The Real Numbers on Golden Gate Bridge Bicycle Crashes

1942857346_8720dd1dc8.jpgFlickr photo: -kÇ-

The Golden Gate Bridge draws thousands of tourists who walk and cycle on the span for its vistas of the city and the sunsets.  Its sidewalks are also a major commute route for hundreds by daily bicycle commuters. And that means sometimes bicycles and pedestrians collide.

Local news hounds have jumped to the conclusion recently that a record number cycling collisions last year – 34 – was the result of the “explosion of bike rental outfits” sending tourists over the span to see Sausalito and ride the ferry back to San Francisco. But a little deeper digging into the numbers may not support that.

First, to understand the numbers, you have to understand the bridge riding rules.  On weekends, pathways on the west, or ocean side, of the bridge are dedicated to bikes.  While pedestrians use only the east, or city-side walkway. Weekdays, when dozens of cyclists commute using the bridge, they must share the east side with pedestrians until 3:30 p.m., when the west side is again opened exclusively to cyclists.

Mary Currie, Golden Gate Bridge District spokesperson, explained that the district keeps cyclists off the west side during the day because work crews use it for regular bridge maintenance. Currie confirmed the record 34 crashes involving bicycles last year, but claimed “attorney-client privilege” in declining to provide details of whether accidents occurred during commute hours, on weekends, the time of day or which side of the bridge.

The California Highway Patrol was more accommodating.

It turns out most bicycle-involved collisions on the bridge between 2005 and 2007 were on the bicycle-exclusive west side and the most frequent time is the homebound commute period from 4p.m. to 5 p.m. Erin Komatsubara, a CHP spokesperson, found 14 collisions involving bicycles on the bridge and of those 10 were on the west side, which does not allow pedestrians. And while her statistics don’t break out workdays from weekends, the 4-5p.m. timing suggests commute times when people zip home at high speed and may ride with a mix of slower moving tourist riders.

Despite news reports linking the rise of bike rentals to a rise in bike crashes, the CHP numbers show declines in collisions until 2008. CHP reports seven collisions in 2005, but a drop to three in 2006 and four in 2007.  

Rayne Madison, who commutes daily to San Francisco across the bridge said, “If there are a lot of pedestrians on the bridge I ride slower and call out to them well in advance of passing them. I have had close encounters with runners who are wearing headphones and workers opening the doors in the towers unexpectedly,” she said. She complained about early morning “hammerheads” who ride fast, two abreast, and are more concerned with speed than anything else.

Tom Murphy, who commutes across the bridge said, “The bridge police are telling cyclists to share the paths with pedestrians, and that’s fine. But where’s the effort to tell pedestrians to stay to the right as they walk so that cyclists can get though safely?”

Donna Domino, who bikes the bridge for pleasure on weekends said, “Yes, the tourists on bikes are busy gawking but they’re tourists, for heaven sakes, and a lot of bikers think they’re Lance Armstrong. I think bikers should be more patient with tourists. I’ve been one and I’d probably be doing the same thing if I were traveling and there was a cool place to see on a bike.”

  • brianna hoffner

    “and a lot of bikers think they’re Lance Armstrong” — i couldn’t agree more. i’m an experienced cyclist and former messenger and every single near-crash i’ve had on the GGB is when some aggro weekend warrior wants to plow down the bike lane at 20 mph when the ambient speed is about half that. slow down, enjoy the scenery, chill out, and then hammer the pedals when you have the room to do so.

  • Donna Domino falls prey to “Murphy’s Corrollary to Godwin’s Law” and invokes “Lance Armstrong” – therefore automatically losing. brianna loses in overtime.

  • DaveO

    “The bridge police are telling cyclists to share the paths with pedestrians, and that’s fine. But where’s the effort to tell pedestrians to stay to the right as they walk so that cyclists can get though safely?”

    What happened to the rule that the less vulnerable mode of transit is automatically responsibly for the welfare of the more vulnerable.

  • crhilton

    DaveO,

    That’s a fair point. Cyclists should be very careful of pedestrians. I don’t, however, think many have said that the less vulnerable is automatically responsible… If I’m cycling on the street and I veer into your car as you pass me (at a reasonable distance) then it’s clearly my fault!

    On the street, though, there are laws. On trails like this (I’m not a resident, but we all have trails with pedestrians) there are rules that aren’t enforced by anyone. Everyone has their own set, and there’s some overlap. These seem to be very common ones that most know:
    * Say “on your left” before passing
    * Give others a little room to wander toward you when passing
    * Ride/walk to the right
    * Don’t take up the whole trail, preferably stay on one side

    It’s my opinion that cyclists should make up for silly things that pedestrians do. But if they jump into you as you pass them in a reasonable manner then it’s their fault: You can only make up for so much.

