Cyclist Outcry Forces Delay on GG Bridge Speed Limit Vote

Golden Gate Bridge District directors meet today. Photo: Tom Murphy

Golden Gate Bridge directors today tabled their staff’s surprise proposal for a 10 mph speed limit for bicycles after outraged cycling advocates denounced the plan as everything from a “half-baked idea” to a “solution in search of a problem.”

The bridge’s Building and Operating Committee received more than 60 complaints prior to the hearing, then heard another hour’s worth of criticism from several prominent bicycling organizations that were intentionally excluded from a year-long, $25,000 study of cycling safety.

“Creating controversy and outrage among cyclists is hardly the proper way to engage the community,” San Francisco Triathlon Club member Dino Piacentini told the committee. “I’m a little concerned about the anger and frustration in the community.”

After hearing concerns from the bicycle groups, and several more from district directors, the committee put off the vote indefinitely, directing its staff to work with the cycling community to refine the proposal, a process that is likely to take months.

While cyclists won a reprieve, they’ll still have to slow down on the bridge this summer. On May 9, the bridge will close its bike-only western sidewalks for four months of maintenance work, forcing thousands of daily cyclists to share the jammed eastern sidewalks with up to 10,000 pedestrians. Director Barbara Pahre suggested a need for an interim plan to deal with the crowding, but no ideas came forth.

Stealth Planning

This week’s sudden call for the speed limit came after what General Manager Denis Mulligan called a “confidential” study by Alta Planning & Design. Alta officials told Streetsblog they were instructed by the district not to discuss the report.

In addition to a 10 mph speed limit and $100 fines for most of the bridge, the plan would impose a 5 mph limit around the towers and when maintenance work is underway. Maintenance workers are a constant presence on the bridge on weekdays. The proposal also called for creating separate lanes for bikes and pedestrians on the bridge’s eastern sidewalk. Finally, the plan would also ban unicycles, bikes with seats more than 4 feet high.

Everyone at the hearing agreed safety is important. Mulligan drove that home by noting one cyclist became a quadriplegic after a high-speed, head-on crash. But the secrecy surrounding the planning project reflected a still-unexplained aberration for the district, which typically works closely with the bicycling groups on safety and transit issues.

“We were quite surprised to get our first notice of this study and proposal a few days ago,” Andy Thornley, policy director for the 12,000-member San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, told the committee. “We certainly could have helped change the proposal to avoid much of the negative media and public outcry … Shouldn’t you get a proposal that is properly developed instead of a half-baked idea that we’re going to spend months working on?”

Marin County Bicycle Coalition Advocacy Director Andy Peri said his group’s “primary” goal is to enhance safety, but it “doesn’t want to see policies that are going to discourage bicycling.”  He urged the committee to allow as much time as needed to come up with a better plan.

Similarly, Bike and Roll Policy Director David Hoffman noted his company rents 100,000 bikes a year to tourists, with 90 percent of them heading over the bridge.

“Frankly, I’m a little disappointed that I’m sitting at a table discussing this with the bridge district rather than having the bicycle rental companies involved in the process of this study,” Hoffman said.  “It’s incredibly important to involve your stakeholders – the people who are sending hundreds of thousands of bicycles over the bridge every year – in this process.”

Mission Cycling member Neil Gehani said, “I’m wondering if this is a solution in search of a problem rather than trying to solve a real problem.”

Although Mulligan hoped for a 30-day delay, the process is likely take months. When the plan does come back to the committee, there’s a good chance it will address a broader range of topics. Several of the organizations stressed that they were eager to work with the district on safety issues that go beyond the speed of the bicycle.

Crash Causes

The bridge sidewalk narrows to 5.5 feet at some points, leaving a narrow margin for oncoming bikes to pass one another or to maneuver around pedestrians. Image: Alta Planning & Design

The Alta report focused almost exclusively on speed, which was cited as a primary factor in just 39 percent of the 164 bike crashes on the bridge over the 10-year period from 2000-2009.  Absent from the discussion were the causes of the 61 percent of the crashes that weren’t attributed to speed, such as slippery metal plates on the bikepath or gusty winds around the towers – problems that could be mitigated through improved design.

District Director Dave Snyder said he’d like to know if the other cyclists hit something, were drunk or crashed for some other reason.

The bridge sidewalk is 10 feet wide with clear sightlines, but narrows to 5.5 feet near the pylons where the bridge cable is anchored, leaving little margin for error as two oncoming cyclists pass each other. The path is just 7.5 feet wide as cyclists roll into the blind turns at the towers, where some cyclists get distracted by the wind and the bumpy plates on the sidewalk.

While those conditions will surely be addressed in coming weeks, some directors already seemed amenable to compromises.  Snyder, for example, questioned whether it’s really necessary to ban unicycles, which was part of the staff proposal.  And Director Dick Grosboll suggested it might be possible to exclude early morning commuters from the speed limit, if one is ever adopted.

  • sjbrown

    I think you mean “shelved”, not “tabled”.

