Mayor Lee's vanishing bike lanes

The mayor's resolution to create better bike lanes was exciting -- until he broke it


By Morgan Fitzgibbons

OPINION When Mayor Ed Lee announced in February 2011 that he understood both the critical importance and the severe dangers inherent in the current bicycle infrastructure along the dual three-block stretches of Fell and Oak between Scott and Baker, a shot went through the community of people who had worked for so long to bring awareness to this troubled path.

Finally, it seemed, we had a mayor who understood that if San Francisco was serious about living up to its own nearly 40-year-old pledge to be a transit-first city, a narrow bike lane sandwiched between parked cars and fast-moving traffic on Fell Street and a complete absence of any bicycle infrastructure on Oak simply wouldn't do.

Finally, we had a mayor who wouldn't be satisfied with mere words on a page, who had the courage to carve out one single safe bike route from the east side of town to the west, to create a viable alternative to automobile transportation, to prepare our city for the inevitable challenges presented by climate change, peak oil, and economic collapse, and to do it in the face of the predictable objections from a few small-picture citizens who couldn't look at the 60 square feet of a parking spot and imagine anything other than a privately owned two-ton pile of steel taking up precious public space.

The community of people who had waited nearly 40 years for the city to live up to its own word kept on waiting throughout 2011, patiently allowing the Municipal Transportation Agency to perform its due diligence, attending multiple public meetings in the hundreds, and delivering a resounding verdict: bring us our separated bike lanes. Make this neighborhood a better place to live. Begin the long work of preparing our city for a way of living that doesn't center around the automobile.

With the public process complete and the calendar turning to nearly one year since Lee called for the MTA to "move quickly" to create separated bike lanes on Fell and Oak, the MTA handed down a jarring announcement. The Fell and Oak Bikeways were being delayed because the agency needed to take extra time to do all that could be done to find nearby replacements for the 80 parking spots set to be removed for the bike lanes.

That's right — in a city that has for 40 years had an explicit policy of giving preference to transit options that weren't the automobile, in a city that, nevertheless, has over 440,000 public parking spots and zero safe, accessible bike routes from the east side of town to the west, the creation of a separated bikeway that the vast majority of the community wants, and that the mayor's own newly appointed District Supervisor, Christina Olague, is in support of, was being delayed by nearly a year so that the loss of private automobile parking would be as small as possible.

How does this happen? In a word: fear. The mayor and MTA are afraid of ruffling a few feathers to do what they know is right.

Cities like New York, Portland, and Minneapolis are leapfrogging us in building the cities of tomorrow. Chicago is creating 100 miles of separated bike lanes in the next four years. Don't call us America's Greenest City — you're thinking of the San Francisco of 40 years ago.

Morgan Fitzgibbons is co-founder of the Wigg Party, a Western Addition neighborhood sustainability group


imo, the City (SF) has more bike lanes and options for bicyclists than many other cities. By comparison, Richmond has not dedicated bike lanes. Cyclists ride the sidewalks rather than risk life and limb on the streets.
Also, as much as I hate cars, I sympathize with drivers who come to city and can't find a place to park. Driving around in a circle for 30min to an hour in no fun either

Posted by Guest on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 2:01 pm

space from cars, pedestrians or public transit.

And while almost anyone can be a driver, a pedestrian or a bus user, only those who are fairly young, fit and fearless can ride a bike, and the old and the disabled cannot use them at all.

So the bike lobby is a relatively small cross section who make a lot of noise but don't represent the majority. Bikers are overwhelmingly white, young and have a sense of entitlement.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 2:10 pm

"fairly young, fit and fearless can ride a bike"

My 80 yo grandfather rides a bike everyday for groceries. Is this an empirically validated statement or are you just blowing hot air?

"So the bike lobby is a relatively small cross section" "are overwhelmingly white, young and have a sense of entitlement."

Umm... where are your stats on this?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

Then lets talk about who's making broad-based statements here.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 12:51 pm
Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

can barely walk up them, let alone cycle.

Oh, and disabled people? I guess they don't need to go anywhere, right?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 2:34 pm

of someone who was harmed because a bike lane was put up twin peaks and now can't reach their house because they're disabled and their parking spot has been taken away, or traffic is so badly jammed they can't get home?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

gotten where they wanted without that risk?

