San Francisco needs to radically rethink its transportation system to avoid gridlock
SF State has a memorandum of understanding with the city that obliges the university to reduce drive-alone automobile trips to campus, and the campus will not build any more car parking. With 4 percent of commute trips to SF State by bicycle (and only 2 percent among faculty) there is potential to increase the mode-share of bicycling as a path to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and auto trips.
The spatial proximity to Daly City and Balboa Park BART stations, as well as the Excelsior and Sunset, all under three miles from campus, means that the bicycle is well-suited to be a substitute for many short-range automobile trips and help the campus meet its goals. Yet what my students have found this semester is that it is all but impossible to bike safely to and from SF State, and the southwestern quadrant of San Francisco is largely left out of current bicycle planning in the city.
Taking multiple bicycle field trips over the past few months, we surveyed the opportunities for making safe routes to campus and envisioned what it would take to increase cycling to 20 percent of trips to and from SF State. Starting with the Balboa Park station, which is next to a deplorable tangle of freeway ramps, we ask what it would look like if fully-separated cycletracks were built on Geneva or Ocean avenues. These could connect City College and the Excelsior, and by way of a westward and southward jog, to a bicycle boulevard on Holloway Avenue, enabling a safe and convenient, 1.7-mile, 15-minute bike ride to SF State. Expanding the nascent Bay Area Bike Share to connect SF State and Balboa Park BART would create even more opportunity for cycling.
To the south of SF State, Daly City BART is a 1.4-mile, 10-minute bike ride that is daunting and poorly signed. It could be made safe and inviting with bicycle boulevards on streets parallel to traffic-clogged 19th Avenue and Junipero Serra. Borrowing from signature bicycle and pedestrian bridges in Pleasant Hill and Berkeley, perhaps there is an opportunity to build a bridge across Brotherhood Way toward the BART station, leveling an otherwise steep climb that discourages cycling.
To the north of campus, describing the designated 20th Avenue bicycle route as "a bit of a challenge" is an understatement. Cyclists must thread a cluttered shopping mall parking lot and overbuilt wide streets, and then confront a median blockading the way across Sloat Boulevard. While the megaproject to improve the M-line could include a cycletrack on this stretch of 19th Avenue, we should not wait a generation to increase cycling between SF State and the Sunset. The 20th Avenue route can be made welcoming now, with a fully-separated cycletrack and fixes on the Sloat intersection.
SF State, probably one of the most diverse campuses in the nation, has highly motivated students seeking real solutions to the huge problems society faces. The students are coming of age under extreme pressure of economic inequity and ecological duress, but they also see ways out of the mess created by the wasteful car culture and its linkages to ecological and social problems. They want to act now, and unlike past generations, they are shunning driving and many of them desire to reside in livable cities that offer choices for how they get around.
But what we have found this semester is that the campus is extremely isolated, difficult to access by bicycle, and walled-off by car sewers. Older, uninviting bicycle lanes are fragmented, disjointed, and seem to be an afterthought. With imagination, ingenuity, and political will, this can be remedied with bicycle improvements that cost far less than adding more car lanes and parking to the campus or surrounding area. And this would go much further at improving quality of life for neighbors who now have to put up with campus-generated traffic. Keeping the status quo, which means even more car trips but within the same space, is a dead end.