  • Lionel

    In other words, a bunch of activists who don’t have jobs showed up and intimidated everyone. The problem is that in the absence of any speed limits, pedestrians have a motivation to “spread out” across the width of that lane to effectively slow down the cyclists to a safe speed. It would be better to take an enforced limit than a situation were people feel the need to take matters into their own hands.

    BTW, the same situation exists in the Panhandle multi-use path, where cyclists speed
    with apparent disregard to pedestrians, children, dogs and other path users. How about a 10mph limit on bikes everywhere except designated bike-only lanes?

  • DemonCyclist

    Cyclist also run over and eat babies, and come into your kitchen at night and dump the sugar and flour out of the containers.

  • AoT

    Yes, the reasons pedestrians spread out is because of the bicycles and not because they are tourists wandering around seeing the sights, not worried at all about bikes. Having ridden on the bridge a few time, I have to say that the most annoying part of it is the people trying to haul ass down the road while it’s full of people walking. Of course, they always get pissed at the people that aren’t going as fast as them. In other words, the roadies who feel the need to go on training rides when the bridge is at its most packed.

    The more reasonable thing to do in terms of enforcement would be to give these folks tickets for reckless driving. Bikes are covered under those laws and these folks are endangering people.

  • Anonymous

    If all users would use normal common sense road rules (stay to the right whenever possible), the vast majority of problems could be avoided. Groups that spread across the entire path, blocking both traffic behind them and exposing themselves to on-coming traffic, are most of the problem.

  • MIke Bloomfield

    None of you seem to realize that the cyclists ride on the OPPOSITE side of the bridge from the pedestrians, indicating you do not know what you are talking about.

    And the “activists” are paid by members of their respective groups to WORK – like they did today.

  • Lionel

    DemonCyclist, I think I’ve heard motorists described that way here. Hmmm . . .

  • Nick

    I’d bike 10mph on the Bay Bridge if they let me. I’m just throwing this out there. Anyone?

  • neigh-bor

    10 is low. The speed limits on all roads are the highest speed the slowest reactor can safely manage. There are a bunch of rental bikes with unexperienced cyclists. 12 or 15 seems right. There are a bunch of cyclists that feel that they should be able to go as fast as they can possibly go, which makes them see other cyclists as ‘the problem’ rather than part of the space. On some level it makes me sad that there is a perceived need to create a regulation around cyclist not being jerks to other cyclists, but it is getting crowded out there.

  • Anonymous

    AoT has the most reasonable answer. Strict speed limits are a crude weapon which will hit reasonable cyclists as much as unreasonable ones.

  • dddlev

    Speed enforcement is crude and is a method developed to regulate motorists’ behaviors at much higher speed than this. Though I’m in Washington, DC and have never ridden the GG bridge, I can assure you it is an inappropriate way to regulate the behavior of cyclists on the bridge.

    What happens with speed enforcement is that law enforcement personnel position themselves in a convenient location to conduct speed measurement. This biases them to more open stretches with good line of sight and fewer actual users, precisely the areas in which speed is not as worrisome.

    Furthermore, fatal injury can result from a cyclist hitting a pedestrian at 10 mph. Pedestrians are easily knocked down by cyclists going 5 mph. As has been said in other comments, the enforcement should focus on failure to yield. Cyclists who fail to yield to pedestrians should be ticketed for that offense, and that is an easy thing to enforce using plainclothes police. It will also result in cyclists displaying acute attention to becoming polite and thoughtful in proximity to other riders and pedestrians.

  • Anonymous

    Incorrect: speed limits on roads are set to the 85th percentile driver, not the “slowest reactor”. It is not expected that every road user can go at the speed limit under all conditions. Even 15 mph is too low on the bridge for the open straight sections with clean sight lines. As others have suggested, there are already laws against reckless behavior and failing to yield. There is no need for further regulation.

  • Mark Bittner

    The idea that this is a “solution in search of a problem” is obtuse. I’ve been biking the bridge for more than 20 years and the racers are a constant danger. And they’re arrogant as well.

  • the greasybear

    No, Lionel, guys like Andy Thornley at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition are paid to do exactly what they did: advocate for cyclists’ interests when the rest of us cannot. I’m glad we have a network in place to rapidly respond to unfair surprises like this ludicrous proposal.

    Even more ludicrious: the faux sense of outrage and surprise that cyclists would, after being intentionally excluded from the entire secret process, use the first opportunity available to engage the powers that be. Wail on, Lionel. Wail on.

  • the greasybear

    Meanwhile, in reality, the statistics show one bike accident every two months is caused by excess speed on the bridge. Once every two months–that is “constant danger” justifying $100 tickets and a 10mph speed limit? No. That’s a solution in search of a problem.

    I’d also like to take this opportunity to say I don’t believe you bike the bridge at all, let alone for the past 20 years. More and more, the anonymous anti-bike commenters have taken to claiming they’re fellow cyclists who happen to agree with the anti-bike ideology. It’s so transparent. And arrogant as hell. Nobody believes it.