Bike lanes compress vehicular traffic which is likely to increase the risk of collisions, injury and death. They also take away road access and parking for the 97% of people who don't or can't ride a bike, in favour of the small, young, fit, healthy white minority who do.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

Actually, if auto traffic is "compressed" by installation of bicycle facilities –bwhich is not necessarily true – if anything, collision rates go down because people slow down. There is nothing like the wide open road to induce people to speed and drive without caution. The lanes installed on Portola were put in after a traffic analysis determined minimal delay to people driving. By the way, I use them almost daily to get groceries at Safeway in Diamond Heights – and I'm not alone. Try them one day. Great route to get to Noe Valley / the Mission from our part of town.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 17, 2012 @ 12:08 am

the best way to achieve that is to increase congestion and gridlock?

Er, no, thay's why we have speed limits. All you will achieve is to grind this city to a halt.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 17, 2012 @ 8:18 am

95% are white and the rest are Asian. I rarely see blacks or hispanics on bikes even though you'd think, being poorer, they'd use bikes more.

No, cycling if for young, fit, healthy, white self-absorbed pompous asses. and as far as theyc are, the rest of us don't matter.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

They removed an entire lane of traffic for bike lanes which an average of 75 people a day use - up hills with a 20-30 degree grade - meaning only the fittest of the fit can even attempt them.

In this town the squeaky wheel gets the grease and the Bike Coalition is the squeakiest of them all.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

and opiniated people i have ever encountered. They don't care about anyone but themselves and, if you''re not young, fit, healthy and foolhardy enough to ride a bike, then they think you can just go to hell.

Bikes are the only type of vehicle that can virtually go everywhere (except for freeways, than God) so why they want their own freeways is beyond me. The city stopped building new bike lanes for many years precisely because of these reasons but now insanity has returned.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 9:53 am

And be amazed that something as simple, affordable and accessible as a bicycle was ever considered to be an elitist form of transportation.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 06, 2012 @ 1:21 pm

and turned it into a form of class warfare. Why do you have to hate cars in order to live riding a bike?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 06, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

What exactly do bikes have to do with Transit First? And where's the evidence of an increase in accidents involving cyclists by the Panhandle? This is just another power grab by the bike people in a neighborhood where street parking is scarce for working people who don't have garages to park in.

The recent city bike count shows that only 3.5% of city commuters ride bikes to work, an insignificant increase from 2.1% in 2000.

Why should this minority with an effective lobbying organization---the Bicycle Coalition---get to remodel our streets in favor of that small minority?

Fitzgibbons invokes Peak Oil and the wishes of a "community" in that part of town, but what City Hall should do is put this and other anti-car bicycle projects on the ballot for city voters to decide.

Fell and Oak Streets have a citywide and even regional importance and handle more than 67,000 vehicles a day. It would be folly for City Hall to allow a small, PC minority to jam up traffic for the majority.

Posted by Rob Anderson on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 10:03 am

"The recent city bike count shows that only 3.5% of city commuters ride bikes to work, an insignificant increase from 2.1% in 2000."

That's a 67% increase in modal share, and a huge increase relative to the # of bikes there were in 2000. Cars have stayed relatively flat in numbers, by comparison.

"It would be folly for City Hall to allow a small, PC minority to jam up traffic for the majority."

The proposal itself, which if you took the time to examine it, shows that no traffic lanes would be removed for the Fell/Oak bike lanes. Only a parking lane that parks maybe 80 cars. 2,000 people a day bike thru the area.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

Talking about percentages exaggerates the significance of the increase. An increase of 1.4% over ten years is a not-very-impressive .13% a year. To get to the City Hall/Bicycle Coalition goal of 20% by 2020, cycling will have to increase more than 2% a year, an increase that wasn't achieved in the last ten years. It's all a fantasy. All that's going to be achieved is screwing up traffic for the 90% of the population that doesn't ride bikes.

