Category Archives: advocacy

Bicycle loans at San Francisco Fire Credit Union

This behemoth fixie could be yours! (Yes, it’s really a fixie. I asked.)

When I started talking about commuting by bike with some of the parents at our son’s school, I realized that a lot of people found our plan for buying a cargo bike unfeasible. Our plan was: pay cash. In the case of our most recent bike, that was absolutely literal. I went to the ATM and got out some cash. (It was a cheap bike.) But most cargo bikes are expensive, far beyond even the daily withdrawal limit allowed by ATMs, which I personally have never even come near. And Matt and I are save-y people.

For normal American families who have two cars and are thinking about cargo and family biking, there is often a transition problem. Most people have a fair bit of debt already: cars, student loans, consumer debt, maybe a house (a long shot in San Francisco, more likely elsewhere). If you want to ditch a car and switch to the bike, what do you do in the interim period, while waiting for the money from selling a car when you don’t yet have a bike? If you’re not sure about getting a bike but want to try it out, how do you afford a relatively expensive bike while holding onto the option of driving? Sure, it’s possible to get something cheap on craigslist once you know enough—astonishingly, this has even happened to me—but most people don’t start at that point. I was talking to a lot of people who were interested in trying out this riding-a-bike-with-kids thing but didn’t feel able to throw a thousand dollars in cash, sometimes much more if they lived on a steep hill and needed electric assist, at the idea. And they certainly didn’t have the confidence to try finding a used bike.

These bikes could also be yours: a selection from the awesome Splendid Cycles.

So when I heard that Portland credit unions offered bicycle loans (always Portland!), I thought that sounded very clever. It elevated bicycle purchases to the status of cars or motorcycles by treating them as installment loans, rather than “max out your credit card” loans. And it solved the transition problem of going from a car-using family to a bike-using family. Sure, it involved taking on more debt in the short term, but for families who really used the bike,  they’d start saving money soon enough–less gas, lower insurance rates, the freedom to drop a second car if relevant. And personally, although we believed we were committed, it took several months before we started defaulting to riding a bike with our kids rather than driving the car. And this is true even though getting our car out of our parking place is a nightmare. Finding a way to buy new riders time made sense to me.

How about a Brompton? If you live in PORTLAND, there’s no shortage of choices at Clever Cycles.

So I asked our credit union if they offered bicycle loans. They said no, never even considered it, but tell us more. So I did. They said, huh, interesting, we’ll get back to you. And I assumed I would never hear anything more again. So it was unexpected to say the least when I got an email earlier this week from the CEO of our credit union saying that they had decided to offer bicycle loans starting June 1st, 2012. There is a $5,000 maximum and terms of up to three years (update: the rate is currently 7%). But how cool is that? San Francisco Fire Credit Union is open to all city residents. If you’re looking for a new bike and think a bike loan might make getting it easier, well, now there’s a way.

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Filed under advocacy, bike shops, Brompton, cargo, family biking, San Francisco

Change is good

The bike lanes on JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park mostly look like this now–unblocked by cars.

This morning I was talking to a dad at my son’s elementary school. With all three of our bikes in the shop (two for brakes, one for an annoying whining sound from the front dynamo), Matt and I played “hot potato” about who had to drive our son to school in the morning. I lost. But it’s always nice to catch up with other families before school lets out. My son’s last day of first grade is tomorrow!

This dad asked me if I had ridden in the new JFK bike lanes yet. These are striped to have auto travel lanes in the middle, parked cars alongside, then a door buffer zone, then a bike lane by the curb. When they were first installed drivers seemed to have trouble giving up parking at the curb, which meant I was constantly weaving around cars in the bike lane. With time and some improved signage, this hasn’t happened in a while. When I said that I had ridden on them, he asked if I liked them as much as he did. He thought they were amazing, and that having cars completely separated from bikes, and bikes protected by parked cars, was a fantastic innovation. “They should do that all over the city!” he exclaimed.

What impressed me about hearing this, unsolicited, is that no one in his family rides a bike. They like the new bike lanes as drivers. They feel they’re safer. I would never have thought these new lanes would appeal to drivers as much as they do to riders. There are changes in the air, and I like them.

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Filed under advocacy, commuting, family biking, San Francisco, traffic

Carrying helmets: why?

San Francisco representatives of the “helmet carrying” movement: their backpacks are safer than houses

You can wear a helmet while riding a bike, or you can not wear a helmet. There are arguments both ways; personally, I choose to wear one, but I understand that reasonable people choose not to, for reasons that are just as valid.

