Biking at night can be a harrowing adventure. All the potholes, pedestrians, and broken glass that line city streets become that much harder to see in the dark. Using a light, of course, is the sensible solution—if you live in certain states, including Florida, Washington, and California, it's required by law. But if you're biking without a light in San Francisco this month and a cop pulls you over, it's possible that he's trying to issue you a light, not a ticket. Thanks to Light Up the Night, a collaboration between the city's transit authority and the nonprofit San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, 2,000 bike lights purchased by the city will find a home with unsuspecting bikers traveling without lights this season.
"The idea here is we're set up at little stations along busy bike routes, particularly during the evening rush hour between 5 and 7 p.m. when it's already dark," says Leah Shahum, executive director of the SFBC. Volunteers and city staff will flag down bicyclists who don't have lights, set them up with free ones, and send them on their way. The initiative, which started in November and runs through mid-December, comes as part of a safety plan "focusing on how to make biking safer and more comfortable and how to make it more inviting for people who aren't yet riding," Shahum says.
San Francisco has experienced a cycling boom in recent years—58 percent more people are biking today than just four years ago—which means the need to step up bicycle safety efforts and engage the city is greater than ever. "A bikeway is really safe enough when you can ride with your eight-year-old to school or with your 80-year-old great aunt who's visiting from out of town," Shahum says. Other projects to get the city to that point include Connecting the City, a project to develop 100 miles of crosstown bikeways by 2020.
While the SFBC and city government may have a model relationship, Shahum offers a few tips to bike advocacy groups in other cities that aren't as dedicated to bicycle safety. "Tie back the benefits of bicycling with other goals the city is trying to prove, like being family-friendly, being affordable, and being accessible," she says. Another strategy is to emphasize "how great more biking is for our local economy," arguing that bicyclists are more likely to support local stores rather than driving to big box stores. And finally, emphasize "not just the numbers but the diversity of people who are biking," Shahum adds. Plenty of kids get to school on two wheels. Shahum says it's important "to show politicians these are kids we're talking about."