By Jim Welte
Avid cyclist and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu is committed to putting San Francisco back on the map as a leading bike-friendly city.
A Busy Schedule, Made Easier with a Bike
David Chiu is a man in need of a clone. The president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has as many as 20 commitments a day. But one advantage he has is his bicycling: the 40-year-old Boston native considers it his primary mode of transport, darting between City Hall and his district, from Fisherman’s Wharf and the Financial District to Russian Hill and North Beach.
“I’ve always enjoyed riding since I was a kid, my whole family did,” he says. “When I was in elementary school, I loved exploring the world on a bike. It was faster and just a lot more fun.”
Bicycling is still a practical transportation choice for Chiu. “I often challenge my friends to get from point A to point B more quickly than I can on my bike,” Chiu says. “And it’s easier to park! And frankly, given the pace of my job, it’s a way for me to get a little exercise in the middle of the day and just to breathe.”
Chiu says his personal experience bicycling in the city gives him a solid perspective on the road ahead for San Francisco. Whether it’s his support for car-free Sunday Streets events, the transportation trials on Market Street or the city’s Bike Plan, Chiu stands behind programs and improvements that are helping more people choose bicycling as a form of transportation. His selection as the keynote speaker for tomorrow evening’s Golden Wheel Awards at the War Memorial Building is evidence of the respect he receives from those who are encouraging more people to bicycle in San Francisco.
In discussing the future of our city’s bicycling-related improvements, Chiu says it’s important to remember what it was like here just 10 years ago for cyclists.
“When I first started riding in SF, it was often scary,” he says. “Ten to 12 years ago, I don’t think cars were as used to riders. It was often a bit lonelier than it is today as a cyclist. Thanks to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the biking movement, we have a lot more folks bicycling. That makes it safer and more interesting for everybody.”
The Economic Development Strategy of Encouraging Bike Use
Chiu’s district, which is the densest in San Francisco and also has the highest walking and Muni ridership in the city, serves as a template for the Better Market Street trials, and Chiu says that experimentation should continue. Making streets more attractive to people walking, bicycling and on transit could spur local commerce, he says.
“If you look at most major cities around the world, there are places in the hearts of their downtowns where because there are no cars in a certain area, you have an enormous density of crowds,” Chiu says. “People come to build community and that leads to tremendous boons to local merchant corridors and the commerce and life and vitality of the city.”
A Legislative Agenda for a Healthier, Greener City
Chiu is optimistic that San Francisco can continue making improvements towards sustainable transit, making up for lost time in the process. But he remains pragmatic, and knows that the massive budget deficit facing both the Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA) and the city as a whole won’t help. His joint effort last year with Newsom to place a bond on the ballot to pay for repairs on the city’s notoriously pothole-ridden roads didn’t garner enough support from the rest of the board, and the city’s decrepit roads remains the biggest complaint to City Hall from drivers and cyclists.
“We are extremely underfunding maintenance for our roads, which hurts drivers and cyclists and anyone else who uses the roads,” he says. “We have to find more creative ways to pay for road repairs.”
Still, the bicycle community’s voice for safer streets has been heard loud and clear, Chiu says.
“In recent years, the Board of Supervisors has really finally developed good consensus to support the need for multiple modes of transit, particularly around biking,” says Chiu, citing the Market Street trials and Sunday Streets events as examples of how the city is embracing bicycling. “The fact that there is a lot of willingness to try things, which I find really heartening.”
Chiu acknowledges that the three-year injunction that prevented San Francisco from implementing any physical improvements for bicycles since June 2006 has held our city back. During that time, cities across the U.S. have raced to adopt more bicycle-friendly street improvements, including Portland, New York City, and Boston, where Chiu grew up.
“We think of ourselves as being on the forefront of many movements around the world, but we are not at all on the cutting edge in the world of folks who ride bikes,” he says. “San Francisco is not in the lead in that area and we’ve got a long ways to go. There are many streets in San Francisco that I bike on where I can’t wait to see the new bike lane come in. It would be safer and more enjoyable for everybody.”
He points to the newly separated bike lane on Market Street between 8th Street and Octavia Boulevard as an example of how improvements can help make roads safer and create a peaceful coexistence between people riding bicycles and those driving cars.
“Having more markers on the road to make it safer for both car drivers and cyclist is good for everybody,” he says.
Stats on Supervisor David Chiu
Bicycle: Trek E-Bike
Years in San Francisco: 14
Originally from: Boston, Massachusetts
Elected to the Board: November 2008
Elected Board President: January 2009
Representing: District 3
Education: Harvard University (undergrad, law & master’s)