The SFBC Interview: Leslie Katz, SF Board of Supervisors by Leah Shahum

Supervisor Katz rides to City Hall on Bike to Work Day last May. Photo by: Lionel Da Silva/SF MUNI
We sat down with Supervisor Leslie Katz, of the SF Board of Supervisors, last month to discuss her view on how bicycles will fit into San Francisco's transportation future. No one on the Board has introduced as much positive bike legislation which has been implemented successfully. Her achievements on the Board include the Bicycle Transit Enhancement Plan, loosening restrictions to install bike racks on public property, and a police resolution urging better and equal treatment of bicyclists and pedestrians by police officers. Her support has been crucial on key Board votes, including recent Polk and Arguello bike improvements. She is working with the SFBC now on a plan to extend the Seventh Street bike lanes from Townsend to 16th Street.

What role do you think bicycles can play in San Francisco's transportation future?

LK: I think it's critical that we continue to include bicycles in any transit planning. I was delighted to appoint Niko Letunic [longtime SFBC Board member] as my representative on the Citizens Advisory Committee to the new transit authority [MTA] because we can't operate any one system in a vacuum. We have to be sure everyone's needs are being met. The more we can help people use bicycles as a means of transportation, the better off we'll be as a city. We'll keep congestion on our streets down.

As we see the expansion taking place South of Market, it's a natural area for bicycling. Using bikes as transportation is the most logical choice, as well as a healthy one. But we need to make sure the streets are safe.

You authored excellent legislation which mandates bike parking in all garages as well as showers and lockers in new and renovated buildings, among other things. While this has been helpful for some people, compliance is far from 100%. What can be done to better enforce this legislation?

LK: Two weeks ago [as of 2/14/00] I introduced a request for a hearing on the status of implementation of the Bicycle Transit Enhancement Plan. We've had a year to take a look at what is and isn't working, and we can see where we need to beef up enforcement.

I want the Planning Department to conduct a survey of garages to see which are providing the bike parking, and if they're not, why not. And then Planning will take a look at the buildings to make sure they're providing the shower and locker facilities for their employees or the health club memberships.

And then finally, I'm having DPT look at the enforcement of parking in bike lanes, especially during rush hour. It's all well and good to have bike lanes, but if people are parking in them, it makes it worse because bicyclists might have to swerve around the cars. And then I'm asking DPT to report back on the status of the bicyclists' injury hotline.

I've asked the Dept. of Human Resources to make sure we are reimbursing city employees for using bicycles for work.

We have a Transit-First policy on the books, many people contend that we short shrift it. Some others think we overplay it. What is your estimation of Transit-First now and what you hope it will be in the future?

LK: There's certainly been a misconception, which is what I think resulted in polarization. It doesn't mean Transit-Only. It means what it says: Transit-First. We should be supporting better transit options for people, and the more we do that the more likely people will take advantage of it. If we had better public transit, people would be able to rely on it more and we'd reduce the congestion on our streets. So we need to focus our efforts there.

But it does not mean that we say that people cannot ever use their cars. Some people absolutely have to do that. It's really all about balance, and looking at the broader policy implications of what we're doing. The more we support public transit, the better off we'll be as a city. And included in that would be bicycle transit because that achieves the same goal as better traditional public transit. It's getting people out of their cars and reducing blocking on the streets.

I think about New York City. I would never dream of driving a car in Manhattan. I could get anywhere I want much easier and faster by a combination of subways, buses and occasionally a taxi. My goal is to see San Francisco be the same.

We're asking for inclusion of environmental review of bike projects in the Planning Department's budget this year, especially in South of Market. Fifth Street has been waiting for more than a year and a half for environmental review because there's supposedly no funding. How can we encourage this?

LK: Personally I'm tired of the comment that we don't have the money to do it. It seems we can find the money for it. We should be putting our resources in the right place. I'm happy to work with the Planning Department on finding, or getting, additional funds.

What is your vision for South of Market's transportation future?

LK: Certainly vast improvements in transportation down there. We're facing gridlock now, and we need to be able to move people better. You know, it's a combination of improved public transit, which we're working on. We also have to turn to employers, many of whom are running private shuttle services, which, to me, that's wonderful that employers are recognizing the value of public transportation for their employees getting to and from work. Beyond that, bicycle lanes. I think we have to have that. We have to do everything we can to encourage people and make it easy.

How do you envision "selling" the idea to the public and your fellow decision makers that the sacrifice, for lack of a better word, of street space for cars to make more dedicated room for bicycles and public transit is worth it?

LK: You end up sacrificing some space, but you also end up with gains because then you're moving transit, you can get more cars off the street. It's a tradeoff.

One of the things that was most disconcerting to me was when we studied the cars that were parked in the lots South of Market and traced their addresses, nearly 50% were residents of the Sunset and Richmond. That tells me that we have fallen well short of the mark in making it possible for people to get across town [by transit]. So we need to come up with creative options to move people there so that the car won't be their first option. They'll prefer to take the bus. But if you can't count on a good system to get you where you're going, it's impossible.

The SFBC is concerned about all of the parking plans in SOMA. This is going to encourage more people to drive to the area.

LK: Again it goes back to balance. There's going to be some increase in parking because we're bringing more people down there, but it seems to me that the logical extension is to have better bike lanes. Especially if you're moving within the SOMA area. It would be much easier if you could take a bike, and given the more casual attire, it's a lot easier.

There is some fluidity here, and if you have more parking, you better have better bike lanes. To me, that's common sense, that if you get more cars on the street, they're not going to be able to move anywhere so the only way you're going to be able to move anywhere is by other means.

Going back to what you folks can be doing is coming up with creative solutions. And that's what's been, I think, the strength of the Bicycle Coalition, is coming forward with ideas.