Students Suggest Ways to Get Peers Biking to SF State University

SF State University’s Bike Barn can park up to 200 bikes. However, its out-of-the-way location and poor maintenance make it both impractical for many students. Photo: Amanda Peterson / GG Xpress

Northern California is home to the two most bicycle-friendly universities in the entire country, according to the League of American Bicyclists — and yet a mere 9.5 percent of students pedal to San Francisco State University, the Bay Area’s second largest campus. The university’s new Bicycle Geographies class sought to understand why so few students cycle to school, and published a report in May detailing the students’ findings and recommendations.

“The intent was to use the campus as a living laboratory,” said professor Jason Henderson, author of Street Fight, who created the class so that students could help address the problem of access to the ever-growing university.

As part of an agreement with city agencies, SFSU is required to take measurable steps to minimize the transportation impacts of the growing student population, mainly by reducing drive-alone commutes. The Transportation Demand Management Plan of 2009 [PDF] showed that 33 percent of students drove alone at some point in their journey to campus — more than the 27 percent of commuters citywide who drive.

Students began by collecting information on what barriers prevent students and faculty from biking to school. A survey conducted by the students found that, while 48 percent of respondents owned a bicycle, only 9.5 percent use their bike to get to campus. That’s even though many survey respondents live less than three miles away.

Bicycle Geographies students ride alongside transportation professionals on a field study. Photo: Bicycle Geographies.
“Bicycle Geographies” students ride alongside transportation professionals as part of a field study.

About 60 percent of respondents said they came by transit: Students pack Muni’s M-Ocean View and 28-19th Avenue lines despite their unreliability. The SF County Transportation Authority has studied speeding up the M by moving the light-rail line underneath busy 19th Avenue, and the SFMTA plans to speed up the 28 with transit bulb-outs and consolidated stops. But transit improvements may not suffice to seriously reduce driving to SF State.

“There’s got to be another way,” said Henderson. “Bike infrastructure is a practical and relatively inexpensive way to mitigate traffic impacts from [student population] expansion.” But if millennials are so much more keen on biking than their parentswhat keeps these 20-somethings from pedaling?

The survey found that 30 percent of respondents said that poor bike infrastructure and unsafe streets leading to the campus made bicycling unfeasible, and another 13 percent cited a lack of secure and convenient bike parking. “Those who did not cycle to campus wanted better bike infrastructure before they’d consider getting on their bikes,” said Henry Pan, one of the students who helped conduct the survey.

Janice Li of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition reiterated that bicyclists need to feel safe and comfortable on city streets. “As already identified by the city’s bicycle network,” she said, “we know where those streets are: Ocean Avenue, Holloway Avenue, Sloat Boulevard and beyond.”

It’s no wonder why so many of these would-be bicycle commuters feel intimidated by heavily-trafficked motorways like 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard, two state highways that cut the campus off on the north and east and largely lack any bicycle accommodations. Holloway to the east does have a bike lane in the few blocks closest to the campus, but Pan and others say there’s more work to be done to make it a comfortable bikeway. “I don’t feel any safer than before, when there were just sharrows there,” said Pan.

“Ultimately,” said Li, “we need to see real corridor-length treatments, with specific attention given to the large, complex intersections along each of these streets, if we want to encourage students, faculty and staff, and families to walk or bike along this corridor.” The SFBC has focused on improving connectivity and infrastructure along nearby Ocean Avenue, between Balboa Park Station and the SF State University campus.

To address the concerns that students raised, the report recommended new bikeways to make students’ commutes safer, as well as providing more secure and convenient bike parking once they arrive on campus.

Students from the Bicycle Geographies class imagined how nearby streets might be improved to make them more comfortable for more novice riders. One such solution was to turn Holloway into a bicycle boulevard — a slow-speed street that prioritizes bicycling through physical design measures that slow drivers and reduce cut-through car traffic, including signage, pavement markings, and traffic diverters. Examples of bike boulevards can be seen on Berkeley’s Channing and Russell Streets.

