Q&A with Supervisor Myrna Melgar
3:54 PM PDT on June 7, 2023
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When Supervisor Myrna Melgar came to a demonstration in April to demand protected bike lane on Arguello after the killing of cyclist Ethan Boyes by a reckless driver, Streetsblog asked the obvious question: "why was the district 7 supervisor coming to a demonstration for something that happened entirely outside of her district?"
"Because I'm sick of it," she replied.
Melgar, who regularly rides her bike to city hall from her home in Ingleside, added that San Francisco's dangerous streets don't begin and end at district borders. She said she was tired of the traffic violence and the lack of response from the city.
Streetsblog decided to ask Melgar to sit down for a Q&A about street safety and what she plans to do in her district and the rest of the city to make things safer.
Streetsblog: So first, what's your relationship with your bike?
Myrna Melgar: I love my bicycle. My kids joke that I love it more than them.
SB: Ha! So in doing background research, I saw that you speak Swedish and you have a degree in urban planning. How did you end up learning Swedish?
MM: I grew up during the civil war in El Salvador. My mother was a combatant and she went underground. She ended up in Cuba and then got political asylum in Sweden, which at the time was taking refugees. So I went to Sweden with her and studied at university there.
SB: And you got that urban planning degree. So you know what Vision Zero cities look like very well.
MM: Yes. I love cities. I love the vibrancy of cities. And in my heart I believe that we should set up infrastructure that supports walking and biking and being able to live your life in 15 minute cities. In fact, I just came back from Paris, where I was there for a transportation conference.
SB: I was just there too. What did you think of the bike lanes?
MM: I looked at what Mayor Hidalgo has done and it’s impressive.
SB: To say the least! It's not perfect, but they're really trying, really working at making it safe over there. Why does it seem so freakin' impossible to get our own city to move forward like that?
MM: I don’t understand why. A couple of us on the board are ready to take it to the next step. But I keep hearing from SFMTA that they have put out this active-communities planning process.
SB: They do love to plan.
MM: They treat it like it's a recreational thing.
SB: Planning or bike lanes?
MM: They don't treat bikes and bike lanes as basic transportation and infrastructure; as being just how people get around. But they keep assuring me there will be a plan and the goal is to connect communities for bicycles and pedestrians.
SB: But SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin isn't leading the city towards that goal--he's taking us away from it! They pulled protected bike lanes from the Market Street plan, from Valencia; they changed the definition of Slow Streets to allow cut-through traffic. Then they put in little plastic posts and pretend that makes a protected bike lane. It's the complete opposite of what's happening in France.
MM: When it comes to sustainability, we give it good lip service in San Francisco. And everybody’s like, "we believe in it." But then we don't do it. I represent District 7. And we don't have a single street that even has a green painted bike lane. There's not one and it's the largest district.
SB: I guess you've only been there a couple of years.
MM: We do have a bunch of stuff coming. There's going to be a quick build on Lake Merced, Lake Balboa, but we need a comprehensive plan. It shouldn't be a little here or there.
SB: Right. But even the here or there isn't happening anymore under Tumlin. I know you ride Valencia to work. I know you weren't happy about him killing the protected bike lane project and pushing through the center-running crap.
MM: When Jeffrey Tumlin was hired many were happy because he had articulated a vision and a plan before he became the director. It hasn't happened. But our relationship is not structurally one where I can just tell him what to do.
SB: Too bad for that. But you do help control the purse strings on projects as Vice-Chair of the Transportation Authority Board.
MM: And I feel like I’m a good ally in terms of what he says he wants to do, in terms of transit and everything else, but then he’s never really asks me for anything. He’s never said "this is what we’re doing can we have your support?" It’s puzzling.
SB: Have you seen that video of his anti-bike rant?
MM: No, but I read about it.
SB: It's pretty bad; real hateful and perpetuates the stereotype of the privileged angry cyclist banging on hoods.
MM: This is about more than just "bike bros." It's about poor people. It’s about people who bike because they have to. It drives me nuts that people say stuff like that.
SB: Not that it's okay to let drivers run over "bike bros" or anybody else, right?
MM: Of course. But I used to live in the Mission and I saw all the people getting to work on little BMX bikes. It's service workers. In reality they're usually the ones who get hit. And there’s a generational change about how people are getting around. I wish we had more visible, clear leadership.
SB: So what can you do about all this?
MM: I am considering a resolution on a bike plan. Supervisor Preston is as well, as we share this area of interest But Jeffrey told us to let them have the opportunity to finalize this active communities plan and that we'll get everything we want in that way.
SB: No, you won't.
MM: I’m a little skeptical too. I’m going to give him a little bit of time to do what they’re saying and if not...
SB: If not what? A bike plan resolution telling them to build protected bike lanes everywhere?
MM: It’s unclear if I’d have the six votes on the board. Not with Safai, Walton and Chan.
SB: Or Peskin. Not if it requires cutting parking to get us protected bike lanes. Worth a try though. Speaking of which, for the record, what's your definition of a protected bike lane?
MM: Concrete. That’s my definition. Oh, we can do k-rails, we can do other things.
SB: Like heavy planters? But it has to be able to deflect a car or it's not protected, right?
MM: Right. It doesn’t have to be a major thing, but we need protected bike lanes. I don’t know if it’s everywhere, but it’s in many, many places. It's definitely more than what we have.
SB: Like maybe we should use the ubiquitous steel posts they use in Paris to keep people from driving and parking on the sidewalks and bike lanes?
MM: I love the bollards. They're there to protect people, so I love them.
SB: You'd like to see San Francisco line all the sidewalks with steel posts and rails like they do in Paris?
MM: That’s my dream. I know people would be cranky about that. But it’s okay for people to be unhappy for a little bit while we create a better world. I do have lots of hope. As a biker, I see more and more parents riding with kids. There’s been an explosion of cargo bikes, electric bikes--often used to take kids to school. I think that’s really, really awesome. We need to do better.
This Q&A was edited for length and continuity.
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