The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has just hired its first new executive director in seventeen years, replacing longtime leader Leah Shahum, and his name is Noah Budnick. Budnick is well known in New York biking circles as the Deputy Director and Chief Policy Officer of Transportation Alternatives and as a 15-year advocate for biking. Budnick submitted to some questions today with SFist in this exclusive interview, talking about NY vs. SF bike culture, taking bikes on trains, and more.
Says SFBC Board President Lawrence Li in a release today, "Noah comes to San Francisco as a leader and team builder in the movement for more bikeable and livable cities. He is a well-regarded and proven political and communications expert who inspires, builds coalitions and wins on-street improvements that create safer streets for all of us."
And outgoing director Shahum, who's headed on a fellowship to study Vision Zero initiatives in Europe, says, "San Francisco is so fortunate to have Noah’s tremendous experience and passion for great cities and smart transportation heading our way."
Why did the SFBC need to look outside SF to find such experience? That may be a question for them, but Budnick is on his way here to start work in early February, and we got right down to it with him with some questions.
SFist: How will you be getting up to speed when it comes to the complexities of SF politics with which you’ll be dealing constantly taking this job?
Budnick: Ever since starting the process of applying for this job I’ve been trying to give myself a crash course. I love politics and learning how government works and how community plays a roll. It’s going to be very intense, but I look at it as education that isn’t going to end for as long as I'm in this role.
How would you compare the dangers facing cyclists in SF with those in NY? Are our injury/mortality rates comparable?
How about the joys facing cyclists?! No one in the restaurant business talks about how likely you are to get food poisoning from their kitchen! They talk about how fresh and delicious their food tastes!
The joy of biking and of living in a bike-friendly city is apparent in SF and NYC. Just look at the growing number of bike commuters on Market Street or pedaling across the East River bridges in NYC and all the people you see making neighborhood trips by bike. Both cities are benefiting, especially because when you design your streets to protect the most vulnerable people, everyone benefits i.e. making streets safe for cycling makes them safe for people walking and driving too.
If you want to talk about danger, let’s talk about safety in numbers: The more people who bike, the safer it is. The more people who bike, the more visible they are, the more likely drivers are to see them and drive safely around them, and the less likely the chance of a collision. This phenomenon has been proven in cities across the country and around the world. So, at a very fundamental level, anything and everything local government does to get more people biking will make it safer (and conversely, anything that creates barriers to bicycling, makes it less convenient and discourages people will make riding more dangerous).
What are your thoughts on Critical Mass — have there been a lot of hurdles with this in NY?
Critical Mass went on for many, many years in NYC as a great celebration of the city. When the RNC was here in 2004, the cops cracked down on all protests, including Critical Mass, and never stopped. However, New Yorker’s love for bicycling has completely transcended this.
People have voted with their pedals at unimagined levels. Bicycling here has more than tripled since then. If you build it, they will come. City Hall’s commitment to expanding protected bike lanes and neighborhood bike networks and growing CitiBike bike share is just beginning to meet public demand for safer and better bicycling.
What are your feelings when it comes to bikes on transit? I’m not sure what the subway rules/etiquette are in NY, but BART has a bunch of rules related to bikes, and they aren’t allowed in the Muni underground.
Bikes should be allowed on transit 24/7, no permit, no nonsense. It’s common sense. Any city or region that’s committed to reducing the damaging social and environmental impacts of driving needs to have an even stronger commitment to making alternatives work (this includes a commitment to 24/7 transit service, but that’s for another day).
I love that city dwellers know how to respect each other’s space in public. Transit riders as very conscientious, and we know when we bring our bikes on trains and buses how to respect other riders; people know better than to bring their bikes on during rush hour.
When I’m tired after a long day at work, I love the ability to bring my bike on the subway in New York, and if the train is full, I wait for the next one. New York City Transit is the only subway system in the world that allows bikes 24/7. It’s a policy Transportation Alternatives fought hard for in the 1990s. Of course, we have only large city bus fleet without bike racks on the buses
Have you had any conversations with the SFMTA yet? What do you anticipate your level of involvement in their policy-setting to be?
One of the key roles of civic groups and advocacy organizations is to close the gap between the decision makers and the people affected by their decisions. I’m really looking forward to being a voice for communities’ needs and aspirations and using that to help shape SFMTA policy. And, on the flip-side, taking all the great ideas being innovated at the MTA and helping elected officials and local leaders learn about them make them work in their communities.
I’m can’t wait to sit down with Ed Reiskin, the head of the SFMTA, or maybe go for a bike ride or hop on Muni since he’s a daily rider. He’s recognized nationally has a leader on urban mobility, and it’s great that he heads NACTO (the association of big city transportation agencies), which was previously led by former NYC transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. This is the think tank for urban transportation innovation; our cities are the labs and we’re the scientists. Working with colleagues in San Francisco over the years and knowing a few New Yorkers who’ve jumped coasts before me, I’m also excited to connect with colleagues working on public projects.
One of the exciting advantages of the SFMTA versus New York City is that it oversees city transit, surface transportation and taxis, whereas in NYC you have one state authority, one city agency and one city commission, respectively, overseeing them. There’s great potential integrate services and give people more mobility choices, not just relegate them to being trapped in cars, stuck in traffic. No one moves to a city for that.
What do you most hope to see change in San Francisco during your tenure at the Bicycle Coalition?
San Francisco needs to achieve Vision Zero. No one should die in traffic, whether you’re riding a bike, walking or riding in a bus or car. These deaths and serious injuries are completely preventable. They’re not “accidents,” we know what causes them, we know how to prevent them.
The police should have the very best investigations to understand the contributing factors and the decisions people make that result in deaths and injuries. This information should all be published and reported in real-time, so the public can understand how to save lives on our streets and sidewalks and work with government to realize policies and projects that do this.
What is your stance on the Idaho stop? If you're pro, will you work to make it legal in SF?
I'm not too familiar with the controversy. But when you design streets around biking and walking instead of around cars, behavior improves greatly. In Brooklyn, for instance, Prospect Park West just had a total redesign with a wide, protected bike lane, and sidewalk biking decreased by 80 percent. And, also, when street lights aren't timed for cars going 40 miles an hour, bicyclists don't have to hit as many red lights, etc.
What's the best way to be a citizen bike advocate, other than just riding a bike?
1) Of course, join SFBC!
Seriously, your support puts our activists on the street to build support for protected bike lanes like Polk and the Embarcadero, grow Bay Area Bike Share, educate professional drivers about safety and introduce San Franciscans and their families to safe bicycling. Your dues get us fighting for better biking, tons of discounts and access to some of the best parties in the bay.
2) Show up. Go to meetings in your community and speak up in support of better biking and safe streets, ask the SFPD to enforce against the most dangerous violations and meet with your elected representatives to tell them you vote and ask them to support bike-friendly projects and polices. You can get the latest updates on taking action from our weekly Bike Bulletin e-news.
3) And when you do ride, lead by example and bike polite. Model the city you want to see. SFBC just made this great video on easy rules of the road.