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I Want to Be a Part of it, SF, SF

December 12, 2010

One thing you often hear in the “war on bike lanes” in New York is that in a city as crowded and congested as the Big Apple, we simply can’t add biking into the mix.  To me, this is the talk of a society so inured to the dangers and congestion caused by cars that it has developed a sort of Stockholm Syndrome.  Being held hostage to cars and seeing no alternative, some make excuses for why there’s no way the situation will ever improve.

But look at San Francisco, where cycling is up 58% since 2006.

Now, San Francisco is a different beast from New York City in many ways.  It’s smaller, of course, and in some ways its a more transit-friendly city.  (Despite a pokey bus system that finds few fans among locals and the fact that the BART is far more limited than the New York City subway.)

But there are a lot of similarities.  Traffic-snarled bridges and expressways.  A diverse population with distinct neighborhoods.  Huge, sprawling auto-centric suburbs.  Unpredictable weather.

Plus, for years San Francisco faced a huge bureaucratic obstacle to building bike lanes, as the Gate reports:

…13 months ago…a San Francisco Superior Court judge partially lifted a 3-year-old injunction that prevented the city from adding bike lanes until a state-required environmental review of parking and traffic changes necessitated by the plan was completed and certified.
And then, of course, there are those hills.
“The public opinion used to be that San Francisco never could be a bicycle city because of the topography,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom.  “But now we’re seeing that view change as more people are biking to work and school and to get around the city.”
I’ve biked in San Francisco and each time I returned to tell the tale I’ve been asked, “But what about the hills?”  Well, the first time you go, you take them on as a challenge.  But fairly soon you wise up and repeated rides teach you which streets to avoid and where the flat routes are.  And once you do, you learn that biking in San Francisco is no different than in any other urban area.  During prime business hours Market Street is just as crowded as any midtown Manhattan block and it’s filled with the same mix you’ll find in New York: pedestrians, cars, taxis, delivery vehicles, and bikes.  Plus, San Francisco has something New York doesn’t have: streetcars.  If ever there was a town that had every good reason to talk itself out of riding bicycles, it’s San Francisco.
In fact, the location of every great biking city, and every city on the verge of becoming one, defies logic.  Portland?  Too rainy.  Copenhagen & Amsterdam?  Too cold.  Boston?  Too snowy and the drivers are horrendous.  Chicago?  Too cold and spread out.  London?  Too chaotic and traffic-clogged.
If biking can make it in San Francisco, it can make it anywhere.

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