But lately I have seen something that makes zero sense to me: people who do not wear helmets, but still carry them around. And I have seen a lot of this lately. This choice seems to combine all of the disadvantages of wearing helmets (inconvenience, lack of style) with all of the disadvantages of not wearing helmets (reduced safety, judgment of passers by). Why?

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Filed under advocacy, commuting, San Francisco, traffic

Bike to Work Day 2012

Bike to work, or bike for work

Last Thursday was San Francisco’s Bike to Work Day. I’m getting the sense that these events are regional, as this one seems Bay Area-specific. I suppose this facilitates business travelers with Bromptons getting more frequent opportunities to ride around different cities picking up swag.

Matt’s biking outfit on a no-suit day

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which sponsors Energizer stations in the morning, bike convoys to downtown for office workers and to Civic Center for advocates, and a party in the evening (who has the time?), urged everyone this year to dress up for Bike to Work Day to make it evident that it was possible to ride to work in office clothes. From my observation, this was a mixed success. “Dressing up” in San Francisco seems to evoke more of a Burning Man look than a business casual look. It’s superior to lycra, I suppose.

My biking outfit on an afternoon-meeting day

Matt and I work at offices where we are expected to hit at least the business casual level on most days. (Admittedly there are days at my office where people are wandering around in stretch pants and hoodies, but only in secured areas where patients can’t see them.) So Matt went with his usual dress shirt san tie look. I wore a standard blouse-plus-slacks ensemble as I was headed to the main hospital campus later for an afternoon meeting. Speaking only for myself, I was definitely in the top 10% of the riders I passed on the formal dress standard.

Riders at the Arguello Boulevard Energizer Station

The morning Energizer stations seem pretty well distributed along the main commute routes. Matt hit one along Market Street, and I ran into another on Arguello Boulevard, near the bicycle center of gravity created by Velo Rouge Café (SFBC discount partner, extensive bike racks) and the recently opened San Francyclo (an interesting new bike shop with a cute dog, worth discussing another time). My Energizer station was evincing a mellow vibe due to failed coffee delivery, but they were handing out bagels and fruit.

One wire tandem bicycle from the last China trip and two key chains from Bike to Work Day

And of course we got our swag bags. We hadn’t given this much thought in advance, but I was glad in hindsight that we had both picked up bags, as both kids wanted their own stickers and so forth. The biggest hits by far were the bicycle key chains. My son picked up his and immediately started trying to use the ring attached to it to lock his mini-bicycle to his napkin ring. Why yes, we do live in a city. When I recently offered my son a spare cable lock for his bicycle he looked at me like I was nuts and insisted on a U-lock. My son has lost dozens of jackets over the years, but his bike will remain secure anywhere short of the 24th Street BART station, where bike locks go to die.

Included in the swag were various things to read, and Matt and I were both thrilled and disappointed by the flyer for the Connecting the City crosstown bikeways plan. It was thrilling because it was awesome, and disappointing because the most-optimistic date of completion is 2020. Given the California state budget, that probably means never. I would love to be proven wrong.

A 2″ heel is a good height for a commuter ride; I wear these shoes a few times a week.

Were there more riders on the road? Where I ride, there seemed to be a few more, but not many. My commute route is a little atypical, however. I did see more riders walking their bikes up hills, which suggested they might be new to this. You learn to ride up hills pretty quickly in my neck of the woods.

I am now at the point where I’m riding to work nearly every day of the week. A year ago, who would have thought? So an official Bike to Work Day feels a little odd: every day is bike to work day. But a free banana is nice any morning of the year.

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Filed under advocacy, commuting, San Francisco

Taxis and bicycles

Oh look. A taxi parked on the sidewalk. Quelle surprise.

I have issues with taxis.

I am glad that taxis exist. They have bailed me out of more than one emergency “your kid is sick and you need to come right away” situation, as well as out of occasional public transit failures in multiple cities. I take cabs to the airport when I’m on business in other cities. The world would be a much more difficult place without them.

That said I kind of hate taxi drivers. They are often rude, and they frequently ignore the rules of the road. I never know, stepping into one, whether I will end up feeling like I’m on a death ride. And when I’m riding my bike, driver rudeness is the least of my worries. When I see a taxi on the road I immediately tense up, waiting for a swerve into the bike lane or a dooring or an unmarked turn into oncoming traffic.

