Marty MacIntyre and the Lake Street Bike Lanes

For over 45 years, your SF Bicycle Coalition has sought to improve the livability of San Francisco streets by promoting the bicycle for everyday transportation. When our organization was formed in March 1971, there was not a single bike lane in the entire city. Today, there are over 222 miles of bike lanes in San Francisco.

Every single block of bike lanes has required everyday people pulling together, organizing and making our voices heard. One of those voices to first be heard about San Francisco’s need for more inviting streets for people biking and walking was Marty MacIntyre, who helped lead the fight for San Francisco’s first bike lane on Lake Street in the Richmond over four decades ago. Former SF Bicycle Coalition staffer and now President of our Board of Directors Andy Thornley wrote this profile of Marty, who still lives in the Richmond where our work continues.

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You may know that Lake Street features the first bike lanes ever striped in San Francisco. But you may not have heard the story of how those lovely lanes came to be back in 1971, how an ordinary neighbor rolled up his sleeves, got some clipboards, printed some flyers,and organized his neighbors to tame Lake Street.

Martin MacIntyre is the fellow to thank for getting bike lanes rolling in the Richmond District. He still lives nearby and just celebrated his 80th birthday. In all these years Marty’s never ridden a bike on Lake Street (it’s true!), he just loves healthy civilized neighborhood streets, and he’s still working with neighbors to shape them.

In 1970, 33-year-old Marty rented a house on Lake Street at 12th Avenue. A U.S. Public Health Service dentist, Marty had been transferred from Buffalo, New York to the Public Health Service Hospital located just inside the Presidio at 15th Avenue. (The old hospital was converted to the Presidio Landmark apartments in 2010.)

Marty’s commute to the hospital was a walk of just a few blocks, but he soon grew annoyed and alarmed at the traffic-tormented condition of Lake Street. Drivers zoomed along heedlessly on too-wide lanes — rush hour commute traffic was especially perilous — and there were no stop signs between Arguello Boulevard and 25th Avenue, save for a traffic light at Park Presidio. Marty and his wife Rosemary thought it was inexcusable that their six-year-old daughter couldn’t safely cross the street to get to Mountain Lake playground. So they started asking neighbors whether anything could be done about this problem.

The Lake Street Traffic Safety Committee was thus formed in early December 1970. Marty got to work on a campaign plan and quickly fielded a small cadre of volunteers brandishing petitions and writing letters. The committee power-mapped the people who needed to sign on to fix the street, from the mayor to the board of supervisors, city agency heads to business groups, the AAA, SPUR, churches and schools.

It took only a few months for Marty and his neighbors to persuade decision-makers to tame Lake Street with stop signs and painted islands. December petitions and letters led to a January community meeting with Public Works traffic engineers, which led to a March Board of Supervisors hearing, which led to full Board approval on March 15 to install stop signs on Lake at seven key intersections.

An early proposal to tame Lake Street without bike lanes.

Bike lanes were still quite novel in the U.S. in 1971; the country’s first bike lane had been created in Davis, Calif., in July 1967, and state law had been signed by Governor Reagan establishing bike lanes as a tool in the design manual. After the Board of Supervisors had approved the new Lake Street stop signs, Marty pushed Public Works for more. To neighbors’ surprise, bike lanes were approved on Lake!

On Sunday May 23, 1971, the neighborhood gathered for a great celebration of the newly-tamed Lake Street. At noon the new bike lanes were inaugurated, with ribbons cut by Jack Murphy of the newly formed San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Superintendent of Recreation Ed McDevitt, and State Senators Peter H. Behr and Milton Marks, Jr. A bike race between Third and Fourth avenues served to break the final ribbon on the bike lanes.

Revelers celebrated San Francisco’s first bike lanes on Lake Street in 1971.

The happy people-powered parade proceeded up the street, stopping every few blocks to unveil new stop signs until it reached 22nd Avenue where the last set of signs were unveiled. After a bit more hooting and cheering, the merry band of traffic-calmers retired to Golden Gate Park for a picnic.

Even before the Lake Street bike lanes had been installed, the momentum of the Lake Street Committee had led to formation of the Planning Association for the Richmond (PAR), one of the city’s oldest neighborhood groups. PAR and Marty began moving forward with an ambitious plan to civilize the streets of the Inner Richmond and establish “parks in the streets”. And Marty took up the charge for district elections for the Board of Supervisors, and other civic adventures . . .

But those stories will have to wait for another time – for now let’s just say Happy Birthday, Marty, and thanks for the bike lanes!

For more on what’s next for Richmond District streets, and how you can help shape them to be safe and welcoming for people, join us and your bike-loving neighbors at a happy hour Tuesday night to talk about plans in the works for the new Richmond Neighborways. RSVP here.

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