Posted by Rob Anderson on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

I agree Rob Anderson and besides I was hit recently by a bike and they Peddaled off giving me the finger and a fractured ankle. Why don't they have to have some kind of insurance oh. and I constantly see them not using the safe Bike lanes instead choose the sidewalk

Posted by GuestScooter on Feb. 21, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

Rob, the city's own charter defines transit-first as including bicycles. I'd think someone who sifted through so many pages of legalese to find a loophole to stop progress would know that. Here it is in case you missed it:$fn=altmain-nf.htm$3.0?f=templates$fn=altmain-nf.htm$3.0#JD_8A.115

As well, we both know that there is no proposal to "screw up" traffic to provide safe bike lanes. What's at stake is 80 parking spots. So please stop blatantly spreading misinformation.

It's sad that you patronize my speaking for the community that actually lives here. Perhaps it is because you don't have a personal experience of what it means to be in community. The very lengthy public process revealed the wishes of the community, and it is clearly in support of this bike lane.

As for the rest of the commenters, the whole point of these bike lanes is to get people that would like to bike but don't feel comfortable (i.e. people besides young, fit, fearless people that you wrongly assume are the only people interested in biking) on to bicycles. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, this is something that a very many people want, and something that we as a city need in order to continue functioning as a society.

The reality is putting in these bike lanes will get more people out of their cars, more people off the crowded buses, and free up even more parking spaces than are currently at risk. This plan is good for everyone. Now we just need Mayor Lee to do what's right.

Posted by Morgan Fitzgibbons on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 10:35 am

on Upper Market and Twin Peaks. Yes indeed - that's exactly what senior citizens need MORE of is bike lanes on San Francisco's steepest, windiest and foggiest streets.

Morgan engages in a prime example of what's called "mirror imaging." Morgan sees what he WANTS to see and then he assumes everyone else sees it too. And while personally I like a lot of Morgan's Wigg Party ideology - self-reliance, building connections between San Franciscans and celebrating the unique way of life we have here - I think he's totally unrealistic in thinking a city like San Francisco can be traversed on bicycles by most people.

"The community" you speak of is the one represented by the loudest people who show up at all the neighborhood meetings and demand bicycle lanes - while most of us are busy working or caring for our families or friends. In this city the group with the most effective pressure techniques gets its way and recently that's been the bicycle coalition. But when the city removed a whole lane of traffic on Upper Market and Portola for a bike lane very few people use - many of us started to take notice. And believe me Morgan - two can play the Bike coalition's game.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

Certain cases of steep roads aside, the infrastructure the bike community wants is actually in the parts of the city that are flat. I live in Hayes Valley and there's virtually no hills to contend with for groceries, commuting to work, going to the gym, etc. I wouldn't go up twin peaks because there's no need. Heck, I never drive up there except when showing out of town guests the summit.

Getting a protected bike lane on Fell/Oak would connect the east/west flat parts of the city, making biking more attractive. 2000 bikes a day already make the trip, yet the lane is being held up so 80 people can continue to park their cars in it.

You seem to be really upset at the bike lane going up twin peaks. Is it causing traffic jams? Is it annoying to have less room for your car?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

The city removed a turn lane from Portola onto Fowler - the outside turn lane which allowed residents of the neighborhood clear egress into their neighborhood without having to wait for cars turning into the adjacent Tower Market shopping complex (which is the market many residents of Twin Peaks, Glen Park, Midtown Terrace, St. Francis Wood, Forest Hills and Mt. Davidson shop at). They replaced it with a turn lane reserved for bikes. The consequence? At rush hour the backup of cars waiting to turn onto Fowler sometimes stretches back into the major intersection of O'Shaughnessy and Portola - creating havoc.

So the answer is yes - it is creating traffic jams. And since that bike turn lane has been installed I have not seen a single bicyclist using it.

Such brilliance on the part of the bike fascists who've taken over the transportation planning department in this city.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 5:04 pm

You are right, we have taken over control of planning in this city. If you don't like it, get the f*ck out.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 11:23 pm

Last I checked - Fell and Oak are not on Twin Peaks. Your opinion that bike lanes do not need to be on Portola is a prime example of "Changing the topic". Fell and Oak are dead flat, and are used by 1000's of cyclists daily.

Signed - someone who works and cares for his family and friends.

Posted by John Murphy on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

highly unsuitable for cyclists anyway.

But I think the broader point was that cycing is really for a narrow and rather privileged minority of people. Bike lanes exclusively taking real estate away from the 98% of the people who don't or can't cycle is a real problem, as Rob notes in his excellent analysis.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

This is a good one...

