I went to a hearing today at San Francisco City Hall concerning the striping of bike lanes on a certain section of Market Street. The bike lanes have been desired for many years by cycling advocates who note that Market St. remains a forbidding place to ride. This section in particular is a notorious bottleneck during rush hour which causes numerous close-calls and riding on the sidewalk. In a city that ought to have much better bike infrastructure given its supposed reputation as a progressive leader, it’s rather surprising that it’s taken so long to get these lanes on the drawing board.
What was even more surprising was that a great many local merchants came out to speak against the lanes. The reason was that parking spaces would have to be moved from in front of their shops to adjacent blocks (with no net loss of spaces). Numerous merchants came out to testify fervently that this moving of parking would cause them to lose business and suffer no end of hardship. They were so convincing that when it was my time to speak I could barely collect my thoughts and didn’t really say much. The board of supervisors remained commited to the idea, however, but with certain considerations, most importantly the need to preserve loading zones for people buying large items, which is perfectly reasonable.
Then I got to thinking…
And finally pulled my thoughts together. This was a classic case of stuck-inside-the-box business thinking. These merchants honestly believe that moving parking places would put them out of business. This is nonsense. The fact is, in San Francsico, no one ever expects to find a parking place directly in front of any business. People feel lucky if they park within a block or two. Having a loading zone for heavy items would solve part of the problem as would carting things down the street with a dolly. No big deal.
What’s much more important, and what these people blatantly overlook is the fact that bike lanes would make the street infinitely more pleasant. Pleasant streets are much better for business than congested messes, like the current Market Street. I can’t prove a correlation scientifically, but I’ve witnessesed the economic rebirth of two other streets in SF (Polk and Valencia) which occurred immediately after bike lanes were put in. Plus, more bike lanes mean more people feel safer to bike-commute, and have more money in their pockets because they don’t have to drive or take the bus – that’s money ready to be spent in a local community. A smart business owner would put out a bike rack in front of his business.
On the other hand, could bike commuters convince business owners of this? I hope so! Maybe there is something more the city should be doing to make life easy for merchants? This is a conflict that dosn’t have to be.