This is the sixth post in a series chronicling Ma’ayan Dembo’s internship with the San Francisco Bike Coalition, for the Internship Capstone of the Urban Studies major at Stanford University.
Biking in an urban environment can be pleasant and enjoyable—getting much needed outdoor exercise can otherwise prove itself difficult in the concrete jungle. Beyond weaving through streets and passing jammed traffic freely, the blood-circulating physical activity generated through biking releases endorphins and relaxes individuals. In San Francisco especially, sometimes urban biking can present itself as a sweaty, panting ordeal. Truly, the hills of San Francisco present challenges for maneuverability and access. Indeed, bikers can generally handle inclines of less than 6%, but hard-core enthusiasts live for moments of pedaling up 13% grade hills. For avoiding awkward bike-pushing at steep grades, through-routes are often the only solution.
The Wiggle, for example, is the least hilly (ranging from a slight 3%-6% grade level) route to get from Golden Gate Park to Market Street. Built in the late 1990’s, this bike route zig zags through Fell, Scott, Haight, Pierce, Waller, Steiner, and Duboce, making way for many silly mnemonic devices. Featuring cycle tracks, bike sharrows, and appropriately signed wayfinding, the Wiggle is a San Francisco institution that sees hundreds of bikers on a daily basis for commuting and city exploring.
In a project coinciding with the redevelopment of Hunters Point- Bayview, I designed a bike lane proposal for the area. Before I even began the initial research, I first delved into the street grade levels. Using a database from the San Francisco Public Works department, I created a map depicting suitable cycling streets, and streets to be avoided. After coloring in all of the lines, I decided to go for a site visit and explore the area for myself. Needless to say, the map was incredibly helpful for avoiding situations of bike-pushing rather than bike riding. One of my initial observations was the lack of fellow cyclists. I waved to many others riding along Illinois Street, but as soon as I crossed Islias Creek, it seemed the multi-use lanes along 3rd street, Palou Avenue, and Keith St were entirely empty.
How does one encourage biking in an area otherwise disconnected to such a mode of transportation? One method (albeit forceful and ineffective) is to install bike lanes in the hopes that people with use and flock to them. Incredibly inefficient and shortsighted, I am pleased to say this is not the Bicycle Coalition’s approach. Instead, they first implement outreach programs (such as Sunday Streets), teaching people how to ride bicycles, repair bicycles, and make bicycles a means of both transport and economic mobility. Only after residents are effectively exposed to bicycles in these methods, they will have a fuller understanding of their power and enjoy bicycle lanes in their community.