The future of transportation choices in San Francisco needs to begin today with infrastructure and planning decisions, and The City is on the right track in many ways toward implementing more sustainable modes of getting around.
The most recent acknowledgment of this is the push to increase the amount of bicycle parking inside and outside of new residential buildings and those that undergo major renovations. Under the new rules, The City would require many new developments to have one bike parking space for each unit, an increase from the current requirement of one spot for every two units.
A city planner said during a recent hearing about the legislation that the lack of bike parking discourages cycling. Certainly few people want to ride their bikes to an area where there is no secure place to park.
And while the idea of increasing bike parking is a positive step toward equalizing modes of transit in The City, more needs to be done to keep the momentum moving toward sustainability.
City streets, especially in the downtown core, are overwhelmingly geared toward cars. On Market Street and other transit-heavy corridors, single-passenger automobiles even blatantly use transit-only lanes, slowing Muni buses and trains that are carrying loads of people. Looking at the majority of streets in San Francisco, it becomes clear: They were built for cars and everything else mostly just tries to fit in.
But changing the infrastructure of the streets to be people-oriented is difficult, laborious and expensive. There are low-cost alternatives, such as painting bike-only lanes, but many of these projects are not fully inclusive to allow cars, transit, bicycles and pedestrians to share the space equally.
The idea of more equality between modes of transit is not an only-in-San-Francisco idea. Cities that include Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, British Columbia, already have implemented bike-parking requirements that put the safe storage of bikes on equal footing with cars. And even in car-dominated Miami, a new 352-unit condo building downtown made headlines with a Miami Herald feature about what it lacked: parking. One of the building's selling points was its pedestrian-friendly nature.
Not every project in The City will be entirely pedestrian-oriented. A commute even from the west side of San Francisco to downtown requires an alternative to bipedal transit. The bike parking legislation shows that there cannot just be a push toward a mode of transit — there needs to be the infrastructure in place. The days of a few cyclists finding poles to which they can chain their bikes is over.
The same idea now needs to be explored with Muni and for pedestrian travel. More people cannot flood onto The City's transit system unless there are systemic improvements made, many of which will require either creative solutions or new funding. And throngs of pedestrians cannot be packed onto the crowded sidewalks downtown. The dysfunctional systems for cyclists, pedestrians and transit users must be upgraded so they won't continue to discourage use.