Students proposed splitting the median on Sloat Boulevard to allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross from Stern Grove directly to 20th Avenue, a crucial connector to campus. Photo: Bicycle Geographies.
Students proposed splitting the median on Sloat Boulevard, which would allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross from Stern Grove directly to 20th Avenue and then to campus. Photo: Bicycle Geographies.

Another solution proposed by the Bicycle Geographies team was to modify the dangerous intersection of Sloat at 20th Avenue, to include a more direct, signalized crossing of Sloat, plus with a protected bike lane on 20th leading to the Stonestown Galleria parking lot and onto the campus.

Bike commuters can also face difficulties parking on the SF State campus. The university has a Bike Barn, a 200-space attended indoor bike parking facility, but even if students know about it, it’s out of the way for many students rushing to class. Student analysis showed that the dreary and somewhat hidden structure suffers from inadequate funding, maintenance, and publicity. “Some people on our team didn’t know the Bike Barn existed until they took the class,” said Pan. Many of the bike racks around campus are tucked against buildings and behind walls, out of the view of the public, and not necessarily close to students’ destinations.

Long Beach’s Bike Station was one model of a dignified and sociable bike parking facility cited by the students. Additionally, the team also recommended moving the Bike Barn to a more visible and accessible location, like near the corner of 19th and Holloway.

Students said they hope the report provides valuable insight for university’s administration and its future, but they also found that it enlightened them about the possibilities of biking to school themselves.

Helen Keomany said working on the report encouraged her to start bicycling to campus. “I had only ridden a bike in SF three or four times before taking that class,” she said. “It was one of the most rewarding classes I’ve taken at SF State.”

  • Gezellig

    –> Infrastructure is a huge factor:

    1) Despite being a major bike route, Holloway has no physically separated lanes at any point, just sharrows, conventional lanes and double-parking (and really, at points, double-driving) lanes.

    2) 19th Ave has no infrastructure. Sometimes people just bike on the sidewalks.

    –> Institutionalized Anti-Bike policies:

    1) SF State forbids biking on-campus. Overzealous campus popo will hand out tickets for riding your bike on campus.

    2) On that note, overzealous campus/area SF police in general. The only ticket I have ever ever received for biking through a “Stop” sign was at the roundabout at Tapia/Arballo/Font by an SFSU officer.

    *First of all, it’s crazy that a roundabout even has a stop sign in the first place

    *Second of all the policeman was clearly trolling for tickets. Practically no one else was around and it was a quiet evening. I was ironically avoiding going through campus so as to avoid a ticket for riding there.

    I’m also pretty sure I would’ve been fine if I had just been biking on the sidewalk, as I saw someone else do right past the police officer (which he did nothing about).

    Btw, when you get a ticket for going through a stop sign, it’s the same code and fine as if you were a car. Since biking is still a minority activity, it still very much attracts undue attention from police due to illusory correlation ( I’m not a college student and I even found the resulting $200 fine breathtakingly absurd (and it motivated me to finally sign up for the SFBC!). Imagine if you’re a poor college kid.

    These institutionalized cultural and insane financial biases against biking + poor infrastructure all very much contribute to low modeshare in the area.

  • Guest

    I got inspired to think of possibilities and made some drawings. Below is a possible route from SFSU to BART. (sorry for the missing L)

    But there are many more routes necessary. A very easy route would lead next to Lake Merced blvd to Sunset blvd and than along Sunset all the way to GG Park.

  • Martijn

    Not all the pics seem to work one more try.

  • hp2ena

    I believe as part of the 19th Avenue Transit Study, there will be plans for a separated bikeway on some part of the street. I don’t know where on 19th in the campus vicinity. I also know that as part of the plan, there may be a multimodal bridge built just north of Brotherhood to accommodate the realigned M-line, as well as a bike-ped connection. Consult Liz Brisson of the SFCTA for more details.

    As for the bikeway by the entrance, I believe SF State wants to redesign the entrance to coordinate with the 19th Avenue Transit Study. The Urban Design Studio of the Urban Studies and Planning department (which I was also a part of) presented recommendations which can be found at

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I guess not putting the campus out in BFE didn’t come up?

