The ultimate bike fantasy: 20% by 2020!
|Illustration by John Ueland|
Steve Jones's front page piece on cycling in SF in this week's Bay Guardian ("20 percent by 2010") merits a respectful reading, not just because he quotes me accurately but because he makes a serious attempt, though unsuccessful, to grapple with the problem City Hall faces if it's going to make its preposterous 20% slogan a reality on the streets of the city:
There's no doubt that San Francisco is one of the best cities in the United States for bicyclists, a place where near universal support in City Hall has translated into regular cycling infrastructure improvements and pro-cyclist legislation. The latest SFMTA traffic survey, released in February, showed that bikes represent about 3.5 percent of vehicle trips, a 71 percent increase in five years. While the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) lauded that gain as "impressive," it would mean a 571 percent increase in the next seven years to meet the 2020 goal...But the city will fail to meet that goal, probably by a significant amount, unless there is a radical change on our roadways.
Yes, the bike trip has "universal support" in City Hall, but support in the neighborhoods and citywide is doubtful.
Jones, the MTA, and the Bicycle Coalition like to cite a 71% increase in cycling, but you have to look at the actual percentages to understand how unimpressive that is. 2.1% of city commuters in 2000 rode bikes to work, and in 2010 it was 3.5%, a gain of only 1.4% in ten years, which is an increase of only .14% per year.
Your math problem for the day: At a .14% increase a year, how many years will it take the city to get to 20 percent?
"What I hope is on the drawing board is infrastructure that will make more people feel safe riding, particularly women," SFMTA board member Cheryl Brinkman, a regular cyclist, told us.
Cheryl Brinkman is a pro-bike, anti-car MTA board member. Interestingly, city studies show that city women are not too keen on riding bikes, that less than 30% of city cyclists are women. (See pages 10 and 11 of the 2010 count for percentages between 2006 and 2010, and page 12 in the San Francisco Bicycling Study Report, where we learn that "74% of women do not ride a bicycle at all" in SF, and "76% [of all people in SF] earning less than $70,000 per year never bicycle," and "71% of Asians, 83% of African-Americans, and 75% of Hispanics" never bicycle. And page 12 of the 2008 San Francisco State of Cycling Report has even lower numbers.)
The picture above that adorned the online version of Jones's Guardian article suggests otherwise, picturing a woman and a black guy along with whitey. The front page of the hard copy is even more exaggerated, with a black woman on one end and an Asian guy on the other, both cut out of the online picture.
Riding a bike in SF is mostly about white guys who make pretty good money.
Jones goes to bike guy Jason Henderson for some sound bites:
But to realize the really big gains San Francisco would need to hit 20 percent by 2020 would take more than just steadily increasing the mileage of bike lanes, says Jason Henderson, a San Francisco State University geography professor who is writing a book on transportation politics..."If gasoline goes to $10 per gallon, sure, we'll get to 20 percent just because of austerity," Henderson said. But unless energy prices experience that kind of sudden shock, which would idle cars and overwhelm public transit, thus forcing people onto bikes, getting to 20 percent would take smart planning and political will. In fact, it will require the city to stop catering to drivers and accommodating cars.
If gas goes to $10 a gallon, it would cause a national and international catastrophe that would make the bike issue here in Progressive Land of little interest, except to Jones, Henderson, Leah Shahum, and Brinkman, who would be still be pushing their anti-car agenda in the ashes of western civilization.
More from Henderson:
Henderson said city leaders need to show more courage in converting car lanes and street parking spaces into bike lanes, creating bike corridors that parallel those focused on cars or transit, and exempting most bike projects from the detailed environment review that slow their implementation.
"City leaders" are pushing the anti-car bike trip as hard as they can, but, unlike Henderson and Jones, they have to deal with the reality of the space on streets in San Francisco, where it's a zero-sum game. They need five feet to make a bike lane, and most city streets don't have that extra space, which means they have to remove either street parking or traffic lanes to make bike lanes, which naturally will make traffic worse on busy streets. Henderson doesn't mention any particular streets that he thinks should be turned into "bike corridors," because it's easy to pontificate abstractly about the issue without specifics.
Of course Henderson and the bike zealots think it's a huge imposition that bicycle projects have to have environmental review before they are implemented, even though it was obvious that the city's 500-page Bicycle Plan---eliminating more than 50 traffic lanes and 2,000 street parking spaces---could, would, and in fact will---have a negative impact on the city's environment, not to mention that implementing it with no environmental review is illegal under state law.
But Jones is explicit about the high-minded motives he and his bike comrades have:
Many city officials and cycling advocates say making big gains means convincing people like Anderson that bicycles are not just a viable transportation option, but an important one to facilitate given global warming, oil wars, public health issues, and traffic congestion that will only worsen as the population increases.
It's very unlikely that Anderson will ever be convinced that bicycles are important enough "to facilitate" by taking away traffic lanes and street parking on busy streets in San Francisco to make bike lanes.
Jones and city cyclists aren't just riding bikes; they are fighting global warming and preventing war! Try to remember that next time some punk runs you out of a crosswalk or you're stuck in a Critical Mass demo.