Just a Reminder: There Are a Ton of Bikes on Market Street

Photo: Janice Li

San Franciscans may take it for granted, but to most Americans, the volume of bike traffic on Market Street resembles a Critical Mass ride more than a weekday rush hour. SF’s main thoroughfare regularly sees more than 3,000 people ride by the bike counter on weekdays at Market and Eighth Streets — and that’s just in one direction. It may still be a ways away from matching Copenhagen’s busiest streets, and it doesn’t have raised bike lanes yet, but it’s definitely one of the highest concentrations of bike commuters you can find in this country.

Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson, Jr. was awe-struck by the two-wheeled torrent when he visited from New York last summer.

  • It’s always good to remind us. Keep doing so. in fact, just simple montages of the most crowded bike routes are always a winner. I’d put one up every month! 🙂

  • John Rogers

    Given the ton of bikes, it is such a travesty that between 8th St. and the Embarcadero it is a total traffic free-for-all with essentially no bike infrastructure at all (green sharrows notwithstanding). The city should enact emergency measures to protect cyclists while the Market Street Plan is inching its way forward. Cars Off Market!

  • Great pic! This would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    It’s worse than that. SFMTA pays for someone to stand on the corner of Market and Beale, using a whistle to stop pedestrian traffic from crossing Beale, so that _cars_ can turn freely from Market to Beale, so they don’t block Muni. It’s a travesty.

  • mcas

    Just a reminder: There are no parking spots on Market Street north of Van Ness. So, unless they are dropping off someone with a disability, there is no reason to to have private autos on that street.

  • p_chazz

    The City should do more to protect pedestrians from bicyclists on Market Street who ride on sidewalks and in crosswalks, make iillegal left hand turns amd generally create a hostile street environment for anyone on foot.

  • mikeo

    Agreed, let’s get those protected intersections to avoid pedestrian-bicycle interaction while allowing proper, safe, left hand turns.

  • Michael Morris

    Now it’s time to re pave the bike lanes! The conditions are terrible on some stretches of market. just west of van ness is the worst, but other blocks between van ness and union square are just as bad. the improvements on the paved sections near civic center proved to be a great investment.

  • Will riding down market street ever be on American Ninja Warrior?

  • cmu

    Great pic indeed, except for the preponderance of helmets. What’s with you SF-ers? (spoken as an ex-San Franciscan cyclist). Helmets are of dubious utility, make you look dorky and makes cycling seem like a ‘special’ activity, which discourages occasional riders.

    Please note the millions of cyclists world-over who ride bare headed.

  • murphstahoe

    Just trying to discourage the Bob Gunderson’s of the world from raging against the machine.

  • the_greasybear

    No, but it does a cameo in “Dances With Cars.”

  • NoeValleyJim

    They certainly don’t hurt and it is cool enough here that wearing them is not an inconvenience. If you have pointers to scientific studies that indicate that they are of no use in preventing head injuries, I would be interested in reading them.

  • cmu

    Well, cool is in the eye of the beholder, so I won’t disagree. As for studies, there are a few but I can see how helmet pushers can dismiss them (I mean, who would fund an expensive study like this?) but how about anecdotally, no-one say in Amsterdam with thousands of cyclists, wears them, nor in much of the world. And when I lived in SF, 22-10 years ago, I never saw them.

    Helmets make cycling appear less safe that it is, which is why as one who wants more people to cycle, it is bad. I live in Brooklyn and there’s many less here than in the picture above.

  • John Rogers

    I know what you’re saying, but Amsterdam (where I cycled with my three kids with no helmets and felt safe) is not Market St. Market street actually IS statistically dangerous. Even Amsterdamers might want to protect their heads in the traffic maelstrom that is Market below 8th St. , where there is no accommodation for people on bikes.

  • NoeValleyJim

    I don’t see any strong evidence one way or another from looking at the scientific literature. It does appear that they offer some kind of protection vs. head injury, which logically makes sense. It is hard to imagine that they make cycling less safe. If you are going to make that kind of counter-intuitive statement, I would ask you to back it up with more than just assertion.

    It is hotter in Brooklyn in the summer so it is more uncomfortable to wear a helmet, no wonder people wear them less. And bicycling in Amsterdam is far safer, with injury rates at about 20% of the rate in the United States.