  • Gezellig

    Hah. Yeah. Though lots of students do live within a mile or two of SFSU. And most of them don’t bike to campus.

    That being said if there were a protected bikeway going directly from Daly City BART up 19th Ave that could help a lot of the BART commuters to SFSU. Daly City BART to SFSU is a classic “last-mile” problem and it’s a particularly inhospitable mile to bikes.

  • Gezellig

    Love these! BART -> SFSU with a right-of-way like that would be really powerful.

  • sebra leaves

    This weather is the least hospitable in the city. You can hardly expect to combat that problem with infrastructure.

  • p_chazz

    What you see as anti-bike I see as pro pedestrian. The last thing SFSU needs is bikes buzzing peds in crowded plazas and on narrow paths.

  • Tom H

    FYI, I think the mode split in the TDM plan represents all campus affiliates, not just students. If so, I suspect that the student drive alone rate is lower and the student walk/bike rate is higher.

    IMO, the issue is the percentage of commuters who live within 2-3 miles of the campus or 1/2 mile from a BART station who are currently driving and how can we retrofit the nearby areas to facilitate better bicycling (or walking). Also, free/unregulated parking on Junipero Serra Blvd certainly doesn’t help.

  • 94103er

    I guess you need to be told it doesn’t rain (or snow) any more in that corner of town than in the rest of the city. So are you seriously trying to tell us some gray skies and a little fog are not ‘hospitable’ for cycling?!? Even if this area experienced the dense tule fog like what’s found in the Central Valley (hardly ever), your comment would be moronic–biking around is a thousand times safer than driving in those conditions.

  • murphstahoe

    That’s like saying that Mark Zuckerberg is the poorest person of the 5 richest people on the planet.

    When we claim the area around SF State has “inhospitable weather” I think it’s time for the human race to pack it in, we’re just a bunch of loser pansies. Our forefathers would be embarrassed.

  • murphstahoe

    Those pedestrians all got killed trying to cross 19th, so it’s no problem.

  • Duste Allen

    Fact: The intersection of 19th and Holloway is just awful. As someone who lives in this area, who takes Muni and rides a bike, I don’t blame students for not wanting to ride their bike to campus. Not only is 19th a cut-throat kill or be killed road to be on, but trying to maneuver 19th and Holloway as either a biker or pedestrian is like playing chicken. Unfortunately, any plans to make 19th and Holloway any safer are many, many years out and Dist. 7 Supe doesn’t really care much about a fix right now.

  • SFGuy1930

    I find it ironic that when the article mentions that the Muni M streetcar line is packed with students but “unreliable,” the solution seems to be that the students need to start biking.

    How about the novel notion of fixing Muni so we have good, reliable service like other world class cities! (in addition to helping students bike)

  • Gezellig

    Meanwhile, the horror of other universities in California that dared to build infrastructure for both people on bike and foot:


    UC Santa Barbara


    The horror!

  • Gezellig

    And funny enough, there happens to be just such a large university town in the Central Valley that gets far more extreme (much colder in winter, much hotter in summer) than SF ever sees + Tule fog + more precipitation and has one of the highest bike modeshares in North America:

    Davis in February fog. Looks like plenty of bikes still got out. They don’t exactly cancel class because it’s foggy.

    What’s the difference? Long-standing and pervasive commitment to infrastructure:

    early parking-protected cycletrack, 1960s, Davis

    Bikeway undercrossing I-80, Davis

    When you make biking around a no-brainer, people will even brave the elements because it’s still the best way to get around. This is true whether in Northern Europe or North America–but the infrastructure has to be there.

  • Hilarious! At the University of Minnesota, 8500 kids bike to class each day. Luckily for Minnesotans they only have snow, not fog to contend with! And their temperatures only drop to 10 below zero, not a chilly 45 degrees! Weather is definitely what is stopping SF State students from biking.

