New JFK bike lanes are bad for everyone

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Golden Gate Park visitors have had a couple months to get used to the confusing new lane configurations on JFK Drive – with bike lanes along the edges of the road and a row of parked cars in the middle – and I have yet to hear from anyone who likes this design. Nice try, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, but this design isn't working for any road users and should be scrapped.

The idea of using a row of parked cars to separate cyclists from motorists isn't inherently bad, and it has worked well in some European cities. But the way this is designed, passengers exiting vehicles must cross the bike lane to get to the sidewalk, creating a conflict that isn't good for either user. It was intended to create safer bikeways, but they actually feel more dangerous and uncertain now.

There are buffer zones where motorists aren't supposed to park, but on busy days they do anyway, with little to fear from parking control officers who rarely venture into the park, often crowding into the bike lane. The design also accentuates the visual blight of automobiles in this beautiful park, with more lanes of cars dominating the viewscape in many spots.

And I'm not the only one who feels this way. After my cover story on urban cycling last week, I got a few notes critical of the new design, including an email from longtime local cyclist Thomas Kleinhenz, who wrote, “When the new Golden Gate Park bike lanes went in I scratched my head. Who dreamt this up. It helps no one. Cyclists now ride in a lane between the curb on the right and parked cars on the left. You have cyclists, roller-bladers, rental bikers, and children all stuck in the same lane with pedestrians trying to get to and from their cars.”

Kleinhenz cited state road design manuals discouraging this kind of design, claiming they may even be illegal. He continued, “When I've ridden it, I've had to dodge a child darting out from between the cars and a family of 5 who strolled across the bike lane confused about where to go. I've also been stuck behind Segways and rental bikers, forcing me and another rider to go out into the traffic lane just to top 5 mph. But of course the traffic lanes are now thinner to make room for the new bike lanes. So we're left with one non-functional, unsafe lane and another mildly functional unsafe lane. Meanwhile cars have less room to maneuver, and people getting out of their parked cars are forced to try to avoid traffic on one side and cyclists on the other. While cyclists who don't want to deal with the congestion in the bike lane now must be aware of having car doors opened into them in the now narrower traffic lane.”

His comments are typical of others that I've heard, including those from transportation engineers who are similarly baffled by the choices made here. The SFMTA deserves credit for trying something new, but I'll give them even more credit if they just call this one a mistake and start over. And that is a possibility.

“We're going to continue monitoring the JFK bikes lanes closely and we will consider potential adjustments to make them more intuitive and user-friendly,” SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told us, adding that the agency will analyze changes in traffic speed and volumes for both cyclists and motorists and parking volume, as well as surveying people's perceptions of the project.

Hopefully some changes will be in the offing, but I think the project is an example of a bigger problem that I discussed in last week's article, and that is political and civic leaders going with the easy bicycle infrastructure projects so they can claim lots of new mileage rather than the more politically difficult projects we actually need.

Last year on Bike to Work Day, newly minted Mayor Ed Lee announced two bike projects: the JFK lanes and new cycletracks on the dangerous few blocks on Fell and Oak streets to connect the Panhandle with the Wiggle, which has long been a high priority for cyclists as it completes a popular east-west bike corridor. Well, the former project got done and the latter got delayed when neighbors complained about the lost parking spots.

Now, because the SFMTA tried to accommodate motorists with too many new parking spots in Golden Gate Park – despite previous promises to decrease street parking in the park in exchange for building a massive underground parking lot – we've ended up with a messy design that only exacerbates conflicts between motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists. In their effort to please everyone, as is often the case, they have pleased nobody.

Comments

Really? You think it's more safe for bikers to have cars driving across lanes to park than have pedestrians walking across the bike lane?

Maybe it will take some getting used to or adjustment, but segregated bikeways have been shown to be far safer for bikers without increasing car or pedestrian accidents.

I for one would be much more likely to bike in any city with bike lanes on the other side of parked cars.

Claudia

Posted by Guest on Jan. 25, 2013 @ 3:58 pm

It lifts my spirit to read all the negative comments about these ridiculous, unsafe and useless bike lanes in Golden Gate Park. We can thank the misguided folks at our friendly Bicycle Coalition for turning a perfectly safe JFK into a useless mess that serves the needs of no one and puts pedestrians, cyclists and the disabled at greater risk while reducing parking and creating a visual blight in our park. If these lanes are so safe, why do so many cyclists avoid them and instead choose to share the narrow traffic lane with cars? The SFMTA needs to put JFK back the way it was -- safe, and accommodating for all road users. The goal of the Bicycle Coalition is to have a continuous path from east to west. Perhaps the goal should be to have a safe path from east to west. The only question is do we fix it now or wait until someone is killed?

Posted by Terry Rolleri on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 1:20 am

It lightens my heart to hear all these negative, but accurate, comments about our new bike lanes. As a cyclist with 42 years of experience, I will not ride in them. As has been pointed out by many, these lanes are unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians, inconvenient and dangerous for drivers and completely ignore the needs and concerns of the disabled community. As the headline states, these lanes serve the needs of no one except perhaps Leah Shahum of the SFBC, who can boast about their "success" in getting bike lanes across the City. Never mind if these lanes are functional or safe.

As an member of the experienced road bike community, I am not pleased with these new members of the bicycling community who don't make even a cursory attempt to obey traffic laws. Motorists might get angry, but they won't be harmed if one of these fools runs into them. The same cannot be said for other cyclists or pedestrians.

The bicycle is a vehicle and cyclists are safest, if they are perceived as operators of vehicles and behave as operators of vehicles. If the Bicycle Coalition is so concerned about the safety of cyclists, then perhaps it should encourage its members to wear helmets and obey traffic laws. The creation of "special lanes" will never eliminate the need to follow established laws and exercise common sense.

Now, PLEASE, PUT JFK BACK THE WAY IT WAS.

Posted by Terry Rolleri on Feb. 12, 2013 @ 3:48 am

I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

We all agree that walkers are safest when they have a separated path from the roadway, i.e., the sidewalk. Bicyclists are safest when they have a designated path as well.

JFK Drive in GG Park is not the Daytona 500. Let’s all relax, slow down a little, be more alert and keep each other safe.

Posted by Sean on Feb. 23, 2013 @ 6:41 pm