Q & A with the SF Bicycle Coalition’s New Executive Director, Noah Budnick

Noah Budnick is the SF Bicycle Coalition’s incoming Executive Director and officially joins us in early February.  We asked Noah a few questions to share with members.

What campaign are you most excited about diving into at the SF Bicycle Coalition?

The campaign I’m beyond excited about is, of course, Vision Zero, which seeks to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries in San Francisco within ten years. No one should die in traffic in San Francisco. These deaths are preventable, and I’m proud to come to a city that’s come to terms with this — and an organization and members who are ready to act.

You’ve been a leader on  Vision Zero in New York City.  What do you think the next steps are for Vision Zero in San Francisco?

It’s time to get to work building lifesaving streets! Some critical steps have already occurred that make action possible. It’s fantastic to see that so many people are really committed to making Vision Zero a reality: everyone from Mayor Lee and the Board of Supervisors to agencies like the SF MTA and Police Department. And of course voters showed their support in a huge way in November, overwhelmingly passing Propositions A and B and rejecting Prop. L. The Prop A Vision Zero Bond and Prop B will fund many of the on-the-ground changes needed to realize Vision Zero.  So now the City needs to prioritize and build — as quickly as possible — the protected bikeways, pedestrian safety islands and innovative, life-saving projects that are needed all across San Francisco.

As chair of the Alliance for Biking and Walking since 2007, you have your finger on the pulse of national bicycle advocacy. What trends do you see nationwide in creating safer streets?

I see that cities are where big wins for the movement are happening, not Washington, D.C. From protected bike lane networks to bike share to Vision Zero, it’s incredible to see what’s happening across the country thanks to activists, civic leaders, businesses, and more.  San Francisco is of course a leader!

You have helped win some really crucial street improvements in New York City. What are you most proud of?

The  growing network of protected bike lanes that Transportation Alternatives has won in New York have transformed the city. They’re encouraging people of all stripes to ride bikes, and they’re making streets safe for everyone: people in cars, on foot, and on bike. Ninth Avenue was the first, and I love seeing people ride it, but it brings me special joy to see the throngs of people riding on Sands Street lane in Brooklyn, Queens Plaza and the other East River bridge and greenway connections. Safe access to these cycling arteries has created the backbone of the city’s bike network. You can’t find a world-class bicycling city that doesn’t have a real network of protected bike lanes.

Working with Families for Safe Streets to win a 25 m.p.h. speed limit in New York City this year was an historic victory. This is core to achieving Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2024, which T.A. strongly advocated for him to adopt. The city finally has a speed limit that’s appropriate for a dense, urban environment, where people of all ages and abilities walk and increasingly ride bikes. Changing the speed limit from 30 m.p.h. to 25 m.p.h. is estimated to cut the number of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities in half in the next year.

Like Transportation Alternatives, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is a membership-based organization. Why is it so important to have a strong membership base?

Basically, a strong membership base is how you win. It’s how you successfully demand change and hold leaders accountable, and ultimately will be how we achieve our movement’s vision for the future.  Members also make it possible to have advocates on staff who can partner with and support community leaders to fight every single day for a safer, more bikeable city.

You have family in SF and you’ve spent a lot of time biking in our city. What do you enjoy the most?

My in-laws have a spare bike that my wife pulled out of a dumpster in college; thankfully, it still rides pretty well and has allowed me to explore a lot over the years.  And of course there’s a lot to love: the neighborhoods, the views, and to be in a city where you can ride 365 days a year.  But I also love the people.  On the morning of my last interview with the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Board of Directors, I went for a spin from Glen Park to the Excelsior, then under Highway 101 and then back through Bernal Heights and the Outer Mission. Along the way I saw an incredible mix of people riding, young and old, and even met a Hell’s Angel who told me about when he was a bicycle courier for Western Union. Just shows the diversity of this great city — and the movement for biking.

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