Failing to Back Up His Words, Mayor Lee Won’t Fund SF’s Bike Strategy

Mayor Ed Lee has made it clear that he has no plans to take leadership on funding San Francisco’s vision for making bicycling a mainstream mode of transportation.

Mayor Lee will bike to City Hall on Bike to Work Day, but he refuses to make the necessary investments to put SF's bike infrastructure on par with other leading cities. Photo: Aaron Bialick

During a question-and-answer session at yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Eric Mar asked the mayor how he will help fund the SFMTA’s Draft Bicycle Strategy, a compass to guide the city toward its official goal of having 20 percent of trips by bike by 2020. Essentially, as the Bay Guardian put it, Mar’s question “is simply asking the mayor whether he will put his money where his mouth is.”

But in the mayor’s tepid, convoluted answer (reprinted below), he never says that SF needs to invest more in bicycling.

In other words, Lee said “No.” He’s not going to put his money where his mouth is. All those feel-good statements about building 100 miles of protected bike lanes? Apparently, Lee has no intention of following through.

Instead of embracing calls to allocate a relatively modest sum to help put SF on par with cities like New York and Chicago — which are getting safer streets and better economic outcomes out of their investments in bike infrastructure — Lee asserted that the city is already doing enough to encourage bicycling.

According to the Bike Strategy, the “20 percent” vision would require an investment of $500 million in infrastructure like protected bike lanes — which would still amount to less than 8 percent of the SFMTA’s capital spending, according the SF Bicycle Coalition. With a smaller investment of $200 million — the scenario deemed most realistic by the SFMTA — the city could reach a bike mode share of 8 to 10 percent by 2018. Currently, the agency only has $30 million in funding secured for bicycle improvements during that time period.

To put the $500 million citywide network of safe bicycle infrastructure in perspective with other SF transportation projects, the 1.7-mile Central Subway costs $1.6 billion, the replacement of Doyle Drive with the Presidio Parkway costs roughly $1 billion, and BART’s newly proposed expansion of Embarcadero and Montgomery Stations would cost an estimated $900 million. As Bikes Belong’s Martha Roskowski noted during her San Francisco visit last week, “It’s a drop in the bucket of the ‘great big spending’ of the city. It’s really a question of priorities.”

But in his statement, Mayor Lee failed to even acknowledge the need for increased investment in bicycling — a turnaround from his occasional pro-bike rhetoric, and a huge disappointment to San Franciscans who took it to heart.

When Lee was first appointed as mayor, he told Streetsblog that he’d work to help realize the SFBC’s Connecting the City vision for 100 miles of protected bikeways by 2020. “I’d like to get the whole city family together and see how we can make that work from the ground up,” he said.

At a Bike to Work Day event on the steps of City Hall last year, Lee declared, “I want to see that 100 miles from the Bay to the oceannorth and south, painted by the year 2020 to see everybody ride the whole city and connect up either way using their bikes.”

Lee should take a lesson from SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin — his former colleague at the Department of Public Works — who knows as well as any forward-looking transportation chief that “the most cost-effective investment we can make in moving people is in bicycle infrastructure.”

Instead, Lee defended his efforts to improve city transportation, touting his recently-announced Transportation 2030 Task Force — a working group of various stakeholders charged with developing solutions to increase transportation funding (it’s unclear at this point who will sit on it) —  and put the onus on the SFMTA to present him with specific plans for bicycle improvements before he’d consider taking any action to help fund them.

Lee also used faulty logic in his argument disputing the numbers on the city’s spending on bicycling — an estimated 0.46 percent of the SFMTA’s capital budget — by citing street projects in the works that include other components in addition to bikeways, lumping in the costs of transit and other street improvements which generally cost far more than bike infrastructure.

Here’s Lee’s full prepared response to the Board of Supervisors:

I’d like to emphasize that the SFMTA’s primary priority is to ensure that the streets are safe for all San Franciscans, especially for those that are on bicycles.

This weekend, as you described, I made my own bicycle trip on Central Market and through the South of Market neighborhoods, and trying to make sure I know firsthand the importance of bicycle safety and the use of bicycles in our city.

