Mapping the Story of San Francisco’s Bike Lanes

Betsey Emmons, a fellow at MapStory, has created an interactive map showing the history of San Francisco’s bicycle network. The map allows viewers to watch as San Francisco’s bike infrastructure develops over a 43-year period, showing streets that now feature bike lanes and sharrows.

This story begins in 1971, when the first designated bicycle lane was striped on Lake Street, between 10th and 13th Avenues in the Inner Richmond. This was an early political victory for the SF Bicycle Coalition, which had just been formed by a small group of grassroots activists.

What’s not visible on the map are the bike lanes that almost came to be. As recounted in a 2011 issue [PDF] of SFBC’s Tube Times magazine, the Board of Supervisors in 1972 approved a plan for parking-protected bike lanes on upper Market Street, but the head of the Department of Public Works put a stop to it. Save for the occasional two-block long bike lane, the momentum for bicycle infrastructure didn’t really pick up speed until the late 1990s.

There was a notable milestone in which an anti-bike lane department head didn’t get his way. The Valencia Street road diet was implemented in 1999, which added bike lanes despite opposition from Bill Maher, then the executive director of the Department of Parking and Traffic. The lower Market bike lanes were also installed west of Eighth Street in the early 2000s, along the curbs where car parking used to be.

The map shows a noticeable lull in bike lane expansion beginning in 2006, when the bike injunction was imposed by the San Francisco Superior Court, in response to a lawsuit which successfully argued that the Bike Plan needed more environmental review. No bicycle infrastructure — not even bike racks — were permitted in SF until the injunction was lifted in 2010. The backlog of projects is displayed in an explosion of bike lanes thereafter.

Emmons, who lives in Washington, DC, has completed maps for New York CityDC, and Portland. She told Streetsblog NYC that she wants to use these time-based maps to help tell the story of how bike networks have grown and where they are headed. Cities that make provide easily-accesible data about bike lane implementation make it particularly easy.

MapStory is currently a public prototype. The organization is aiming for a full release in the fall, where users will be able to comment on and edit other users’ maps.

  • Prinzrob

    A similar time lapse map was put together by the City of Oakland a while ago as well:

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I once saw a very similar timelapse of a snail crossing a desert.

    That movie of Oakland bike paths is a bit of a joke. They’ve got the entirety of Mountain Blvd as a “bike route” but there’s not a bike amenity to be seen anywhere on that road. Not even sharrows!

    I guess it’s nice that we have anything, if they really didn’t have a single bike lane 30 years ago, but it’s still a disconnected mess.

  • Prinzrob

    Well, we could make fun of plenty of bike routes in the SF visualization too, except that one does not distinguish between different types of infrastructure. I prefer the Oakland version, which makes the value of different applications more apparent, and even shows how existing segments have been upgraded over time. The fact that the “bike route” miles are now decreasing while the other categories increase is evidence that the city no longer sees these BINOs (Bikeways In Name Only) as acceptable.

    I also think it’s okay to appreciate how much we’ve accomplished over just the past 10 years while also admitting how much work we have yet to do.

  • rickbynight

    Out of curiosity, which bike routes in the SF version would you make fun of? If anything it seems to be missing very good bike routes (e.g., The Wiggle is notably absent.)

  • SFnative74

    This map is totally inaccurate. It seems that the mapmaker phased in the projects randomly and played it off as reflecting the implementation of the route network, when in reality it’s not even close. I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from this map.

  • Prinzrob

    I don’t know what the current numbers are, but ahead of the 2009 SF bike plan update it was noted that there were over 100 miles of named bike routes that included only signage or nothing at all, just like the Mountain Blvd bike route in Oakland that Jeffrey Baker rightly criticized. I’m sure many of those lane miles have since been upgraded in SF, as is being done in Oakland as well. However, I feel that the Oakland time lapse map visualization is more valuable because it makes this distinction between types of facilities and doesn’t assume that all bikeways are equal.

    As for other types of facilities, everyone has their own opinions but I think that sharrows on multi-lane streets are pretty ridiculous, and SF has its share of those (yes, Oakland too, unfortunately).

  • rickbynight

    Makes sense, and definitely agreed about sharrows on multi-lane streets, though they do serve as a small warning to drivers to pay more attention. Not much, but, given how few streets have sharrows, it’s probably worth something.

  • SFnative74

    This is a map of SF’s bike routes in December 1971 that I found very easily via a search engine. This by itself shows the MapStory map is off to a bad start.


Public works paved the roadway to the left, but left the bike lanes full of cracks, dangerous furrows, potholes, and other defects. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless noted.

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