Thursday is Bike to Work Day, and thousands of people throughout the Bay Area will be pedaling to their jobs. Those of us who have discovered the ease and convenience of biking have plenty of reasons to celebrate: more bike lanes throughout The City, secure bike parking at our workplaces and huge growth in ridership citywide. But even if you never get on a bike, there are real reasons to cheer that record numbers of people are biking in San Francisco.
As the number of people bicycling grows — by 71 percent in San Francisco in just the past five years — the benefits extend far beyond those of us who bike. In fact, the impact of more people biking for transportation in dense, costly cities such as ours may be greatest for those who do not ride.
Here are just a few ways that more and busier bikeways crisscrossing our city benefit all citizens of San Francisco:
- More butts on bikes means more space on transit, particularly precious during the busy commute hours. Busy new bikeways on Fell and Oak streets will directly lighten the load on the ever-crowded transit lines connecting the Sunset, Richmond, Western Addition and other neighborhoods with downtown. Same for the popular Valencia Street bike lanes, which save seats for those who depend on the 14-Mission, J-Church or other nearby lines. And it’s hard to imagine the thousands of people biking on Market Street every day trying to squeeze onto our busy transit system.
- Every bike on the road opens up a parking space. When you need a car, every person bicycling means less competition for limited parking spaces. So there’s reason to cheer as employers make more space for bike parking, as well as at BART and Caltrain stations and on-street bike parking corrals in busy commercial districts.
- Better biking fosters a more affordable and more family-friendly San Francisco. While people from across the economic spectrum are enjoying the benefits of bicycling, certain communities gain the most from the significant cost savings. On average, people who bike save $700 a month compared to those who drive, according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking 2012 Benchmarking Report. Consider this impact on a family who is able to depend on a transit-bicycling combination or to cut back from being a two- to a one-car family, thus saving enough to better afford San Francisco’s housing costs. Or consider low-wage workers whose savings by bicycling can have disproportionate benefits as every dollar counts, not to mention that two wheels are flexible enough to fit any nontraditional work schedule.
- Biking boosts city businesses — small and big. We know that San Francisco’s vibrant commercial corridors are boosted by more people biking, walking and taking transit, as surveys show in places like Columbus Avenue, and recently on Polk Street, where 80 percent of visitors arrive by means other than driving and spend more, on average, than drivers. And a growing number of big businesses are investing in bike parking for employees and visitors as they recognize how much cheaper and space-efficient these options are.
So whether you’re pedaling with us in the bike lanes tomorrow, or you see us while driving, taking Muni or walking, we hope you also celebrate Bike to Work Day! Because more people biking means a cleaner, healthier, more vibrant and more affordable San Francisco. That’s something I think we can all cheer, or ring our bike bells, about.
Leah Shahum is the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.