Biking doubles in last seven years in San Francisco; but so do crashes

What happens when bike infrastructure doesn’t keep pace with ridership growth? San Francisco is finding out. New counts by the Municipal Transportation Agency point to a 96% increase in biking since 2006, but contrary to the “safety in numbers” phenomenon that usually occurs with increased ridership, injuries and fatalities in San Francisco are also increasing, tragically. The City could be acting faster to improve infrastructure and prevent these injuries and deaths.

San Francisco’s bike program is experiencing expected growth pains. Trips made by bike have about doubled in the past seven years, and expect to grow by another 157 percent by 2020. As the number of people riding bikes grows, the number of injuries has followed. This seems to make logical sense — more people riding bikes equals more bike injuries — but evidence from cities around the world points to the opposite conclusion. More bike riders seems to increase awareness about bikes by motorists and results in a lower collision rate. In Portland, Oregon, where the city leadership made bicycling improvements decades ago, bike ridership has tripled while collisions have remained fairly constant.

In 2013, four bike riders crashed and died in San Francisco. The most high profile fatality, a twenty-four year old named Amélie Le Moullac, compelled the City to approve a temporary green buffered bike lane on Folsom from 6th to 11th Streets. After four years of an injunction against new bike infrastructure imposed as punishment for violating a misguided environmental law (which we helped to change), San Francisco is playing catch-up, trying to accommodate the demand for safe bicycling. Cities like New York on the other hand are designing infrastructure ahead of the curve of people riding bikes. Each has their visionary goal: New York plans to have a city with zero fatalities or serious injuries caused by car crashes on the streets within 10 years, San Francisco plans for 20% of trips to be made by bike by 2020.

For San Francisco to achieve that goal without a commensurate increase in crashes, the pace of infrastructure construction must pick up. San Francisco needs to be not only responsive, but preventative. Pilot programs like the Folsom street bike lanes can be implemented while a permanent solution passes through the public process.

The lesson for other cities around the state is to move fast with infrastructure construction. Lives depend on it.

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