Why Should We Care About Biking Beyond SF? By Greg Howard

(TOP PHOTO) Increased development density along Oakland's East 14th Street would better support transit. (BOTTOM) A few changes to East 14th Street would make a world of difference. As depicted in this photo illustration, a moderate increase in density along with bicycle and pedestrian amenities and safety improvements, would bring new life to the neighborhood, support increased transit, and be more conducive to walking and cycling. Photos by UrbanAdvantage
Sometimes bike activists spend so much time focusing on our own local projects that it's easy to forget that there's a whole big world out there, a world which also desperately needs bike improvements. Should we be thinking on bigger scale? How can we promote bicycling in the Bay Area as a whole? I asked these questions of Stuart Cohen, the Executive Director of the Transportation Choices Forum and the Chair of the Bay Area Transportation and Land Use Coalition (BATLUC). Stuart was a co-founder of the Bicycle-Friendly Berkeley Coalition, and a recipient of the SFBC's Golden Wheel Award in 1999 for his inspiring work.

Tube Times: Why should local bike activists be concerned about regional transportation issues?

Stuart Cohen: Many cyclists, of course, like to occasionally transcend the boundaries of San Francisco, and biking often gets much worse as soon as you leave SF. So it's partly just for the selfish reason of being able to head up on safe bike paths throughout Marin County, or on the proposed but unfunded bike freeway from the Golden Gate Bridge up to the Sonoma line. And we can only get funding for those if we can direct more money from MTC, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, towards bicycle projects.

Another reason is that as a lot of funding continues to go into roads and expanding highways it simply promotes more auto-dependent growth, more sprawl, and that's a large reason for the increase in traffic on urban roads. When these folks come into the city, it's really difficult for them to access transit. They already have to get in their car for the first leg of the trip, and they just stay in it. And that means more death machines trying to run down cyclists on the streets of San Francisco.

TT: Where will this funding come from?

SC: Most of the funding for new bicycle improvements is going to come by hounding MTC, as well as state legislators and the governor. Some of the improvements are cheap, like striping bike lanes, but if we want to get really classic improvements, if we want bikes on all the bridges, if we want to have the Bay Trail, we're going to need hundreds of millions of dollars. We've got to unite, not just locally, but regionally, to win that money.

TT: BATLUC recently published World Class Transit, a regional transportation proposal. What's the vision, and how do bikes and pedestrians fit in?

SC: World Class Transit basically looks to maximizing our mobility without cars by spending transit dollars so effectively that we would have convenient, affordable, and fast transit service all over the Bay Area. Instead of focusing on expensive BART extensions, we propose using and greatly upgrading over 300 miles of commuter rail already in service. For example, we'd more than double the frequency of Caltrain, and add express trains that would take 45 minutes to San Jose. And when you got there, or wherever you went in the Bay Area, you'd have this incredible web of buses, with bike racks, to take you around.

Some cyclists feel like they can't partake in some event without capitulating to the fossil fuel industry and getting a car. By expanding transit options, we can partake in everything the Bay Area has to offer by combining bikes and transit. I really think that a world-class transit system is a piece of a world-class bicycle system.

TT: World Class Transit advocates giving pedestrians and cyclists priority over cars, but we're competing for space with traffic lanes. How can we do that?

SC: I think it's replicating what has happened on Valencia Street as much as possible. But it has to be a process, like on Valencia St., of proving it can work. That's why the SFBC's work in documenting the increase in ridership, as well as the fact that traffic is still able to flow, is the kind of evidence that will be used to turn more and more streets in really bicycle-friendly streets. It's going to be a long process, in San Francisco, but it still is truly amazing how far SFBC has taken it in just a few years.

For more information on BATLUC and World Class Transit, see www.transcoalition.org.