San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom dropped a big one this past week announcing a goal to have 10% of all city transportation trips be by bike by 2010. Wow. This is an aggressive goal for an American city and a noble one, as bike commuting reduces air pollution, congestion on roads, greenhouse gas emissions, and economic dependence on oil, besides making people healthier and more connected to their urban environment.
Currently about 1.8 percent of people commute in SF by bike (Portland has a nation-leading 2.8 percent of commuters traveling by bike). If you say it can't be done, look at Copenhagen Denmark's 36 percent bike commute rate.
I've been commuting by bike for 20 years, starting in Chicago--yes, even in the winter--and now I commute from Marin County to downtown San Francisco every day by bike and ferry. I rode in the first or one of the first Critical Mass rides in SF, which has since spread to more than 400 cities on every continent except Antarctica. It's been a blast and I believe my personal actions have had positive macro and micro impacts.
I was in college when I started to live for bike transport. This was during the 80s, when bike riding for adults seemed to be a rarity or oddity. My dormmates, Drew and Ray, also were into their bikes, and we felt special being part of a minority faction that had incredible freedom to explore the whole city and its surrounding countryside on our rides. People would actually say at parties, "You're the guy on the bike, right?" Can you imagine someone saying that on a college campus with 50,000 people today? We sure have come a long way.
Mine was an old black Schwinn World War Two model tricked out with 60's Sting Ray handlebars and white rims sporting black pinstriping. Damn, that bike would be worth some bucks today. Too bad it was demolished when the house we were living in got torn down one summer without warning while I was away, as it was condemned.
I never got into the racing thing, just riding for transport and fun, zipping around Chicago's Lakefront, the hills of San Francisco, or the ports of New York City.
Somewhere in the early 90s, I rode in what I believe was the first Critical Mass, the San Francisco biking event that has spread to cities around the world. My old roomate Drew invited me to come ride with a bunch of people meeting after work in downtown San Francisco that wanted to cruise around in a big pack. I don't remember it having a name, but I've been since told that first ride was called the Traffic Clot. After it soon became known as Critcal Mass, I've seen people get hit by cars, and once a car even backed up over the bike it just intentionally knocked down. Fortunately, the rider was not hurt too badly.
Riding is an important statement with all those tangible benefits I mentioned, but planning and partcipating in public advocacy processes also gets results, however slow they may come.
On March 26, 1996, I wrote an Open Forum for the San Francisco Chronicle calling for a pedestrian-bikeway along the city's industrial southeast side bayfront, from China Basin to India Basin and beyond, allowing local access and recreation along what were then and now largely abandoned waterfront piers ringed by razor wire. Don't know if that had any effect on what's happening now but it looks like Newsom and others are now backing a 13-mile Blue Greenway along the same location. It never hurts to dream big and in bold strokes, and then let the future catch up with your dreams.
As for saftey, I haven't got into a real commuting accident since getting a "door prize" on Augusta Boulvard in Chicago. Ialso hit one car head on that was coming out of a blind alley in San Francisco, but rolled off its hood unscathed.
Knock on wood.
Though we have two cars, I'm still logging hundreds of miles each week, and that allows me to stay out of gyms and doctors' offices and gives me more time with my family on the weekends. Oh yeah, zero pollution and carbon emissions, too.