The rise of bike culture

Pub date May 10, 2011

San Francisco has quickly peddled back into the front of the pack among bicycle-friendly U.S. cities, regaining the ground it lost during a four-year court injunction against new bike projects that was partially lifted in November 2009 and completely ended last June.

Since then, the streets of San Francisco have been transformed as the city completed 19 long overdue bike projects, including 11 miles of new bike lanes, 40 miles of “sharrow” shared lane markings, and hundreds of new bike racks. The city’s first physically separated green bike lanes on Market Street are now being extended, and new ones are being added on Alemany and Laguna Honda boulevards.

“The crews are out on Market Street right now filling in the new green bikeway,” San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Director Leah Shahum told us on May 6. “Far and away the No. 1 encouragement to getting people to bike is to make sure they feel safe.”

But it isn’t just bike lanes and other infrastructure that are causing bicycling to blossom in San Francisco. Bike culture is also exploding in myriad ways, including events such as the San Francisco Bike Party and Rock the Bike shows we profile in this issue, as well as the popularity of the monthly neighborhood street closures of Sunday Streets.

At the most recent Sunday Streets in the Mission District on May 8, Valencia and 24th streets were packed with thousands of people riding bikes, skating, and walking, or engaged with activities — in streets usually dominated by cars — such as yoga, art projects, shopping, and dancing.

“It’s a celebration. It’s not about confrontation anymore, it’s about bringing people along with a more expanded idea of how we can use public space,” Sunday Streets Coordinator Susan King told us at the event.

She said Sunday Streets has helped bridge the gap between families and the bicycling and skating communities, as well as cutting across classes, cultures, and communities. The response to the event has been phenomenal, she noted, and she hopes to see a similar momentum leading up to the next Sunday Streets event on June 12 in the Bayview.

“The Bayview event is really important to us because we have extraordinary support from the Bayview merchants and they want to get more involved with the bicycling community,” King said.

The earnest work of SFBC, SFMTA, and other entities that have helped expand the bicycling infrastructure in San Francisco, bringing safe cycling opportunities into every neighborhood, has in turn allowed organic expressions of bike culture to flourish.

From hipsters on their colorful fixies to anarchists riding tall bikes, from old-school Schwinns to cargo-laden Xtracycles, from elaborate art bikes to simple bike trailers with amazing sounds systems, from old white guys in Spandex to the young black kids on custom scraper bikes, from the hardcore bike messengers to the tourists on rental bikes, from Critical Mass defiance to Bike Party celebration, the streets of San Francisco are brimming with bike culture diversity. And the only commonality, the only one that’s really needed, is a simple appreciation for pedal power.

“We need to get the message out that biking is fun — and that’s happening,” Smith said. “We need a paradigm shift, and I think we’re really on the cusp of that.”


Energizer commute stations open:

Thurs/12 7:30–9:30 a.m. and 5–7 p.m., free

Check map on page 28 for locations

Bike From Work party and fashion show

Thurs/12 6–10 p.m., $5 SFBC members/$10 nonmembers (or join at the door and get in free)

DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF