SFMTA Refining Design for JFK Drive Cycle Track in Golden Gate Park

Image: SFMTA

When traffic engineers from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) invited the public to weigh in on the design of Golden Gate Park’s first separated bikeway on John F. Kennedy (JFK) Drive last night, the discussion wasn’t dominated by complaints about losing car parking. Instead, the room was filled with citizens eager to see JFK Drive finally transformed into a road safe enough for their even children to cycle on, whether they felt the proposals would achieve that or not.

Attendees mulled over the multiple questions presented by SFMTA staff around how the physically-protected bikeway should best be designed: A two-way cycle-track, or two separate one-way bikeways on either side of the road? Should the bikeway be protected by parked cars, or does a striped buffer provide enough separation?

In his presentation [PDF], SFMTA Project Manager Antonio Piccagli explained that a two-way cycle track, which would require less buffer space than the alternative, would leave more room for a protective parking lane along the bikeway. However, he said, it also holds more potential for conflicts with drivers and could be difficult for riders to enter it at the intersections where it begins.

Image: SFMTA
Image: SFMTA

By a show of hands, community members favored separated one-way cycle tracks by a slim margin, but the written feedback still needs to be counted and many design details still have to be worked out.

For some long-time bike advocates, the project raises long-standing issues around the fundamental flaws in JFK Drive’s design. San Francisco historian and SF Bicycle Coalition co-founder Joel Pomerantz argued that if JFK is to be substantially improved, the car traffic speeding through at peak commute hours can not go unaddressed.

“We should be leaping at opportunities, not apologizing for taking out a few parking spaces,” said Pomerantz. “It would help more and cost less to make JFK not a through street. We shouldn’t be considering such few options.”

Another man, supporting Pomerantz’s view, explained that Fell Street being “aimed right at Golden Gate Park” made the road a commuter route for drivers. “About twenty years ago during [the development of] the Golden Gate Park Master Plan, there were a number of motorists who said that they deliberately wanted to drive through Golden Gate Park on JFK because they enjoyed driving through a nice park area,” he said.

“But the fact that they’re doing so damages the park experience, and the Master Plan utterly failed to deal with that.”

Others, excited about what would potentially be the city’s first parking-protected cycle track, argued the project should be supported as the first of many more to come. SFMTA Transportation Planner Dustin White explained that by narrowing the roadway, the cycle track itself could have a traffic-calming effect and said further measures could only be included in a future project.

“We hear you,” said White. “I’m just letting you know that the scope of this project is gonna look at a bikeway facility on JFK Drive, and that’s it.”

The SF Bicycle Coalition hasn’t taken an official stance on any particular design option but strongly supports the project.

“There’s great support for creating separated bikeways on JFK Drive,” said Executive Director Leah Shahum, “because this stretch of Golden Gate Park is such an important part of the Bay-to-the-Beach bicycle route, which carries tens of thousands of people biking every day.”

“This is one big step toward making the park more inviting and safe for people bicycling and walking, and we look forward to even more steps down the road.”

The SFMTA plans to refine the design and present it at a meeting August 16. The project is expected to be on the ground in December, something the Mayor promised during a Bike to Work Day press conference.

An example of the various options for the proposed designs. Image: SFMTA
A two-way cycle track would present a peculiar problem for riders entering it at the end points, or "boundary intersections". Image: SFMTA
  • mikesonn

    “We hear you,” said White. “I’m just letting you know that the scope of this project is gonna look at a bikeway facility on JFK Drive, and that’s it.”

    Translation: let us spend a bunch of money now, only to spend more later to do it right.

  • icarus12

    Using Golden Gate Park to walk during the morning commute borders on the unpleasant on MLK Drive and JFK drive.  So many cars, generally going 30mph, one right after the other.  Quite a bit of noise and fumes.  I head for trails off-road, but resent having to give the park over to commuters who are looking not at all at the scenery.

    Rather than block off these streets to cars, I would suggest putting in a few gentle speed humps, narrowing the traffic lanes while painting in bike lanes, and posting the speed limit as 15mph.  Plenty of crosswalks too would help change the road experience. All these measures signal to drivers that quick, through-driving is not anticipated.

    I love the occasional car drive through the park too, but it’s made less pleasant even for drivers by those trying to use the Park’s roads as regular city streets for through traffic. They tend to tailgate you, and you feel impelled to go at least 25 mph or a bit more or pull over for them to pass.  That shouldn’t be the park experience, particularly for people taking their elderly or disabled passengers for a fun ride through the scenery.

  • Anonymous

    The supreme irony is attempts to curtail unfettered car access to the park are opposed on the basis of the claimed burden they will place on the mobility impaired.  How are these mobility impaired park visitors to cross the streets once they’re in the park?   The real solution for mobility impaired visitors is electric carts, not high-speed highways cutting the gorgeous parkland into ribbons.

  • Anonymous

     I’ve never really understood why we can’t just reduce the speed limit in the park to 10 or 15 mph.  That would reduce the number of commuters and make the remaining drivers less of a nuisance.  Then enforce the new speed limit and use the funds for additional improvements.

    Is there something I’m missing here?

  • icarus12

    djconnel,

    I like the idea of the electric carts, but I wonder if they would work for the mobility impaired and elderly.  From my experience with my parents, I see them hesitate to shift from one mode of transit to another to another — the whole thing just intimidates them with the anxiety of getting tired or a bit stranded, especially the ones with bad feet, knees, or legs.  The truly impaired — those who can’t walk without pain more than 50 feet — are hard to convince to try buses, carts, etc., for the outing.

    When it comes to tasks they do every week or every day, they do develop strategies to getting those things done despite limited mobility.  But for the occasional fun or unusual outing, they feel all this shifting modes makes said outing a task, instead of easy and fun.  We able-bodied, younger folks just have no idea of the burden on the mind that a disability can create.

  • Upright Biker

    “…it also holds more potential for conflicts with drivers..” I find this concern about “conflicts” in a lot of traffic engineer statements in regards to having parked cars between bicycles and traffic. What don’t they get about the fact that when I’m riding next to a lane of cars doing 30 mph, each one of them is a potential conflict, and a potentially fatal one, at that!

  • icarus12

    Street_equity: I love your idea — so simple.  It makes all my talk of narrowing, striping, etc. look overdone.  Maybe you are right — just lower the speed to 10-15 mph through the entire park and you are done.

  • Nathan Henderson

    I think we need to get used to the two-way cycletrack, as this will prove to be the best set-up in other parts of the City (e.g., the Embarcadero). The use of bike boxes to maneuver in/out of the cycletrack and through intersections will only become more prevalent as we build the next generation of bicycle facilities, and should not be avoided (just thoughtfully designed).

    I personally prefer the two-way option for JFK, as the one-way option will offer no protection in some areas (just like a regular bike lane) and just a narrow buffer in others. In my opinion, having at least a buffer and preferably also protection by parked cars is very important for making this facility 8-80 safe. The parked cars should also serve to narrow the mixed traffic lanes psychologically – serving as a bit of traffic calming – and will reduce the unpleasant noise of cars heard by people bicycling and walking by the curb.

    With whichever design we go with, it is key that the green paint does not stop at intersections – where it is most important. Innovative intersection treatments are most certainly called for in this project and all future ones.

  • Nathan Henderson

    I think we need to get used to the two-way cycletrack, as this will prove to be the best set-up in other parts of the City (e.g., the Embarcadero). The use of bike boxes to maneuver in/out of the cycletrack and through intersections will only become more prevalent as we build the next generation of bicycle facilities, and should not be avoided (just thoughtfully designed).

    I personally prefer the two-way option for JFK, as the one-way option will offer no protection in some areas (just like a regular bike lane) and just a narrow buffer in others. In my opinion, having at least a buffer and preferably also protection by parked cars is very important for making this facility 8-80 safe. The parked cars should also serve to narrow the mixed traffic lanes psychologically – serving as a bit of traffic calming – and will reduce the unpleasant noise of cars heard by people bicycling and walking by the curb.

    With whichever design we go with, it is key that the green paint does not stop at intersections – where it is most important. Innovative intersection treatments are most certainly called for in this project and all future ones.

  • Anonymous

    Using disabled access as an excuse for high-volume motor vehicle traffic ends up creating more disabled and ruining the park for everyone.

  • In my twenty years in San Francisco, I have never seen anyone on our city streets get a speeding ticket ever.  Tickets for running stop signs and red lights, yes, tickets for turning left during a no left turn time period, yes, but speeding? Perhaps it happens, but I haven’t seen it.

    I once had someone pass me on JFK (admittedly the western part) while I was going the speed limit.  Which meant they revved up to at least 20 miles over the speed limit as they tore around me. Any road in San Francisco people will treat as a handy freeway if given half a chance. The wider the street (and the more lanes it has) the more drivers get the psychological signal that they are good to go.

