Tag Archives: bicycle advocacy

Demand more

Spot the transformation cones in SF (photo courtesy SFMTrA)

Spot the transformation cones in SF (photo courtesy SFMTrA)

We’ve ridden with our kids in San Francisco on a near-daily basis since 2011. Over the last five years, we’ve watched the number of family bikers like us skyrocket. Our Bullitt used to draw stares and dropped jaws because parents had never seen anything like it before. It still gets attention now, but it’s usually more along the lines of someone running over to say, “I’ve been thinking about getting that bike! Do you like it?” It is no longer unusual for us to go to a kid-oriented event or location (school, after-school, birthday party) and spot another bike like ours, or a comparable family rig. I recognize a number of families by their bikes that I don’t know by name, because we pass each other or travel together every morning.

Over the same period, bicycle infrastructure has improved, which is part of what draws families onto bikes, but the process has been painfully slow. Both Matt and I have attended multiple SFMTA (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) meetings where we watched the agency propose fantastic infrastructure that was then watered down (“parking! parking! parking!”), or more typically, watched the agency propose pathetic infrastructure that was then watered down (“parking! parking! parking!”) We support the SFBC (San Francisco Bicycle Coalition) and they work hard to push the agency to build safe bicycle infrastructure. Yet the SFMTA seems to take a perverse pride in dragging its heels, so that the kinds of projects that other cities manage to roll out in a matter of weeks extend for years. In the meantime, riders keep dying.

Bike path crossing Lincoln at 3rd Avenue (photo courtesy SFMTrA)

Bike path crossing Lincoln at 3rd Avenue (photo courtesy SFMTrA)

In the last couple of months, however, things have been getting noticeably safer on some of San Francisco’s most dangerous streets for bicycles. It is no thanks to the SFMTA. Instead, it’s the work of the SFMTrA, the San Francisco Metropolitan Transformation Authority, an anonymous group that on its own initiative, funded only by donations, has begun doing a fraction of the work that we should been have able to expect the SFMTA to do all these years. For example, in places where drivers routinely park in bike lanes, forcing riders into fast-moving traffic, it adds awareness cones or soft hit posts to mark the lane. Astonishingly, these work (at least while they last.) Drivers who apparently have no concerns at all with the prospect of running over my child on his bicycle will make every effort to avoid hitting an orange plastic cone.

Fell heading onto JFK (photo courtesy SFMTrA)

Fell heading onto JFK (photo courtesy SFMTrA)

The SFMTA should be ashamed of its lack of progress on street safety. In the meantime, there are some unexpected new options. This morning I watched cars slow at the sight of the new soft hit posts protecting a particularly harrowing intersection we ride through frequently in Golden Gate Park. I was so grateful that when I got to work I made a donation to SFMTrA so they could buy more equipment. If you bike in San Francisco, you can work with them as well: you can follow them on Twitter (@SFMTrA) or go to their website to add dangerous intersections you’d like to see protected to their interactive map. And if you like what they do, you can donate to help them buy more cones and posts.

Other cities are transforming as well: you can follow and support @NYC_DOTr (New York), @PBOTrans (Portland), @SEA_DOTr (Seattle), or @STP_Fix (St. Paul.) If I’ve missed one, please feel free to post it in the comments. And if you don’t have a Transformation group where you live, maybe you could start one.

I am more optimistic about bicycle infrastructure in San Francisco than I’ve been in quite a while. I’ve decided it’s time to take SFMTrA’s advice, and #DemandMore.

(All street safety installation photos in this post are courtesy of SFMTrA)


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Filed under advocacy, commuting, family biking, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle

Upcoming bicycle events in San Francisco

If I had any sense I’d post local bicycling-related events on some kind of schedule, but alas, I don’t. However I occasionally get my act together and this is one of those times.

Intro to Urban Bicycling Workshops

  • November 12th at 4117 Judah Street, 6:00-7:00pm
  • November 15th at 610 Old Mason Street, 11:00am-12:00pm (Adults 50+)
  • November 18th at 739 Bryant Street, 6:30-7:30pm

Sometimes people ask me how to they can learn to feel more comfortable riding on city streets, especially if they haven’t been on a bike in a while. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has your back on this, and this month they’re offering three Intro to Urban Bicycling workshops to people who’d like to develop more confidence. Get more information and register at their Events website. No bicycle is necessary for the class.

Urban Street Skills 101: Classroom

  • November 13th at 1135 Powell Street (Chinatown Library), 6:00-8:00pm

Same idea as the intro class above but it’s twice as long, and presumably twice as helpful. Participants will leave qualified to take future on-road classes. Again, no bicycle is necessary.


