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SFGate: Wheels of revolution turning toward cheap, friendly transit

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  • Rick
    ... This article was sent to you by someone who found it on SFGate. The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
    Message 1 of 3 , Aug 22, 2005
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      ----------------------------------------------------------------------
      This article was sent to you by someone who found it on SFGate.
      The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
      http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/08/21/INGQEEA5RD1.DTL
      ---------------------------------------------------------------------
      Sunday, August 21, 2005 (SF Chronicle)
      Wheels of revolution turning toward cheap, friendly transit
      Tim Holt


      Americans are subjected to a daily catechism extolling the comfort,
      status, sex appeal and freedom bestowed on us by the Almighty Automobile.
      This prevailing orthodoxy is just beginning to be challenged by local
      officeholders across the country, but a grassroots, two-wheeled rebellion
      has been brewing in San Francisco for more than a decade. It is
      anarchistic, playful and youth oriented, celebrating a level of freedom no
      longer delivered by the automobile. And it has spawned a wide range of
      creative expression, from bicycle ballet to bicycle rapping.
      With minimal support from government, it skims along the borders of urban
      life, on a thin sliver of the city's streets, and in nonprofit groups that
      nurture an urban bicycling culture. It bursts out in the open once a month
      in Critical Mass rides, which have evolved over the past 13 years from a
      turf fight with cops and motorists to a celebration, complete with
      ear-splitting music and wild costumes, of the collective power of
      cyclists.
      Like the outsiders who came before -- the "Monkey Block" bohemians of the
      '30s, the Beats, the hippies -- San Francisco's bicycling culture thumbs
      its nose at mainstream society and middle-class strictures. It trumpets an
      anti-consumerist message, reveling in its freedom from what Critical Mass
      co- founder Chris Carlsson calls the ball and chain of auto debt and
      expenses.
      Like those earlier movements, cycling attracts iconoclasts and free-
      thinkers with a natural affinity for the creative arts: Two-wheeled travel
      is celebrated in Mona Caron's colorful murals at Duboce and Market streets
      and at 15th and Church streets. Bicycle music ranges from the rock 'n'
      roll balladry of Victor Veysey ("The Schwinn Cruiser") to the whimsical
      rapping of Paul Freedman, a.k.a. Fossil Fool. At irregular intervals, the
      haute monde of the bicycling world gathers at undisclosed freeway on-ramps
      to view, from above, synchronized bicycle ballet performed on one-speed
      cruisers.
      "It's about having fun, showing the positive side of cycling," says
      Freedman, a 27-year-old rapper whose day job is producing and distributing
      bicycle accessories. By night, Freedman is a major presence in the city's
      bike party scene, not only rapping but organizing San Francisco's monthly
      cruiser rides.
      You can divide San Francisco's bicyclers into roughly two camps: the arts-
      and-party crowd -- the bike culture represented by Freedman, Caron and
      Veysey -- and the more straight-laced, politically connected camp
      represented by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which pushes for bike
      lanes and other cycling amenities. There is a good deal of overlap between
      the two, but the first group speaks the language of the street poet while
      the latter speaks the language of the traffic engineer.
      "I have a lot of respect for what the coalition is doing," Freedman says,
      "but a lot of their advocacy is based on logic and reason and programmatic
      change. That has its place, but in the popular culture it's no match for
      the sex appeal of the automobile. What I'm trying to do with my rapping is
      to bring in the joyful side of riding a bike and at the same time give it
      a little sex appeal."
      The arts-and-party crowd was out in force in May at the second anniversary
      party of the Bike Kitchen in the Mission District, one of a number of
      community outreach operations that offer low-cost, do-it-yourself bike
      repair sites for neighborhood youths and anyone who makes a small
      donation.
      The party featured a bike rodeo with youthful cyclists trying to maneuver
      bizarrely constructed bikes around a ring of used tires. Some of the
      cyclists were precariously perched on raised seats. Others were steering
      bikes with push-mower blades instead of front wheels. There was a
      Huffy-throwing contest, and pedal-powered rides for kids. Jay Groemmel's
      dazzling art bike, a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge on two wheels, was
      on display.
      All in all, it had the feel of an old-time county fair, minus the pie-
      eating contest.
      The Bike Kitchen is staffed by volunteer mechanics and "aims to make
      bicycling accessible to all," according to its mission statement. Much of
      that effort is directed toward neighborhood kids, who, after helping out
      in the shop and getting some basic training in bike mechanics, are given
      old bikes to fix up for their own use. The Kitchen also takes its repair
      stands and tools to YMCA youth programs and the Crucible in Oakland, an
      industrial arts school. At-risk kids receive training in bike mechanics at
      two other San Francisco bike shops, the Bike Hut and Pedal Revolution.
      "A lot of this is really about creating communities," Carlsson notes. "In
      that sense, the bicycle is just a tool, helping to bridge age, class and
      race barriers." And, he adds, it's a natural vehicle for social
      interaction on the city's streets.
      Compared with motorists, cyclists are visible and accessible. If you see a
      friend sitting outdoors at a cafe, for example, you can pull right up and
      have a chat. When's the last time you tried that in your SUV?
      San Francisco has the potential for becoming one of the leading cycling
      cities in the country. Twenty-eight percent of San Francisco households
      are carless, according to the 2000 census. The city has a daytime
      population of about 1 million, crammed into 49 square miles, giving it one
      of the highest urban densities in the country and making it fertile ground
      for nurturing bike use. Bicycling accounts for 4 percent of all trips in
      the city. Still very low, but both the Bicycle Coalition and the city have
      adopted a goal of 10 percent of all trips by 2010, through creation of a
      network of bike-friendly routes connecting every neighborhood in the city.
      Even the few gains made thus far -- the first bike lanes on Market Street,
      the push for bike-friendly policies at City Hall -- have produced visible
      results in small but significant ways: A few distinctly buttoned-down,
      middle-aged folks now join the young and restless at Critical Mass. It's
      not uncommon to see cycling parents with kids in tow in those Market
      Street bike lanes. There is free valet bicycle parking at Giants games.
      City Hall employees are being encouraged to use city-owned bikes for
      official trips.
      Little by little, it seems, bicycling is getting respectable. Even the
      city's scruffy messengers have lost their outlaw panache. Gone are the
      days when black-clad punks hurtled through red lights and smashed the
      windows of offending motorists. Gone too, apparently, are the days of
      widespread drug use. Nowadays, with their own fledgling union, the
      messengers seem more concerned about pay rates and potholes than the price
      of drugs.
      The time is coming when bicycling will no longer be a fringe activity.
      When the looming oil crisis finally kicks in and gasoline hits $6 a
      gallon, every day is going to be Bike to Work Day. What will happen then
      to the city's bike culture? Will there be any real need for all that
      celebratory propaganda -- the colorful murals, the bike ballet, the Fossil
      Fool rants -- when San Francisco starts looking like Amsterdam?