This is the world's most loathsome bumper sticker.

San Francisco made my irritation with taxi drivers even more extreme last year, when the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency allowed taxi drivers to officially occupy the bike lane, ostensibly to pick up passengers who were disabled. Over half the cabs in the city now sport the blue bumper stickers advertising this new liberty, which I have learned the hard way to read as: “I’m going to do whatever I want and you can’t stop me.” I have seen taxis with these bumper stickers parked on the sidewalk. A couple of weeks ago I watched a taxi with that bumper sticker swerve directly in front of me, at which point the passenger opened the door, leaned over, and vomited into the bike lane. No photo: this is a family biking blog. Parking in bike lanes is a given. Everyone does that. But taxis can’t get tickets for it anymore, and those blue stickers are like a “neener-neener-neener” right in my face every time I have to cut into traffic around a parked cab in my lane. I hate those bumper stickers. Thanks for nothing, Muni.

Objectively, I realize that taxis that do these things are the minority, but oh, what an annoying minority they are.

And then yesterday, when I was riding mid-afternoon to a meeting, I happened across two other bike riders on my route—a woman on a road bike and a man on a cruiser. These riders were casually blowing through red lights and stop signs, swerving through traffic and into crosswalks to avoid even the slightest loss of momentum, and all of this despite the fact that they were riding even more slowly than I was. And I ride pretty slowly on my way to an afternoon meeting in dress clothes, because I refuse to show up at a meeting sweaty. I get mistaken for a student often enough as it is.

Suddenly I thought, “Oh my god! These riders annoy everyone else on the road the way that taxis annoy me! And I am guilty by association!” These bicycle riders are the reason that pedestrians stop me in the street about once a week to thank me for my complete stop at every 4-way stop sign intersection. I am not kidding. Last week one person clapped.

Taxi drivers and bicycle riders: we are ugly bedfellows, all of us damned by association no matter how we behave. I cannot begin to imagine the cultural shift it would take to make me start trusting taxis to behave like even normal cars, and that is a not a very high standard. Which means it must be equally impossible for most drivers (and most people are drivers) to imagine bicyclists behaving like something other than spoiled children.

There are a lot of parents like me who would be willing to ride their bikes with their kids if it seemed like something respectable people did—I talk to these parents every week. They would never run a red light any more than I would: my kids are on the bike! But why would you want to start riding a bike if you hate bicycle riders who ignore the rules of the road? Those are the riders people see—how could they not? I hate those riders and I was actually riding a bike when I saw them. Who would want to start driving if it meant being scorned like a cab driver? I hate riding in the vicinity of cabs even though most of them are driven by responsible people.

How do you change an entire subculture of people behaving badly? Change the law or change the culture, but something would have to change. Right now, for both taxis and bicycles, there is a critical mass of scofflaws.

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Filed under advocacy, commuting, San Francisco, traffic

Protected bike lanes on JFK Drive

Most (not all) cars seem to understand the new lane markers

Recently San Francisco striped new separated bike lanes on JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park, which is a bicycle arterial through the western half of the city for commuters, including me. Thanks, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition! We take this route around the park with the kids on the weekends, but many more people take it east to the Panhandle on weekdays, and from there to the Wiggle and downtown. San Francisco is only 7×7 miles, so even people living at Ocean Beach can reasonably ride a bike all the way to work on this route, which is largely parkland, and now features protected bike lanes as well.

The new striping put two-way car traffic in the center of the road, with a parking lane to the side of each car travel lane. Then there is a buffer zone for car doors (so awesome!), a constant risk in the park, and a bicycle lane on the right at the edge of the road.

Am I a bicycle?

Figuring out the new system is apparently a struggle for some drivers. Although the bike lane is clearly marked, some people just can’t get over the idea of parking against the curb. This driver ignored all the cars appropriately parked in the strip to the left, not to mention an open parking space immediately to the left, in order to block the bike lane. It’s rare that I would advocate for a narrower bike lane, but maybe that might help this person get the point. Maybe not, though, as the car is parked right on top of a bike lane marker (an oppressed bicycle).

We don't need no stinkin' buffer zone

Still, having ridden these new lanes all week, I like them. Although I find it annoying that nearly all the cars park over the line so that they’re sitting in the door buffer zone to the right. Apparently drivers don’t really like being forced into moving car traffic when they’re stepping out of a parked car. The doorers now get to experience the consequences of dooring. Welcome to my world.

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Filed under advocacy, commuting, San Francisco