The Cycling Clydesdale
The City That Thinks It Knows How
I was born and raised in San Francisco. I still live there. Not many San Franciscans these days can make that claim. Many have departed for the Peninsula or have taken their belongings over the Golden Gate Bridge for the confines of beautiful Marin County. Still, others have left the City via our other not so famous bridge and have settled in the East Bay. Me? I left for a bit, but now free of marriage obligations, chose to come back to the City that knows how. Or perhaps better stated, tries to know how. Because as much as San Francisco touts itself as the City that can do all, it really can’t. Now, don’t tell the touter’s that, because then they will be out of a touting job. After all, it’s their job to make us believe that San Francisco is the end all to do all. That may be true for people who rent their homes and apartments in San Francisco (landlords don’t stand a chance!), but it certainly isn’t true for individuals who sling their legs over a top tube and pedal the streets of San Francisco each day.
As usual with any changes that are recommended for the good citizens of my fair city, the act may begin innocently enough, but give it enough time and it will assuredly arrive on the steps of the local courthouse. A proposal to add bike lanes to some of San Francisco busiest thoroughfares and heavily commuted streets has been languishing in the court system for years. Why? Because one individual…one, mind you…brought suit against the City because he believed that adding bicycle lanes would do damage to the environment of San Francisco. So here we sit, waiting for the case to appear before a judge. I’m still trying to determine how adding bike lanes can environmentally hurt a city, but then again, I’m simply a tax paying citizen, not a highly appointed official who gets paid to figure these things out, as well as tout.
For years, Boston was voted one of the worst cycling cities in the country. I guess we can thank our lucky stars Paul Revere rode a horse that night, huh? Last year, it was actually voted as one of the “5 cities for the future” based on the fact that Boston Mayor Thomas Menino had taken up cycling and had hired Nicole Freedman, an ex Olympic cyclist and urban planner, to lead the Boston Bike initiative. Nice start, eh? Can you imagine San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom planting a bicycle helmet on his highly gelled head? Neither can I, but obviously Menino is serious about biking in Boston. In the past year, while San Francisco has taken its cycling lanes to court, Boston has taken its cycling lanes to the streets and added 20 miles of bike infrastructure. They have also added 250 bike racks and printed over 40,000 bike maps. Boston Bike Friday is held once a month, where ride leaders lead groups of commuters to City Hall to receive a free bike safety check and a snack before heading to work. In San Francisco, we get to see the politicians once a year stand on the steps of City Hall extolling the virtues of Bike to Work day, all the while wondering if those of us who do ride to work are going to survive another day on the streets of San Francisco.
I rode tonight on the streets of Fresno, the center of the agricultural world in California’s central valley and the home of the Fresno Grizzlies, the San Francisco Giants AAA affiliate. That really has nothing to do with this article, but I just happen to be a huge Giants fan. Now, imagine this: you go out for a 17 mile ride around the city in the middle of commute time and not one…not one…car attempts to cut you off, honks their horn at you, has someone from the passenger seat scream at you or throw their garbage at you. Not one. How about this: the drivers actually pull out to the left a bit to ensure they pass you safely, actually let you pass straight through before they turn right, say hi to you from the passenger side as they pass and you can even receive humorous comments from individuals walking on the sidewalk (You sure are working that bike hard, honey). What is truly interesting, is that this route actually is ridden on very busy, 6 lane roads. The difference, however, between Fresno and San Francisco is that Fresno has enough room on the right side shoulder to allow a cyclist to ride and not impede traffic, so no one has to get upset because I’m not blocking a lane as I ride my bike. Try riding 17 miles in San Francisco and see how bicycle friendly the local drivers are.
I’m lucky in that I get to travel a bit, although most people would say that Fresno and Visalia is not considered traveling. And in those travels, I get to bring my bike. It’s a great release for what ails me after a long day of meetings and in Fresno, during the summer, you can always ride simply with a jersey late into the night. It’s nice. It’s refreshing. It’s different. It’s what bike riding should be like in San Francisco.