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Bike Commuters in San Francisco in Bike LaneThe close proximity between motorists and cyclists on some streets in San Francisco, CA, can be the cause conflict and may be turning some people off of cycling in their city.
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Bike Commuters in San FranciscoCyclists heading down the bike lane in San Francisco, CA.
By Sara Young
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - I have been riding my rental bike through the streets of San Francisco for almost three weeks now. I am constantly impressed by the sheer number of bicycle commuters I see every day and have struck up conversations with quite a few of them. I have had very few problems, save the atrocious state of the city streets and the honking which occurs at almost every light change. Overall, it has been a very pleasant experience bike commuting in San Francisco, but I have heard quite the opposite from commuters who have had to do it every day for years. This weekend, I went out and asked people what their experiences commuting in San Francisco have been like.
Joyce Ycasas is a public health worker and has been a bicycle commuter in San Francisco for several years. She has been hit by cars three times. She sees the tension between bikers and drivers as a lack of consideration.
Every person has a responsibility. I always assume others will not do the right thing, so I make up for it by being considerate. The relationship between cars and bikes is strained in San Francisco. Being considerate is part of accepting the situation you have, rather than living as if you have the ideal.
Joe Westersund works for the EPA and has commuted by bike all of his life. When he moved to San Francisco, he chose a location which would allow him to commute to and from work every day. After commuting for a while in the city, he hung up his helmet and moved out of town. He gets to work on the bus now, and feels like his commuting days, in San Francisco anyway, are over.
When I was biking, I was doing it for my health. I wanted to be outside interacting with people, exercising. In San Francisco, I was doing the opposite. I was making myself unhealthy. I haven’t run into so many angry people as I have in San Francisco, even bicyclists. It was just too stressful. I moved to Berkley to get out of that angry energy I felt. The other reason I stopped bike commuting is that I was so afraid I was going to see someone get killed. Cyclists here go through red lights all the time. I just couldn’t deal with feeling like on any given day I could be a witness to that type of thing.
Joe adds that he believes that The Bike Coalition in San Francisco is doing a great job, and he is sure things will change. He believes that the anger is a carry-over from the not-too-distant past when there were fewer bike lanes and less awareness of cyclists on the streets.
After talking to these commuters, I thought about why our experiences were different, and what it takes to get a life-long bike commuter to switch to rapid transit. In the end, it comes down to the individual. The city can put in all the bike lanes and bike stalls it can afford, but if the people operating the vehicles, (bikes included), aren’t allowing room for each other on the road, it makes no difference.
This is what we must deal with as we transition from an auto-centric transit society to one that accommodates cyclists, cars and rapid transit on its streets. It behooves us all to allow for growing pains and not jump too quickly into the “us vs. them” mindset as we navigate this uncharted territory.
It is up to individuals to step up and be more responsible for ensuring that commuting by car, bike, or bus is a safer and less stressful part of our day. Making San Francisco or any city safe for bicycle commuting and commuting in general will come down to the people who live there.
Sara Young is a writer, artist, cyclist, amateur yogi and avid poetry appreciator. Originally from Chicago, IL, and most recently from Portland, OR, Sara is presently traveling the US, working on her project, 25 Days, in which she travels to 15 cities around the US, talking to people about their favorite places and bicycle commuting. She hopes to create a more bike-friendly society through advocacy, and a more peaceful world through listening.