|San Francisco Examiner * April
Cyclists changing face of S.F.
By Lucia Hwang
of the Examiner Staff
As bicycling catches on as an accepted way of getting around San
Francisco, the bike community is steadily gaining political clout in
its crusade to make the congested streets safer.
The unprecedented and growing body count for bicyclists has
accelerated calls for change. There were two more bicyclist deaths in
the Bay Area on Friday, enough to rile the Critical Mass protests
"There really is a war for people's minds going on over whether people
are going to identify themselves as drivers or walkers and
bicyclists," said Gabriel Metcalf, deputy director of the San
Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. "And right now,
Metcalf said the bicycling community, in particular organized groups
like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the San Francisco Bike
Messenger Coalition, has been slowly gaining ground in this war. He
points to more bike lanes, bike racks in city parking garages and even
companies providing showers for bicycling employees as progress.
Regionally, cyclists' success in getting Caltrans to add bike lanes to
Bay Bridge plans is another victory.
Lawmakers with the inclination to spend money creating official bike
lanes and other accommodations are key, and the election last year of
the most bike-friendly slate of supervisors in years was a coup.
Already, supervisors have made the Valencia Street bike lanes
permanent and are expected to do the same with the Polk Street lanes.
Supervisor Chris Daly this week proposed adding Howard Street lanes
into the bicycle network, and Tom Ammiano, president of the Board of
Supervisors, is developing laws that would ban drivers from talking on
their cellphones -- a major hazard for pedestrians and bicyclists as
well as other drivers.
And the San Francisco Transportation Authority, in charge of the
city's half-cent transportation sales tax, is considering spending
more money on improvements for bicycling and walking than ever before.
"When the new board got elected, the supervisors were calling us and
asking what we wanted," said Leah Shahum, program director for the
Bicycle Coalition. "I think the decision-makers are starting to
realize that we're not just a bunch of whiners who want our own space,
but that we're a pretty big piece of the city's transportation
Whether motorists want to share the road with bicyclists is another
While 15-year bike messenger veteran Manuel Affonso says the
messengers' coalition has made great strides with groups such as Muni
operators, he says drivers as a whole are as dangerous as ever.
"They want to go to where they're going, and we're just in their way,"
said Affonso. While he thinks bike lanes are a good idea for
preventing accidents, they shouldn't be necessary. Bicyclists legally
have the same rights on the road as cars. That in itself, he said, is
indicative of how far bicyclists have to go in gaining respect on the
Metcalf says time is on the side of bicyclists, however, and as dense
urban cities like San Francisco choke on cars, society at large will
grow to accept bicycles as transportation, not just recreation. He
predicts the bicycling community will gain in clout over the long run.
"The bicyclists, they're not a typical interest group, but are
representing a new idea of how to organize a city," he said. "And
that's very powerful."
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