Friday, April 5, 2013

Q&A: Green Lane Project Explains Why Bikes Are Actually Good for Business

Posted By on Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 9:46 AM

click to enlarge SanFrancycle_thumb_500x107_thumb_550x117_thumb_550x117_thumb_550x117_thumb_550x117_thumb_550x117_thumb_550x117_thumb_550x11.jpg

No matter the grade of the street, getting a separated bike lane installed anywhere in San Francisco is always an uphill battle.

On Polk, local businesses have stalled an MTA proposal that hinted at the possibility of a cycle track, decrying the plan's removal of parking as an attack on the economic vibrancy of the neighborhood. Over in the Panhandle, the vision of twin lanes on either side of the DMV building funneling cyclists safely between the Wiggle and the park remains glaringly unfulfilled as the Oak project is delayed yet again. And all along Market Street, where the Bicycle Coalition has been pushing for separated lanes from Octavia to Embarcadero for years, well, why would you want to bike much farther than 8th Street, anyway?

Fortunately for local bike lane backers, Martha Roskowski is on the case. As the director of the Green Lane Project, Roskowski is leading a two-year effort to help six cities that are "national leaders" (that includes San Francisco) to get an Amsterdam-grade system of separated bike lanes on the ground as quickly as possible.

In celebration of the project's first birthday -- and to get Roskowski's thoughts on the future of cycling in the city -- I spoke to her via phone at her Denver office this week.

SF Weekly: There are so many ways that a city can be made safer or more comfortable for cyclists. Why such a specific focus on separated bike lanes?

Martha Roskowski: We focus on protected bike lanes because they're totally transformative. They're one of the best ways to quickly and dramatically change how biking actually works in a city.

Right now, in most cities, the places where people can ride safely are broken up. In quiet, residential neighborhoods, you might find a lot of streets where bikes and cars coexist without too much trouble. But then those streets intersect with a big, busy boulevard and that can be pretty hostile for the average person riding a bike. Obviously, people need to be able make the connections from one neighborhood to the next, and so separated lanes help people make those connections.

SFW: Some might argue that what we have in San Francisco is enough. To get from the Mission to SOMA, there's a painted bike lane on Folsom, and getting from Castro to Nopa, you can take the Wiggle. So what's the local problem?

MR: There are cyclists in every city that are completely comfortable with the status quo, but they make up a very small minority. The main reason that more people don't ride bikes in our cities is that they don't feel safe doing so. Up until recently, the standard practice (at most) has been to stripe a single bike lane and call it a day. A lot of people just don't feel comfortable with that. When you add a bike lane with that additional level of protection or separation, it changes how people feel. It also sends a clearer signal to drivers where everyone is supposed to be. As a result, you get more people on bikes.

SFW: In other words, "if you build it, they will ride."

MR: Something like that. Look, assuming San Francisco is interested in getting more people on bikes -- and I think you should be, for all kinds of reasons -- that means changing how the streets work. That means, taking a look at the existing street system and asking, "can we carve out some safe space for people on bikes?"

SFW: But that can be a zero-sum game. Put in a bike path for a cyclist and you have to take away some driver's lane or parking space.

MR: Streets are public space. For decades, we have ceded that public space almost exclusively to cars, but now I think we're starting to rethink that arrangement. Streets are not just seen as a place for cars, anymore, but more broadly, as a place for the movement of people. Where it gets most difficult, of course, is where parking is involved. People get hysterical about parking.

SFW: You're talking about Polk Street.

MR: The SFMTA has done research that shows 85 percent of the people showing up on Polk are coming by means other than cars. And yet, there's this part of the American psyche that equates driving and parking with customers and business. There's this idea that if people can't come by car easily, they're just not going to come.

That's what's going on over on Polk Street. And of course, it really is a challenging time to be running a small business, so when the city comes along and says, "we're going to change how this entire street works," there's an immediate reaction that's like, "oh my God, this is going to make things even worse!" But really, that's an emotional argument. And it is difficult to address emotional concerns with data.

SFW: But you're going to try. Gathering data on these types of issues is part of the Green Lane Project's purpose.

MR: The data out there does consistently back up our side of the argument, but to be fair, there's not really a robust history of research on the impact of these facilities. That's because, at least in North America, they're quite new. That's why we're working with Portland State University to do a research project that's going to gather data on at least one traffic corridor in each city. We'll be looking at metrics like collision data, to check for changes in safety, and at overall use of the new lanes, to see how much they encourage more cycling. Where it makes sense, we'll be looking at economic data too.

SFW: What cities could San Francisco learn from when it comes to cycling?

MR: The best example for us is New York City. They started building these protected lanes in 2007. There's a report they put out last fall that looked at sales-tax data along business corridors where separated bike lanes had been introduced and in not one of the 11 cases did business suffer. In most cases, business actually improved, sometimes dramatically. You also saw reductions in crashes, decreases in speeding, better bus service. The indicators were all generally positive.

You also have Chicago, which has put down a lot of these projects just in the last year. A big part of their rational for doing so was to make the city attractive to high-tech employers. When you look at the Twitters, the Googles, the Amazons of the world, they're locating to cities. Why? It's not because rent is so cheap and parking is so plentiful. It's because that's where smart young people want to live. And in a lot of cases, smart young people want to ride their bikes.

Ben Christopher is an Oakland-based freelance journalist. His favorite pastimes include pretending to work at coffee shops and shaking his fist disapprovingly at errant drivers from atop his baby blue Cannondale.


  • Pin It

About The Author

Ben Christopher

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook

Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.