It’s Not That Hard to Find People Who Like the JFK Bikeway

Just a hunch: Might the kids riding in front of Stanley's camera like the new bike lane? Image: ##http://serve.castfire.com/video/948923/948923_2012-04-20-013623.html##KRON 4##

Much has been made about the “strangeness” of San Francisco’s first parking-protected bike lane in Golden Gate Park, which employs the type of design that other American cities are increasingly using to improve safety and raise bicycling rates.

As someone who lives next to Golden Gate Park, I’ve been going out of my way to ride on John F. Kennedy Drive almost every day since the easternmost section was installed a few weeks ago. The sense of safety and dignity that the protected bikeway affords is highly enjoyable. And day by day, as more drivers grow acclimated to the new arrangement and fewer block the bike lane, I’ve watched a growing number of children and casual bicyclists enjoy riding on a calmer, quieter street in a space that truly belongs to them.

Callie, 7, gives the new bikeway a thumbs-up. Photo: Aaron Bialick

There are ample signs that drivers are getting used to it. In fact, after crews striped the second of three sections yesterday between the de Young Museum and Stow Lake Drive, I found all the cars parked where they’re supposed to be.

Still, floating parking lanes are new to San Francisco, and some members of our local media just can’t resist sensationalizing this transitional phase, focusing on the initial complaints of a few people who aren’t used to it yet. When KRON’s Stanley Roberts went out to JFK Drive last week, he seemingly ignored the swaths of riders, young and old, who use the reconfigured lane. “It was hard for us to find someone who likes it,” he told viewers.

Well, it wasn’t hard for me as I made my way along JFK Drive yesterday. Pretty quickly, I found Colleen and her 7-year-old daughter Callie, who live in the Inner Richmond and regularly bike in the park twice a day. They said the new separation from cars makes them feel safer.

“I think that once the car drivers get used to it, it’ll be easier,” Colleen said. “Right now, they’re confused, and once they understand they’re not supposed to park in the bike lane, it’ll be good.”

Jesse, who parks on JFK Drive to coach his son's baseball team, thinks the new configuration is better. Photo: Aaron Bialick

I also spoke to Jesse, a father who regularly parks his car on JFK when he coaches his son’s little league baseball team. Standing in the new buffer zone, which keeps bicyclists and motor vehicle passengers out of each other’s way as people get in and out of their cars, he told me he likes it. The only concern he noted was the need to remind kids to watch for bike traffic as they cross the lane.

“From the driving experience, it’s better,” he said. “If you’re on the road, the bikes are safer, and there’s separation between the motorists and the bicyclists.”

As in cities like New YorkPortland, Chicago, and Long Beach, where these kinds of bikeways have been successfully implemented, there’s an adjustment period, but people seem to be getting used to it fairly quickly.

The real story that Roberts missed is that JFK Drive represents the future: a street design that helps a broader segment of San Francisco feel comfortable biking around the city.

Photo: Aaron Bialick
The newly-striped stretch next to Stow Lake Drive. Photo: Aaron Bialick
New stretch next to the Rose Garden by the de Young Museum. Photo: Aaron Bialick
This group even found plenty of room to do squats while they were unloading. Photo: Aaron Bialick
  • Gregski

    Aaron: No, I would not consider you a committed cyclist just because it is your primary means of transportation. For all I know you might travel no more than 60 miles per year of which 31 are by bicycle. And yes, it is religious to think that Americans are going to take as high a percentage of trips by bike as some Danes simply by having their streets and parking spaces arrogated by separated cycle tracks. According to the MTA’s numbers, cycling in San Francisco has become more popular every year for more than half a decade. But most of that increase manifested itself during a multi-year interval during which San Francisco did not build or stripe a single additional inch (oops sorry, Europhiles, centimeter) of bike lanes because it was forbidden to do so by judicial order. I label people religious when it appears to me that their beliefs are informed by faith rather than facts. Fact is, during much of the past 6 years, something OTHER than new bike lanes was persuading people to take up cycling in our city. The religious have no curiosity about what that other cause or causes might be. They already have the answer. More and more and more bike paths.

