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

Protesters highlight frequent disconnect between city's talk and its actions

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

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.

IMG_20180913_122732
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.

  • mx

    So the city is hosting a climate summit by being openly hostile to low and zero-emission transportation? The Howard bike lane is not just blocked, but is going to get someone killed as multiple lanes of traffic turn across it. SoMa is gridlocked by the month-long closure (they’re just keeping it shut all the way through Dreamforce, apparently), further slowing the worst bottlenecks of the nation’s slowest public transit (and the subway is hosed during both morning and evening rush hours yet again, should you be interested in avoiding that traffic by going underground). Climate summit buses are parking in bike lanes. We’re not just falling short on promises; this summit, right here, is actively making the climate and transportation worse.

    It is appalling that basic street infrastructure to keep people from being killed is held up by years of delay and opposition, while anybody who spends enough money at Moscone is apparently allowed to turn the streets into a private playground with no community consultation.

  • LazyReader

    We’re selling coal, oil and gas to India and China,That’s 3 BILLION people, who can burn it. But public policy says we won’t because we don’t want 300 million people contributing to global warming?

    Every climate summit falls short….especially when the people who matter most arrive in transportation that’s not “Climate Friendly”.

    Why are so many people attending the summit arriving and leaving by ride-hails like Uber and Lyft? I guess that counts as carpooling. When diplomats, bureaucrats, politicians and celebrities gather together for a cause the hypocrisy is so thick you could stir it with a stick.

    – America is the world leader in environmental stewardship even if we do nothing. US CO2 emissions are below 1995 levels and lowered while European nations whom were treaty signatories only saw their emissions rise despite huge renewable investment?
    – China and Europe want the U.S. to transition to more expensive energy sources. Why? Jobs go where energy is cheap. We should have learned by now that with foreign nations, you always have
    to watch what they do, not listen to what they say. China isn’t
    interested in reducing pollution levels. It is hyper-focused on one
    goal: gaining global dominance in every industry and using the cheapest
    and most reliable energy sources possible to get there. China and Europe
    want the U.S. to transition to more expensive energy sources — in no
    small part because they want to regain the competitiveness they lost due
    to their own green energy policies. China’s government said it would raise coal power capacity by as much as
    20% by 2020, ensuring a continuing strong role for the commodity in the
    country’s energy sector despite a pledge to bring down pollution
    levels. In a new five-year plan for electricity … the National Energy
    Administration said it would raise coal-fired power capacity from around
    900 gigawatts last year to as high as 1,100 gigawatts by 2020
    – The value of American oil, gas and coal resources that are currently recoverable with present technology is estimated at near $50 trillion — which is more than double our national debt. Assuming dems aren’t put in charge again to double it once more…..

  • embarcadero

    ““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.”

    Poor sight lines for who? The driver who could not see a cyclist pull out in front of him?

    Or for the cyclist who could not see that it was unsafe to pull out and pass the “illegally” parked vehicle?

    Facts please.

  • ZA_SF

    I’ve been riding my bike to work on this very route since 2007, and I started to collect daily rider data in December 2012. I’m pleased to report that from my recorded observations on Folsom Street, between 11th and 2nd Streets, the separated cycletracks added in October 2017 are finally having a dramatic effect. By my reckoning, the average number of summertime (Jun-Aug) riders on this morning route have increased 33% between 2017 and 2018. What’s more, while still in the minority, women riders have doubled in the same timeframe and route – participating in numbers bikeshare and merely painted bike lanes couldn’t achieve separately or together for years.

    At 15 average riders per 5 minute wave in the commuting hour, these cycletracks have enabled a throughput roughly equal to the 12-Folsom bus (60 passenger capacity, 20 minute headways).

  • Ben Phelps

    time to go outside

  • mx

    So the city is hosting a climate summit by being openly hostile to low and zero-emission transportation? The Howard bike lane is not just blocked, but is going to cause serious injuries as multiple lanes of traffic turn across the lane. SoMa is gridlocked by the month-long closure (they’re just keeping it shut all the way through Dreamforce, apparently), further slowing the worst bottlenecks of the nation’s slowest public transit (and the subway was hosed during both morning and evening rush hours yesterday yet again, should you be interested in avoiding that traffic by going underground). Climate summit buses are parking in the middle of bike lanes. We’re not just falling short on promises; this summit, right here, is actively making the climate and transportation worse.

    It is appalling that basic safety infrastructure to keep people from being killed on Howard is held up by years of delay and opposition, while anybody who spends enough money at Moscone is apparently allowed to turn the streets into a private playground with no community consultation or benefit.

    As a city, we are absolutely nowhere.

  • SF_Abe

    Please provide your evidence that the cyclist performed an unsafe maneuver

    Edit: oopsyoucantyoureblocked

  • embarcadero

    The witness reported that the accident was caused by the cyclist coming from nowhere.

  • crazyvag

    I agree with you. I actually upstream on Folsom and number of bikes keeps growing. Pretty soon we’ll need to add bike lanes to Harrison and Bryant.

  • @SF_Abe – He’s blocked? I see him all over here (it’s @RichLL, impersonating someone else named @embarcadero).

  • embarcadero

    Please conduct a rerenactment showing how you, on .your bicycle, purposely aim for the speeding car, how it’s practically a suicide attempt.

    Showing us and uploading the video is the only way to settle this once and for all.

    We can’t wait to see the uploaded video.

  • ZA_SF

    I have to use Harrison whenever a Moscone event cluster-Fs Howard, and I think I’d rather keep it as the vehicular traffic sewer it already optimized for, and improve the bike lanes elsewhere.

  • SF_Abe

    I blocked him— he’s blocked by me— and suddenly my headache has gone. I don’t have the power to block him from the internet (and I don’t want that power) but my life just got a little nicer.

  • Guy Ross

    When you wish to pull text from the Wall Street Journal and use it aas a comment from your account, please do show attribution.

  • crazyvag

    I don’t think Harrison needs to be 5 lanes. Yes, it feeds into the highway, but it’s not like the highway can take 5 lanes of traffic. The street simply serves like a “car buffer”, rather than buffering stopped vehicles, we could be moving humans instead in bus lanes and bike lanes. Oh, and “car buffer” would move faster if it was 2 lanes merging into 1 vs 3-4 lanes like today.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Yeah, strangely enough, too many car lanes is a common cause of traffic jams, because it encourages drivers to try to jump ahead in line, which creates chaos. This is especially true just before a specific target like an entrance or exit ramp.

    The naive idea most car advocates have is that more lanes allows faster driving, so they must reduce congestion. But the key to reducing congestion is smoothing traffic flow, which avoids stops, not enabling occasion peaks in speed. Stops cause more delays than high speed can compensate for.

  • Bernard Finucane

    The reason America should not waste energy is that it is wasteful.

    I’ll ignore your fake concern for the environment. There are solid financial reasons for not wasting fuel. The country needs to cut waste and increase its net exports. This means saving money in the bank, or investing it in money saving technologies, instead of spending it on fuel.

    With less than 5% of the world’s population, America burns nearly a quarter of the liquid fuel. This is mostly pure waste, and smarter land use and transportation policies can remedy it. The country has been bleeding cash since the 70s to support its oil addition, and this needs to stop. A junkie always comes up with clever excuses for drug abuse, but never good excuses.

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