A bicyclist negotiates The Wiggle in San Francisco.

SF supervisor candidates back car-free streets

District 5 hopeful Preston pitches network of bike-only roads to prevent traffic deaths

A public call for car-free streets is spreading.

Two front-runner candidates for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Friday expressed support for a proposal to create car-free streets in The City.

One candidate, however, took the concept even further, calling for a “network” of streets primarily for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Dean Preston and his opponent, Supervisor Vallie Brown, both expressed support for a recent community call for car-free streets, with Brown saying she is open to doing so in District 5 as a pilot program.

“We need to make streets safer for pedestrians,” she said.

But Preston upped the ante.

“In the long run, The City should have a network of streets people bike on where there is no through traffic (from cars) at all,” Preston said.

Some local traffic, like cars owned by households, could use special lanes along the sidewalk, he added. But in Preston’s view, this wouldn’t be a mere bike lane — it would be a bike street. “Most of the streets would be bike lanes in the middle,” Preston said, of this proposed network.

Brown and Preston are running to represent San Francisco’s District 5, including Japantown, the Western Addition, the Haight, and part of the Inner Sunset, among other neighborhoods. Preston is a tenants’ rights advocate, and Brown is the incumbent, who was appointed to the supervisor seat by Mayor London Breed when Breed became mayor last year.

Both candidates’ support for bike-friendly streets follows the high profile deaths of pedestrians and people on bikes throughout San Francisco and particularly the Tenderloin neighborhood. The incidents led Supervisor Matt Haney to recommend the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to identify some corridors within the Tenderloin that could be car-free for the safety of residents.

Importantly, myriad streets running through District 5 — where Preston or Brown, if elected, would represent — are along the High Injury Corridor, streets known by San Francisco officials to be the most dangerous.

Fell, Oak, Haight, Divisadero, Turk, and McAllister are among the most dangerous streets for cyclists and pedestrians in San Francisco and are among the 12 percent of streets where more than 70 percent of severe and fatal traffic collisions take place.

SFMTA Board of Directors Chair Malcolm Heinicke directed transportation staff to identify city streets that could be car-free. Haney’s recommendation may clear the way for SFMTA to craft the first such street in the Tenderloin.

Or, depending on which project moves forward first, it may be the second. There is also an effort underway called Better Market Street that may see Market Street turned into a transit, bike and pedestrian-only street as well.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition backed both plans. Although the coalition endorses in elections, it opted for no endorsement in the District 5 race. In particular, said Brian Wiedenmeier, the coalition’s executive director, one District 5 location is ripe to go car-free.

“We’re thrilled to see both candidates offer ambitious ideas for improving safety and increasing car-free space in their district,” Wiedenmeier said. “Expanding car-free space in Golden Gate Park will be an early opportunity to demonstrate that leadership for whoever is elected, and we look forward to working with them to make it happen.”

Matt Brezina, an organizer of the People Protected Bike Lanes advocacy group, said he backs the idea of creating bike-centric and transit-centric streets.

“I think that’s the way we need to move,” he said Friday. “If I had to pick one it would be Haight Street. That would be incredible as a pedestrian, bike and transit-only street with limited car access.”

He noted that car traffic often slows down the 6-Parnassus and 7-Haight/Noriega Muni buses, which serve a combined daily ridership of roughly 17,000 people.

Both candidates also backed the idea of asking SFMTA to install barriers along the east-west bike route known as “The Wiggle.”

Right now, car and bike traffic mix along the route.

The Wiggle is so-named because it navigates the flattest streets from the Panhandle to Market Street, snaking down Fell, Scott, Haight, Waller, Steiner and Duboce Streets between steep, difficult-to-bike hills.

“The thing about protected bike lanes is you can try them to see how they work,” Brown said.

In what may be a surprising statement for a person co-organizing an advocacy group pushing for protected bike lanes in the name of safety, Brezina disagreed that The Wiggle needs to be safer.

Protected bike lanes are “not the right answer on every street,” he said. “On places with stop signs where traffic is calmed, we don’t need them.”

joe@sfexaminer.com

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