Bike to Work Day: From Cesar Chavez to the Mayor

by Casey Mills on May 19, 2006

Bike to Work Day once again enjoyed a turnout of thousands yesterday, due in large part to heavy outreach by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Down on Cesar Chavez Street, a small group of activists working to improve one of the city’s most dangerous streets made a bold statement by taking over a lane of traffic there on their way to work. And on the steps of City Hall, bike activists made another bold statement when they refused to allow Mayor Gavin Newsom get through a press conference praising Bike to Work Day without facing the sticky question of why he vetoed Healthy Saturdays. On scales both large and small, yesterday proved bike advocacy remains a strong force in the city, and continues to grow.

Laurel Munoz, a Bernal Heights resident, rose early yesterday morning to hand out fliers on the corner of Mission and Cesar Chavez detailing efforts to improve her street. A member of the volunteer group CC Puede, Munoz has been working with activists and neighbors for months to plan a way Cesar Chavez can reduce car traffic lanes, improve sidewalks and crosswalks, and introduce bike lanes to the street.

“We’re trying to make people aware of the fact that in addition to people driving down Cesar Chavez, there’s people walking and biking here too,” said Munoz. “A couple years ago, two children were hit here on their way to school. We need to make this street safer.”

Resident and long-time activist Fran Taylor, who helped found CC Puede, also hopes the group can help connect two communities.

“We really hope we can bring Bernal Heights and the Mission together,” said Taylor. “They’ve been split ever since Cesar Chavez was widened in the 50s, and the street now functions as a barrier. We hope to change that.”

After taking over a lane of Cesar Chavez on the way to work, some of the CC Puede activists headed down to City Hall. The first speaker at a Bike to Work Day press event there was Newsom, and after making general comments about improving the city for bicyclists, Bike Coalition Director Leah Shahum took the podium.

She thanked everyone for biking, gave credit for the city slowly improving for bicyclists to the thousands of people who ride their bike everyday, then addressed the issue that Newsom had avoided – Healthy Saturdays.

Shahum outlined why the legislation remained important for the city, saying that the city should begin its efforts to make walking and biking safety in the park as a model for the rest of its streets. And she asked Supervisors and activists to continue to support the legislation, making it known that the battle remained far from over.

Shahum received cheers and yells of support from the crowd, and one activist held up a sign during her speech that simply said, ‘Healthy Saturdays.’ When Supervisor Chris Daly took the stage, he kept it short: “Healthy Saturdays – no retreat, no surrender!”

Newsom stood in the background, scratching his head, shifting his weight, and looking visibly discomfited.

From the car-packed Cesar Chavez Street at the city’s outskirts to the bicyclist-dominated press conference at City Hall yesterday, Bike to Work Day appeared yet again to be a resounding success.

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