Funding More, Better Biking: A Winning Strategy for ALL San Franciscans

Community leaders from the Central City SRO Collaborative speak about the importance of funding biking improvements in the Tenderloin and Central City at the Budget Committee hearing.

At a Board of Supervisors’ Budget Committee hearing yesterday, Supervisors Eric Mar and John Avalos listened intently to a long roster of people who want to see more funding for bike improvements in their neighborhoods and across the city. From the Tenderloin to San Francisco State, SF Bicycle Coalition members and community leaders spoke up for the value of getting serious about investing in biking, to improve the lives of families, low-income residents and all San Franciscans. Big thanks to Supervisor Eric Mar for calling this important hearing, and for the thoughtful questions from both Supervisors Mar and Avalos. Supervisor Farrell, also a member of the committee, was not present.

The essence of the hearing boiled down to the question: What would it mean to have 20% of all trips by bike by 2020 in San Francisco – as defined by the SFMTA 2013-2018 Bicycle Strategy “Full Build Out Scenario”? Supervisor Mar succinctly noted that, “the full buildout scenario benefits all of us and makes for a healthier city.” Indeed, getting real about investing in biking is not just about making the city safer and more welcoming for the 43% of San Franciscans who already bike (thank you for biking!). It’s also about making the city a better place for the 43% of voters who would like to ride a bike more frequently than they do, including about 3 in 10 of voters who never ride a bike currently, and the San Franciscans who may never bike but depend on MUNI and their car. Though this reality is true across the city, for every income level and background, it is especially true in our city’s neighborhoods that are home to low income and other disadvantaged communities, often poorly served by our transportation networks.

Bike projects are the lentils of the transportation world: high impact, bigger looking than their actual size, great paired with other foods/transportation networks and extremely affordable (and yes, usually delicious). In fact, according to a Budget Legislative Analyst’s 2013 report own analysis, the SFMTA currently only spends 1.39% of its capital budget and 0.5% of its operating budget on bike projects. This is slightly bigger than a rounding error. And lest you think that there are other sources of funding for bike projects across the city, think again. The MTA is responsible for all but a tiny number of dollars that go towards improving biking in San Francisco. But despite this paltry investment in biking, the new lanes and racks that have hit the ground have spurred a 71% increase in biking between 2006 and 2011, and likely even more since 2011.

No other mode of transportation is growing as fast or has a higher return on investment in terms of improving our city for everyone, despite the much bigger sums of funding put towards improving our other, valued transportation networks. And for every person who takes a trip on a bike, one more seat opens up on MUNI or one more parking spot opens for someone who really needs it. In fact, biking is one of the fastest and cheapest ways to improve our transportation system for everyone, including people on MUNI and in cars. It’s no surprise, then, that a recent independent poll conducted by David Binder Research found that not only do voters support policies to expand bicycling, there is an urgency to their support – with 62% support for increasing the total number of all trips taken by bike to 10-15% in the next five years.

Despite the large, positive energy at yesterday’s hearing, the MTA’s budget still remains business as usual. So how can you help the City get serious about funding more, better biking throughout the city to benefit everyone? Part of the solution will be making sure that you and your friends and loved ones are registered to vote for critical transportation funding ballot measures likely to be put to a vote in November 2014. The other part will be speaking up at upcoming hearings at the MTA Board and Board of Supervisors about why getting serious about funding more, better biking for the whole city is important to you and your loved ones. Email to be notified about upcoming hearings as they’re announced.

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