"Bike lanes exclusively taking real estate away from the 98% of the people who don't or can't cycle is a real problem".

Even on the most conservative number - the SFMTA's stats came up with 3.5% commute share on bikes, your number of 98% is shaded off. But this number is bogus anyway - it does not count people who ride bikes for purposes other than work, and is not representative because it only counts those who commute *primarily* by bike, there are many others who commute via MUNI on some days and bikes on others.

Your statement implies that real estate is being taken away from people who don't cycle - that implies that everyone who does not cycle needs the space that is being taken away. What is being taken away is parking spots, which are only used by people who drive their own car. Less than half of San Francisco's residents even own a car, and that percentage is even lower in the Fell/Oak corridor.

There might be legitimate arguments but all you provide is hyperbole.

Posted by John Murphy on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

Have you tried to park in SF? Do you even own a car? Can you even drive? Parking in SF is already a nightmare and now you want to take away parking spots in residential areas? From people who may have bought their homes there precisely because it was possible to park?

And all for - OK - 3% or 4% of the population? when you admit that close to 50% of SF'ers drive?

Oh, and what about the disabled who can't ride bikes and need to park near their homes? They don't matter?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

I've lived in the Mission for over 20 years. Every day I see all kinds of people riding their bikes...older men, latinos, homeless people etc....seems to me to be a pretty mixed crowd. Also, please observe the number of bicycles parked at the next Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival if you need some understanding of how many people enjoy this mode of transportation.. And yes, more people will ride if it's safer and there's more room. I don't think elderly and handicapped people will be adversely impacted by fewer cars on the road and cars moving more slowly. Have you ever watched an elder pedestrian trying to cross a street in time? It has to be pretty scary! With fewer cars on the road, and more buses and bicycles, those who actually HAVE to drive for work (ie plumbers, delivery people, taxis, landscapers) can get to their destinations more conveniently.

Regarding the Portola bike lane...perhaps you can get a lobby going to change that one. Sometimes mistakes are made...

Posted by Guest on Feb. 18, 2012 @ 9:19 am

don't give a crap about the silent majority of SF'ers who do drive and need decent vehicular routes and decent parking.

As the other guy noted, stand on Market St. in rush hour and note the races of the cyclists going by. At least 90% young and white. It's a yuppie thing - the poor and non-whites generally take buses.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 18, 2012 @ 9:43 am

I DO own a car and I bicycle as often as I can. Outside of using my vehicle for work, I ride my bicycle, walk, take the bus or a taxi. Perhaps you can scale back on the assumptions and take some action on that Portola bike lane which seems to have gotten you so upset.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 18, 2012 @ 8:01 pm

Public transit is buses, trains, streetcars, boats and planes.

Private transit is cars, bikes, walking and horse-riding

Your concept of "transit first" conveniently messes these up, by including cyclists and pedestrians, but excluding planes. That makes no sense.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

It isn't Morgan's concept - it's San Francisco's concept, embedded in the city charter.

Posted by John Murphy on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

Bikes are self-evidently not public transit.

In fact, my car can carry four people and a week's worth of shopping. Can your bike?

Bikes are the ultimate private transit because, other than a horse, it's the only form of transit that only one person at a time can use.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

By your logic, walking is even more so private transit. While I've seen tandem bikes, bike trailers carrying kids, etc., I've just about never seen anyone piggybacking someone across the street.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

apparently as "transit" along with bikes which, equally obviously, are not public at all.

"Transit first" allows for these anomalies because it is merely code for "hating cars".

"Transit First" should be called "Anything but cars" if it really is honest.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

are embedded in the city charter that no normal person takes notice of?

I ride a bike all over town, I think there was one or two that went no where when I moved here. I've never had the problem all these "activists" have getting around.

It might take some familiarity with self preservation that our "activists" and entitled don't seem to have, but getting around without a bike lanes is quite simple.

This is more of a product of the "everyone gets a turn on the teeter totter set" attitude of so many new comers. The various minorities get their mau mauing in, the cripples get their thing, the life style choice bums get their slice of the pie, etc... All these organizations get something, what do the white liberals get? Other than self satisfaction of course.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 4:08 pm

should read...

