The Mirkarimi Bicycle Policy
The need for safer and easier cycling in San Francisco goes beyond the enjoyment people get out of riding their bicycles. The increased use of cycling as a standard mode of transportation is a public benefit to all. Increasing bike ridership will reduce traffic, provide for cleaner air, and increase everyone’s quality of life. There are a number of steps that should be taken to accomplish this.
Implement the Bike Plan. The city should completely implement the recommendations of the San Francisco Bike Plan to get new bike lanes in place. The SF Bike Plan is a well thought out plan that has had a thorough public process, has been responsive to public input, and has had the benefit of the input of professionals. The plan has looked at successful models in cities around the world and incorporated what works, as well as compensating for some of the unique characteristics of San Francisco. We must not let this plan sit on a shelf.
Go to Citywide Bike Planning. We need a big-picture approach to bicycle transit planning. The old piecemeal approach to evaluating a system of interconnected streets is not only ineffective, but is far more costly, as the same issues are analyzed over and over again. It’s as if each mile of the state and federal highway system were evaluated separately.
Implement Regional Planning. The Metropolitan Transit Authority is a regional body that takes direction from Bay Area cities to provide direction and funding for transit planning and projects. The Board of Supervisors should direct the Metropolitan Transit Authority to implement a bike network in San Francisco that is citywide and integrated with other Bay Area cities. Safe bike lanes on the Bay Bridge should be part of this effort.
Streamline the EIR Process. Currently, the Planning Department adds roadblocks to creating bike-only and bus-only lanes by requiring an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for each individual project. It would make more sense to create a single Programmatic Environmental Impact Report for the entire city, and the Bike Plan, and then issue exemptions (Negative Declarations) for the individual projects.
Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors cannot require that the Planning Department issue such exemptions to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). According to CEQA, each case must be considered on its own merits. However, the Board of Supervisors can make rulings on appeals to CEQA decisions made by the Planning Department. The Board can also appoint Planning Commissioners who are favorably inclined to issue categorical exemptions to bike projects.
Fund Improvements as Part of Street Repairs. A funding mechanism modeled after the Oregon Bicycle Bill could help pay for improvement projects. When a street is repaired, a small portion of the funding would be used to include the bike improvements at the same time. The bike improvements then become a standard part of street design.
Remove Parking. In some cases, removing parking can facilitate bike lanes. For instance, we could create a shared bike-and-bus lane on Masonic Avenue by removing parking. Removing parking can also increase safety. Removing just a few parking spaces along Fell Street at the Panhandle near Masonic would enable motorists to better see cyclists.
The opposition to removing parking and automobile lands is predictable. However, the benefits of removing parking outweigh the inconvenience that some will experience with the loss of parking. Aside from facilitating bikes, the loss of parking has other positive effects: it discourages people to drive or even to own cars, and encourages the use of bicycles and mass transit, which results in less pollution in the air. The public roadway system should not benefit only private automobiles users. We must educate people that the roads belong to everyone and must be shared with bicycles and mass transit.
Add Colored Pavement for Bike Lanes. Pavement with incorporated color (not just painted) has been successful in other cities for traffic calming and for keeping autos out of the lanes. There are several types of colored paving systems available that are inexpensive, including mixes for hot asphalt for new pavement.
We should conduct a large pilot program for colored bike lanes throughout the City, in different types of situations, and using different colors, as the SF Bike Plan recommends.
The results of the pilot program should include recommendations for moving forward with permanent colored lanes. That is, the Pilot Plan should result in a tangible Implementation Plan.
Create Bicycle Boulevards. There are streets where continuous auto traffic is facilitated. We should not require that autos have this privilege on every street. Some streets can be turned into bicycle boulevards that share the road with cars, but give bikes a higher priority over autos. Good candidates for bicycle boulevards are those that are not the main auto thoroughfares but run parallel to them. Page Street is an example of a good candidate for a bicycle boulevard.
Promote Bike Parking and Facilities
Increasing secure bicycle parking and facilities, such as showers and lockers, will enable more people to bicycle to work and reduce the number of cars on the roads. There are several steps that the city should take to create these facilities.
