Bike to Wherever Day 2021 — What We’ve Done and What We’re Going to Do Next
One of the most important questions we have to answer as we finally start to put the pandemic behind us is how we’re going to bring our city’s transportation system back to life. Muni service is building back from over a year of reduced service, and as people return to work and start to once again enjoy everything that San Francisco has to offer, they need safe, easy ways to get around town.
While we must accommodate all modes of transportation, the answer cannot just be cars. We saw the crushing gridlock that existed before the pandemic when our economy was roaring. It was inefficient, it was bad for the environment, and it was not sustainable. The future of our city depends on a reliable, consistent public transportation network, walkable neighborhoods, and roads that are designed to protect people walking and getting around by bike or similar forms of transportation.
The good news is that the investments we’ve made before and during the pandemic have already made our city a safer, more welcoming place to get around by bike. As we saw in the last year, many people took up biking as a way to get exercise, visit their favorite neighborhood restaurants and retail, and get to work. As we return to a new state of normalcy, we’re going to see more people walking, biking, and taking transit. We need to continue building on this progress for years to come.
What We’ve Accomplished and How We Made it Happen
We knew this before the pandemic, which is why we set and met ambitious targets to make our streets safer. On Bike to Work Day in 2019, I set an ambitious goal of adding 20 new miles of protected bike lanes to our streets over the next two years, and I’m proud to announce that we exceeded that goal and created 20.3 new miles of protected lanes. We doubled the total number of protected lanes in the City, and we’ve increased the total amount of bike lanes in San Francisco by more than 400% since 2016, making San Francisco a national leader in creating a protected bike lane network. In the South of Market neighborhood we now have a completed network of protected bike lanes that connects not only the neighborhood, but also major transit centers to the places that people live and work. Impressively, despite the challenges and competing demands posed by COVID, we maintained this rapid pace of progress throughout the pandemic.
None of this would have been possible if we had not reformed the way that projects are designed, approved, and built. In 2019 we introduced and passed the Quick Build policy, which allowed the SFMTA to make safety improvements as pilot projects, without having to go through the normal, exhaustive approval process that takes years and is incredibly costly. The old process was slow and often resulted in projects being scaled back to the point where they were no longer effective. In short, we got rid of the bureaucracy that was standing in the way of efforts to improve traffic safety and save lives.
To date, 19 Quick Build projects have been completed, five are under construction, and another eight are in the planning and design phase. The evidence of the success of these projects is clear. We could not have made a fraction of the progress that is evident on this map were it not for the Quick Build policy.
Making San Francisco a world-class city for bikers and pedestrians will require us to continue building on the progress we’ve made by installing more protected bike lanes. But we also need to do more to make biking safer, more practical, and easier for residents and commuters. We need to upgrade bike lanes that are currently considered “protected” but lack sufficient protection, we need to install more bike racks and places for people to leave their bikes, and we need to take some of the emergency changes that we made during the pandemic and make them permanent, or use the feedback we’ve received to make them better.
If we want people to travel by bike, we need to make sure that we have places for them to leave their bikes when they get to their destination. Over the next two years, SFMTA is going to install over 2,000 new bike racks in neighborhood commercial districts.
It’s no secret, however, that bike thefts in San Francisco happen, and they can be devastating for the person who loses their bike. The same way that private garages and other parking lots provide secured parking for cars, we should be providing secured parking for bikes.
I’m excited to announce that in the next year we’ll be launching the first two secured bike parking pods in SoMa. These will be free to use, and we’ll use them to iron out any potential issues before expanding the program.
While we’ve had great success with the Quick Build changes throughout the City, we also need to keep investing in the longer-term, substantial projects to overhaul a number of streets in our City. One of the most important is the Folsom Streetscape project in SoMa, which will begin construction in the next 12 months, and complete construction in the next three years. This project will provide a world-class two-way protected bike lane through the heart of downtown, and provide new pedestrian space and green space that SoMa has lacked for too long.
At the same time, we’re not going to slow down on the Quick Build programs to take more immediate action on streets that remain too dangerous. Every year, we’re going to deliver at least 10 new Quick Build projects to address pedestrian and bicycle safety on the streets with the highest instances of injury. At least 60% of these will be located in historically underserved communities, with a particular focus on the Tenderloin and the Bayview, which have disproportionately high instances of traffic injuries and deaths.
The Slow Streets program that we rolled out in response to the pandemic has transformed a number of streets throughout San Francisco by providing a safer space for pedestrians, children, and families to get outside and have fun. A number of these streets have been well-received by the surrounding neighborhood, who have expressed their support for continuing them even after the pandemic. And if we’re being honest, a number of them also just haven’t worked as intended, whether that was because they just didn’t get enough use, the infrastructure was insufficient to prevent drivers from ignoring the signs, or they just weren’t the right locations.
We should take what worked and build upon it. Some Slow Streets will continue on permanently, while others will be allowed to sunset as the pandemic wanes. Informing these decisions, SFMTA has collected data, conducted surveys and held meetings, and the results of this outreach and data collection, which continues today, will guide our future decisions.
We’re entering a new era in San Francisco as we finally start to put this pandemic behind us. This last year has shown us that when we move quickly and refuse to let the normal bureaucratic process delay and freeze improvements to our city, we can make positive changes faster than we ever thought imaginable.
So let’s not go back to the way things were. Let’s continue to make our streets safer for everyone who uses them. Let’s bring our transit system back on line and back to the level of service needed to serve a world-class City that is the economic engine of the Bay Area. And let’s design our city so that biking is safe and welcoming for everyone in our city, whether you’re eight years old or eighty years old.