  • November 16th, City View at Metreon, 135 4th Street, 6:00-10:30pm

For years I’ve wanted to go to Winterfest, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s annual member party and auction, and yet I’ve never quite managed it. November is usually a heavy travel month for Matt, so in previous years I’ve always been solo-parenting. I suppose I could have hired a sitter for the kids and gone alone, but (despite the impression that the blog might give) I am relatively introverted in real life and thus I would rather rip out my own toenails with pliers than head unaccompanied into a room full of strangers. But this year is different: we’re both in town and barring a spanner in the works like an unexpectedly sick kid, we’ll be partying with the people of the bike in a week or so. Free valet bike parking is provided (duh, but still). See you there!

As an aside, all of these events are sponsored by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC). We’ve been members of the SFBC for years now, and it is outranked only by our kids’ school as the one of the organizations we are most happy to support. Every time we see another bike lane striped in the city or green paint on the street, our memberships feel like money well-spent. If you enjoy riding a bike in San Francisco, please consider supporting the SFBC! Getting out and riding is easier every year thanks to their efforts. They’re awesome.


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Filed under advocacy, events, San Francisco

Game changer

It's more powerful than it appears.

It’s more powerful than it appears.

When we sold our car, I switched from a dumb phone to a smartphone. I wanted to be able to check bus schedules and arrange rental cars or rides easily, and for those purposes, the smartphone has performed admirably. I’ve also become one of those people who texts my husband from the bedroom while he’s in the kitchen. This is arguably less admirable, although I prefer to think of it as modeling a way to communicate without yelling. Goodness knows that message hasn’t taken yet with our kids.

Although I try not to make my attachment to the phone a 24/7 thing—I put it away at least one weekend day and am obligated to turn it off for almost all work meetings—I am more engaged with my phone than with any other device I’ve ever owned. I’m not unique in this. And in many cases this is a clear win for humanity: since the advent of camera phones, for example, reports of UFO sightings have pretty much disappeared, and that’s a mercy. Nevertheless, it’s been hard not to notice the increasingly vehement urging that people should put their phones down. In some cases this makes sense to me: I embarrass myself when I am checking the phone as my kids are talking to me. Bad parent!

I’m far less impressed with recent arguments that people should put their phones down while walking. If you don’t pay attention to traffic, the argument goes, you’ll be run over. The San Francisco police department had a whole campaign along these lines, and I found it offensive. Trust me, you can be run over while paying plenty of attention to traffic. I speak from experience. More to the point, though, no one should ever be run over in a crosswalk. Only reckless drivers pay so little attention that they run people over, and they can manage that whether you’re paying attention to the road, paying attention to your phone, or you’re a little kid crossing the street with the light while holding your dad’s hand. Pedestrians don’t kill themselves. Drivers kill them.

I am, in contrast to SFPD, a huge fan of people using their phones while walking. And the reason why became very clear recently while I was walking with my kids down Fillmore. A driver making a left turn slammed into a motorcycle, toppling it over and knocking its rider into the street. A dozen people with their phones in their hands began taking pictures the second it happened, and kept taking pictures and videos as the motorcycle rider staggered up and the car started to drive away. I didn’t have my phone out and so I watched the driver, who looked back at the motorcycle lying in the road, started to accelerate the heck out of there, and then noticed two people in the crosswalk filming his car and zooming in on his license plate. At that point, he decided to pull over after all. People walking with their phones out prevented a collision from becoming a hit-and-run that evening.

Something very similar happened when we were hit last year. Golden Gate Park is full of walkers, and they had their phones out, taking pictures, when they saw what had happened. There was also a sheriff’s deputy in the crosswalk who ran over to us yelling, “I’m a sheriff’s deputy!” so it’s hard to say whether the driver who ran us down was ever tempted to hit-and-run. However if he had been, we would have had recourse, because of all those people who ignored the advice to put their phones down.

When I see people walking and using their phones now, I am grateful. I feel that way even if they’re distracted and they sometimes walk into me. Bumping into me is annoying, true, but nothing that I don’t get already from my kids. More importantly, though, it’s a price I’m happy to pay because I know that the more phones that are out, the safer I am walking and riding on the streets. My smartphone is useful and fun and it makes my life easier. But it’s a game changer because it keeps people from getting away with murder.


Filed under advocacy, San Francisco, traffic

Mixed messages

Nearly every day on the bike I’m confronted with a mixed message. Most often, it’s the sign on a sidewalk curb cut that says “NO BICYCLES.” This wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that bicycle RACKS are placed on sidewalks, typically a good distance away from the only access, which is that same curb cut. The signs don’t say “no bicycle riding on the sidewalk, not even to get to the bike rack” although that would be annoying enough. Nobody is ever forced to get out of their car and push it on foot to a parking place. The signs say “NO BICYCLES.” That means that there is often no legal way to lock a bicycle on a bicycle rack. (There may also be signs insisting that I not lock my bicycle to anything that I could reach from an area where bicycles are legally allowed.)

