When bicycling increases, be it in a U.S. city or some foreign land, statistics show that streets become safer. For whatever reason, that has not happened in San Francisco.
Facing such a reality, The City is preparing to double its investment in bike projects during the next two years in hopes of reversing that trend and making cycling easier and safer here.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency plans to spend more than $55 million on bicycle capital improvements during its next two-year budget cycle, which begins with the new fiscal year July 1. That money will fund dozens of projects, including bike lanes along Second Street and Polk Street, more bicycle parking, educational outreach efforts and improvements to existing bike lanes.
“We are making progress,” said Ed Reiskin, transportation director of the SFMTA, which is in charge of bicycle infrastructure. “It’s not fast enough or strong enough for anybody’s liking, but I think we are on a very good path.”
San Francisco’s network of bike routes remains fragmented, and while some streets are “safe and comfortable for your grandma,” others require “armor and a will of steel to get by,” according to Reiskin.
Indeed, bicycling advocates say they would like a greater financial commitment toward the fast-growing transit method.
The City, according to advocates, needs to boost its bicycle investments for the sake of safety. If it doesn’t, they say, the SFMTA will never meet its goal of increasing bicycling’s share of all trips taken in San Francisco, including by car, walking and public transit. The agency has a goal of increasing the percentage of all San Francisco trips taken by bike from 3.4 percent currently to 10 percent by 2018.
Tripling the percentage of bicycle trips over four years may seem like a tall order, but bicycling has doubled in the past six years, according to estimates, and that’s good news for the SFMTA. Its transit-first policy encourages other modes of getting around rather than by automobile.
Still, there were four bicyclist fatalities last year. And a civil grand jury report found collisions increased from 531 in 2009 to 630 in 2011.
San Francisco has invested in street improvements, albeit at lesser amounts than now planned, yet “incidents of collision are not really going up, but they are not going down,” Reiskin said. That is in stark contrast to trends seen in other locales.
“What we are not seeing that many other cities and other countries see is a commensurate decrease in collisions,” Reiskin said. “The general pattern is the higher the mode share of cycling, the lower the number of collisions because of more visibility of cyclists in the street, more awareness of cycling, more familiarity for motorists and cyclists of co-existing in the public right of way. We haven’t seen that decrease” in The City.
The answer for advocates like Leah Shahum, who leads the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, is putting a greater share of the SFMTA’s overall budget toward cycling infrastructure.
Shahum said that while bicycle capital project spending is doubling, “it remains at a meager 2 percent of the transportation agency’s overall spending.” Furthermore, she notes, the SFMTA is falling short of its own goals to add up to 12 new miles of bikeways each year and upgrade up to 10 existing miles. According to the SFMTA, its budget includes funding for 1.9 new miles of bike lanes and 4.5 miles of upgraded bike lanes per year. San Francisco currently has about 215 miles of bike lanes.
However, Shahum praised several of the planned bike projects.
“We see great promise in plans for protected bikeways on Second Street, Polk Street and The Embarcadero,” she said. “These are investments that will literally connect more people with affordable ways to get to their jobs, schools, transit and entertainment.”
The single most expensive bike project identified in the SFMTA’s two-year budget is about $12.2 million for the overhaul of Masonic Avenue, a north-south corridor in the heart of The City.
That’s followed by nearly $11.7 million to install bike lanes along the entire length of Second Street, from King Street in South of Market to Market Street.
Another big-ticket allocation is about $7.3 million for bike lanes and other improvements along the Polk Street corridor, which runs from Market Street north to Aquatic Park.
Bike lane installations are the most expensive of the projects, but other improvements can come with a simple redesign. For instance, the connection between the westbound bike lane on Market Street to southbound Valencia Street was recently improved by eliminating the need to cross multiple lanes of traffic along the F-Market streetcar line by adding a perpendicular connector with a traffic signal.
“Spot improvements can really close some of those gaps,” Reiskin said.
The SFMTA’s two-year budget was approved April 15 by its board of directors and will be submitted Thursday to the Board of Supervisors for review and adoption.
Investing in safety
Over the next two years, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency plans to spend $55.7 million on bicycle capital projects. Some of the most expensive of the more than 30 projects include:
Masonic Avenue Streetscape: $12,240,000
Second Street bike lanes: $11,682,442
Polk Street Improvement Project: $7,244,000
Embarcadero Enhancement Project: $3,010,000
Eight Street Streetscape: $1,435,750
Seventh Street Streetscape: $1,299,750
Bicycle Strategy Network Expansion: $900,778
Green Bike Lane Conversion (four blocks annually): $858,800
Wiggle Neighborhood Green Corridor: $800,000
Vision Zero: Motorist and Pedestrian Safety Education and Enforcement: $750,000
Western Addition Downtown Bikeway Connector: $609,993