  • Gezellig

    The jury is still out on how helpful helmets really are. There’s a pretty interesting TED Talk on this:

    The English-speaking world’s almost singularly obsessive fixation with helmet culture–either by mandatory laws or by social pressure–does seem to cognitively frame bicycling as a far more dangerous activity than it really is…and is more than a tad victim-shamey (as are many pedestrian-safety campaigns which also don’t question the dangerous-driving status quo).

    According to the National Safety Council, an American’s lifetime odds of dying from the following causes, for some perspective:

    -> 1 in 7 Americans will die of heart disease/cancer
    -> 1 in 29 will die of respiratory disease
    -> 1 in 152 will die from a fall
    -> 1 in 492 will die in a car
    -> 1 in 723 will die as a pedestrian
    -> 1 in 3,648 will die choking
    -> 1 in 4,974 will die on a bicycle

    (source: http://www.nsc.org/news_resources/injury_and_death_statistics/Documents/2014-Injury-Facts-43.pdf)

    Of course, you might add, surely that’s because so few Americans bicycle. That’s undeniable, but if you adjust and compare the activity of bicycling per capita per hour vs. the activity of driving per capita per hour, their rates actually seem to be about the same:


    Still definitely room for improvement, for sure, yet how many people who drive often, rarely eat their vegetables or exercise and smoke a few cigs here and there still chastise their friends for biking because they sincerely believe “it’s really dangerous”…? That’s a cultural belief not really backed up by actual data.

    The unfortunate thing about helmet culture is that it tends put the onus on the most vulnerable instead of questioning the status quo where drivers get to drive with impunity.

    Helmet culture inadvertently brands biking as much more dangerous than it really is, which discourages ridership, which makes it actually less safe than it could be. Meanwhile it can lead to a sense of false security on the part of the helmet-wearer and drivers, who’ve been shown to drive more recklessly around helmet-clad people than otherwise.

    There seem to be a lot of unintended macro consequences of helmet-centric culture that ultimately hurt the bigger picture of bicycling.

    Anyway, as for Market, I find cars tend to go so slow and stop so often I personally am barely concerned about them (though obviously I prefer the protected sections and definitely wish they continued the whole way). I’m more concerned with all the grates, streetcar tracks, potholes/cracks, etc. I have to navigate.

    Indeed, last week I fell for the first time in years due to a big unexpected pothole around dusk on an unfamiliar stretch kind of similar to Market St. in Seattle (which I was visiting). I would’ve benefited far more from elbow and knee pads than the helmet I was wearing (Seattle has an all-ages helmet law so despite my distaste for them I didn’t wanna be harassed by the popo). Or, ya know, also benefited from a city that maintained its roads better.

  • coolbabybookworm

    Thanks for the well written and thought out post. I hope to one day live in a California where helmets are not necessary for most riders because bike riding is so common and safe, the way it is in many parts of Europe. For the present I wear a helmet while riding in SF in case I am involved in a collision, I feel like I’ll receive better treatment from the police/media/insurance/judge/jury than if I didn’t have a helmet.

  • Gezellig

    Oh yeah, that definitely makes sense! And to be clear I don’t have any problem with any individual person deciding to wear a helmet; my problem is with how problematic Helmet Culture is. I think we cannot overlook the importance of cognitive framing. Interested But Concerneds in SF constantly see Mr. Mushroom Head:


    Messages conveyed?

    –> biking is for Brave Athletic People with Special Gear, not Normal People Like Me.

    –> biking is dangerous, not something Normal People Like Me who value their safety do.

    –> biking is for road-warrior dudes hunched down over their handlebars, not Normal People Like Me.

    –> oh, and Mr. Mushroom Head *is* almost definitely a dude. Goodbye other 50% of population.

    This one’s definitely a dude, too:



    “NO EXCUSES. BIKING IS CRAAAAZY DANGEROUS, GUYS….but the city would reaaaaally like you to try it, so pretty please give it a shot?”

    Compare to this more serene, neutral depiction:


    Which would you rather do?

    This may sound overly picky but this cognitive-framing stuff absolutely matters! (ask George Lakoff about how many people successfully Don’t Think of an Elephant when told).

    Anyway, as I write this I’m looking out onto Market and Polk. Of the constant flow of people on bikes here I’d say more than half are helmetless. With more normalization of the activity, it’ll probably become more.

    And more people biking more places (agnostic to their helmet status) is something that will *actually* make us all safer. 🙂