The SFMTA’s capital budget and the Capital Improvement Program represents a combination of all transportation modes in San Francisco, so just to look at a percentage of the whole might not tell the whole story. Most recently, the SFMTA applied for three major bicycle projects on Masonic Avenue, 2nd Street, and Mansell in McLaren Park with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. These three projects alone total more than 31 million dollars in improvements including millions of dollars of investment in our bicycle network. I also understand that the Transbay Joint Powers Authority applied for another ten million dollars in funding, which includes the significant bicycle infrastructure for our city. These, put together, total more than forty million dollars in improvements many of which are bicycle related and will be before this body very soon. Additionally, the SFMTA is now projecting that their five-year bicycle funding will increase from 17 million dollars to 37 million dollars, so that’s an increase of about 118 percent.

As you noted, Supervisor Mar, the SFMTA has recently crafted the Draft Bicycle Strategy. And through this process we have initially identified the improvements that are required to make San Francisco a world-class cycling city and have continued to work through the Capital Planning Committee process to allocate resources for infrastructure projects identified in the strategy.

Lastly and most significantly, I announced at my state of the city address last month that along with Board President Chiu, we will convene a San Francisco Transportation 2030 Task Force jointly chaired by Gabe Metcalf at SPUR and our Controller’s Office. And this task force will invite representatives from all of our regional transportation agencies, our key stakeholder groups and community groups, and our technology committee to the table to make important decisions the San Francisco way through consensus building on all of our transportation challenges.

This task force just isn’t about providing solutions for many, although that is an important part of the charge. Though, report back to me, to President Chiu, to the SFMTA Chair of the Board Tom Nolan, with a coordinated set of priorities and actual recommendations to enhance the entire transportation network, and bicycling will be an important piece of this network. So in some ways, the Bicycle Strategy will be used as an important guide to clearly define our priorities for future needed improvements. And also, Supervisor Mar, you and your colleagues will receive those recommendations from the task force and I will forward a working review on all of you for funding of this project.

  • Pathetic

  • Still glad you voted for him?

  • Why is anyone surprised about this? Frustrating, yes. Surprising, no.

    NY and Chicago have autocratic, data driven mayors. We have the “city family,” which I think is his way of saying various interest groups who are more powerful than the person he’s talking to. 

    If you want to make SF a capably governed city, attack the entrenched interest groups.

  • #worstmayorever

  • Anonymous

    Oh right, no interest groups in Chicago or NY. 

    I don’t think its necessarily interest groups that are the problem when it comes to safer streets and better bike infrastructure, though possibly a problem when it comes to SF being better governed. 

  • @coolbabybookworm:disqus fair enough. They have interest groups, but for whatever reason they end up being governed by leaders who aren’t entirely cowed by them. They take risks to make the city better.

    I wonder if it will take a progressive billionaire for SF to break free of interest groups? We have our fair share. Or reform: maybe the mayor of SF is actually too weak.

  • SFEvl1

    Good, this City is too small to make it bike heavy.  As it is, you bicyclists act like you own the road, slow down traffic and don’t pay attention to traffic signals.

  • Guest

    So who has the jar containing Ed Lee’s balls? Please return it ASAP, he clearly needs them.

  • mikesonn

    “this City is too small to make it bike heavy.”

    Read that a couple times. Read it again. Then ask yourself, WTF?

  • mikesonn

    The BoS blames the mayor, the mayor blames the BoS, both blame SFMTA. We all get stuck holding the short end of the stick.

  • I really liked Ed Lee the first six months he was mayor, before he became a politician.

  • Anonymous

    Rose Pak

  • SFEvl1

    You obviously don’t get it so get back on your fixie and ride back to the mid-west or east coast….where ever you came from.

  • Anonymous

     From what I’ve heard, Ed Lee was a very good city manager/administrator.  But I never thought that his accomplishments augered well for becoming a visionary leader.  He knows how to play the entrenched game, but not how to change the rules.

  • Lenore

    This is a huge disappointment.  What’s going on?

  •  Karen – the fact that you liked him the first six months underscores how brilliant a politician he is (or at least his handlers are)

  • Anonymous

    Not surprised. If you remember, he was the last of the 3 the SFBC endorsement for mayor in 2011:

    I actually thought they never should have even endorsed him, not even as their third choice. If you read all his responses to their questions

    they are all completely non-committal blanket statements that are all politician-speak with nothing substantive. I never expected him to do much for cycling and hope nobody else expected otherwise. Until we get somebody who actually bicycles regularly (see John Avalos) in the office (or at least more on the Board of Supes), it’s going to always be the case that cyclists will get the scraps of urban design.

  • the greasybear

    This city is too small to be so car-heavy. Cars hog way too much public space, pose the greatest danger to cyclists, pedestrians and each other, and pollute our air.