  • @7a0662dc8954176f323a500ece150844:disqus …Got it.

  • Gregski

    Spoken like a true worshipper of the bike-lane religion, mikesonn. Yes, it’s much harder for me to conclude some of the things you conclude because I require facts. Everyone keeps waving in my face the Harvard Public Health Montreal study as proof that cycle tracks are safer even though the study proves no such thing (although it claims to). The study fails to take into account the possibility of self-selection among the riders who choose the reference streets and those who chose to ride the cycle tracks. It’s possible that the lower level of mayhem observed on the cycle tracks is due to the design of the cycle tracks…or… because the cycle tracks attract an older, slower, safer, less-male class of riders which experiences less mayhem wherever it rides. Or some combination of both. But the Harvard study does not address all those possibilities, just the first. Oh well, maybe the NYC Prospect Park bike lane will provide me with the facts I need. But first they’ll have to stop revising it to deal with the backlash and the accidents it has provoked. http://www.newyorkbikelawyer.com/Bike-Accident-Blog/2012/February/Proposal-Would-Separate-Drivers-Cyclists-and-Wal.aspx

  • Anonymous

    @7a0662dc8954176f323a500ece150844:disqus I understand and can relate to being slowed down by other bicyclists. But, as @twitter-14678929:disqus pointed out, if you are going really fast you just take the car lane, and problem solved. If you are going in the 15-20 mph range so that you’re too fast for slow bicyclists but too slow for the car lane, then I think you can negotiate/utilize the buffers (especially in the sections where there are no parked cars) to pass slow cyclists. In reality, there aren’t *that* many cyclists on this cycletrack that it’s difficult to pass those only going a few mph slower than you. Now if there were literally bicyclists packed on this path, that would be a different story (and in that case, we should be taking more space from the cars to increase bicycle capacity).

    I think one thing we are all going to have to get used to as bicycling becomes more popular is that we will all have to change our behavior. Take driving a car. You can’t just go as fast as you want. Maybe you are more than capable of driving 50 mph down a road but another car wants to go 40 mph. Then you just have to deal, or wait until the appropriate time to pass (and, if it’s bad enough, the slow driver should be courteous enough to pull over and let faster drivers pass). The same will be more and more true of cycletracks as more and more people start riding. Of course, we need to make sure our infrastructure simultaneously grows as the number of cyclists grows, but right now, JFK has plenty of capacity for the number of cyclists on it. I do think slow riders, like slow drivers, need to learn how to be courteous to faster cyclists and be aware that they need to stay to the right or, if riding in pairs, move over when somebody faster comes by. But I also think fast cyclists either need to slow down at times or wait for opportune times to pass (just like cars).

    In the end, we all trade a bit of convenience for safe and respectable infrastructure. That is *huge* progress which we can’t deny.

  •  jd – he ignored that possibility because he’s making the whole thing up and is just a troll.

  • Gregski

    Hey Jd, I love a lot of your utopian descriptions of how things can work. Especially the part about slower cyclists and drivers “needing” to learn how to be courteous to faster traffic. Please give me a shout out when they themselves have all recognized that need and acted upon it. In my 23 years of living and locomoting in California my experience is that, the wider we make the road, path or sidewalk, the wider the  traffic will spread out from one side to the other. Utopia for me was the previous JFK, where cyclists could ride slowly, even 5-6 feet inside the traffic lane and it didn’t slow anyone down because we could still find maneuvering room to pass on the left.

  • Gneiss

    Greg, your utopian vision of happy motorists gently giving way to confident cyclists was not my experience.  Despite the wide lanes, it still felt crappy with impatient drivers behind me, particularly during commuting hours at the stop signs.  I’m happy with the bike lane and the floating parking as it narrows the road and forces car drivers to be a bit more cautious and patient around the parked cars.  My wife is espcially happy about the bike lane, and now takes our daughter into the park on the tag along, as the lanes provides a safe place to ride where before she felt like competing with cars for space on the road.

    My experience is if you make a road wider, motorist drive faster and are more impatient and less aware of what’s near them.  When you make a road look like a highway drivers will treat it that way.

