New cycling path helps reduce speeds on Golden Gate Park's JFK Drive, but concerns linger 

click to enlarge Upgrade: Previously, Golden Gate Park cyclists had to ride next to traffic. Now, they ride between parked cars and the sidewalk. See speed information below article. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Upgrade: Previously, Golden Gate Park cyclists had to ride next to traffic. Now, they ride between parked cars and the sidewalk. See speed information below article.

Automobile and cycling speeds have both decreased and safety has not been a major issue since a controversial bike lane was installed on John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park. Still, disability activists continue to oppose the project.

In spring, a 1.5-mile bike lane that separated cyclists and vehicles using parking spaces — the first of its kind here — was installed on the road. The goal was to make the roadway accessible and safe to all users, including pedestrians and cyclists of all abilities.

Since the lane was installed, bike and vehicle speeds have dropped 2 to 3 mph, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages bike policies. Bike speeds went from about 14.5 mph to 12 mph, and vehicle speeds decreased from roughly 31 mph to 28 mph, with some variation depending on the location and time of day.

The lane drew opposition when first installed, with pedestrians, cyclists and motorists expressing confusion about the design. Disability activists also had their own issues, such as access to the sidewalk being disrupted.

However, the vagaries of the plan seemed to be clearing up — 87 percent of respondents surveyed by the Transportation Agency said they understood the configuration of the lane, and 61 percent liked the design.

The survey also revealed that safety did not appear to be a great concern, with 51 out of 59 pedestrians rating the conditions as good or very good. Sixty out of 69 bicyclists gave the same reply.

“We are very encouraged by the SFMTA’s preliminary data on JFK Drive,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “We often hear that people — especially families and newer riders — don’t feel comfortable biking with fast-moving traffic and without dedicated space, and we are confident that we’ll continue to see the number of people biking in Golden Gate Park increase.”  

But despite the positive reports, concerns remain. Disability activists say access to the sidewalk is cut off and the bike path puts them in harm’s way.

Bob Planthold, a longtime advocate for people with disabilities, said the study failed to look at accident rates or examine the number of people who now avoid JFK Drive because of the change. He said many people in the disabled community are fearful of navigating the lane.

The Transportation Agency, however, has continued to move forward with the plan. As a result, Planthold said he and others are exploring legal action.

“It’s not just us—no one is paying attention to vulnerable pedestrians,” Planthold said. “It could be an eight-month pregnant woman or a blind person. That bike path is simply not safe.”

A final evaluation of the path will be conducted this winter, with the results expected to be presented in spring.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Bike speeds on JFK Drive prior to and following installation of the new cycling lane:

Before After
Weekday 14.5 mph 12.7 mph
Weekend 14.5 mph 12.0 mph

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Will Reisman

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