I recently spent a sunny Wednesday cruising through the city on a Public Bike alongside a great San Francisco native on a bike tour facilitated by Streets of San Francisco (SoSF) – which is not anywhere near a normal activity for me. My brother is an avid mountain biker who has taken me and many friends out on trails in the past. I was teased for “hiking and biking”. I hate biking downhill because I always feel I’m going to flip over and so I get off the bike and walk down any type of declining slope. He would take the lead and I would eventually take up the end spot of the group. I was always given a walkie-talkie before setting out with my brother having the other. He would radio me to see where I was, bike back and give me the route and then take the lead again. After a while, I wasn’t invited out for obvious reasons and my mountain bike now is collecting dust in the back of my closet. So I really didn’t know how well I would do on a bike tour given my wobbly nature on wheels and I was dreading biking down hills in San Francisco.
I was the only local alongside two couples from Florida, one being a newlywed couple, and a mom and her two kids from Philadelphia taking the tour that day. SoSF operates both bike tours and bike rentals out of a pop-up by the park in Hayes Valley. Josh, our tour guide, guided us through SF neighborhoods and also the layers of time and changes that has made San Francisco grow into the eclectic city that it is. The SoSF bike tour was so refreshing because it felt so local and incredibly safe! Josh was fantastic at balancing the safety of biking in San Francisco with historical and local knowledge of where we were. It was like going on a bike ride with my brother, knowing that even though I was wobbly that I was in very good hands. It also tested my fears about biking in San Francisco for the better.
The routes we took throughout the city were mostly flat and really accessible with easy to ride bike lanes. I was also truly amazed how much better the biking lanes have become in this city over the last year. Josh pointed out that regular biking has risen 71% in the last year alone. Before taking the tour, I had tried commuting to work on the Wiggle and became daunted by the poorly marked route; yet, after this tour I would actually try it again. With the great new signage for bikes and cars like the sharrows and getting a handle on biking safely, it wasn’t at all daunting on the tour. The goal of the co-founders of the company is making people fall in love with biking again and do it more often which also supports the biking initiative of San Francisco to reduce carbon emissions by encouraging bike commuting.
According to the 2011 San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) San Francisco Bicycle Count Report, “Cities with the most bike trips have done incredible work to provide bike paths, boulevards, parking and bike-friendly policies, while discouraging automobile use for short trips”. In taking on measures like these since 2009, biking in San Francisco has started to climb. In 2011, 3.5% of trips in the city were made by bicycling, which is up from the 2% in 2000. However, San Francisco has a ways to go to catch up with the top bike commuting cities in the United States. Davis tops the list at 22% and proudly houses the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame. Several other California cities have made the list with Berkeley at 8% and both Santa Barbara and Chico with 6%. I wouldn’t be surprised though if San Francisco soon makes the top ten list. With the emphasis on sustainability and better signage as well as lanes, education and outreach being done by the city and organizations like SoSF giving people like me their biking legs again, it looks like we are headed down the route to becoming a truly bike-friendly city.