  • @7a0662dc8954176f323a500ece150844:disqus can you define “committed cyclist” for me? I want to know whose side I should be on.

  • Gregski

    Gneiss, You make a good point that my experience and that of my friends differs from yours and others, from some of whom I have heard similar stories about “impatient” motorists on JFK. In 23 years of riding JFK I have experienced inattentiveness and hostility from motorists but nothing I would characterize as impatience. At the public hearing about this bike lane some cyclists spoke of being honked at. I can not recall this ever happening to me on JFK. I would love to know the reasons why my experience is so lacking. All I have is hypotheses one of which is that I almost always allow motorists plenty of room to pass me on my left. But the people who say they’ve been honked at often portray themselves as timid and scared so I’m guessing they are also riding as far away from moving traffic as I am. Do you have any theories? Your valuation of what makes the new layout more to your liking adds evidence for my suspicion that the purpose of the bike lane isn’t so much to separate the vehicle types but to force everyone else (motorists, cyclists and walkers) into pace reduction and hesitation on behalf of timid cyclists. I call them “timid” rather than fearful because all cyclists are fearful if they’re wise, sane, healthy and paying attention.

  • mikesonn

    What is the difference between “hostility” and “impatience” and how can you so readily tell? Also, any chance the driver went from impatience to hostility quicker than you were able to perceive?

  • Gregski

    Mikesonn: Fair enough. Neither Gneiss nor you nor I can discern with certainty the emotional and mental state of another human being. Words like impatience, confident and hostility are shorthand for observed behavior. For me impatience refers to instances of horn honking and engine revving from behind me and to stop-sign and red-light running ahead of one’s turn. Hostility refers to verbal insults and attacks, obscene gestures, vehicular assaults (including near-misses after eye-contact or exchange of communication), projectile assaults, vehicular restraint or obstruction of my forward progress after eye contact or exchange of communication and interpersonal (step out of the car) assault and harassment. OK? All clear now?And even though I can’t remember it I’m sure that at some time or another I’ve observed a driver jump a turn at 4-way stop on JFK. It seems unlikely that it’s never happened in my presence in 23 years riding there.

  • mikesonn

    Well, for someone who likes his facts, that seems like a lot of BS.

    Either way, you’ll still be able to travel the same you always have with the same level of harassment if you ride in the car lane because you travel at the speed of the cars. However, Gneiss’s wife and child can now comfortably ride through the park which they weren’t able to do before. That sounds like a step in the right direction, no matter what bicycling religion you belong to.

  • @7a0662dc8954176f323a500ece150844:disqus when I’m not in the bike lane in GGP I always tend to ride about a foot outside the door zone. This means any cars that have to pass me will need to take up some of the oncoming traffic lane. I am usually moving at a good enough pace that in order to pass they’re going to be going above the speed limit.

    Now, that said, since April the two times I’ve been honked at were on Thursday evenings. Possibly a coincidence, but the Academy’s nightlife event happens then, and I suspect two things are happening: 

    1. Traffic substantially increases, bringing in lots of drivers who don’t often travel in the park.
    2. That traffic is engaged in finding the best parking spot available, so drivers become that much more antagonistic.

    On most other days there’s rarely a problem; drivers seem to have no problem waiting until it is safe to pass before doing so without hassling cyclists in the process.

  • Anonymous

    Greg – you have probably had less issue because you ride at high speed, have fast reactions, and confident control of your bike to adjust to conditions.

    That’s not the norm.

  • Anonymous

    @7a0662dc8954176f323a500ece150844:disqus You’re not really addressing what everybody here is saying: this cycletrack still allows you as a vehicular cyclist to ride with traffic yet it also allows those who aren’t comfortable riding in traffic (which, by the way, is about 95% of people) to have a space separated from cars. Everybody wins. I don’t really get what you are trying to get at in this discussion; you can still ride how you were before but the vast majority of people can now feel safer. Oh, and since the more narrow roads slow down traffic, it also makes the park safer for other motorists and pedestrians.

