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CalBike Celebrates 25 Years of Bike Accomplishments

California Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Dave Snyder celebrates the organization’s 25th anniversary. Photos by Alfonso Alvarez

The California Bicycle Coalition celebrated its 25th anniversary on Tuesday with a small party at a schmancy downtown San Francisco office building. It was an opportunity to celebrate the considerable achievements of the statewide coalition of local and regional bike advocacy groups, and talk about what's coming up in 2020.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed and State Assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting - all former San Francisco County Supervisors - offered proclamations to honor CalBike's accomplishments. Both Breed and Chiu talked about their early days in the city, when bike riding was nowhere near as popular as it is today.

In the '80s and '90s, even in San Francisco, said Breed, not many people got around on bikes. But today "bike-share and scooters are making getting around the city more efficient than it's ever been."

Assemblymember Chiu used a bike for 21 years in San Francisco, which he said "was lonely." He remembers friends telling him: "Dude, you're such a bike dork!"

"But you have made biking cool," he said to Snyder.

CalBike executive director Dave Snyder talked about the organization's very early days, when he was leading the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Around the time it was getting started, Critical Mass was burgeoning. In 1996, San Francisco Mayor Brown was ruffled by the growing monthly protest rides, and declared a crackdown. That backfired massively when more people showed up to participate and declare that bike riders had the right to demand safety on the streets.

Snyder said the mayor decided he needed to work with the bike coalition. "They didn't listen when we told them we had absolutely no influence on Critical Mass," which was a leaderless movement organized mainly via printed flyers passed out at the meeting point. "The fact was, if we were to say 'do this,' it was likely that Critical Mass would do the opposite," Snyder said. The mayor's staff "thought we were being coy."

Nevertheless they used the opportunity to get the city to hold hearings and identify the most important bike corridors. They identified eight of them, but approved "only two and a half: Arguello, Polk, and a short part-time segment on Cesar Chavez," said Snyder.

But today, he said, "we have removed traffic lanes and put in bike lanes on every one of those eight corridors."

Referring to these changes, and more to come, Mayor Breed remarked that "people ask why we are changing the city. But change is happening anyway. Everything we're doing is aimed at safety. [As the city grows], we have to make sure people can get around safely."

"And when people choose a bike, it benefits everyone," she said.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed
San Francisco Mayor London Breed addresses the crowd
San Francisco Mayor London Breed

The speakers celebrated local accomplishments, bolstered by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, such as the move towards a car-free Market Street. That recently adopted plan that was greeted with derision when it was first floated nine years ago. Current mayor Breed also promised twenty miles of new protected bike lane in the future.

But CalBike's focus is on statewide policy. The organization maintains an active presence in Sacramento, weighing in on policy, helping formulate legislation, and making sure that the voices of its local advocacy members are supported in the state capitol.

Among other accomplishments, over the past 25 years CalBike:

    • Fought to increase state funding for active transportation (an ongoing battle)
    • Encouraged Caltrans to adopt a complete streets policy (which it did, in 2002, but as Snyder pointed out "they don't always follow it"; thus this is also an ongoing effort, including this year's S.B. 127)
    • Got the Three Feet for Safety Act passed by the legislature
    • Got better representation by people who don't drive on the state agency that writes rules and standards for streets, signals, signs, and the like
    • Introduced, and passed, the Protected Bikeways Act ("Caltrans was dead set against changing the manual to include them," said Snyder, "So we wrote it into the frickin' law.")
    • Expanded the exemption for bike lanes under CEQA, recognizing the positive environmental contributions
    • Passed legislation to allow bike racks on city buses, and then further to allow three, not just two, bikes
    • Got the Air Resources Board to recognize electric bikes as clean vehicles under the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program

Snyder laid out CalBike's future goals. The governor's veto of S.B. 127, the Complete Streets for All bill, was a disappointment, he said, but "we will be bringing it back."

"Also, we want to get the state to help people buy e-bikes. We spend millions helping people buy electric cars, but e-bikes are even more efficient and accessible to all, and they are only growing in popularity," he said.

CalBike will continue to work on changes to the vehicle code to clarify that it is legal for bike riders to take the lane, and will be pushing for changes to the state design manual, which currently makes it difficult to narrow travel lanes to less than eleven feet wide. "We're gonna fix that," he said.

And, said Snyder, "We are committed to working on equity, including the equitable distribution of bike share. And why can't we have publicly supported bike share and scooters in every community?"

"More and more people are angry about the gap between the rich and poor in this country," said Snyder. "It's important for us to be cognizant of how any policy change we advocate exacerbates or diminishes that gap." And, he added, the question of equity "is always about race."

"We have to keep inequality at the forefront," he said.

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