Cyclists say stalled Embarcadero bike lane plan could have prevented pedicab crash

Protected bike lanes planned a decade ago for the Embarcadero could have prevented a Honda Civic from striking and critically injuring a pedicab operator cycling there Wednesday, transportation advocates say. The delay of those bike lanes, they added, was preventable.

The Port of San Francisco has missed key deadlines to create those protected bike lanes, according to public documents reviewed by the San Francisco Examiner.

Port engineering plans for bike lanes along the Embarcadero with barriers to prevent cars from interacting with cyclists were slated to debut in 2015, but have yet to materialize.

“The Port and the City prioritize safety along the waterfront, which includes making The Embarcadero safer and accessible for everyone — pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders,” wrote Renee Martin, a Port spokesperson, in a statement. “The Port of San Francisco Commission and staff were saddened and shocked by the injuries sustained in Wednesday’s hit-and-run pedicab accident.”

In the meantime, cyclists continue to get struck along The Embarcadero. In fact, a cyclist commuter was struck by a vehicle the same day as the pedicab.

“We receive complaints almost daily,” said Chris Cassidy, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Cyclists traveling along San Francisco’s waterfront, he said, “are literally fearing for their lives.”

Port plans for safety

Wednesday afternoon, a gold Honda Civic speedily swerved in and out of Embarcadero traffic under the gray San Francisco fog.

Along that same waterfront, Kevin Manning, 66, pedaled his pedicab with a 32-year-old woman and her five-year-old daughter sitting in the passenger seats, despite the chill. Just as Manning reached Embarcadero and Sansome Streets, that gold Honda Civic “swerved,” striking the pedicab.

Manning flew to the concrete, according to his friends and colleagues. His pedicab then collided another nearby pedicab, injuring another family of two passengers.

The passengers were released from care Thursday. But as Manning lay in a city hospital with critical injuries to his face and skull, street safety advocates said long-proposed protected bike lanes along the corridor could have prevented the collision.

Early calls for protected bike paths along the Embarcadero came from the urbanist think tank, SPUR. A 2009 white paper pitching an “emBIKEadero waterfront bike path,” written by Harvard graduate student Carrie Nielson, painted a picture of a walking and bicycle-friendly waterfront that would encircle all of San Francisco. The bike lanes as they existed in 2009 were, as Nielson wrote, “treacherous to navigate.”

Recognizing the dangerous state of the Embarcadero, the Port of San Francisco and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency kicked off data-collection on the corridor in 2013. Early plans discuss multiple conceptual plans for bikeways along the waterfront: a two-way bikeway on the water side, two one-way bike lanes on either side of The Embarcadero, or a two-way bikeway in the center median near Muni streetcars. All of those proposals were discussed as candidates for “protected” bike lanes, where physical barriers would guard cyclists from automobiles. Some “big ideas” even included an elevated bikeway, that would see bikes rolling high above the waterfront.

SFMTA and Port staff wrote in a 2014 timeline for the “Embarcadero Enhancement Project” that a “final recommended design,” which was also called an “end product,” was slated for Fall 2015.

That final recommended design never arrived.

A visit to SFMTA’s Embarcadero Enhancement Project website shows SFMTA and the Port expected to seek “appropriate approvals” for a final recommended design in “Summer 2017.”

At the same time, the project website’s description has clues that the project delivery date was initially far earlier: for instance, the website points to statistics between 2006 and 2011, when 84 people were injured walking or riding a bike on the Embarcadero. Two pedestrians were fatally injured and four were severely injured.

Martin, the Port spokesperson, told the Examiner that the conceptual plans have “not been further studied or designed because there is no funding for design, environmental review or construction of the Embarcadero Enhancement Project.” Until funding is available, she added, SFMTA is providing near-term improvements.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the agency extended a southbound bicycle lane on Sansome Street and eliminated an “uncomfortable” bicycle merge by continuing a bike lane adjacent to a new parking lane, among other enhancements.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin said Thursday that he is committed to the protected bike lane project. “It will eventually happen,” he said. But in the meantime, he said, “as a guy who’s ridden several thousand miles cross-country” he believes pedicab operators should be required to wear helmets.

Despite these efforts, the pace of improvements is too slow for cyclists who spoke to The Examiner after Manning was struck Wednesday.

‘It’s just sad’

On the waterfront Thursday afternoon, pedicab cyclist Dara Silverman said the driver who struck Manning was swerving “erratically.”

Though it was an exceptional occurrence, she said, “this is a really good reason to have protected bike lanes. It’s cars that are dangerous.”

Many pedicab operators The Examiner spoke to declined to be identified, but most agreed protected bike lanes would help keep their passengers safe.

Bicyclist Andrew K. Davidson agrees. He was hit by a car on the Embarcadero the same day Manning was struck.

Helmet video Davidson uploaded to Twitter shows a silver Honda quickly drifting right, into the bike lane, possibly to park. It’s not lightning fast, but quick enough to catch Davidson by surprise, and the impact between car and bike is audible. Davidson, caught by surprise, shouts down the driver on video, demanding the driver use their turn signal.

“It’s really common on the Embarcadero,” Davidson told the Examiner. It’s his “third or fourth” time being struck by a car, he said. Davidson, an attorney, has been commuting from the Marina District to work on Howard Street for two years. He’s disappointed the Port and SFMTA have yet to move forward on a bike lane project for the Embarcadero.

“I don’t know if there are adjectives to describe it,” he said. “It’s just sad, when you see something like yesterday with the pedicab driver.”

Manning’s friends and family started a GoFundMe page to raise $25,000 for his hospital bills, which had already raised $14,000 as of Friday morning. The SFPD is asking anyone who saw the gold Honda Civic that struck Manning to contact them with details that could lead to his arrest.

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez
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Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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