Transportation Dollars for Bikes: Money Well Spent by Dave Snyder, SFBC Executive Director

I got two calls in September from bicycling supporters of transit, concerned about the SFBC's support for converting a former rail tunnel under Fort Mason into a bicycle and pedestrian passageway.

They said that the tunnel is more important to transit than it is to bikes, and that they were concerned that if it were open to bikes first, then people would start to feel entitled and it would be difficult to convert it back to transit when the E-line finally extends to the Presidio.

I assured them that the SFBC would agree to open the tunnel to bicyclists and pedestrians on a temporary basis with the understanding that when the trains are ready to go, the Bike Coalition will support restoring the tunnel to transit use after a study looks at the possibility that both bikes and trains can be accommodated. I agreed that the opportunity to extend Muni light rail to the Presidio was exciting and more important than a tunnel for bikers and peds, who can go around the tunnel.

The conversations got me thinking about the relative importance of bicycling improvements and transit improvements, and I told the second caller, "Look, the SFBC supports transit, always. And we'll support transit over bikes through this tunnel because that makes sense. But in terms of priorities for spending public dollars right now to plan and build transportation improvements, bicycling should be the highest priority."

Think about it. An immediate, one-time investment of $50 million would fund the planning and construction of a world-class public bicycling system, with specially colored, freshly paved pathways connecting every neighborhood (including the purchase of right of way in several places where that's necessary to complete a link in the network), staffed bicycle parking at every major transit station, even safety education classes and free helmets for everybody who wants them. Such a system would serve about 100,000 people, increasing the share of trips by bicycles by 8% (from 4% to 12%).

That same $50 million spent on transit buys about 16 light rail vehicles, drivers not included, increasing the share of trips by transit by 1%, if you're lucky.

In other words, the bang for the public buck is much greater when spent on bicycling improvements than on any other transportation improvement, even transit. Considering that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is putting together a plan to spend close to $90 billion in the Bay Area over the next 25 years, just getting less than 1/4 of 1% of that for bikes in San Francisco, and getting it now, is not too much to ask.