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Hey NY Times, San Francisco Has Also Been Invaded by a “Sea of Bikes”

Just wanted to drop some fun nuggets in here for fans while I've been on vacation in the Bay Area.

If you ask me, Market Street in San Francisco continues to do battle with Portland's Hawthorne Bridge as the busiest bicycling channel in the United States. It's been three years since my last visit, but Market bike traffic continues to grow and dazzle during the commuting hours.  So I cajoled myself to grab my camera from the hotel one morning and in only about 20 minutes picked up enough for the following short montage.

Of course, it makes you think back to the recent controversial New York Times article warning that there are perhaps too many bicycles in Amsterdam. I'd love to know what they would write about this alarming number of bikes taking over a major city street.

The day prior I attended my first SF Sunday Streets event. This one was in the Mission and it had a wonderful laid back vibe with the majority of the attendees walking.  There was also much more live music than any other ciclovia-style open street event I have ever been to. My favorite was this bluegrass band Rusty Stringfield which played a great alfresco set to dozens of passerby who were comfortably lounging in the street on furniture.  Watch this, we need more of this in the world.

Another thing I can report: I stumbled upon San Francisco's re-installation of its Market bike counter following a road re-paving (last year Portland minted the first in the U.S., see video here). As these photos show, the ground sensors were re-activated to detect the daily "sea of bikes" and the counter was up and running as of this morning.  Hat tip for the edit/clarification to Prinzrob in the comments.

Photo: SFMTA


And keeping the focus on Market Street, even two years after the fact I am still absolutely loving the choice of green box sharrow markings in high traffic areas. It's a good option to make drivers more aware where you cannot provide a bike lane. And it is handsome.

Trip down memory lane: Want to see the day 8 or 9 years ago (yes, my memory fails) when SFMTA first started installing sharrows on Market? See this one minute bikeTV video snippet below featuring Andy Thornley, who was then with the SF Bicycle Coalition.

  • Prinzrob

    Great article! The Market Street bike counter was already installed and counting bikes, by the way, but turned off for the recent repaving and green paint project. Ironically, this happened in the same week that BART went on strike, when it would have been very valuable to know how many more people than usual were bike commuting.

  • Cycling in Madrid

    Great article and video! I wish we had that "problem" they supposedly have in Amsterdam here where I live, in Madrid (Spain) where biking has been sloooowly taking off in the past two years.


  • saimin

    Market Street bike counter was reconnected today

  • PeterAkkies

    Being a Dutchie, it's hilarious to watch this video. Everyone looks like they're racing! As one can see in your previous video, in the Netherlands people sit up straight on their bikes, which is so much more comfortable!

  • Timo Forsberg

    Way to go SF! Our Hawthorne Bridge counter just registered 1,000,000 bike trips in 2013 - https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/457132

    Our counter's display can show up to 2,000,000 for the year. You may need to recalibrate your counter's "Cyclists This Year" maximum sooner than later!

  • oiseaux

    I would like to add that Seattle's Fremont bridge bike counter (one of two running in the city) registers 5k an hour ar peak hours in the rainiest months and 16k an hour at peak hours (according to SDOT) during the warmer months. In other words, the entire west coast seems to be getting it done.

  • p_chazz

    Wonder how long before it shorts out from winos peeing on it.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Oiseaux, can you cite where you saw those numbers? 16,000 bikes per hour in any hour would be a record anywhere in the world! I am sure you have mis-typed your measuring period by accident.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    You know when I was standing there and saw the 1million top number, I was thinking the same thing Timo!

  • mikesonn

    Always looking at the bright side of life, huh?

  • oiseaux


    The chart at the bottom of the page has the numbers broken down by time of day per month/weekday. In May (highest average month) there were 15.286 (a bit less than 16, but not much) cyclists passing by the counter at 5:30pm.

    I fully admit that I could be reading this wrong, it would mean 254 cyclists per minute passing by the counter, so I don't know. I ride on Market Street in rush hour every day and I figured that seems possible there, so why not in Seattle? It also looks like there are 13,872 cyclists passing by at that time on Tuesdays in general, so it's hard to see if I'm reading this right.

    On any given day in SF there are around 43,000 cyclists on the road (according to the latest city audit), and Seattle has a comparable number of cyclists, so 16,000 commuting on the state's most frequented bicycle route didn't seem too far-fetched.

  • Elizabeth

    I've been watching Copenhagen and Amsterdam rush hours films, so was expecting more bicycles in the sea. However, Copenhagen has 500,000 bicyclist per day and SF has only about 800,000 people total. 43,000 per day is a good start but there is room for improvement. On the other hand, I'm happy if I see 3 or 4 bicyclist waiting at a light near where I live. Or a dozen or so cyclist during my dog walk or commute to the train station. It's all a matter of perspective.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Yeah it appears the average per month in 2013 is 68,000 per month. So 16,000 in an hour (or even a day) is impossible. Still it is pretty impressive anywhere, well at least in the United States.

