Seniors and Bicyclists: Together in Our Differences by Bob Planthold, Co-Chair, Pedestrian Safety Committee, Senior Action Network

As part of the SFBC's ongoing efforts to work more closely with other communities, we're pleased to collaborate on a number of projects with the Senior Action Network (SAN), a major force in the city. In late September we co-sponsored a rally on Fell Street with bicyclists, pedestrians, and seniors to demand bike lanes between Scott and Baker, longer pedestrian crossing times, and enforcement of the no-parking on the sidewalk law. The following article by a SAN member is part of this collaborative effort - SAN will run a similar article, written from a bicyclist's perspective, in an upcoming issue of their newsletter.

Senior Action Network (SAN) has been around since 1990 and for most of that time has been advocating for pedestrian safety throughout all parts of San Francisco. We began to focus our attention on this problem when we became aware of how many seniors, especially in the South of Market area, were killed or seriously injured by cars violating a pedestrian's right of way.

To put the issue in context, it may be helpful to mention some of the special characteristics of seniors. Seniors are very much the transmitters, if not teachers, of our various cultures' heritages. Seniors let us know where we have come from - and therefore how much our societies have changed since their earliest memories. For example, for those born before or during the worldwide Depression of the 1930s, few had - or had to contend with - cars. Memories of a past that was calmer and gentler may remind us of what we have lost - and therefore about what we should strive to regain.

In coping with the currently dangerous streets of San Francisco, seniors have been forced to adhere to their earliest training on street safety: Stop! Look! Listen! Yet, seniors' vision and hearing aren't always what they used to be. This can often be said of their level of agility (i.e., ability to quickly dodge out of the way) and ability to heal, as well. Along with some decline in these physical abilities, there can be an uncertainty, from one day to the next, about how well and fully one can function throughout the day.

How does all this help bicyclists better relate to seniors? Think about the unobtrusiveness of bicycling. Bicycles have no engine noise, no squealing brakes, no blaring horns, and no bright lights. A blessing for many. What if, however, one has diminished vision and/or hearing or is stiff-gaited - as from arthritis or osteoporosis? Then it's all the harder to detect, and then dodge, such a quiet vehicle. It's even worse, especially for seniors, when any vehicle - car, motorcycle, or bicycle - is on the sidewalk. No one expects illegal vehicular use of the sidewalks, whether for parking or passage.

Seniors, by reason of lessened agility and greater fragility, may not react as quickly as a motorist or cyclist. From such a perilous contact, hurt feelings may be the best each party can come away with. Awareness that sidewalks and crosswalks are only for pedestrians and that roadways are for vehicles - including bicycles - can help everyone's safety.

Through SAN, and now the SFBC, San Francisco's seniors are learning that bicyclists are both beneficial and necessary for our city to regain its earlier charm. Our two organizations and constituencies are cooperating in joint demonstrations, while continuing to educate each other. We'll need to be aware that we may have preconceptions or bad experiences, even while growing to respect and then trust each other. As we grow together as an educational and then political force, we can improve how this city responds to our needs and later how it redefines "traffic" to include all vehicles and all pedestrians.

Contact SAN at: info@senioractionnetwork.org.