Valencia Vote Looms as SFBC Readies for 2019
At its annual Winterfest, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition takes stock and vows to continue the fight for protected bike lanes on Valencia, Howard, Townsend, Embarcadero and the Oakland Bay Bridge
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Jenny Folkesson and Beau Smith, seen above, ride bikes every day between the Lower Haight and North of Panhandle neighborhoods with their baby boy Lex sitting in a front-end child seat. “Just make biking safer–it’s really important,” said Folkesson at Sunday’s Winterfest, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s annual fundraising party.
This family was typical of many of the nearly 1,000 advocate-cyclists who came to enjoy beer and bánh mì, participate in raffles and other games, and show their support for the many battles the organization is engaged in to make San Francisco safe for families and everyone else who chooses to get around by bike.
“In 2018 we got five miles of protected bike lanes,” said Brian Wiedenmeier, Executive Director of the SFBC, during a short speech from the event’s stage at the County Fair Ground in Golden Gate Park. He vowed to push for even more in 2019. “Wait until you see improvements on Howard, the Embarcadero, Valencia.”
Valencia, in fact, was much on the minds of participants, since that notoriously dangerous street is poised to get significant upgrades, including protected bike lanes–thanks to the hard work and advocacy of the people at Winterfest–at tomorrow/Tuesday’s SFMTA board meeting. “I’ll be sending a letter of support for the improvements,” said D8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes Valencia. “We need to move forward with this.”
“This is an urgent safety issue,” said Matt Brezina, the advocate who helped organize multiple people-protected bike lane protests on Valencia to build support and pressure on politicians such as Mandelman. He urged people to come to the SFMTA meeting and make their voices heard. “This is the beginning of likely two or three times we’ll have to come to the board.”
That’s because the project has been broken into segments. The first one, according to SFMTA’s agenda, will be from 15th Street to Market Street. And it is indeed urgent, said Valerie Girling, another cyclist and advocate at the event. “I’m terrified to ride on Valencia.”
Valencia, of course, is only one of many projects SFBC has been working on–and will continue to work on–to make streets safer. There was also a virtual-reality display showing plans for a proposed $350 million bike and pedestrian path on the western span of the Oakland Bay Bridge. Lisa Jolicoeur thought it’s a great idea, but balked at the price tag. “$350 million for tourists? There are much better ways to spend that much money,” she said.
But SFMTA’s Planning Director Sarah Jones took exception. “That’s what people say about every transportation project that’s not meant for cars,” she said. But studies show that, with developments coming to Treasure Island, 10,000 people will use the bike path daily for commuting (for the record, that’s the equivalent of about five BART trains at crush load). And even those estimates may be low. “I think with the rise in popularity of e-bikes, change is possible that will greatly expand the use of the path,” added Mike Sallaberry at SFMTA’s Livable Streets division, who was also at the SFBC party.
Meanwhile, a new ally was present at the party. Skip, one of the sponsors of the event, held a demonstration and mini-slalom course for people to try out their scooters (see pic below). “To have a successful scooter company we need safe places to ride–so SFBC’s success is our success,” said Muriel MacDonald of Skip. Volker Neumann agreed. “I’ve never been on a kick e-scooter before. It is fun–but a bit bumpier than a bicycle,” he said, adding that he sees a real future for Skip-style scooters for last-mile connections.
But, of course, making streets safe enough to use kick scooters, in addition to bikes, will require years more of advocacy, with projects to work on all over the city. Wiedenmeier asked people what they thought of riding a car-free JFK drive to the party. “Wouldn’t it be great if it were car-free every day of the week?”
As Girling said, to really make San Francisco safe for cyclists–and other vulnerable road users–it’s going to require a holistic approach. She recently completed a 500-mile bike tour from Copenhagen to Amsterdam, and found the entire journey more relaxing–and safe–than riding anywhere in San Francisco, because it was on completely separated infrastructure. We need that kind of infrastructure, but we also need to “tell motorists how to drive safely around cyclists,” she said.
The SFMTA vote on protected bike lanes is tomorrow/Tuesday, Dec. 4, 1 p.m., Room 400, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, S.F.