  • Joseph

    It looks like 16,000 would be the number of crossings for ALL May 5pm crossings. i.e. all 30 days of May for the 5pm hour combined. May has 31 days, so that's 500+ crossings during that hour each day on average.

  • p_chazz

    Everything else on Market Street smells like piss. Why should the bike counter be any different?

  • Gary

    Keep those bicycles coming, great to see this. Reverse the destruction and mayhem done by cars.

  • Gilla

    Was it intentional to use music titled "Macho"? As you can see in your film it's still mostly men who ride in San Francisco. The film makes it all look orderly and it is where Market has bike lanes, but towards the end of Market the bike lanes end it's a cacophony of cars, buses, pedestrians and bikes. We are never going to have 50% of bicyclists be women until we address the safety issue and that has been painfully slow in coming. For now, I will continue to avoid Market as much as possible.

  • Dave Moore

    What is the source of the 43K on any given day in SF number? The most recent I could find was here: http://www.sfmta.com/sites/default/files/SFMTA-ModeShareSurvey_FinalJULY.pdf on page six, where it says that on average there are 73K trips a day. That makes it at most 37K cyclists and likely far fewer (as many will make make more than 2 trips).

  • agannon

    How true it is that Market Street feels like a race. I got a cargo bike last year which is slow but wonderfully comfortable. I no longer feel the need to ride hard and my commute is much nicer. Others should take note.

  • http://scorcher.org/ Jym Dyer

    • Maybe it's time for the _Times_ to syndicate another anti-bicyclist piece from Scott James. Hey, it's a "column" so it doesn't have to be accurate!

  • oiseaux

    There is a city survey put out by, I want to say, the Controller's office (for some reason) each year. There is some great information on pedestrian and bicycle transportation in there. I've only seen it in paper form (a thick bound booklet). It's really neat actually and I think you can request one from City Hall. Anyway, that's where I found the info on the 43,000 cyclists a day.

  • oiseaux

    Yeah, I misread that, but still pretty cool. Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, and SF are all doing decent jobs at putting people on bikes. It could be better, but at least the cities that we'd expect are trying, I suppose.

  • http://scorcher.org/ Jym Dyer

    It's been there for months and remains urine-free.

  • Elizabeth

    So many of us would just like to ride our bikes in SF without having to cringe. The "protected" bike lanes on Market especially headed back towards downtown were a profound disappointment. I tried adapting it by going down Octavia and avoiding the cross walk across the mouth of the freeway. Then later walked my bike on the sidewalk coming up to all the cars turning right on 10th. I then crossed over to the bike lane after that only to feel some huge car following behind me IN THE BIKE LANE. How is that protected? Never again. The whole merge left to be a bike sandwich in between two moving lanes of car traffic is just bad. Not to mention, what sensible person drives on Market anyway? 14th street is a better way back to bart from the wiggle but is only one way. Except for double parking, 14th is much better. The problem is that all the other streets around Market are also busy. There are no quiet streets around there at all. Maybe early in the weekend morning civic center bart on Market to the wiggle

  • Clarence


    Nope. I had a few music selections on my laptop when I came out. Just happened to play that one and liked the mood it set.

    You're right there are many men in this footage. But a few years ago I shot some similar footage where there were plenty of women. It's just the roll of the dice. As I wrote I shot some footage within a 20 min window and posted it. No agenda, showing conditions as they were at that time. If you view the footage carefully you'll also see lots of helmet usage, but that seems a bit on the high side for SF. I see man riders without helmets.

  • Kyle Graehl

    I just went past it and the number didn't go up. I stayed around for a few minutes and 8 bicyclists went by and the number went up by 2. Many of the bicyclists don't notice it and don't go over the sensors, staying in the larger part of the lane. The measurement seems highly inaccurate, unfortunately.

  • Rhonda

    I was going to post [almost] the same comment as yours, PeterAkkies.

    I'm no Dutchie, but yesterday I watched a few videos of bicycling in Copenhagen, and I noticed the difference as you've stated. Everyone in this video looks as if they're racing. Also, in comparison to bikers in your country: No one wears a helmet there; they're better dressed; and, all ride upright bicycles.

    I ride my bicycle in San Francisco for the majority of my transportation needs here, and, I've ridden/ride of Market Street often, and it's not just Market Street, but often I feel overwhelmed by the other cyclists near me to bike fast. It's a hard feeling to resist, but resist I do, because there are too many uphills to contend with here, and, given that, regardless of all the so-called improvements for bicyclists, the streets here are still the domain of the car; so, I find I feel safer riding on my upright bicycle at a non-racing pace.