Install Bike Parking in City Garages. The Board of Supervisors can direct city-owned and private garages to remove parking spaces for cars to provide bike parking with built-in locks. There is a law on the books that requires some bike parking but it is limited. We need to expand the number of bicycle parking spaces and provide secure lockups.
Improve the Planning Code. The Board of Supervisors can make changes to the Planning Code that encourage the inclusion of bike parking and shower and locker facilities in new office buildings over a certain size. Currently, new developments are required to provide automobile parking, but no bicycle facilities.
Use Incentives to Add Bike Facilities. The city should use tax incentives to encourage the addition of facilities in existing businesses, universities, and hospitals. Some universities already include showers and lockers as part of athletic or gym facilities. We should push these organizations to open the shower facilities to staff and students who are commuting via bicycle.
Supply Bike Racks to Public High Schools and Colleges. The city should provide secure, high-quality bike lockers to cash-strapped education institutions that need them. This could include the high schools of the San Francisco Unified School District and colleges such as San Francisco City College and San Francisco State University.
Bikes and Muni
It has been Muni’s character to be resistant to change. Muni resists proposals to reroute lines or change bus stops that would benefit public institutions such as schools. It also resists the bicycle aspects of San Francisco’s Transit-First Policy and resists the use of clean alternative fuel technology. In fact, these issues are linked. There are concrete steps the city should take to improve Muni’s impact on bicycles.
Add Bike Lanes Along Muni Bus Routes. In many cases, it makes sense to put bike lanes along Muni routes. These routes most directly connect different parts of the city, taking travelers to important destinations, and tend to go around the steeper hills. The fact is that cyclists are using these routes now. Adding bike lanes makes it safer for the current users.
Move Bus Stops. Muni should make adjustments to the location of bus and streetcar stops, where the juxtaposition of autos, bikes, and unloading passengers creates an unsafe situation for cyclists and pedestrians. Often a simple relocation or reconfiguration of a stop would greatly improve the situation.
Increase the Number of Bike-Carrying Buses. Buses that carry bicycles provide cyclists a greater range of travel, but the number of these buses is limited. Currently, about a dozen Muni bus routes are guaranteed to have bike racks. We need to install bike racks on more buses, and increase the number of bikes that each bus can carry, which is currently two.
Provide Cleaner Air for Cyclists. For cyclists traveling along lines that use diesel buses, the diesel exhaust is a health hazard proven to cause cancer and asthma. Alternative energy fuel technology and the electrification of diesel lines benefits everyone, particularly cyclists on these lines and riders waiting at bus stops.
Diversify Funding for Muni. Muni-related bike solutions need funding that often is not available. The problem of Muni funding can be addressed by diversifying the sources of funding. This would include successive increases in parking taxes, as called for in the city’s Sustainability Plan. We should require developers of new projects to kick in more funding as a condition of permit approval. The city should implement a new downtown assessment tax to provide additional Muni funding. Muni fares should remain low to encourage usage.
Improve Muni Service. It is important to improve Muni. Increased use of Muni will remove cars from the streets, making the roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians. We should use additional funds to first prevent cutbacks that threaten Muni. The city should then expand Muni service in terms of frequency. There needs to be more and better connections between Muni lines and regional transit.
Speeding up bus routes also encourages use. We have a good opportunity on Geary Boulevard to add a bus-dedicated lane in the middle of the road, which also improves bike safety as well as speeding up service. We should create other groups like the Geary Transit Corridor Citizens’ Advisory Committee to study similar possibilities for other streets. Also, while there are many ways to get downtown from various parts of town, we need to rethink the transit connections of some of the lines, to make it faster and easier to go from one part of town to another.
A Note on the Rights of Cyclists
We must recognize that adult cyclists as well as children on bikes have a right to safety. They have the right to safe streets to ride on, the right to a secure area to park bikes, and the right that stolen bikes will be treated as crimes that will be fully prosecuted as a deterrent to further bike theft.Unwarranted, targeted actions against cyclists, such as that by the New York Police Department at the Republican National Convention, are unacceptable. We need to call on our city and cities around the country to hold police accountable for any instances of brutality against bicyclists when they occur.