  • Gezellig

    The “But we can’t have _____ in _____ because _____” excuses are always hilarious.

    Meanwhile, universities given to more extreme weather than SFSU practically celebrate it:

    Oh, because it’s *precisely* their infrastructure that makes it a no-brainer to bike around regardless of the weather.

    From the Sac Bee, “Rain and storm clouds didn’t deter these bicyclists from wearing their shorts at (sic) flip flops at the UC Davis campus in Davis, Calif., on Thursday, September 25, 2014.”

  • andrelot

    This is indeed not the first time I came across this sort of “suggestion”: transit sucks and will not be fixed, please, y’all fit 20-somethings, start riding bikes to make more space on transit for others.

    It is a very demoralizing way to promote cycling.

    Moreover, the university has a lot of students who commute from East Bay, Marin county and elsewhere in the region.

  • Gezellig

    They’re of course not mutually exclusive, though. Even if SFSU had a dedicated multimodal (BART/Muni/bus/…even HSR? :D) station on-campus it would still make a lot of sense to push to improve the on-campus and neighboring bike infrastructure.

    As it stands now probably the lowest-hanging fruit is giving the thousands of students who live within a mile or so of campus better biking options. A second would be something like a better set of bike options from Daly City BART to campus for all those East Bay commuters.

  • cwalkster

    Looks like the campus of UC Davis is much larger than SFSU. The buildings at SFSU are not too far apart and are connected with pathways for pedestrians.
    In the current layout there isn’t enough room to add bike lanes between buildings on the SFSU campus.

  • Liz Brisson

    I had the pleasure of sitting on the review panel for Professor Henderson’s class’s final presentations. I think there are some fantastic ideas that were generated (some more feasible than others) and I organized a brownbag for SF city agency staff that has inspired some additional conversations. hp2ena’s comments regarding the 19th Avenue Transit Study ( ), which is now launched into its next phase of work as the 19th Avenue/M-Ocean View Project (see ), are accurate. As a part of that project, we would re-gain the right-of-way from on-street parking and the median light-rail to re-purpose for a separated bike path on west side of street, as well as wider sidewalks and a landscaped median. The M-Ocean View would be re-routed through Parkmerced with the SF State station at Holloway on the west side of street so SF State visitors would not need to cross 19th Avenue, removing this major conflict point. To get back to the east side of the street, we would build a bridge over Junipero Serra between Font and Randolph Street that would also accommodate pedestrian and cyclists providing connection between Parkmerced/SF State and OMI and Parkmerced/SF State and Daly City BART . We will be doing more design work this year before launching environmental review next year and will proactively seek more guidance from the walking and cycling communities (schedule for these activities to be announced soon-you can opt in to our email list from the SFMTA website page) about needs and desires to be folded into the design (I’m thinking walking and cycling tours would be a lot of fun!) There’s no need to pit the need to improve cycling access against transit access. They are both important and complementary. That said, the soonest we can get the 19th Ave/M-Ocean View project built is many years out, so its worth thinking about simpler and lower-cost solutions in the meantime. I remember several of us were very intrigued by the potential for an elegant and low-cost bridge that could be built across Brotherhood Way at St. Charles, and thought this could be a good Safe Routes to Transit grant application. This was a barrier that students in Professor Henderson’s class identified as a big one for campus access from Daly City BART. Anyone with specific questions about the 19th Avenue/M-Ocean View project is welcome to contact me directly at or 415.522.4838.

  • bike_engineer

    As a student who was part of this class and did a lot of research on Muni and the future improvements it will receive, the reason why cycling to campus is so important is because buses like the 28 and 29 will be running overt 100% capacity WITH all of the Transit Effectiveness Project improvements in 2030.

    Moving people off of public transit by encouraging them to cycle is not a suggestion we came up with: Its how big cities with congestion issues solve their transit problems. we took this idea from the SFMTA’s strategic bicycle plan which in turn took the idea from other european countries.

