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San Francisco Hosts Climate Summit but Falls Short on Bike, Walk, and Transit Promises

Some 45 “people protected bike lane” protesters outside the Climate Summit. Photo: John Entwistle

Taylor Ahlgren was late to today's people-protected bike lane protest outside the Global Climate Action Summit. He had to stop to help a cyclist who was severely injured in a collision with a motorist outside the BMW dealership at the intersection of Howard and South Van Ness.

"He was unconscious the whole time," said a visibly shaken Ahlgren. He blames the crash on bad street design and poor sight lines made worse because of an "illegally parked truck that blocked the view."

Streetsblog will update about the crash as more information comes, but it hammered home the reason some 45 protesters donned yellow t-shirts to, again, demand safe bike infrastructure on San Francisco streets.

EMTs care for a man who was badly injured today while riding his bike at Howard and South Van Ness. Photo: Taylor Ahlgrem
EMTs care for a man who was badly injured today while riding his bike at Howard and South Van Ness.
EMTs care for a man who was badly injured today while riding his bike at Howard and South Van Ness. Photo: Taylor Ahlgrem

Meanwhile, inside the summit, Mayor London Breed called on cities around the world to join San Francisco in making the fight against global warming a top priority.

But when she was a supervisor, Breed reportedly called on SFMTA to remove a bike-share station from her neighborhood because it took up a car parking space. This is the mayor of a city that fails to act on long-overdue bike improvements on Valencia, the Embarcadero, and many other streets. The SFMTA has also ruled out pedestrianizing Valencia, again out of concern for automobile circulation.

"What an opportunity this could have been for the Mayor to say: yes, follow us, and announce another executive directive to get more protected bike lanes," said one People Protected Bike Lane protester. Even in SoMa, the area of San Francisco that is hosting the summit, safety projects continue to fester amidst intercity department conflicts.

Today's yellow-shirted protesters were hardly alone in calling out the double standard. Brian Wiedenmeier, head of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Rachel Hyden, with the Transit Riders, and Jodie Medeiros, Executive Director of Walk San Francisco, collaborated on a scathing editorial today in the San Francisco Examiner. 

From their Op-Ed "SF must walk (and bike and bus) its talk on climate"

San Francisco may be hosting, but we have yet to make the commitment to increase space for people walking, biking and taking transit. As longtime advocates for biking, walking and transit, we’re embarrassed for our city this week.

Exhaust from cars and trucks is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in San Francisco, a figure that has remained stubbornly static over the past decade. Now, at a moment when the world is watching, we have a chance to be a real leader and make a meaningful commitment to reduce the amount of CO₂ put into our atmosphere.

Imagine Mayor London Breed standing in front of leaders from across the globe and declaring that significant portions of Golden Gate Park will be car-free, or that Better Market Street is on track to break ground in 2019 and will make San Francisco’s main thoroughfare emission-free. There is still a chance for us to be the forward thinking city the world expects us to be, and we are asking our leaders step up to the challenge.

On Wednesday, Streetsblog reported on the panels hosted by the Dutch Delegation to the summit. The Dutch have earned a leadership role in the fight against global warming by achieving enviable and substantial reductions in automobile use, reducing CO2 emissions from transportation, and saving lives from traffic crashes in the process. Some Dutch cities boast fifty percent of trips by bicycle. But that took decades of strong political commitment. It didn't come by continually compromising on safety and transit to mollify motorists.

Maureen Persico, front right, and some 45 other protesters outside Moscone Center on Howard Street, outside the Climate Summit

In the words of Wiedenmeier, Hyden, and  Medeiros: "If San Francisco, a Transit-First City, can’t demonstrate that leadership during the Global Climate Action Summit by making a commitment to more car-free space, then what hope is there for the dozens of infrastructure improvement projects in the pipeline that encourage biking, walking, and transit currently languishing across our city?"

That lack of leadership was very real today to Ahlgren, who stood listlessly near the summit protest. "He smashed into the windshield and must have flown eight to ten feet through the air," he said of the man he helped after the crash. "I just want to know if he's going to make it."

Update from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, 9/14: Today we mourn the loss of Russell Franklin, 56, who was hit by a vehicle while bicycling at Howard and South Van Ness around noon yesterday. Both the driver of the car and another person biking tried to help Russell survive on the scene. Russell succumbed to his injuries and died late last night. Russell did not deserve to die simply trying to get where he needed to go. Our deepest sympathies go to his family and friends.

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