Archive for February 23rd, 2012
BY BRYAN BANDUCCI
In his effort to go green and get gehalthy, Seth Callahan has been commuting solely via bicycle for seven years.
“I could not justify driving two miles to work and I’d rather walk than take the MUNI. I had been drinking heavily for a long time and it was starting to catch up with me. The fact that you suck on a bike when you are hungover made me want to stay sober so I could kick ass on my bike the next day.”
Callahan, 31, an auto mechanic at Mercedes Benz, commutes two miles daily from NOPA (North of the Panhandle)to SOMA (South of Market), and believes that the heightened awareness needed when he used to ride motorcycles greatly aided his transition to city bike riding.
The number of people making the switch to bicycles as their primary mode of transportation is a nationwide “going green” trend, and San Franciscans have urged the city to make monumental changes to make cycling here easier, safer, faster and more widely accepted.
“I think the key to riding in the city is not only knowing your rights and responsibilities, but knowing the rights and responsibilities of others on the road. Driving a car once in a while would help a cyclist be a better cyclist just like riding a bike once in a while would help a driver become a better driver. If people could see things from both sides of the road, they might work together a little better,” said Callahan.
The people primarily responsible for helping create a more bike-friendly city are the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the largest city based bike advocacy group in the nation. Founded in 1971, the group’s membership has skyrocketed in the past decade, going from a core of 600 members in 1997 to over 12,000 in 2011. It is difficult to see a bike locked up in the city that doesn’t have a Bike Coalition member sticker on it.
The City Planning Department and Board of Supervisors take the advice and suggestions of the Bicycle Coalition seriously – allowing for the approval of projects such as major street repaving along popular bike routes through Golden Gate Park and along Polk and Valencia, and also the creation of Parklets – part of San Francisco’s Pavement To Parks project, which replaces a city parking spot with seating areas for businesses and bicycle parking.
According to a Bike Coalition news release, San Francisco currently has 64 miles of bike lanes –of which 34 miles were paved this year, and the Board of Supervisors has “set a goal of 20 percent of all trips being made by bicycle by 2020.”
“According to our polls, 7 in 10 San Francisco residents rode bikes in 2011. We think that’s quite the accomplishment,” said SF Bike Coalition communications director Kristin Smith.
While there are more people out on the road commuting via bicycles, but not all cyclists see this as a particularly positive trend. Clayton Scott commutes 15 miles round trip daily and holds neutral view on the subject.
“Yes, it is increasing. There are pros and cons to it,” said Scott, a media director for a San Francisco advertising agency. “Overall I am fine with it, but riding in the city was a more fun in 2002 than it is now. Cyclists were fewer and the ones that were there knew what they were doing. It was a lot more low profile. Riders seemed more common sense kind of people and less sheep-like. I might just be getting old though.”
Scott, 35, has been riding a bicycle as a means of transportation since kindergarten, and in those years, he has observed the trend of increased interest in cycling in the city as it developed and seen the changes being made to accommodate for cyclists here as well, though he feels strongly about these as well.
“I feel wonderfully safe about riding here and happy with it except for all the bike lanes and improvements being built. They marginalize cyclists and enforced the belief that cyclists don’t belong on “normal” streets,” said Scott.
It could be argued that the increased amount of bike lanes being built in the city is the reason why more people that are new to cycling are starting to use bicycles for their morning commute downtown and to take their children to school – more designated bike lanes along accessible routes make people feel safer and secure about getting out on the road.
According to the League of American Bicyclists , there was a 75 percent increase in the number of cyclists in San Francisco from 2000 to 2010, and a 17 percent increase just from 2009 to 2010. San Francisco is also currently ranked third of 70 for best U.S. cities for cycling.
One thing San Francisco is not well known for is public transportation – buses and trains here are always slow and constantly delayed due to heavily trafficked routes and equipment malfunctions, and are difficult and unhelpful for cyclists in need.