  • the greasybear

    I agree. I was genuinely surprised SFBC endorsed him at all. He certainly didn’t deserve it.

  • mikesonn

    The SFBC’s endorsement was political pandering. Clearly it didn’t work.

  • Murph, you’ll have to explain more. The first six months (when he said he wasn’t running for election) he didn’t go around speaking tortuous gobbedly-gook. He just kind of did what made sense, without, it seemed, being unduly influenced by the usual suspects. But once he decided to run, his straight-forward style disappeared, and what made sense lost favor to what would gain him money or might lose him votes.

    So I didn’t vote for him in the election. It’s true, however, that many people did. If winning an election requires speaking gobbledy-gook and not doing what makes sense, then perhaps my disappoint is indeed an indication of political brilliance.

  • Anonymous

     I think David Chiu bicycles a lot too, not just as Lee did on Market Street on a sleepy Sunday without a lot of cars.  Nothing changes one’s auto-based perspective of Market Street (or any street) than cycling the same stretch at its busiest, or with a novice rider along!

    On a different note, I wonder if we cyclists would be better off politically by working more closely with pedestrian advocates.  Seems like nearly every design improvement for pedestrian safety and enjoyment dovetails nicely with cycling amenities.

  • Not only SF, NY too!

  • Mario Tanev

    Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t get the same read from Ed Lee’s statement. Sure he seems to think that the peanuts spent on bicycling are significant, but all politicians like to boast. And he doesn’t seem to have the “we should totally spend $500M on bicycling” rhetoric that we all want to hear. But Ed Lee has never been a visionary, he’s a delegator. He does mention the capital planning process as part of the bike strategy, which means he wants that process to play out. Perhaps SFMTA can scrounge some pennies from the couch (existing taxes and grants), and for the rest, Ed Reiskin should pitch an ballot measure to Ed Lee. Most likely it will be the same omnibus ballot measure to fund Muni, which Lee has already indicated some support for. The reason is that a measure dedicated just for bicycling is less likely to pass (that’s why Prop B which was for repaving the roads also had a component for improving transit priority and bulb-outs).

    Transit advocates should really direct this line of questioning to Ed Reiskin and the SFMTA board – after all it’s their bicycle strategy. Is there going to be a funding measure and will it fund the bicycle strategy at the aggressive $500M level (which is the only one consistent with the 20% bicycle share resolution by the supes).

  • Sandra Taber

    Okay, what are we going to do to be sure that no other family and friends suffer the same loss as Diana Sullivan’s.  Perhaps it would help if we think of Diana as a real person and not satistic as in 48 year old woman run over by truck.  She was a San Francisco treasure.  She saw everyday as on opportunity to hula hoop and blow bubbles.  She had a smile and a warmth that lit up the darkest day.  She was a real woman, a daughter, a sister, a friend and a partner.  She loved this city and its people.  She was kind to everyone she met including the homeless.  She will be missed terrribly.

    Now we have to take the power and make her death count for something.  As of today, her death is a  tragendy but meaningless if we don’t stregthen our resolve to make this a city where cars, bicyclists, pedestrians and yes, even trucks are welcome and respected. If we do nothing this scene will repeat itself.  The next victim could be YOU, your daughter/son, your brother/sister, a friend.  HIstory will continue to repeat itself unless we make our selves heard!

  • Gneiss

    If there was broad support for bicycle infrastructure in San Francisco then Mayor Ed Lee would be for it.  As it stands, the most recent SFMTA survey of transport modes is rather damning, showing that only 3.5% of San Franciscans commute by bicycle (less than those who walk) and 20% ever even get on a bicycle.  Meanwhile around 1/3 of people drive by themselves and 27% take MUNI to get to work.  And most people work in the city, which means they are on average, less then 4 miles away from their jobs.

    The mayor is an administrator who wants to get reelected.  Which means we won’t see any substantive changes without broad public support, and from the MTA numbers he has calculated that there aren’t enough voters who support significant spending on bike infrastructure.

    What we need is a leader who can communicate to our fellow residents that we can’t build our way out of the motorize traffic and parking crunches.  That public transportation infrastructure is expensive.    That there are many benefits to biking and walking which transcend just getting around.

