Movability’s Program Director, Lauren, recently visited San Francisco. No she didn’t leave her heart there, but she was astounded by the commute options in the city by the bay. Carsharing, ridesharing, buses, trains, bikes, walking, employee benefits oh my!
While commute options in Austin continue to improve, after hearing her exploits we‘d like to share some inspiring observations. Maybe together all of us can raise the bar in Austin!
Highlights from the Bay!
San Francisco is the land of Google shuttles with on board wifi, cappuccinos, and chair massages. But, what about everyone else? Almost everyone I encountered had the option to receive a free transit pass and to get paid a certain dollar amount per day for biking or walking to work. Because of these great benefits, 70 percent of the people I talked to did NOT drive their car alone into work! Can you imagine that, Austin?
The Bay Area Bike Share launched the day I arrived. The sea green bikes were all over town, zipping through green lanes and past bike counters. You could feel the excitement surrounding the launch, a feeling I can’t wait to share with my fellow Austinites this December. Bike Share stations were placed near destinations like Chinatown and the Embarcadero as well as near BART and Muni stops for making those “last mile” connections.
Like Austin, San Francisco is part of the Bike Belongs Green Lanes Project. Green Lanes are striped on many major thoroughfares including Market Street (think Lamar Blvd) and well designed to seamlessly integrate a lot of people on bicycles with heavy transit and car traffic. Most of San Francisco’s bicycle network, thankfully, avoids the major hills. They even build their bridges with separated bike lanes!
Have you ever heard anyone say about bike lanes, “Why build them? Cyclists don’t use them anyway!” Well, San Francisco has found a creative way to address that concern. Enter the Bicycle Counter! This giant, hard to miss piece of technology visually displays, for all to see, the number of cyclists that have crossed that location each and every day. When I stopped to take this photo at 11am, 1,241 people had already cycled passed this counter!
Much of my time was spent walking because it is often the most efficient way to get around and the best way to experience a city. San Francisco has many areas where store fronts, galleries, boutiques, and coffee shops mix with housing. This made for visually interesting and useful walks. I was always able to duck into a shop for a bite of chocolate or cup of coffee. Most crosswalks that I encountered were marked with bright yellow paint, even crosswalks in purely residential areas. Surprisingly, my walks were never detoured by an abruptly ending sidewalk. Also, San Francisco has really taken to creating parklets that add even more creativity and comfort to the pedestrian experience.
Much like in Austin, these services aren’t perfect. They aren’t always the cleanest or most attractive spaces one could imagine. In fact, our RedLine is infinitely cleaner than anything I rode in San Francisco. But, the BART and MUNI are loved and used by many San Franciscans as a vital part of a culture that loves options.
There are many ridesharing companies in San Francisco (SideCar, Uber), but none are as visible as LYFT. You can’t miss the fuzzy, pink mustache on the front of every car. Seemingly, EVERYONE is using Lyft in San Francisco. And why wouldn’t you? When you find yourself in need of a ride, just pull up the mobile app, request a ride and a driver appears within a few minutes. The system works much like AirBnB where you pick the driver you want to pick you up and you rate your experience. The driver also rates you as a rider, completing the accountability loop. What a great way to fill those SOV’s! Still, Austin, like many other cities, would need significant revisions to regulations regarding taxis and quasi-taxis (like Lyft) before these companies can thrive here.
So, Austin can we all get on our bikes, buses, trains and celebrate the options we have? Will you share your creativity and innovative spirit to help create a better transportation future?