Mayor Lee’s vanishing bike lanes

Pub date February 14, 2012

By Morgan Fitzgibbons

OPINION When Mayor Ed Lee announced in February 2011 that he understood both the critical importance and the severe dangers inherent in the current bicycle infrastructure along the dual three-block stretches of Fell and Oak between Scott and Baker, a shot went through the community of people who had worked for so long to bring awareness to this troubled path.

Finally, it seemed, we had a mayor who understood that if San Francisco was serious about living up to its own nearly 40-year-old pledge to be a transit-first city, a narrow bike lane sandwiched between parked cars and fast-moving traffic on Fell Street and a complete absence of any bicycle infrastructure on Oak simply wouldn’t do.

Finally, we had a mayor who wouldn’t be satisfied with mere words on a page, who had the courage to carve out one single safe bike route from the east side of town to the west, to create a viable alternative to automobile transportation, to prepare our city for the inevitable challenges presented by climate change, peak oil, and economic collapse, and to do it in the face of the predictable objections from a few small-picture citizens who couldn’t look at the 60 square feet of a parking spot and imagine anything other than a privately owned two-ton pile of steel taking up precious public space.

The community of people who had waited nearly 40 years for the city to live up to its own word kept on waiting throughout 2011, patiently allowing the Municipal Transportation Agency to perform its due diligence, attending multiple public meetings in the hundreds, and delivering a resounding verdict: bring us our separated bike lanes. Make this neighborhood a better place to live. Begin the long work of preparing our city for a way of living that doesn’t center around the automobile.

With the public process complete and the calendar turning to nearly one year since Lee called for the MTA to “move quickly” to create separated bike lanes on Fell and Oak, the MTA handed down a jarring announcement. The Fell and Oak Bikeways were being delayed because the agency needed to take extra time to do all that could be done to find nearby replacements for the 80 parking spots set to be removed for the bike lanes.

That’s right — in a city that has for 40 years had an explicit policy of giving preference to transit options that weren’t the automobile, in a city that, nevertheless, has over 440,000 public parking spots and zero safe, accessible bike routes from the east side of town to the west, the creation of a separated bikeway that the vast majority of the community wants, and that the mayor’s own newly appointed District Supervisor, Christina Olague, is in support of, was being delayed by nearly a year so that the loss of private automobile parking would be as small as possible.

How does this happen? In a word: fear. The mayor and MTA are afraid of ruffling a few feathers to do what they know is right.

Cities like New York, Portland, and Minneapolis are leapfrogging us in building the cities of tomorrow. Chicago is creating 100 miles of separated bike lanes in the next four years. Don’t call us America’s Greenest City — you’re thinking of the San Francisco of 40 years ago.

Morgan Fitzgibbons is co-founder of the Wigg Party, a Western Addition neighborhood sustainability group