So I break the rules. If there aren’t people walking in the area, I ride right over that “NO BICYCLES” sign to the nearest rack to lock up. If there are people walking in the area, I usually get off and walk the bike to the rack. But in both cases I’m doing something I’ve been told I shouldn’t do.

There is no real space for bicycles, so when I’m riding my bike I’m constantly confronted with rules that contradict each other. As a result, at least once a day I have to make a decision about which rule I’m going to have to break so that I can follow a different rule.

When people complain that bicycle riders are “scofflaws” I think: how could riders be anything else? In San Francisco, I am legally forbidden from riding on the sidewalk, even though the sidewalk is the only place I can find a bicycle rack (or a meter). That’s before you even consider the road rules that drivers routinely ignore. In California, cars making a right turn across a bicycle lane are supposed to pull into the right lane near the corner, where the bike lane has dashed lines, before making a turn. If they are, as a result, stuck behind a bicycle that has reached the intersection first and is going straight: so be it. It is like being stuck behind a car going straight when you want to turn right. You have to wait for the car in front to go. When I’m on a bicycle, drivers assume that they can pull in front of me from the left lane and make a right turn on red, or block me from going straight on green, just because they’re in a car. It happens every single day. Some days I have had two cars make right turns on a red light in front of me at the same time, one from the right side (using an open parking spot) and one from the left side (using the car lane). Apparently bicycles don’t count as vehicles. Often drivers will start honking if there isn’t enough room for them to make a right turn on red light in front of me. I’m never sure what they want me to do, exactly. Maybe they want me to ride on the sidewalk. As a result, every day I have to worry that I’m going to be right-hooked at a dead stop.

The same drivers that I see doing these things, or rolling through stop signs without slowing, or stopping at red lights and checking for cross traffic and then cheerfully running right through them, insist that all bicycle riders should follow the rules of the road to the letter. Which rules? Should I risk being run over (again) by an angry driver to follow the rules of the road, or should I risk being run over (again) by an angry driver who’s insisting that I break the rules of the road? Decisions, decisions. PS: way to set a good example, guys.

When bicycle riders ask for separated infrastructure, they’re not asking for special privileges, they’re asking for clarification. For now it is simply impossible to do the “right” thing as a bicycle rider in the United States. That would be easy to change, and we’d all be a lot safer—everyone, whether traveling on foot, on a bike, or in a car or bus or train—if it did change.


Filed under advocacy, commuting, San Francisco

Getting in the game

The Exploratorium offers a chance to make a robot ride a bike. Why not people?

Something I hear more often than I expected is other bike riders saying they’re not really advocates for cycling. They claim that their advocacy is just to be out riding. I totally support people riding bikes, but it surprises me that so many people don’t want to advocate for cycling. The reasons people for not advocating for something they love strike me as not much different that the reasons people give for driving instead of riding their bikes. It’s not that it’s particularly hard to do either, although of course it’s easier to do the same things that we’ve always done. Weekend leisure riders who drive a car to work every day are definitely making a contribution by making riding bicycles look normal, and everyday bike commuters who avoid advocacy are doing the same, but I’ve always felt that if it’s something I love–and I do love riding my bicycle–why would I stop there?

It would take too much time, I don’t have the right bike, there are no showers at my office, there are hills, I drive a Prius instead.

It would take too much time, I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s too hard, I ride my bike a lot instead.

Car-free Presidio: more like this, please.

Are they reasons or are they excuses? I’m not sure I’m one to judge, but I’m trying to do more. I figure that if I have the time to write a tweet I have the time to request a bike rack using the city’s online request form (my link is San Francisc0-specific, but Google pops up similar links for dozens of cities). If I have the time to write an email, let alone a blog post, I have the time to write a letter to the mayor and the head of Muni supporting the proposed separated Fell-Oak bike lanes. If I have the money to buy a new bike bell (or a new bike, cough cough), I have enough money to join the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and contribute to occasional fundraising drives. If I have the time to ask questions at the bike shop about my bike, I have the time to ask my credit union whether they could start making loans to get other people on bikes.

So I do all of these things, and occasionally things change for the better, and evidently this makes me an advocate. I am not in the league of A Simple Six, who is writing city bike plans and organizing community meetings and meeting with city officials one-on-one, or Family Ride and Tiny Helmets, who are starring in the local films and television news (and how cool is all of that?), but I once attended a hearing. Just like riding, I’m figuring it out as I go along. And although it’s not the same, I think that in its own way it’s just as rewarding as riding a bike.

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Filed under advocacy, commuting, family biking, San Francisco