SF Still Waiting for David Chiu to Stand Up for Protected Bike Lanes on Polk

In ##http://sf.streetsblog.org/2011/01/11/david-chiu-bike-network-expansion-is-transportation-priority-1/##January 2011##, David Chiu rode on Polk Street and said the expansion of protected bikeways was his top transportation priority. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Supervisor David Chiu has paid more lip service to making San Francisco a bike-friendly city than any other politician in recent years. Yet even as the SFMTA backs away from protected bike lanes on Polk Street — which not only lies partially in Chiu’s District 3, but also serves as his own bike commute route to City Hall — San Franciscans have yet to see the Board of Supervisors president stand behind the vision he’s touted.

Chiu has taken just about every opportunity to portray himself as City Hall’s champion for bike-friendly streets. During his short stint as acting mayor in January 2011, he invited the press and bike advocates to join him on a ride down Polk to City Hall, where he told Streetsblog that his top transportation priority “is ensuring that we’re expanding our bike network, starting with Market Street, but through all of the major thoroughfares in San Francisco, creating what I think of as bike thoroughfares that we can use to easily get folks around the city.”

But when it comes to the actual decisions that shape the city’s streets, Chiu hasn’t backed up his rhetoric with action. As soon as the Polk Street redesign hit a political rough patch, drawing fire from merchants with a cars-first mentality, Chiu had no bold words about making SF more bike-friendly. Instead of setting the record straight when merchants spread misinformation about the project and throwing his support behind a real-life protected bike lane proposal, Chiu said he had not taken a position.

So perhaps it’s fitting that while the SFMTA holds two high-profile public meetings about the Polk Street project, Chiu is absent, on a study trip to Israel. His office has yet to respond to Streetsblog’s request to weigh in on the current state of the Polk Street project, and the news that protected bike lanes are no longer under consideration for most of the corridor.

At a November forum about how San Francisco can follow in the footsteps of Copenhagen, Chiu himself provided an apt description of the political state of bike policy in the city: “I think we have a little bit of a politically correct culture at this moment of a lot of elected officials who say the right things when it comes to our commitment towards biking, but I don’t think we’re pushing the edge.”

For Chiu to pass his own litmus test, he’ll have to show some courage at times like this — when the future of a major street is actually at stake — not just pro-bike rallies. This is the only time when championing safer streets really counts.

  • mikesonn


  • Shame on Chiu

  • Anonymous

    dream on…he wants to run for another office someday and doesn’t want to offend potential donors/supporters. WTF is he doing overseas anyway? Last time I checked BoS members didn’t conduct foreign policy as part of their official duties.

  • Mario Tanev

    Maybe David Chiu is thinking that he can have a lot more impact if he bides his time and becomes a mayor, and getting in a confrontation with merchants will cost him that.

    This is wrong thinking on two counts:
    1. It’s a huge gamble with what he presumably believes. If he doesn’t become mayor (most supervisors don’t), then no bicycling improvements will stem from his term as supervisor, so he achieves nothing of value on that front.
    2. Unless he follows Ed Lee’s path to office (getting appointed), voters will not vote for someone who stands for nothing and has done nor advocated for anything anyone can remember. And that’s what David Chiu has done so far (nothing). Whether you like it or not Scott Wiener’s actions have consequences he believes in and people will remember them, and those who agree with them will vote for him. When time comes to vote for David Chiu, he will have nothing people will know he created. A livable Polk St could be something to claim as his achievement. By the time he stands up for election, the sentiment should be even more in favor of livability, and then he will simply be viewed as a political coward.

  • i feel really duped by Chiu, since he worked the bike vote, but doesn’t support or push policy. that is his job. Can anyone confirm that he actually commutes by bike? In the photo it looks like he is riding on a bike that is too small or has the seat too low, good sign that he doesn’t ride much.

  • I have to agree I’m disappointed with Chiu and I don’t think he’s doing himself favors with a no stance approach. After he failed to stand up for the Noe Street plaza, I lost all respect for Bevan Dufty and didn’t vote for him for mayor. (It appears few others did either.) As Aaron said in the post, change takes courage. Being the nice guy and trying to appease the biggest paingivers means the status quo wins regardless of merit. I definitely notice and respect Wiener taking on hard issues in ways that at least attempt to be in the interest of common sense and the highest common good. (Would I be happy with him if he started voting against bike lanes? No, I would not.)

    Baby boomers are dying off. They may have money, but they’re a risky group for a politician to cast his/her lot with. Car ownership per capita is dropping nation-wide. I predict by the next mayoral election it’ll be below 50% in San Francisco. Good luck to any politician running then on a car-privilege-first record.

  • mikesonn

    I voted for him to be my supervisor, not to set himself up to run for mayor.

  • Anonymous

    I definitely rode behind him one evening this year on Folsom from 7th to 5th street, which is not to say he isn’t being a coward and needs to stand up for making Polk street better.

  • mikesonn

    He rides all over and doesn’t own a car. Which blows my mind even more that he isn’t stepping up.

  • Mario Tanev

    I spoke to his aide Judson True who also bikes, and his response essentially boils down to how many voices from his district are passionately for one side or the other, and it sounds like merchants are winning that contest, and Chiu has no choice but to side with the merchants.

    This is of course wrong, because he is a representative of the whole district, not just the loudest and he can claim he was elected to make decisions, and he can use the best known facts (which favor protected bicycle lanes) to make his decisions and try to educate the merchants instead.

  • He came out and rode with SF2G. I left with this impression after watching him bike – “Now I know who that cyclist is that all the haters on SFGate whine about”. No skillz.

  • “After he failed to stand up for the Noe Street plaza, I lost all respect for Bevan Dufty and didn’t vote for him for mayor.”

    You know who did stand up for the Noe Street Plaza? Scott Wiener. You know who did the milquetoast “let’s see?” His opponents. Wiener won in a rout. And many Plaza opponents voted for him.

  • Mario Tanev

    Perpetuating the stereotype that bicyclists must be skilled in order to get respect is not useful. He can bike whichever way he is able to or wishes, but his political skills are what concerns me.

  • Mario – when I say no skills I am talking about basic safety and awareness. It was weird

  • NoeValleyJim

    I usually donate the maximum amount allowed to my favorite Mayoral candidate and often knock on doors for them as well. It is unlikely that Chiu will have my support unless he shows some leadership on this issue.

  • J

    In case Chiu is wondering, this is what it looks like when a politician prioritizes the expansion of the bike network and stands up to obstructionist merchants who spread misinformation.


    This is the physical incarnation of that support on the street:


  • voltairesmistress

    Thanks for the information Mario. I very much doubt that the loudest whining merchants even represent the majority of merchants, much less the neighborhood as a whole.

    At meetings this subgroup has been immune to logic, data, or facts. They dehumanize cyclists to my face, because they are so set in their stereotypes they can’t imagine this 51 year old lady in street clothes and lipstick is a cyclist too. Their crowning success is making mindless noise. Chiu needs to start distinguishing the signal from the noise. I can’t see ever voting for him again otherwise — in District #3 or for mayor or whatever he aspires to.

  • keenplanner

    Especially since most of the merchants don’t reside or vote in the district.

  • keenplanner

    Valencia was a huge gamble too. And the Embarcadero, and tearing down the Central Freeway. If a solution is obvious or intuitive, it doesn’t take much courage to stand up for it. History doesn’t remember the spineless.


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