    The way to truly reduce speeds in more than name only is to re-engineer the streets to slow the drivers down in a physical way, not rely on enforcement. Though I agree the speed limit should be reduced to 15mph,  just putting up a sign does very little to create a change in behavior.

  • Sprague

    My vote is for one-way cycle tracks with as much physical separation as possible from motor vehicles.   In lieu of a totally car-free JFK Drive, since it’s not on the table now, traffic calming and more stringent measures to discourage through-traffic would be welcome.

  • Guest

    JFK *already* has a 2-way physically separated bike path. But it’s not well advertised. Has anyone investigated simply marking it in obvious ways?

  • Nathan Henderson

    True. There is a path – but it is already crowded, since it is shared with people walking. And it is not nearly the 13 feet wide that the proposed two-way cycletrack would be. We shouldn’t try to squeeze space for people walking and bicycling into the least amount of space, leaving the rest for private automobile movement and storage. We should give sufficient room (especially in a park) for people to walk, bike, skate, etc. without running over eachother’s toes.

  • I’ve tried riding the path on JFK.  It may say it is for bicycles, but it most emphatically is not.  It is narrow, bumpy from tree roots (south side), and filled with pedestrians who absolutely don’t want you there.  A completely miserable bicycle experience except for perhaps the occasional child still on training wheels riding alongside their walking parents.

    I would encourage anyone who wants to plan/shape/recommend/encourage/exhort various forms of bicycle infrastructure in San Francisco to take a bike out on the street and see firsthand what works and doesn’t work for bicyclists.  It wasn’t until I started urban bike riding that it became clear to me why bicyclists do what they do and want what they want.

  • concerned cyclist

    “The SF Bicycle Coalition hasn’t taken an official stance on any particular design option but strongly supports the project.”

    This is not true.  SFBC has been gathering signatures for months: explicitly for a bi-directional bikeway.  They have had an ongoing public relations push behind the idea.  In doing so, they have shown themselves to be unresponsive to the opinions and experience of the cycling community, as indicated by the majority of people who voted for one-way bike last at the meeting through a show of hands.

    A separated bi-directional bikeway sounds wonderful, but save it for somewhere that it is actually needed.  I commute through GGP every day, and find it to be the safest and most enjoyable street in SF.  Creating opposing bicycle traffic in a separated bikeway would actually be a detriment to the pleasure and efficiency of riding through the park.

  • Anonymous

    Take a step back. Let’s say the SFBC got behind the bi-directional path for whatever reason – they are going to push it. Would you prefer them to not push the ideas that they get involved with?

    If they were completely unresponsive, why are we discussing this other option?

    The show of hands at the meeting is biased data. If you oppose the idea, you pretty much have to show up or your opinion is not heard. If you support the idea, you don’t have the same incentive, since the premise was not “come show up and support the bi-directional path or we’ll get no path”.

    And remember, the SFBC and the city are not solely catering to the experienced cyclist who uses that road daily and is very comfortable with it – in fact they are more incented to cater to the people who would like to bike but who are not comfortable with it. The 2 way path along PPW in NYC is working very well – however they are not the exact same situations – PPW is a one way street among other things so a pairing of 1 way paths would be pretty gnarly.

    I haven’t analyzed this at all and don’t read my comment as an endorsement of either option.

  • concerned cyclist

    To murphastahoe:

    You have valid points, and I did not fully explain my perspective and experience.   I will give the SFBC credit for responding directly to me about my concerns regarding the bidirectional bikeway; but in every contact I had with them it was as if I was the only person they had encountered who disagreed with their plan for a bidirectional bikeway.  My perception is that the SFBC has been more concerned with public relations than sound policy on this issue.  

    To answer your question: we are discussing the other option only because the MTA and parks department saw problems with the bi-directional bikeway plan.

  • Johnmemo

    As a cyclist and driver, I commute through the park daily. I pretty much split commute 50/50 and pretty much go the length of the park regardless. As I do commute the length of the park, I feel much less comfortable on the west side and rarely hear any discussion regarding proposed changes past Speedway and Lindley Meadows. I don’t have as much concern on theeass side and see the real problems at intersections and don’t see speed as such a bigproblme.

  • Masonic will be the death….

    You are so right in your idea for speed humps. The SFMTA could place the separated humps that allow motor cycles to pass through the middle with a combination of soft posts on the line designating the bike lane.

    This setup is in place on Arguello to protect the cross walk for the golf course (interesting here but no place else) and also on East rd near the Bay area discovery center under the GG bridge.

    Speed bumps slow everyone down.