The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition — SFBC — is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making the streets of San Francisco a more inviting and comfortable place for bicyclists. Offering programs for all age and skill levels, SFBC is dedicated to educating San Franciscans on bike safety, as well as helping to grow the number of riders in the city.
“Besides the broader environmental benefits of having more people biking, and the health benefits of biking, I would say that many people who start biking are really surprised by how much easier and faster it is than they think,” said SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum.
“In a city like San Francisco that’s so dense, for many people it is faster to get where they are going on their bike, rather than driving their car and trying to find a place to park. You can move at your own pace, you’re not going to get stuck in traffic, and you really can park right in front of your destination in most cases,” Shahum said.
One of the SFBC’s most important programs is their “Connecting the City” initiative, which identifies areas in San Francisco where biking conditions could be improved, as well as mapping out the city’s safest and most family-friendly bikeways. SFBC works with the Municipal Transportation Agency and Department of Public Works to improve identified problem areas, repaving the roads, adding bike racks and widening bike lanes.
They also work with the school district and the Department of Public Health, sharing their knowledge of safe biking routes and bicycle safety techniques with children and the general public.
SFBC organizes a “Bike Buddy” program that matches up new riders with more experienced ones, so that the beginners can learn the ropes of cycling in San Francisco. Those who are new to cycling and want to learn the rules and responsibilities of bicycle riding and commuting in the city can also attend free bicycle education classes through SFBC.
Lenore McDonald became a board member in the SFBC after moving to San Francisco in 2008. She is a veteran in the art of commuting via bicycle.
“I love the independence it gives you to not have to depend on the bus schedule,” said McDonald. “A lot of commuting time is wasted waiting for the bus, and sometimes they are so crowded they just go by you. I feel very fulfilled that I have complete control over when I take off and when I can leave and arrive at different places on my bike.”
Perhaps SFBC’s most well-known program is their “Sunday Streets” — which are designated days during which the city closes down vehicle access to a street and makes it a family-friendly zone where people can ride their bikes, walk, or enjoy any other activity without worrying about incoming traffic.
Now in its fifth year, the “Sunday Streets” program is run by the Municipal Transportation Authority, with the bicycle coalition organizing volunteer workers who make the events possible. There will be twelve “Sunday Streets” this year, the most in the program’s history.
“I have explored new areas of the city that I wouldn’t necessarily go to because there’s a ‘Sunday Streets’ event there,” said McDonald. “You hear about all these great restaurants and parks and things to do in the city, but oftentimes if you’re in a car you ride right by them. In a ‘Sunday Streets’ event they close the streets off, and there are plenty of places to leave your bike if you want to walk around and visit some of these stores and restaurants. A lot of businesses just move their merchandise out onto the streets even.”
There has been a large increase in bicycle riding and commuting across the United States over the last few years, which makes this the perfect time for SFBC to be advocating for more bicycle-friendly policies. The numbers don’t lie; bicycle riding is more popular than ever in the city of San Francisco.
“San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency tracks how many people are biking in the city,” said Shahum. “Based on their count this year, the numbers show that in the past five years there has been a 71 percent increase in the number of people biking in San Francisco.”
The increased number in bicycle riders not only helps cut down on traffic, but it also increases the safety of the riders, who can now travel in groups to increase visibility from vehicles.
“As someone who commutes on Market Street, you have to share the lane with taxi drivers and Muni buses, and that is problematic,” said McDonald. “A year ago there might have been one or two other bike riders out there, so I was always really nervous that people wouldn’t see me. Now, there are easily ten to a dozen riders with me. We’re more visible and people are more conscientious.”
San Francisco has always had a large biking community, but it is common that most cyclists travel out of town to bike recreationally, preferring places such as Marin to San Francisco for weekend rides. Now, with the recent increased effort to make the city more bike-friendly, expect to see more bicyclists riding San Francisco streets in the future.
More information about the bicycle coalition can be found at www.sfbike.org/.
This year Sunday Streets is beginning a pilot project of holding four Sunday Streets in a row on the Mission route. The first was held on May 6, and the others will be held on June 3, July 1 and August 5. All events run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The route map for the June 3 event can be found at http://www.sundaystreetssf.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/MissionRoute.pdf. General information about Sunday Streets can be found at www.sundaystreetssf.com/.