As Cycling Increases, San Francisco Debates Who Owns the Streets

As cycling expands rapidly in the second-most dense city in America, the infrastructure to support this growth has not kept up, inflaming tensions over the ownership of public space, reports Maria L. La Ganga

Sparked by isolated and unfortunate incidents of bad behavior by cyclists, and the city's official transit-first ethos that aims to transition 50% of all travel within city limits to something other than a private vehicle by 2018, residents and public officials have been waging a public debate over, "who owns public space - a scarce resource in the second-most dense city in America."

"There's a thinking now that the public realm should be for people to be in, not just to drive through," said Ed Reiskin, San Francisco's director of transportation. "But as cycling has increased and our infrastructure has not kept up, there are conflicts and tensions. I'm no cyclist hater. But there's a lot of bad behavior out there."

"Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of WalkSF, believes that the streets are not safe enough for pedestrians. But she argued that motor vehicles - not bicycles - are largely to blame."

"Three pedestrians get hit by cars in San Francisco every day, said Stampe, who rents a car only for errands that can't be done on foot or bike, like buying a case of soy milk. And 55% of all traffic fatalities here are pedestrians, she said, compared with 12% nationally."

"If everyone in a car right now were on a bike," Stampe said, "the streets would be safer and cleaner."

Full Story: Gears of rhetoric ratchet up in San Francisco's car-bike debate

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