San Francisco's Year in Biking

Categories: bikes
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Cyclists finally get a portion of their due.
Injunction Eased! Ridership Up! Is Tipping Point Near?

On Aug. 6, 2010, a San Francisco judge lifted a ridiculous five-year court injunction that had prevented the city from making improvements to facilitate bicycle traffic. Soon thereafter, the city got to work on plans to install 30 additional miles of bike lanes and 75 miles of new "sharrows" -- the mid-lane bikes-get-to-go-here symbols reminding motorists they must share the streets.

The tenor of city streets changed swiftly. New bike lanes appeared on Market Street, 17th Sreet, in the Glen Park area, on Division Street, on Ocean Avenue, Kirkham, Townsend, North Point, and near Laguna Honda hospital. Sharrows began sprouting up just about everywhere else.

With notable exceptions, the new pavement markings weren't the moronic sharrows of yesteryear that shoved cyclists next to parked cars liable to break kneecaps with opening doors. (Here's a sad example of one of the few remaining stupid, yesteryear-style, sharrows. This one is on Market Street, northwest-bound approaching Safeway.)

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This stupid sharrow pins cyclists against  cars

Most of the new sharrows, however, were placed appropriately, in the middle of the lane to remind motorists that, on every street in the city, unless there's room for motorists and cyclists to safely ride side by side with three-foot cushions insulating cyclists from both parked and moving cars, bikes take the full lane. A great example is these sharrows on Fifth Street approaching Townsend. See if you can spot the two sharrows in the upper left corner of the image, encouraging both left-turning, and right-turning cyclists to take the full, appropriate lane.

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Can you spot the two sharrows heading east, and the one heading west?


The change in motorists' attitudes was notable. Your reporter's unscientific observations seemed to indicate fewer attempted to run law-abiding cyclists off the road as they routinely had in the past. And more commuters seemed to be hitting the streets with their bikes. Market Street is now host to a pleasant pageant of bicyclists on their way to work every morning, and nearly every city street nowadays seems to usually have cyclists on it.

Even without the new safer routes, bike commuting had been gaining popularity. in early December the Metropolitan Transportation Commission announced that half-again as many cyclists were riding this year as compared to four years ago -- despite the traffic-improvement injunction in place during that time. Also in 2010, Bicycling Magazine named San Francisco as a top U.S. city for cycling -- before the improvements had a chance to take full effect.

 In 2000, 2 percent of San Francisco trips were reportedly taken by bike. In 2008, the number was at 6 percent. In October of this year, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu announced a resolution to bring that proportion up to 20 percent. There's plenty of room for improvement -- cities such as Amsterdam, which take road sharing truly seriously, have achieved cycling rates where 40 percent of trips are made by bike.

Could 2011 be the year of the cycling tipping point?

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