"I stop at lights and stop signs, and I always wait for pedestrians," reported NOPA bicyclist Mariana Parreiras. "Every day I have "you first, no, you first" moments with motorists at intersections. They're pleased, amazed really, when I direct them to go first, especially when they have the right of way."
Geekiness? Perhaps more a mix of civility and real politic. "There's a lot of room for more courtesy on the part of cyclists. If cyclists scream past pedestrians, it's like cars that scream past us."
Mariana has her own rule of the road: "I put pedestrians at the top of the food chain." Based on the notion that the most vulnerable party in public arenas deserves the most deference, bicyclists get the next tier down, followed by motorists.
Mariana used to ride with Critical Mass*, but she's conflicted about the group rides today. "I'm not sure Critical Mass helps our cause as cyclists any more," she said. Mariana believes safer streets will prevail only when all users drop the road-bike-walk rage (or the disregard for one another) and adopt more civil, even friendly, behavior.
Mariana's good intentions get put to the test on city streets everyday. While we chatted at the Fell and Masonic intersection Friday morning, we watched six motorists fail to observe the relatively new red bike light meant to protect cyclists and peds through the crosswalk. The drivers pushed through in front of or immediately behind bicyclists and pedestrians. Even seeing a family of four on bikes -- with two little ones -- failed to slow these drivers. Mariana recognizes that proper responses to the bike light will follow a learning curve on the part of drivers, but she also rails against motorists who always put their interests first, even when it comes to endangering people in crosswalks. And she wasn't so benignly civil that she refrained from yelling at one especially egregious driver.
"I'm working toward a career to make streets safer and better-designed for all users," Mariana explained. She's in a dual degree program at UC Berkeley, pursuing a Master's in City Planning from the City and Regional Planning Department and another Master's in Transportation Engineering in the Civil Engineering Department. But study is hardly her sole endeavor. She also volunteers with the BART Bicycle Access Task Force, works with the grassroots group Fix Masonic, and co-edits the electronic newsletter of the Pedestrian and Bicyclist Council of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (now THAT is geeky!)
And that's not all: the last two summers she has interned with the city's Muncipal Transportation Authority (MTA). She's helped write grants for safe routes to schools and the city's new SF Park program. Last Friday she was at Fell and Masonic counting bicyclists in MTA's annual city-wide bike count, noting the number of riders but also directions travelled, whether they wore helmets, whether male or female, and whether they ride on sidewalks or in the wrong direction. (Early reports suggest the bike count at 35 points across the city is UP once again this year. There was a 43% increase in overall bike ridership from 2006 to 2008). Mariana is also an active member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and helps with advocacy when her schedule permits.
NOPA has been home for Mariana for 4 1/2 years. She lucked out and found "really cheap rent" on Central Avenue. She loves bicycling through NOPA but is a bit peeved that BIKE NOPA let the word out on "one the best kept secrets in the bike network." She hops on her red patent leather bike seat -- umm, that's red tape, Mariana -- and heads east on Golden Gate to get to work or take BART. Once she reaches the Broderick crest, she takes a lane, and usually makes all green lights until Franklin or Gough. "It's fast, furious and with relatively low auto traffic, particularly if you go early in the morning. A total pleasure." And then, she qualifies, "It's the only time I ride fast!"
* For a thought-provoking take on the future of Critical Mass and use of San Francisco streets, see Dave Snyder's article on Streetsblog, "Is Sunday Streets the Next Critical Mass?"