Accomplishments and Looking Ahead at the Golden Wheel Awards
Last night the Golden Wheel Awards were presented at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center in downtown San Francisco. This year’s winners: Nicole Ferrara, Executive Director of Walk San Francisco, and Assemblyman Phil Ting.
The event, which was attended by some 300 planners, city staffers, advocates, and other officialdom, celebrated recent accomplishments in making San Francisco a more people and bike-friendly place. But it was also a fervent call to action.
To kick off the ceremony, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s new executive director, Brian Wiedenmeier, talked about his main goals for the organization. “People who bike in San Francisco should look like people who live in San Francisco. We must include more people of color and lower income residents,” he said. “I pledge we will continue to fight hard for protected bike lanes throughout the city. On Market Street alone we call for fully separated and protected bike lanes from Embarcadero to Octavia.”
He then moved to presenting the awards. First up was Assemblyman Phil Ting, who won “for his leadership locally and in Sacramento to encourage biking, including his authorship of A.B. 40, which permanently banned tolls on people biking and walking across California’s bridges including the Golden Gate Bridge,” the SFBC wrote in its announcement. “It’s never been more important to bike in California,” said Ting. “We have to make sure people have every single option–walking, biking or transit.”
Ting also talked about legislative efforts to get Caltrans to include “protected bike lanes” in its manual. “I figured, that’s easy, I’ll just call Caltrans and they’ll do it,” joked Ting, who explained just how difficult it can be to change Caltrans culture. “Every time I go to Sacramento it’s like looking at San Francisco in the 1950s; the manual is about cars, cars, and more cars. It’s hard to change that environment and that thinking.”
The other recipient, Ferrara, spoke next. She talked about the natural alliance between advocates for biking and walking. She also reminisced about her grandfather, who walked every day. “He loved to walk. He walked until he couldn’t walk anymore,” she said. “And then all he would say is ‘just to take a couple more steps.’ He died at the age of 97, probably [living so long] in large part due to all that walking.”
Ferrara lamented for the people who can’t share such memories because of the carnage on the roads. She spoke about Lurilla Harris, an elderly woman who was killed while crossing the street at Franklin and Geary last month. “I think about…all those memories she had to miss…whether it’s 86-year-old Harris, or 26-year-old Kate Slattery–we can demand change. We will demand change. Let’s move and shake our city to demand safer streets for everyone.”
Supervisors Scott Wiener and Jane Kim, who are competing for the same state senate seat, also spoke. Kim mentioned her trip to Copenhagen last year. “They moved from cars and gridlock to a city where you see seniors on their bikes…it’s amazing,” she said. “That’s a city I want to move towards; that means interconnected bike corridors [for San Francisco].”
Kim, who still feels skittish riding her bike on many streets in San Francisco, seemed to renew her call for the city to move forward on automatic speed enforcement cameras. “We need to slow down!” she said. “That five minutes or ten minutes you save speeding through the city is not worth a life.”
Wiener wrapped up the speeches after a brief struggle to raise the microphone from Kim’s height to his own. He also spoke about the natural alliance between walking and cycling advocacy. “If you have a city that’s not safe to bike, it’s probably not safe to walk either. Working with Walk SF, the Transit Riders, and SFBC,” he said, “we are tearing down the obstacles that stop us from fixing our streets and stopping the death and carnage once and for all.”
He also brought up specific policy changes that must be made to achieve that. “We need to modernize our vehicle code to recognize that… bikes and cars are not the same. We need to modernize our fire codes, boring as that sounds, so we can do good, progressive street design,” he said, referring to fire codes that require streets be extra wide to accommodate large fire trucks.
The celebration wrapped up around 9 p.m., with lots of smiles and the exchanging of ideas and information. But it was also tinged by memories of those who have died–and will continue to die–before this work is complete. “Two bikers died exactly three weeks ago,” said Wiedenmeier, referring to Kate Slattery and Heather Miller. “The tragic events of Wednesday, June 22 tell us that there is much, much more work ahead.”