Nonprofit SF bike project, Bike to Work Day gaining momentum 

click to enlarge SF Yellow Bike Project shop coordinator Eric Philips works on a vintage Schwinn 10 speed bicycle at the company's Ellis Street shop - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • SF Yellow Bike Project shop coordinator Eric Philips works on a vintage Schwinn 10 speed bicycle at the company's Ellis Street shop

The San Francisco Yellow Bike project got rolling a few years ago when longtime bicyclists Mary Kay Chin and Nathan Woody followed in the path of the color-coded bike programs of 1960s Amsterdam, where people shared white bikes to get around.

Rather than promoting bike sharing, the Yellow Bike, launched in 2011, is focused on helping The City reach its goal of having 20 percent of all trips made by bicycle by 2020.

"At the moment, we see it as more sharing of knowledge around the bike and less of the actual machine," said Chin, 32. "It's focusing on the educational piece of it and using the bike as the vehicle in order to share that knowledge."

The project has moved from an obscure location to a space at 530 Ellis St. in the Tenderloin that co-founders Chin and Woody feel is more visible and in closer proximity to a population in need of affordable bikes and parts. One of the biggest challenges was finding an affordable site, which Woody, 39, said is funded through private donations and volunteers' work refurbishing bikes.

"We keep the purse strings extremely tight," he said. "And we find ways basically just to come up with the baseline resources that we need month-to-month to get things done."

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m. at the shop, volunteers learn to fix bikes for free or use the space to do work on their own for a small donation. Yellow Bike also sells refurbished bikes from $100 to $250, and last month gave away 20 bikes to needy children.

The nonprofit's growth comes as The City celebrated its 20th annual Bike to Work Day on Thursday, in which 76 percent of trips eastbound on Market Street from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. were on bikes, versus 21 percent by automobiles. The remaining 3 percent was composed of transit and taxis, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

That bike-to-automobile ratio represented a reversal from 1998, when 36 percent of trips were on bikes. The number of people riding on Bike to Work Day has increased 32 percent over the past five years.

Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said the most recent numbers indicate about 3 to 4 percent of trips in San Francisco are by bike, but that The City's 20 percent goal could be within reach with continued efforts from organizations like Yellow Bike.

"I think we're really at a tipping point of the number of people bicycling," Shahum said. "And I'm confident that we will see huge growth in the next five to 10 years."

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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