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Robin Kutner with her neighborhood's bike rack.

Instead of removing one bike rack, San Francisco may add thousands more.

The City giveth, and the City taketh away. When Robin Kutner returned home one day in January, she was shocked to discover a notice on the nearby bike rack she frequently used, indicating that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA) would be removing the bike rack in response to a complaint. After finding that the rather nasty complaint was loaded with a homeowner’s personal animosity against “entitled” and “obstructionist” cyclists, Kutner fought back, and ultimately reached a compromise—the SFMTA would move the bike rack across the street, and revamp its noticing protocols to more broadly publicize bike rack installations.

Initially vexed by the whole situation, Kutner, a member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, also activated the City’s bicycle activist community to rally behind the cause of bike racks, and a sizeable effort has gained steam. The SFBC is now circulating a petition calling on the SFMTA to install 2000 new bike racks around the city, garnering the support of District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. 

“With the demand for bike racks dramatically outpacing the rate at which we’re getting new racks installed, we need to catch up and get ahead of the curve,” Mandelman wrote in a joint statement with the Bicycle Coalition. “The more options people have for safely securing bikes and scooters, the faster we can decrease congestion and realize our Vision Zero and Transit First goals.”

Because of its current doorhanger notices were considered insufficient, the SFMTA heeded the irate homeowner’s complaint and initially agreed to remove the bike rack completely. In response to Kutner’s protests, the SFMTA arranged a cordial but ultimately rather tense meeting between Kutner and the appellant, hosted by SFMTA Livable Streets staffer Adrian Leung.

“Even putting the content aside, it was a painful conversation,” Kutner said. Though both parties did agree that the notification was inadequate, she found City staff to be better listeners overall. “This whole thing has made a pretty big impact in SFMTA and it's good to know they will never make undue promises to baseless neighbor complaints ever again.”

“It was a pleasure to work with Adrian,” said Kutner’s partner, Jeremy Besmer. “I really respect him and I think he respects us.”

According to SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose, the agency is prepared to move forward with bike rack expansion. Kutner’s experience, though, highlighted the need for transparency in the process.

“In the future, we are looking to streamline our response, and our notification standards,” Jose said. “Our staff felt like [this rack] was a good opportunity to have an exchange and have the neighbors understand each other’s perspective, and to help us inform future protocol on how we install racks in residential areas.”

Jose also noted that the SFMTA aimed initially to add 1200 bike racks within the year, and now hopes to expand this quota. Around 80% of those racks, Jose explained, were installed after residents requested them.

The SFMTA currently trains staff on outreach through itsPublic Outreach & Engagement Team Strategy (POETS) program, and future updates on bike rack protocols would ultimately inform this existing framework.

Aside from expanding the availability bike racks throughout the city, advocates are also considering ways in which local businesses can take advantage of the city’s street improvements to make their storefronts more easily accessible to cyclists. According to the SFMTA, the City currently has 67 on-street bike corrals as part of its bike parking infrastructure.

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Andytown Café, a small chain with several locations in the Sunset District, installed a widely popular bike corral at their Lawton Street Location. The Café recently tweeted that their request for another bike corral on Taraval Street had been stalled while they wait for a hearing.

While representatives of Andytown could not be reached for comment, several local bike advocates were enthusiastic about the potential for bike corrals to ease general concerns about standalone bike racks. 

Matt Brezina, an organizer with People Powered Bike Lanes, explained that locating bike parking on the street would preserve sidewalk space for pedestrians and wheelchair users. “In many places in our city, the appropriate place for more bike racks is in on-street bike corrals,” he said. “On many streets with high pedestrian volumes, there isn't even room for two strollers or wheelchairs to pass each other. Surely, we can repurpose 1% (roughly 5,000) of San Francisco’s on-street car parking spots to be parking areas for 10 bikes each. That’s storage for 50,000 bikes without sacrificing any sidewalk space.” 

“By pushing for more predictable bike rack locations, like corrals at corners with ample parking, throughout the city, it's just another way we're unlocking the bicycle for everyday transportation,” said Jane Natoli, a bike safety advocate. “While many other aspects of safe and secure biking are more evident—protected lanes, for example—having plentiful and predictable places to safely secure bikes or other means of mobility also matter quite a bit. On my street, for example, we don't give a thought to the dozens of street spaces for cars, yet we only have one bike rack, at that, one I requested multiple times.”

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