  • Gezellig

    The above comment is a great example of an excuse defending the status quo for nonsensical reasons. Yet when SFSU tries even half-heartedly it manages to find room:

    Again, this is the “we can’t have ____ in ____ because ____” thing…as if SF were the most unique city in the world whose design challenges had never ever been encountered by any other city.

    Next are you gonna say we can’t have bike infrastructure because….sourdough/Anchor Steam/ fog? (oh wait, someone already mentioned SFSU’s weather as a supposed reason…which is hilarious).

    You mention the Netherlands and people say “well that’s the Netherlands. They’re compact and dense.” You mention Davis and people say “well that’s Davis. They’re sprawling and have low density.” The excuses never end.

    Anyhoo, even in SFSU’s central core there’s plenty of room for adjacent bike lanes:

    SFSU’s Master Plan itself even acknowledges this. The following proposal replaces the current no-bikes-on-core campus with proposed key bike routes:

    There’s room.

  • murphstahoe

    The novel notion of fixing MUNI is the catchphrase of all bike haters, because they know that fixing MUNI is such a heavy lift, that it allows them to demonize cyclists as being anti-transit without having to actually fix MUNI.

  • murphstahoe

    How many articles should we show you where ENUF has said “Transit sucks on Potrero hill, so please do not charge for meters”.

    It is a very demoralizing way to promote driving.

  • 94103er

    Oh nice, yes, let’s include that sneaky phrase ‘fit 20-somethings’ to remind the rest of us that we can’t bicycle unless we’re young and engaging in a thrill sport.

    I’ll phone up Europe now and tell them the news.

  • Gezellig

    Thanks for the comments and background info!

    As someone who used to live in Ingleside not that far north of Brotherhood, man is it a huge barrier! A ped/bike bridge connecting the two parts of St. Charles would be a big help not only for SFSU but people living in the area.

  • cwalkster

    So you say I gave a nonsensical reason. How would you incorporate a bike lane with the existing pedestrian paths on the SFSU campus? Is there any extra space on the paths?

    Your photo shows a bike lane that is not between any two buildings on campus. Look now who is not making any sense.

  • Gezellig

    If in a sincere manner you truly cannot envision bike lanes at any point on campus, there’s always SFSU’s own proposal I linked. That SFSU Master Plan proposal seems to find a way to incorporate lanes between buildings (some as close as–gasp–50 feet to each other…how *did* they pull it off such an imaginative design feat?!). But I suspect sincerity is not really your game.

    Purposely obtuse contrarianism is cuter on kids.

  • SFGuy1930

    You really seem to have a chip on your shoulder given the theme of all your comments.

    All I said was that in addition to helping students have an easier time biking (my parenthetical phrase, in case you are reading-impaired), it’s ironic that there’s no outcry/push that Muni M line needs to work more effectively for the students trying to get to school (and that Muni has a whole needs to be brought to the level that would be expected for a world-class city, which hopefully is the standard that San Francisco aspires to).

  • coolbabybookworm

    How is that irony? The article mentions studies and efforts to improve transit to SF State, and says that despite unreliability, transit is highly used, and not just the M line, bus routes that serve the university are also heavily used. Where do you get the notion that there is no outcry or push to improve the M line? SFCTA is looking into long term improvements.

    As Henderson says “there’s got to be another way [to mitigate traffic impacts of the university and growth]. MUNI and BART are a huge part of that, but so is walking and biking, especially for students who live close to the university. I’m not sure where you found the irony in that or the dismissal of transit.

  • maaaaaatttt

    The infrastructure is fine. It’s the hills dammit! from where I live in the sunset i can safely get to SFSU in about 20 on a bike minutes because it’s mostly downhill. But going back home, it would take me 45 minutes because Its uphill. furthermore, If i bike to campus I get to class tired and sweaty. Even still, the 29 can get me to SFSU in roughly the same time as it would take me if I rode my bike, and it can get me home 20 minutes faster. Therefore, even though muni has it’s weaknesses, it’s better for me to take the 29 than it is to take my bike.

