Arriving in San Francisco from LA assaults the senses: The BART hisses and whines on its track through the tunnels and people sit near you. Coming out from BART to the intersection of Market and Powell, the sidewalks are thick with pedestrians. A sudden feeling of vertigo to be amid tall buildings amid the clatter of conversation and life. The screech of a cable car and the old trolleys that ply the F along Market. Traffic slows, clots, then pushes through on the next green.
And there, on a light post at the corner of Market and one of the big streets that cuts across, a yellow sign reading roughly: Cyclists have a right to full use of the road.
The city – coming from Los Angeles with foreign eyes – seems made for cyclists: Sharrows, bike lanes, well-marked bike routes, and a critical mass of people willing to ride for their commute. I have more – I think – to say, but an open question to anyone who knows the history of San Francisco’s infrastructure better than I: How did San Francisco seem to get right what Los Angeles has, to this point, gotten wrong? What has made it possible for San Francisco to seem so cycling-friendly when Los Angeles seems not?
Granted, I think Los Angeles is more friendly to cyclists than people sometimes make it out to be, but I’m trying to figure out some of the things – some of the institutional and infrastructural decisions – that San Francisco has done that have helped make the city what it is.