    “Utopia for me was
    the previous JFK, where cyclists could ride slowly, even 5-6 feet inside
    the traffic lane and it didn’t slow anyone down because we could still
    find maneuvering room to pass on the left.”

    Your idea of utopia does not line up with the vast majority of people. All you seem to care about is speed/convenience. This has never been shown to get anything but a few percentage points of people on bikes. And maybe that’s what you want. However, if you accept that the MTA’s goal is to go way beyond that (20% of trips by bicycle by 2020), then it makes no sense not to follow the example of what *every* city that has significant numbers of cyclists has figured out: cyclists need separated infrastructure (cycletracks). Of course, this doesn’t mean that the current implementation of the cycletrack on JFK is perfect and there is no room for improvement, but just that it is progress, a step in the right direction. From what I’m gathering from your comments, you don’t really care about getting large numbers of people out on bikes — you just want to be able to move quick yourself. That’s fine, but you have to understand that those who actually want to change cycling from being some fringe activity dominated by male cyclists with a mostly vehicular cyclist point of view and which is dangerous (statistically-speaking) to something that is done by 20% or more of people, then this requires the infrastructure be changed into something more along the lines of those in northern Europe. And a huge part of that infrastructure is cycletracks. It would be completely illogical for the MTA (with their 20% by 2020 goal) not to add cycletracks. You at least have to recognize that, and then realize that you don’t care about their goals and just want to ride quickly.

  • sometimesIride

    I have to agree with Greg, even though I am not a “committed cyclist” as defined by MTA. But I have ridden on JFK probably hundreds of times.  I always felt safe, until the new bike lanes. I think they are a disaster.  Just the other day, I had to stop five times because the lanes are so constrictive.  I had stop for a young kid who was wobbling on his bike through both the bike lane and the passenger loading lane. I had to stop because two mounted police, who can no longer ride in the narrow, narrow car lane, have no choice but to use the bike lane. I had to stop when a Parking Control Officer had to block both the bike lane and passenger loading lane because he can no longer ride and park his cart on the narrow street.  I had to stop as a woman was unloading a very large baby-carriage.  I had to stop for the kids existing the car on the passenger side and running to the park without looking (as kids are wont to do).  And then, because I am not a speed cyclist, I almost got knocked to the curb by someone who is. With the old bike lane, I could have easily swerved around the above mentioned obstacles.  And the speedster could have easily swerved around me. I so miss the freedom of movement I felt in the old bike lane!  There is nothing now but constriction.

    Additionally, I also drive through the park.  The car lane is ridiculously narrow and presents a huge danger to those existing from the driver’s side of the car.
    But what I find most sad and most shameful is that new bike lane and the double parking area completely destroys the aesthetic beauty of that part of the park, which shows nothing but disrespect to those who designed it.  When walking or riding through that area of the park, by bike or by car, it looks just like any other crowded ugly street in the city.  Where a magnificent view of the Conservatory and the beautiful grounds surrounding it once existed (for both cyclist and drivers), there is nothing now but an ugly and over-crowded parking lot.

  • sometimesIride

    Well said. I am not a regular cyclist, and even I hate the new bike lanes!  I hate the feeling of confinement  and being trapped. Gregski is right – this new design does not enhance safety; rather, it creates danger where none existed before.

  • sometimesIride

    I had the same experience.  I might as well have walked that stretch of JFK for all the times I had to stop.

  • sometimesIride

    O.k., folks, where is a four-year-old jumping from a car more likely to head?  To the park, or to the street?  I had a near-miss experience the other day, when  group of kids ran from the car to the park. The new bike lane is a disaster waiting to happen. 

  • Following on Gregski’s comment, two points. First, if this facility is marked as a bike lane, it should not be as it doesn’t meet the legal definition of one. Second, everyone (especially Streetsblog, which should know better) who refers to this as a “protected bike lane” or “buffered bike lane” should immediately stop, because even if it is not signed as a bike lane, the more people who refer to it as such the greater the chance that bicyclists who choose to ride in the traffic lane will be harassed by motorists. Please, let’s use the term “cycletrack” or “bikeway” for these facilities.