  • murphstahoe

    There is PLENTY of call to improve MUNI. There are two huge ballot measures in place to add massive chunks of funding to MUNI. There is a ballot measure that would be DETRIMENTAL to MUNI and the vast majority of commenters on this blog support A/B and are against L.

    This is an orthogonal problem to improving conditions for cycling. And I consider improving conditions for cycling to be very important because so many people are actively trying to hamstring improvements to MUNI – ironically while claiming that the problems with MUNI are the reason we need to have free parking, more parking garages, etc…

  • Gezellig

    Yeah, I don’t get how the occasional comment on here seems to falsely pit bike vs. ped vs. transit improvements against each other…as if they were somehow mutually exclusive instead of hugely overlapping and interconnected needs. Or as if people who bike never walk or take transit, which is of course absurdly far from the truth.

  • Gezellig

    Streetsblog very much advocates holistic improvements to how we live in our cities. Many of the posts are about transit and ped improvements. There’s very much an outcry here for better transit–it’s definitely a consistent theme.

    This particular post had to do with bikes, so naturally that’s what people are mainly talking about. However,
    even there you’ll notice how several people mentioned the necessity of bike improvements vis à vis transit ones (Martijn’s proposed protected bikeway from BART to SFSU, for example).

    I’m not sure why you’d take this as an interpretation that people here are saying we should have improved bike infrastructure to the exclusion of transit. I haven’t seen that anywhere.

  • SF Guest

    I do not support Prop B since it raids $22M from vital city services.

    The Council of Community Housing Organizations explained, “Without a new revenue source to offset such an increase in MTA expenditures, the measure is tantamount to “stealing from Peter to pay [more] to Paul. Prop B was put on the ballot with little involvement of transportation advocates, transit users, or the city’s communities and neighborhoods. This is not how good policy should be developed.”

  • murphstahoe

    Peter has been robbing Paul for a long time. Now Paul wants it back and it’s theft. SMH.

  • Gezellig

    Yeah, depending on where you live hills can definitely be an issue. Not everyone can or will bike them. But there are large swaths of SF that aren’t that hilly. These even includes many of the neighborhoods within a mile radius of SFSU where a lot of students live off-campus. For example, a lot of students who live off-campus live in the Ingleside area, through which Holloway is a key (and mostly flat) bike route (see attached image from Hillmapper).

    Yet the city squanders Holloway’s potential to be a truly great east-west bike route by using copouts such as sharrows (aka ignorrows), conventional Class II lanes (aka Second-Class lanes) + “buffered” bike lanes (aka Double Parking/Driving lanes). Paint is not infrastructure, and it’s not necessarily a pleasant or inviting experience to the many Interested but Concerned people who’d otherwise bike in SF.

  • gneiss

    So, in San Francisco, all the buses are equipped with bike racks that hold two (and soon three) bikes. There have been times where I have to pick up my daughter in the Presidio and need to get to upper Haight. Taking the bus works out to be the best solution in those cases, as trying to use a trailer bike up the hills from the Presidio is a bear. There’s no reason why you couldn’t bike to school and then take the bus home.

    Also, if you’re getting sweaty riding downhill from the Sunset to SFSU, then you should re-assess how you ride. There’s no reason for hammering hard to get to school on a downhill. My daily ride in the morning is from upper Haight to 3rd and Townsend. By moderating my speed, I can easily show up at the office in dress clothes without working up a sweat.

  • Gezellig

    When I lived on a super steep and tall hill in the Ingleside area I definitely used that trick…bike downhill to my destination (this was great for getting to Balboa Park BART–over a mile away–in like 7 minutes), take the 29 home.

    Transit+bike is a beautiful thing!

  • SFGuy1930

    I wasn’t saying that “we should have improved bike infrastructure to the exclusion of transit.” I was saying that “Murphstahoe” diatribe about my post being “just a catchphrase of bkie-haters” and “demonizing cyclists as being anti-transit” was uncalled for.

    From the gist of your post, I’ll take away that you agree that MurphTahoe’s post was an unnecessary non-sequitur flame, which I agree with.



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