thing – it’s the bias towards CARS that is the problem. Cars are slowing Muni, endangering pedestrians & bicyclists, polluting, promoting poor health, etc. Bikes are your friend, as a pedestrian and Muni rider. Sure, you may see the minority who are disrespectful, but that’s largely a result of lack of infrastructure. I think when we feel crowded or endangered, we tend to be anti-social.

  • Rob, I think the Mitsubishi iMiev looks really promising. It’s small, it’s electric, it doesn’t spew out pollution, and it has a decent range. I’m frustrated that iMiev won’t be for sale in the US until 2012,though, and that its estimated price tag is a whopping $37,000. Still, when gas prices hit $7/gallon in a few years, maybe the economics will work out for at least a small percentage of the populace.

    I think most bicyclists would agree that a highly-functioning Muni is vital to the health of the city and the health of the planet. I truly want Muni to work and carry its half a million passengers a day pleasantly and efficiently. Where we would disagree, it appears, is that I am certain that more bicycle infrastructure will decrease congestion in our streets and enhance Muni by turning car drivers into bicyclists (bicycles take up so much less room than cars!) and by making it safe and convenient for people to forgo owning a car at all.

    I am multi-modal myself–I drive 50% of my trips, bike 30%, walk 10% and Muni 10%. Of all my modes of transport, I greatly prefer my bike. It’s fun, it gets me outside, it generally improves my mood, and quite often it’s the quickest. If I’m going to locations that are near the underground stops (Civic Center to Embarcadero) I take Muni. In general, however, my bicycle is at least twice as fast as Muni and almost always more pleasant.

    Fifty percent of all trips in San Francisco are two miles or less. By bike, it’s easy to cover 2 miles in 12 minutes. In fact, it’s difficult to drive by car in much less time, and with a bike you can generally park nearer your destination. In contrast, depending on where I’m going, 2 miles by Muni can take more than 40 minutes if it involves a transfer. Due to time and convenience, there are many people who simply will not get out of their car for Muni but who would get out of their car for a bicycle if they believed bicycling in San Francisco was safe.

    In Copenhagen, 400,000 people ride a bicycle each day. Traveling by bike there is orderly, ordinary, and easy. Just imagine if we could get 100,000 folks out of their cars in San Francisco and onto bicycles. Less noise, less pollution, healthier, happier people. It truly is possible.

  • @taomom unfortunately the imiev is still a cage. cage: an enclosed and autonomous limiting mode of transportation (i.e. a car) built to be able to go way too fast and with an implicit promise of freedom and speed that simply does not exist in a safe and healthy way in urban areas. still mows down pedestrians, runs over children in driveways, causes traffic jams, poaches HOV lanes, and requires large amounts of energy inputs beyond a normal 3000 calorie, human diet.

    when i see prius owners and smart car car people i don’t think ‘gee, environmentalist’ – i think gee, they’ve got cash to burn and they’re only addressing one very small part of the cage problem, and only by a percentage in that in issue–i.e. carbon emissions/parking requirements.

    we need to think long term and build cities so that people don’t have to lose so much money on buying cars like priuses and smart cars if they want to be environmentally-responsible individuals.

  • ZA

    @ Justin

    As a 90% cyclist [5% MUNI/BART (some mornings are too wet!), 5% driving] who also owns a Smart ForTwo, the point I take is that no single tool is perfect for every task. 90% of my needs are met with a bicycle, and I’m convinced it can fulfill the needs of a huge number of people in San Francisco, but not all of them. During this Transition to a carbon-constrained world, smaller efficient cars will have their place too, but all of it has to be bound up in equitable and appropriate access.

    Until I build up enough of a social network to Bike Move locally and regionally, on call, my small car will have to fill that role.

    As for how realistic an increase in mode-share the bicycle can represent? Well, we’re at 6% now, and Gottenburg (also has hills, is auto-friendly, and has far worse weather most of the year) manages 10%. Copenhagen manages 30% easily, but also enjoys a lot of facilities (far more than the current SF Bike Plan) and is also very flat. Incrementally, I think San Francisco can realistically achieve 25% mode share in 10-15 years’ time (depending on how aggressively the city pursues this goal to facilitate cycling). Key potential rider pools include: school children, parents, tourists, suburban commuters, and some seniors. “Last Mile” delivery opportunities exist for the entrepreneurial too…especially if there’s a federal health plan by then.

  • @ZA You’re right, in the current transport climate and mix the appeal of the automobile, even at a huge personal cost (not even getting into the social costs), remains strong.

    Let’s imagine that massive, transformational change were possible for a minute though. What kind of system could we envision that would actually make the costs of the personal automobile obsolete and unnecessary for everyone who lives within or travels into an urban area? If all the road space in the city were apportioned between pedestrians, cyclists, cargo bikes, and mass transit equipment and the money currently going to bank roll the auto industry and all of its services + the cash we’re all pouring into that system were put together, we could have a bus network where each line had a wait of only five minutes at any given stop. Buses would move faster with priority lights, etc. The end of traffic jams, etc. This is technically utopian, but it doesn’t have to mean impossible. I totally get the ‘practical realities’ of small cars for now, but I think we really need to combat the idea that the hydrogen car or the all-electric car is the endpoint, is somehow the solution, that this is what we should strive for–from an economic perspective alone it makes no sense. The personal cost of car ownnership for a single year is $8000. Imagine what we could be doing with the money we’d save as a society and personally!

  • ZA


    I agree that it’s a technical utopia worth striving for. It’s a sign of how huge a hole our captains of industry have dug for the country that we have to pour in all this money to just try to get back to square one. The US only has a fraction of competitive bus and train manufacturers that it had just 20 years ago. Thankfully we have plenty of good European, Canadian, and Asian products to choose from. I get depressed thinking about all the strategic manufacturing this country has lost in bicycling. Trek, Specialized, and Cannondale are barely hanging on, and then with increasing overseas parts manufacture. Again, love the Xtracycle, but LarryvsHarry could clean house at the right price point.

  • g

    i think that it is very reassuring to see some of you speaking to rob and not dehumanizing him. i’ve always thought that the irony of the law-suit though existing on multiple levels was most illustrated by the fact that he does not drive. i also think that it is also very ironic that rob is not mad at bicyclists at large as much as the bicycle political structure aka the bike corporation and he’s not mad because they bike but becase they shut him out of a “public” plan.

    furthering the irony here is that many of the city’s most accomplished independent advocates and City Advisors are also unhappy with the way that the SFBC shut public comment out of the bike plan.

    people get upset when orgs abuse process and take away other people’s right to speak. so there is another irony in that you have this complaint both from someone who is relatively anti bike and some of the more advanced bike advocates in the city.

    in that way it’s all really about speech. you have to respect other people’s right to speak. even if you totally disagree with them.

    the streets are speech and this whole mess was created by privatizing speech about the streets. rob would have never been successful if it had been a “public” bike plan from the beginning.

    there is a huge lesson to be learned here. the city did not cause this law-suit. and they would not have dragged it out so long if they felt they had another option…


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