“I wish the transit systems and BART made it more accommodating for riders in the area, and fix the damn roads!” said Ian Bryant, 21, a sales associate and mechanic at San Francisco Bike Rentals at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Dale Watson, assistant store team leader at Whole Foods Market, rides his bicycle to work from the Mission to Haight Street every day, and considers the 0 he spent on his bike a worthy investment in comparison to paying bus fare.
“Bicycles are the fastest way to get around,” Watson said. “And even though I could take the bus that stops directly in front of my house, it takes too long. I get exercise, it takes less time, and most important, I don’t have to wait for the bus!”
Besides the obvious health benefits of riding a bike from point A to point B every day, there are even city and government incentives to get people riding to work. According to the San Francisco Environment Department , as of 2009, tax cuts of up to per month were made available to everyday commuters. The Environment Department also runs and maintains the City Bicycle Fleet Program, which provides free bicycles, locks and helmets for city employees to use for commuting to and from work.
What makes most people uneasy about cycling in the city is safety. Increased numbers of cyclists on the road means more possibilities for accidents. In the dense streets of San Francisco, it is easy to have close calls with cars and pedestrians while just traveling a few blocks on a main road.
“I feel safe not because of anyone else, but because I ride my bike like an adult, and I know people are bad drivers,” Watson said. “I ride like I know those people are out on the road. I ride very defensively. So yes, I feel safe. And I don’t wear a helmet. Hyper-aggressive riders color people’s perceptions of bicycles.”
Among the most hyper-aggressive riders in the city are those who ride track bikes – fixed gear single speed bicycles that have seen an enormous growth in popularity among hipster youths in urban cities across the globe. A core of San Francisco’s younger riders chose these brakeless bikes as their mode of transportation, and the fashionable appeal of the bikes has attracted many more to start riding.
“I definitely feel there is a fashionable wave about the fixie scene… Lots of people love the thrill of it, getting up a hill in one gear rather than switching through many,” said Bryant, 21.
Like all hobbies and sports, there is a community behind it all that organizes events and brings people together, and cycling is no different. Many people start biking just to commute easier or shed a few pounds, only to find it quickly takes over their daily life. San Francisco and the area surrounding it is a playground for cyclists of all ages and experience levels.
“Not only has cycling gotten me to work in a more efficient way and cleaned up my lifestyle, it had connected me with the excellent cycling community here in the Bay Area,” said Callahan.
Whether you are a commuter in a suit on a hybrid bike or a hardcore road racer in a full shop kit, San Francisco politicians are listening to the community’s demands prioritizing making changes to make cycling here something that every citizen can experience and enjoy, efficiently and safely.
Wild Kitchen. [Photo: Laurie Eanes]
POP-UPS — Iso Rabins’ Wild Kitchen hosts its last dinner series of the season from February 23-26. The first two nights will be a la carte service for walk-ins at 710 Florida Street, while the 25th and 26th will be ticketed prix fixe affairs purchased via Eventbrite and held at a secret location. Looks like you’ll have to do your own gourmet foraging for a minute after that. [EaterWire]
FREEBIE WIRE — Vinyl Wine Bar (359 Divisadero) is throwing a Neighborhood Holiday Pizza Party tomorrow night (Feb. 22) with a nice gratis deal. Purchase a PizzaHacker pizza and receive a free glass from the happy hour wine selection. Soup Junkie returns for a pop-up night on Feb. 23. [EaterWire]
AWARDS SEASON — Zagat debuts its new 30 Under 30 list and bestows up-and-coming hotness on local food professionals. Honored youngsters include chef Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese Food), pastry pro Melissa Chou (Aziza), and sommelier Desmond Echavarrie (The French Laundry). [Zagat]
WINE — Paul Einbund, the sommelier at Frances (3870 17th St.), reps SF in an in-depth feature by Eater National on wine hotness. He finds the city to have a notable concentration of “labor-intensive small lists” and professes particular love of the selections at Slanted Door, RN74, Spruce, and Bar Tartine. [~ EN ~]