New bicycle coalition director seeks to carry on Vision Zero fight

He's helped tame the harried streets of New York, and now a leading transportation advocate has swapped Park Avenue for the Avenues by Golden Gate Park.

Noah Budnick, former deputy director of advocacy group Transportation Alternatives in New York, officially took the helm of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition this month.

Budnick succeeds Executive Director Leah Shahum, who stepped down after 17 years with the politically powerful Bicycle Coalition. The 43-year-old bike advocacy group is credited by many for initiating the burgeoning bike lanes across The City, as well as the boom of bike ridership.

He said his first goal will be to continue where Shahum left off: Pushing The City hard to eliminate all pedestrian and bicyclist collision deaths by 2024 in an effort called Vision Zero.

“Achieving Vision Zero is not a question of bureaucracy,” Budnick told The San Francisco Examiner. “It's a moral imperative.”

Budnick played a key role in introducing Vision Zero to New York City, where it was adopted by Mayor Bill de Blasio. In New York, Budnick spent 14 years with Transportation Alternatives, which is much like the Bicycle Coalition but with a broader mission to promote walking and public transit.

“Anyone who has worked with Noah knows that he possesses a rare combination of zeal and judiciousness,” Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White wrote in a statement.

After relocating to San Francisco, Budnick said much work remains to be done to address cycling-safety issues.

On Tuesday, the organization released a report called “Where San Francisco Stands in Achieving Vision Zero: A One-Year Progress Report.” Seventeen pedestrians, three bicyclists and nine drivers were killed in collisions last year, the report found. And 12 percent of the most dangerous streets in The City (mostly around the Tenderloin and Market Street areas) account for more than 70 percent of collisions.

The coalition is calling on city government to expedite 18 miles of street-safety improvements, advocate for street-safety laws statewide, and hold the Police Department to its promise to increase citations against dangerous drivers.

“New York and San Francisco have a similarity in that the first year of Vision Zero was about a lot of planning,” Budnick said, “but the second year is about implementation and accountability.”

In New York, Budnick also fought for speed-limit reductions to 20 mph, mirroring a recent effort in The City. He was also credited with spearheading safety improvements for bike lanes along bridges.

The on-ramp to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway earned the nickname “Budnick Bikeway,” partly due to his advocacy to install concrete barriers, as well as his harrowing crash there. He was left unconscious for days and lost three weeks of memory, according to The New York Times.

Though Budnick is a New Yorker, his wife is a San Francisco native.

The two have been together for more than 14 years, and “I've been coming to San Francisco almost yearly for over a decade,” he said. So Budnick says he knows what to expect when biking in The City.

“I'm thinking, 'How can I get up the hills of San Francisco?'” he said.

There will be one bittersweet change for Budnick and his wife as well. The two were foster parents in New York, an arrangement Budnick said was always meant to be temporary.

“The goal of fostering,” he said, “is to get the family back together.”

The Bicycle Coalition's outgoing executive director, Shahum, was known for her fiery style in advocating for bicyclists' rights. At one Board of Supervisors meeting, Police Chief Greg Suhr put it this way: “She's no shrinking violet.”

Will Budnick fight for bike safety in the same way?

“I would ask others to describe my style,” he said. “I'm focused on the outcomes.”

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