The rise of bike culture

The streets of San Francisco aren't just for cars anymore

After a four year hiatus, San Francisco in once again one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S.

San Francisco has quickly peddled back into the front of the pack among bicycle-friendly U.S. cities, regaining the ground it lost during a four-year court injunction against new bike projects that was partially lifted in November 2009 and completely ended last June.

Since then, the streets of San Francisco have been transformed as the city completed 19 long overdue bike projects, including 11 miles of new bike lanes, 40 miles of "sharrow" shared lane markings, and hundreds of new bike racks. The city's first physically separated green bike lanes on Market Street are now being extended, and new ones are being added on Alemany and Laguna Honda boulevards.

"The crews are out on Market Street right now filling in the new green bikeway," San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Director Leah Shahum told us on May 6. "Far and away the No. 1 encouragement to getting people to bike is to make sure they feel safe."

But it isn't just bike lanes and other infrastructure that are causing bicycling to blossom in San Francisco. Bike culture is also exploding in myriad ways, including events such as the San Francisco Bike Party and Rock the Bike shows we profile in this issue, as well as the popularity of the monthly neighborhood street closures of Sunday Streets.

At the most recent Sunday Streets in the Mission District on May 8, Valencia and 24th streets were packed with thousands of people riding bikes, skating, and walking, or engaged with activities — in streets usually dominated by cars — such as yoga, art projects, shopping, and dancing.

"It's a celebration. It's not about confrontation anymore, it's about bringing people along with a more expanded idea of how we can use public space," Sunday Streets Coordinator Susan King told us at the event.

She said Sunday Streets has helped bridge the gap between families and the bicycling and skating communities, as well as cutting across classes, cultures, and communities. The response to the event has been phenomenal, she noted, and she hopes to see a similar momentum leading up to the next Sunday Streets event on June 12 in the Bayview.

"The Bayview event is really important to us because we have extraordinary support from the Bayview merchants and they want to get more involved with the bicycling community," King said.

The earnest work of SFBC, SFMTA, and other entities that have helped expand the bicycling infrastructure in San Francisco, bringing safe cycling opportunities into every neighborhood, has in turn allowed organic expressions of bike culture to flourish.

From hipsters on their colorful fixies to anarchists riding tall bikes, from old-school Schwinns to cargo-laden Xtracycles, from elaborate art bikes to simple bike trailers with amazing sounds systems, from old white guys in Spandex to the young black kids on custom scraper bikes, from the hardcore bike messengers to the tourists on rental bikes, from Critical Mass defiance to Bike Party celebration, the streets of San Francisco are brimming with bike culture diversity. And the only commonality, the only one that's really needed, is a simple appreciation for pedal power.

"We need to get the message out that biking is fun — and that's happening," Smith said. "We need a paradigm shift, and I think we're really on the cusp of that."


Energizer commute stations open:

Thurs/12 7:30–9:30 a.m. and 5–7 p.m., free

Check map on page 28 for locations

Bike From Work party and fashion show

Thurs/12 6–10 p.m., $5 SFBC members/$10 nonmembers (or join at the door and get in free)

DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF


For more on bike culture, read One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility.

Posted by Guest on May. 10, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

Reference; Shipley alley.

Long before the entitled Steve Joneses of the world there was Shipley alley next to Harvy's. How did bike rides get by without Steve Jones and his entitlement?

Posted by matlock on May. 10, 2011 @ 11:14 pm

matlock, I am a Guardian reader and I often see your pseudonym in the comments section. I cant say I disagree with you or have the urge to argue with you because your posts are almost never clear.

Posted by Guest on May. 12, 2011 @ 8:50 pm

Once upon a time before there was the entitlement crowd at critical mass, and the influx of carpet baggers who have moved here to tell us all how to live. There was the alley next to Harvey Woos where messengers and other bike rider types would drink beer after work. Steve Jones and his crowd of ironic dressed carpet bagger "progressives" showed up and they discovered bikes. And this gang of spoon fed middle class American brats think they speak for a vast group of people, based on as far as I can tell, slogans, when all they speak for are other hugely entitled offspring of the middle class.

Posted by matlock on May. 12, 2011 @ 9:35 pm

I remember shipley alley and the dirt lot behind Harvey's back in the 80's..wild times compared to now. Wish i could find some photos of that. That was looong before fixies and hipsters of any can see a glimpse on youtube "bike messenger 1992"

Posted by Guest on Jul. 13, 2011 @ 11:46 am

What? SF Is at The front of bike culture where? In the US? Well not being at the front of anything in the US means being really backward compared to the rest of the world. And being at the front means not much more than that!

So now we have more bike paintings on the road, that's the improvement? Bike lanes on market street suck. If you ride there, you know it's dangerous, cars cutting on your lane all the time to turn right. The new paintings have done nothing but make drivers more angry and ready to cut you off or fly by you real close...

Take the new Cesar Chavez plan! What a plan of geniuses! Let's take a 2 three-lane street where cars can disperse back into the city fast and turn it into a double lane st, with a bike lane and some trees. This way you make sure you create congestion, pollution, angry driving, and forcing driving on smaller streets where families try to live. And of course put a small bike lane b/w car parking and crazy drivers. Perfect!

Thank you SFBC, you will never get my support although I ride everyday everywhere.

Instead you need to make sure some streets are dedicated to cars driving smoothly through the city, some dedicated to busses so they can go somewhere and not move like snails rendering them the most inefficient public transportation system in the world, therefore expensive, polluting and making sure people who can afford a car will buy one, and some streets finally for bikes, only bikes!!

Not sure if SFBC is only a plan from the conservative to prove how stupid bike systems and bikers are.

Posted by E on Jul. 11, 2011 @ 11:54 pm

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