  • icarus12

    The experience of biking across the Bridge has changed a lot since the 1970s when I did so a teenager. Bikers weren’t rare, but we were singular. Now on weekends when I putter along on my old bike, I’m buzzed by by very fast, serious cyclists and blocked by the sometimes clueless tourist riders. Painting a stripe down the pathway separating bikes and peds makes a lot of sense. It alerts newcomers to the fact that it’s not just a sidewalk and they should walk to one side. And speed limits will alert the reckless to share the pathway nicely with others. The bridge simply can’t serve as another portion of one’s high speed workout whenever there are other cyclists and pedestrians present. It’s too dangerous.

  • Joel

    Seeing as how this blog is dedicated to all forms of sustainable transportation, I was shocked to notice an absence of pedestrian groups mentioned from this article. Maybe you should interview Walk SF to see how they feel about this issue.

  • TEJAVIA

    As long as the cyclist is held responsible for hitting kids…

  • TEJAVIA

    Elbow to the teeth will slow his ass down.

  • TEJAVIA

    And how about this idea: TAKE THE LANE ON THE BRIDGE rather than the pedestrian walkway. BE the traffic, the real traffic.

  • Not As Slow As I Look

    I used to bike the bridge regularly but I’ve stopped because of the small minority who ride too fast and too aggressively. It stopped feeling safe and fun. Clueless tourists don’t bother me, they are annoying but slow and not as scary.

    I consider myself fortunate that I don’t depend on the bridge for my commute. I don’t know that a speed limit is the best idea but I’d LOVE to be able to ride it regularly again.

  • jack

    I have to agree with Mark and I’m one of those riders who speed over the bridge cursing the slow moving herds. A 10mph speed limit seems like a reasonable way to slow things down and will only impact a very small minority of bikers.

  • Jackshim

    I like the idea of taking a lane on the bridge for bikers. Perhaps start on weekends then expand to the weekdays…there might be enough room for slow and fast lanes.

  • David

    Why are bikes on the sidewalk in the first place? This is a problem with an easy solution: bike lane on the highway. Speed limit on the bridge is supposed to be 40mph. How many accidents have resulted from people driving faster than is safe on the bridge? Cars would go a lot slower if traffic were more congested due to fewer lanes. It would be a difficult political battle, but bikes simply need to be on the road with the rest of traffic, and not intermingled with pedestrians, or on paths designed for pedestrians.

  • Bikes and peds should not be mixed. There are certainly enough people using the bridge to justify BOTH sides be open at all times.

    The most dangerous time to be on the bridge is weekdays, before 3:30pm when bikes must share the pedestrian east side. It should be peds on the east and bikes on the west – at all times.

    Painting a divider line on BOTH sides would help to separate north and south bound traffic which may reduce the most dangerous – head on collisions.

    Thanks for trying to keep everyone safe but 164 crashes in 10 years is 16.4/year.
    That seems like a pretty good record for a 2 mile long bridge, with high winds, etc.

    There are certainly ways to improve the safety but a speed limit is not the way to do.

  • Qu

    can someone clarify – would the speed limit be only for the east sidewalk that is shared with pedestrians or would it also be for the west sidewalk?

    also, if you think 10mph is a reasonable bicycle speed limit, when was the last time you rode a bike? check out sf2g’s website (http://sf2g.com/ride-styles.html) – they list a 13-15 mph *average* speed as a “relaxed to moderate” pace.

  • Eric Fischer

    The sf2g people are Serious Bicyclists who ride 40 miles to work, so they are a little optimistic about the abilities of ordinary mortals. I don’t know what the speed limit should be, but 10 MPH is the speed that non-athletes like me go on bikes.

  • Wow. We get a capital “S” and a capital “B”!

  • No offense intended to sf2g people, murphstahoe. Maybe someday I will be able to be that fast too.

  • Anonymous

    For reference Eric. On my wedding day, my then 64 year old Mother, 9 months removed from knee surgery and whose exercise routine consists of walking the dog daily, rode on a rented hybrid with us from downtown Healdsburg to Dry Creek Winery via West Dry Creek Road. W. Dry Creek is rolling terrain with several little hills that are pretty steep for a 64 year old. The ride was 8 miles. We completed it in under an hour – very close to 10 MPH average, including the time we stopped to take more than a few pictures.

    In contrast the GG Bridge is nominally flat.

    If you want to test it out, I’ll find you a bike if you don’t have one. We’ll ride down Valencia at ordinary mortal speed – but only I get the benefit of a speedometer.

    It sounds fast to the uninitiated, but it really isn’t. 10 MPH is slower than the winning speed at the Boston (running) Marathon. The difference between 10 MPH and 13 MPH is *huge*.

  • I should have just stayed out of this thread, but I’ve done a fair amount of bicycling with a GPS receiver (mostly back and forth between North Oakland and UC Berkeley, a 7.5 mile round trip) and my typical average speed on that really is 10 MPH. I can send you the GPS logs if you want to verify or dispute them.

    Meanwhile, I’ll be quiet and hope that there is a peaceful resolution for the bridge that will make everybody reasonably happy.

  • Anonymous

    No need to be quiet.

    There will be a peaceful resolution – “The Status Quo”.

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