They ride against traffic, headphones plugged in. They whiz helmetless through stop signs. They careen around old ladies on the sidewalk. They should have been at the San Francisco Bike Coalition’s “How to Bike Anywhere in San Francisco” workshop on Saturday.
San Francisco’s mad about cycling, and most bike riders here are courteous and safe. But there are exceptions.
“One thing that I’ve seen as biking’s popularity has gone up is an increase in novices who don’t necessarily know the rules of the road,” said Pete Lester, a bike mechanic and fitter at Sports Basement on Bryant Street where the class was held.
Just two people showed up for the class on Saturday: an off-duty police officer new to cycling and a recent convert to bike commuting looking to gain confidence. Attendance isn’t always so sparse. The bike coalition has offered the class twice before at Sports Basement, and organizers said 20 to 40 people showed up.
For those who missed the class, here’s a rundown:
First, some good news. “Biking, even by the statistics, is pretty safe in San Francisco,” said judy b., the bike coalition member who taught the session and spells her name in lowercase.
Bike ridership increased 43 percent from 2006 to 2008, according to the Municipal Transportation Authority bike survey, published last year. It counted cyclists during commute times at intersections throughout the city.
Biking’s popularity grew even faster in the Mission than the rest of the city. The number of cyclists counted at 17th and Valencia streets increased 49 percent from 2006 to 2008, and the number of bikers at 23rd Street and Potrero Avenue grew by a staggering 108 percent, according to the survey.
Despite the growing number of cyclists on the road, injuries and deaths have leveled off in recent years. The number of bicycle-related collisions has dropped significantly since 1998, and ranged from 307 to 360 collisions per year during 2001 to 2006, the last period for which transportation authority figures were available.
Less than one percent of the crashes that occurred from 2002 to 2005 were fatal, the transit authority report stated.
Biking is also cheap, said b., citing AAA statistics that say a typical car commuter spends more than $9,000 on gas, maintenance and insurance in a year. In contrast, bicycle commuters spend very little on repairs and maintenance once they have a bike.
Plus, the road belongs as much to cyclists as it does to cars, b. insists. “Bikes are allowed on every street. You have the right to take up the whole lane if you need to and cars will have to deal with it,” she said.
But there are rules. Bicyclists are required to walk their bikes on sidewalks. Cyclists must ride with the flow of traffic and pass on the left. And lights (a white one in front, a red blinking one in back) are mandatory for night riding.
For those who want to try bike commuting, b. recommends trying out new routes on the weekend, when traffic is lighter. The bike coalition also has a bike buddy program that pairs new riders with experienced ones who accompany them while they’re learning their commute.
At the end of the day, bike safety is, well, a two-way street, and cyclists and drivers should take each other’s needs into account, said b. “I think it would be really helpful for drivers to get on a bike… and for cyclists to drive,” she said.