I think there were one or two bike lanes in the entire city when I moved here

Posted by guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 10:38 pm

The "process" you refer to was rigged by the city and you bike people to get the desired result. You speak for no one but the bike people.

Yes, I know you bike people and your enablers in City Hall changed the City Charter's definition of "transit first" to include bicycles, as if that somehow legitimizes scorning the transportation "mode" of everyone else.

There's no evidence that Oak and Fell Street are particularly dangerous for cyclists, though I wouldn't ride a bike there. But then I wouldn't ride a bike anywhere in the city, because it's inherently risky. The notion that City Hall is obligated to make you and your comrades "comfortable" riding a bike on those streets shows a remarkably inflated sense of entitlement.

80 parking spaces in that neighborhood is a very big deal, since street parking is scarce. I used to live on Grove Street and moved my roommate's car before the street cleaners when she was out of town. It was a difficult task, since, as I say, street parking is in very short supply there. Rich people always have a garage for parking, but many others don't.

Take away those parking spaces, and motorists who live in that neighborhood will end of circling even longer to find a place to park, which will indeed make traffic worse and cause more pollution.

Your Johnny-come-lately account of recent SF history is bogus. Mayor Newsom gave you folks everything you and the Bicycle Coalition asked for, but of course is was never enough.

I lived in SF 40 years ago, and it was already a great city then, and it still is. We don't need you and your generation's bike lanes to make this city great.

In a recent Guardian story, Supervisor Olague, by the way, didn't sound completely convinced about supporting this project. Now that she has to face District 5 voters in November---she never had to do that as a planning commissioner---it will be interesting to see which way she flops on this one.

The November election, by the way, will also be a good opportunity for her to justify the awful development projects she supported as a commissioner: UC's rip-off of the old extension property on lower Haight Street, the Market/Octavia project, the Rincon Hill highrises, not to mention voting to implement the Bicycle Plan with no environmental review only to be rebuked by the Superior Court.

And you be sure that she will have opposition on the ballot to provide district voters an alternative to this project and the city's plan to screw up Masonic Avenue just in time for the opening of the new Target store at Geary and Masonic.

Posted by Rob Anderson on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

How about an "Occupy the Streets" movement to protest the "One Percent" who ride bikes and think their needs trump those of everybody else?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 4:19 pm

That was amazing!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

You da man!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 7:40 pm

You're a great writer and real activist!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 7:41 pm

I hate bikes and I love your blog. I read it every day. You should try again running for Supe. I totally think you'll win this time!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 7:43 pm

"Good job Rob. I hate bikes and love your blog. I read it every day. You should try again running for Supe. I totally think you'll win this time! "

This is without question the most gut-busting hilarious post I have ever read on this website. It would take all day to pick a part the delicious absurdity of these remarks.

"You should try again running for Supe. I totally think you'll win this time!"

Sure, why not. He must have gotten at least 2% of the vote last time. He could totally win this time!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 19, 2012 @ 10:40 am

Our successful suit to make the city obey the most important environmental law in California was about finding a "loophole"? Hardly. CEQA is all about reviewing projects to determine impacts before they are implemented. City Hall did absolutely no environmental review of the 500-page Bicycle Plan just because they thought they could get away with it. Yes, of course you and your bike-fixated comrades think redesigning city streets to accomodate your risky hobby is "progress." Get your enablers in City Hall to put the Bicycle Plan on the ballot, and I suspect you'll find that most voters don't agree with that self-serving notion.

Posted by Rob Anderson on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 4:34 pm

they prefer to hijack city meetings by cramming them with activists, hoping that the average Joe won't notice.

I cannot fathom why these people are so totally self-absorbed. What drives them to such excesses? I don't know but watching the kamikazi way they ride might furnish a clue.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 5:05 pm

There's a backlash brewing - people are starting to notice how this tiny minority of self-absorbed bikers have hijacked transportation policy and we are getting PISSED.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

sandpit too long and now they think they own it, us and everything.

Time to slap these priviliged white guys down a little.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

The bike people are the end product of the self-esteem movement from days of yore. Every turd they floated in the toilet bowl when they were children was greeted with oohs and ahs by their doting parents. Now they plague American cities with their cutesy demos, like the annual pillow fight, Critical Mass, Parking Day, etc.

Posted by Rob Anderson on Feb. 17, 2012 @ 4:42 pm

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