      Tim Holt is a longtime cyclist and the author of Songs of the Simple Life,
      a collection of essays. Contact us at insight@.... ----------------------------------------------------------------------
      Copyright 2005 SF Chronicle
    • Jym Dyer
      http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/08/21/INGQEEA5RD1.DTL ... =v= Nice article, but youth oriented? Biker culture in S.F. (and elsewhere) is
      Message 2 of 3 , Aug 22, 2005
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        http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/08/21/INGQEEA5RD1.DTL

        | It is anarchistic, playful and youth oriented ...

        =v= Nice article, but "youth oriented?" Biker culture in S.F.
        (and elsewhere) is remarkably pan-generational. Methinks the
        writer made one too many trips to the well of shopworn cliches.

        =v= I remember a few years back when a bunch of bikers went to
        a S.F. Board of Supervisors meeting, after which one Supervisor
        griped about letting "a bunch of twenty-somethings" trying to
        make city policy. Most of those bikers were actually in their
        mid-30s to mid-50s!
        <_Jym_>
      • Todd Edelman
        ... Methinks the writer made one too many trips to the well of shopworn cliches...... Todd: Yes, I am actually VERY surprised that some of this made it into an
        Message 3 of 3 , Aug 22, 2005
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          --- Jym Dyer <jym@...> wrote:

          Methinks the writer made one too many trips to the
          well of shopworn cliches......

          Todd: Yes, I am actually VERY surprised that some of
          this made it into an article about San Francisco IN a
          San Francisco-based publication... I lived there from
          1984 to 1996.. but when one visits SF now you get the
          feeling that cycling IS - relatively speaking -
          already somewhat mainstreamed, in that many or most of
          the commuter cyclists just "ride their bikes" and dont
          even bother to join the Bicycle Coaltion, etc.

          The whole "freaks vs. bureaucrats" thing is ridiculous
          because in fact the energy created in the Critical
          Mass and other actitivies gets harnassed by the Bike
          Coaltion (SFBC... www.sfbike.org...) and also creates
          the environment where it is able to work with the city
          to improve infrastructure more easily, etc.

          Dave Snyder, the director of SFBC - which had many
          effective staff members - during a great part of time
          when conditions started to improve due to this Grand
          Synergy, told me that the Critical Mass did more to
          improve cycling than the SFBC ever did... he was being
          honest, but I think also strongly implying that the
          SFBC rode - and rides - this wave, rather than moving
          in a different current.

          Todd



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