    Cyclists should do this because they’re overtaking.

    In the same light: Lance wannabes should watch out for tourists on bikes. In fact, watch them harder because they veer left faster…

    I’m guessing tourists on bikes are about as predictable as kids on their first two wheeler… Except they’re bigger so they can cross the whole right of way much quicker.

  • Jeremy

    Does the CHP concur with the GGBD about there being 34 collisions in 2008? If so, that does seem like a significant jump 7 in 2005, 3 in 2006, and 4 in 2007. But maybe CHP only counts more serious collisions? The Matier and Ross piece says of the 34 collisions, 19 led to trips to the hospital.

  • Pam

    Jeremy,
    The CHP did not have figures for 2008 so there was not a “match” with GG Bridge District. What the CHP did have was more detail on which sides of the bridge and time of day, allowing for better judgment about what’s really going on. It suggests, but not definitively that fast commuting may be the issue. More detail is needed, particularly for the 34 in 2008, which may include a wider area than the CHP numbers. Hope that Helps. –Pam

  • Mary Currie’s “attorney client privileges”: Huh? The GGBD would be the client and can disclose anything they like, even if they also told their attorney.

  • If you can’t slow down and enjoy the bridge as more than a quotidian means of getting from Marin to SF, you don’t deserve to ride on it.

  • Sprague

    A center line with occasional directional arrows painted on the west sidewalk would help discourage bicyclists from riding two or three abreast, especially on busy weekends and afternoons.

  • The biggest problem I see on the bridge, by far, is people stopping at the towers to take photos – dismounting and putting their bikes in the middle of the path behind the blind corner.

    Two abreast I can plan for.

    And Theo, frankly if you ride back and forth on that thing every day to get to work, some days you just want (need??) to get to work or get home. Just because the route from home to work happens to be spectacularly scenic doesn’t mean you can’t ignore that fact sometimes without taking it for granted.

  • I’ve witnessed a couple major accidents on the west side and had dozens of close calls myself due to people who aren’t paying attention. Though the Golden Gate Bridge has a bunch of complicated signs saying what side to ride on at what times, but they don’t include the most basic safety messages that everyone should know, but don’t follow as often as they should.

    • Ride single file when riders are coming the other way
    • Keep right
    • Do not make sudden stops and pull your bike as far over as possible
    • Call out “passing on the left” before passing and only when it’s safe to do so

    And having seen a couple crashes at the anchorage I think people underestimate how narrow it is. There’s plenty of room on those big concrete blocks for a sign saying something like, “narrow, slow down”.

  • pde

    Mary Currie’s “attorney client privileges”: Huh? The GGBD would be the client and can disclose anything they like, even if they also told their attorney.

    The first thing an attorney will tell you when they start represent ingyou is to be extremely careful about what information you disclose publicly, because you will loose any ability to prevent parties who are suing you from knowing it. Once you disclose it publicly, you loose attorney-client privilege in it.

    That isn’t to say that the GGBD shouldn’t be disclosing this information.

  • Umm, well it seems to go without saying that the pedestrians AND cyclists must have more space (peds in the bike space and bikes in the car space). Until that happens the Dirty God of Car and its Council on Earth will just continue to read articles like this and laugh their heads off.

    But seriously, now difficult it would be to have a temporary and cheap slow lane for bikes?

  • Steve

    Bikes can be a viable alternative to cars buses etc. BUT that means the infrastructure has to be there to allow them to do it quickly so riding to work by bike doesn’t take all day.

    Don’t tell the bikes to slow down. Tell em to open the other side up for bikes all the time especially during commute hours. Workers and peds should share one side bikes the other.

  • Lee

    It might not be the root cause of all bike accidents on the GGB, but there is definite merit to the “bike rental” concern. My wife and I were riding back from Tiburon one weekend. We were riding slow enough that other cyclists were passing us. We encountered a few packs of tourists including a tandem bike, so we passed each of them independently, me going first. My wife was passing the last tourist when the toursit mysteriously swerved to the left, forcing my wife into the guard rail and breaking her wrist. The best part was that the tourist saw her hit the guard rail and crumple to the ground, and yet continued on riding without concern. I think that the bike rental agencies really need to give these tourists a crash course for riding on the GGB before they send them out there.

  • Messenger

    @Sprague & @Steve – Couldn’t agree more. On a related note, GGB pedestrian paths don’t have divider lines or arrows? What freakin century are we in??

    Talk about a no-brainer. Paint a stripe!

    http://www.untitledname.com/archives/upload/2006/1/williamsburg-bridge-bike-path.jpg

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