S.F. Bike Coalition Looks For New Leader After Surprise Resignation

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Noah Budnick was selected to lead SFBC in December 2014. (San Francisco Bicycle Coalition)

The executive director of San Francisco's leading bicycle lobbying organization is stepping down with little explanation.

Noah Budnick, who has led the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) for less than a year, told members of the organization this week that he is resigning.

"It was a tough decision," Budnick wrote in a blog post on the coalition's site that outlined the organization's accomplishments in the last year. That includes work to expand the Bay Area Bike Share program, pressure on San Francisco City Hall to reduce traffic deaths, and lobbying work that led to restrictions for private vehicles on parts of Market Street.

Budnick's post offered this about his decision to leave. "I know that what's right for me and my family right now is to take a break, step back and explore the next set of opportunities for how I can make cities more liveable, safe, and happy places," he wrote.

In an email to KQED, Budnick said, "I'm ready for my next challenge -- not to mention that my wife and I are working through training to be foster parents," he said.

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During Budnick's tenure, the coalition became involved in a controversy over a police crackdown on bicyclists who don't come to a complete stop at stop signs along one of the city's most popular biking routes, known as the Wiggle. SFBC vigorously opposed the crackdown.

The executive director also came out in strong support of a contentious proposal that would direct SFPD to consider cyclists who safely yield at stop signs a low priority for enforcement.

His departure comes as the coalition begins to switch gears.

"We are expanding our work on bike builds for low-income San Franciscans, addressing the shortage of safe, secure bike parking, and leading the campaign to ensure that Bay Area Bike Share grows in a way that serves all San Franciscans," said Margaret McCarthy, SFBC's program director.

Political observers describe Budnick as a strong leader of an organization that's grown to become one of the most powerful lobbying groups in San Francisco.

"The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has grown from humble beginnings to become a very strong advocacy organization in City Hall," said Alex Clemens, a political strategist and founder of Barbary Coast Consulting.

Over the last decade, SFBC's strong leaders have aggressively lobbied for increased bike lanes, traffic calming measures and more city funds to be directed toward making cycling in the city safe.

"The coalition has been blessed with strong leadership," Clemens said. "I have no doubt that the organization's strength and reach will attract a strong crop of potential replacements."

Other safe transit advocates describe Budnick's departure as a loss.

"During Noah's time at SFBC, the organization continued the important work of advocating for the implementation of the City's Vision Zero goals to end all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2024," said Cathy DeLuca, program director at Walk SF, the city's top pedestrian advocacy organization. "We're saddened to lose Noah's experience and expertise."

"Noah's been a great leader for cities that serve people first without sacrificing their safety and happiness for the mobility of cars," said Dave Snyder, executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition.

The SFBC is beginning the hiring process for an interim executive director, a position it hopes to fill early next year, according to McCarthy.  The search for someone to take the position permanently could last more than six months, she said.

In the meantime, Jean Fraser, formerly San Mateo County's top health officer, is taking over as acting executive director.

Budnick came to San Francisco after serving as deputy director and chief policy officer of Transportation Alternatives, where he advocated for protected bikeways in Manhattan. He also served on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's transition team.

He took over from Leah Shahum, who was SFBC's executive director for 12 years.