By Jodie Van Horn
Pride Month Profile: Renée Rivera
Renée Rivera grew up in San Francisco. At the age of five, she learned to ride a purple bike with a yellow banana seat in the UCSF student housing parking lot, where she lived with her mother. There, a bike advocate was born.
Renée is currently the acting Executive Director of San Francisco Bicycle Coalition through December while long-time Executive Director Leah Shahum is out on sabbatical. And there will be plenty to do while she’s got the reins of the largest local bike advocacy group in the nation. With the Bike Plan Injunction’s final court hearing this month and its likely removal this summer, the City of San Francisco is ramping up to once again improve streets and catch up with a four-year backlog and widespread demand for amenities like bike lanes and bike racks.
Growing up in the Bay Area, Renée never needed to own a car. She biked to school, then to work. And as a queer teenager, she says she never felt a moment of oppression over her sexual orientation, even when she attended prom with another girl. Where she did often feel like a second-class citizen, however, was riding her bicycle on San Francisco streets.
In the 80’s, she explains, there just weren’t as many people biking on the streets, there were virtually no bike lanes and there wasn’t today’s understanding of how to safely share the road. And where other queer people may have chosen to fight homophobia and advocate for gay rights, Renée was immediately drawn to making the city better for people who wanted to bike.
In the mid-1990’s, she joined of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and later became an active member of their Board of Directors working on projects like the Polk Street bike lanes and leading cultural history tours of San Francisco by bike. After nearly a decade as a member, she can confidently say that the work of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the investments that the city has made to streets are paying off. San Francisco has seen a 53% increase in the number of people bicycling in just the past few years alone and with dozens of projects planned for streets all across San Francisco, we’re on the cusp of seeing another huge surge in people bicycling.
“I love riding my bike in San Francisco, it’s a great way to connect with the city,” says Renée. “Today, San Francisco is a really friendly city for biking and it’s so great to see so the diversity of people biking today from people wearing suits and dresses to mothers and fathers biking with their kids.”
So with the San Francisco Pride celebration coming up at the end of June, Renée and the Bicycle Coalition have the LGBTQ community in mind. For the past two years, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has organized a contingent and for this year’s 40th Anniversary of the Pride Parade they are planning their biggest contingent yet. The week before the parade, there will be a Meet N’ Mingle at Duboce Park Cafe on Monday, June 21, from 5-8pm as a fundraiser for their Great Streets Project which is spurring Market Street improvements. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has the support of Mayor Newsom and is encouraging the City to expand the fully-separated bikeway on Market to go all the way to the Embarcadero and test out other great ideas that will make this street a vibrant place to walk, shop and take transit. The Mingle will be a great place to meet other LGBTQ folks and learn more about what is in the works for San Francisco’s main street and the path of the most festive parade of the year.
Beyond the month of June and the Pride celebrations, Renée’s focus will be on ushering in an explosion of post-injunction bike projects on San Francisco streets. The fully-separated and green bike lanes on Market Street and on-street bike parking on busy commercial streets, like Valencia Street, are examples of what we could start to see on more streets throughout the city. These amenities will make San Francisco easier for biking and shopping. Renée believes that San Francisco will very quickly become an even better place to ride a bike.
In fact, Renée along with the staff of the Bicycle Coalition and its 11,000 members want to transform San Francisco into a world-class city for biking by prioritizing projects and adding innovations like a fully-separated bikeway the length of Lower Market Street and creating bikeway connections all across San Francisco. Renée hopes to make San Francisco bikeable for everyone — from your 8-year-old niece to your 80-year old grandmother visiting from Florida.
And if she and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition succeeds, there may be more city kids that grow up to be like Renée. “I want to make San Francisco a place where kids can ride their bikes to and from school,” she tells me. “That’s the San Francisco I want to live in.”