    However, given how our political system works to try and serve interest groups that can pay for reelection campaigns (think of how much money the city unions spend on our elections) rather than instill a vision of our future I am not holding my breath that such a person can be elected mayor in our near future.  I hold out more hope that as gas prices continue to rise, people will realize that they can’t afford their current car-centric lifestyles and move to more sustainable transportation.  The question will be – will they clamor for better public transportation or bicycle infrastructure?  Personally I put my bet on public transportation getting the lions share of new spending since more people use it and there is political support even though bicycle infrastructure would be the cheaper, faster, and more sustainable option.

  • ubringliten


  • Richard Mlynarik

    You mis-spelled his title: it’s “Mayor” Ed Lee.

  •  @voltairesmistress – almost every article that quotes Elizabeth Stampe quotes Leah Shahum. Elizabeth isn’t mentioned as much in Leah centric stories, but suffice to say they talk a lot.

  •  The SFBC endorsement was voted by the membership. See Karen’s notation above. Ed Lee said a lot in his first few months that felt so refreshing after years of Newsom that a lot of people fell for it. And if you aren’t really really closely plugged in, you missed it when he threw a bunch of curveballs later (delaying the Chavez changes) that made you say “Huh?”. So you put him on your SFBC endorsement ballot, and he ended up 3rd. Brilliant.

  • The question will be – will they clamor for better public transportation or bicycle infrastructure?

    Who are you kidding? They will clamor for lower gas prices.

  • Anonymous

     Mario, I think a ballot issue is not the right tactic to secure adequate transportation funding, particularly when it includes large amounts ($500 million)to be spent on bicycling infrastructure.  As Gneiss points out, cycling’s mode share is still far too small to gain the majority’s support at the polling booth.  We need forceful, visionary leadership from the top — from the Mayor.  This is more or less what’s happened in New York and Chicago with Bloomberg and Emmanuel.  Palming this responsibility off on a department head, such as the head of the SFMTA Ed Reiskin, is not an accurate read of the politics and political will needed to institute a controversial policy change.

  • Mario Tanev


    I agree with you that it will ultimately require Ed Lee to step up, but I don’t see how this can happen without the ballot box. Where is the $500M going to come from? The problem is that to find any money for anything, there first has to be a plan and the bicycle strategy is not a plan. The amounts listed there are just estimates. You can’t go fundraise for an estimate. That’s why it has to first go through the process where a plan is made, and then funds are sought to implement it. My guess is the SFMTA board will approve some plan around the $200M mark and the mayor will then step up and will support some funding measure that will include other funds for Muni (TEP).

  • Gneiss


    Personally, I think the SFMTA and the bike coallition might want to consider another approach.  What if they changed their focus from ‘complete streets’ to ‘safe streets for kids to get to school’.  The city knows where every family who has school age kids live and what school they go to.  They’ve slicked and diced the demographics fo income level, ethnicity, you name it.  They know that the majority of parents drive their kids to and from the schools on predefined routes.  With such a complete dataset we should be looking at traffic patterns that are generated for those trips and make them safe enough for kids and parents to get to schools either walking or biking.  This would have the added bonus of encouraging people to stay in the city, helping to keep our kids stay healthy and saving a lot of families money.  In addition, SFMTA could get support from other funding sources for such an initiative as well, particularly for infrastructure upgrades like protected bike parking at schools.

  • ubringliten

    I am with you 100%.  We need to march up to City Hall and demand change.  15-20 deaths and 900 injuries a year in such a small city is a serious matter.

  • Anonymous

    What a surprise.

  • Ed Lee said he would never run for mayor, and yet people voted for him anyway.

    When you vote for a liar, don’t be surprised when he continues to lie.

  • SFEvl1

    Us locals have parents and grandparents who live here and drive their cars to get around.  It wasn’t until the last 8 years or so when all these hipsters start getting rid of parking spaces so they can ride their bikes and ‘be cool’.  Those who have lived here our whole lives shouldn’t have our parking taken away.  Go back home!

  • Anonymous

    hahahaha, real san franciscans take Muni and complain about outsiders bringing cars into the city.

  • Well, at least we know that SFEvl1 is truly a San Francisco Native given that only someone who went through the SFUSD before the newcomers started fixing it would use the phrase “Us locals”.

    Perhaps it might be in everyone’s best interest if the hipsters also put their bootprint on the roadways.


SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy Could Make SF Top in the Nation — If It’s Funded

The SF Municipal Transportation Agency has mapped out a course that could make San Francisco the most bike-friendly city in the nation. All it needs now, it seems, is the political leadership to step up and fund what SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin has called the “most cost-effective investment we can make in moving people.” The SFMTA’s Draft […]