Temporary Bikeway Provides Glimpse of Bike-Friendly Embarcadero

KTVU: “So far, it seems to be working, and that has critics concerned.”

A temporary, two-way bikeway put in place on a short stretch of the Embarcadero last week provided a brief glimpse of what a permanent, safe bike route along the waterfront could look like.

Bicycle traffic signals were temporarily installed for the bikeway. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/geekstinkbreath/9768516945/in/photostream/##Frank Chan/Flickr##

The bikeway was a measure to encourage attendees of the America’s Cup races to bike to the event, repurposing a north-side traffic lane and car parking lane for bicycling space separated from motor traffic using metal barricades. SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose said agency staff “will be evaluating how this temporary bikeway changed travel behavior along the Embarcadero and how it minimized conflict.”

The SFMTA also installed bicycle traffic signals “to ensure safety and to control traffic,” Jose said, though they will be removed. Traffic signals normally seem to require a significant amount of time, funding, and engineering to install, and it’s unclear why the SFMTA was apparently able to implement and remove these ones so swiftly.

While the protected two-way lane was in place, biking on the Embarcadero seemed to be more popular than ever. “Last week’s pilot of the Embarcadero on-street bikeway showed how well-used this space would be by the growing number of people biking along our waterfront,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “This was a win-all-around, with more bike space, more dedicated space for people walking along the promenade, and more people visiting the businesses and attractions along the waterfront.”

Of course, the installation wasn’t a perfect, complete model for a protected bikeway along the length of the Embarcadero. It ran less than half a mile, from Washington to Green Streets, outside of which people on bikes were dumped back into the Embarcadero’s regular configuration with green-painted bike lanes on opposite sides of the street, which are frequently blocked by drivers. Most southbound bicycle riders continued to use the regular south-side bike lane, rather than the temporary bikeway, as crossing over to the opposite side of the street to use the temporary bikeway was, for many people, counterintuitive and inconvenient.

Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/geekstinkbreath/9768518545/in/photostream/##Frank Chan/Flickr##

“Building the Embarcadero bikeway on a permanent basis is a chance for San Francisco to invest in its waterfront and draw locals and visitors in a whole new way,” said Shahum, noting the popularity of similar waterfront bikeways like Chicago’s Lakefront Trail and New York City’s Hudson River Greenway. “These are successes we should be emulating.”

Reaction to the bikeway seemed generally positive — for one, it encouraged bike riders to not use the wide but crowded sidewalks (though biking on the Embarcadero’s northern sidewalk is legal).

Of course, KTVU still found a merchant from the restaurant Pier 23 in the segment above who didn’t want it to become permanent, because he believed most of his business comes from motorists. Reporter Patti Lee introduced the segment by saying that “so far, it seems to be working, and that has critics concerned.”

A number of people reportedly told KTVU it shows the need to create a permanent bikeway, and one woman, Lupe Navarrette, said the bikeway was the only reason she decided not to drive to the races. Still, she said, “the moment it wasn’t cordoned off, I didn’t feel safe and I got on to the sidewalk.”

The SFMTA tested out a similar one-way bikeway during last year’s America’s Cup races as called for in the mayor’s People Plan. A protected bikeway along the waterfront has long been a goal of the SFBC and SPUR.

Temporary "Bike Lane End" stripings marked the southern end of the bikeway at Washington Street. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/geekstinkbreath/9768313592/in/photostream/##Frank Chan/Flickr##
Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/geekstinkbreath/9768514214/in/photostream/##Frank Chan/Flickr##
Most eastbound bicycle traffic continued to use the regular bike lane on the south side of the Embarcadero. Photo: Aaron Biailck
  • Anonymous

    The separated bike lane is great for bicycle traffic heading north along the Embarcadero, but pretty useless for southbound traffic since it is really not obvious how to get to the lane (from Fishermans Wharf).

    A 2-way bike lane would be tremendously more useful if it actually connected two major destinations (like Fishermans Wharf to the Caltrain station). That way bicycle traffic can just stay in the protected lane for the whole route instead of zigging and zagging to get to and from the lane.

  • Anonymous

    The Pier 23 guy isn’t thinking straight. Who’s more likely to stop in at his restaurant: someone in a car that has to find and pay for parking or someone who is riding a bike and can stop on a dime, lock up to a rack or railing and be sitting at a table in 5 minutes?

    I’m sure there were as more people walking and on bikes vs in cars on any given day too. With more safe space for both, there will be more, arriving from BART, Caltrain and Muni, especially with bike share now running.

  • Josh Handel

    If any place in the city should be safe for all-ages bicycling, it’s the Embarcadero. We already decided years ago that our waterfront shouldn’t be a freeway, and it shouldn’t be a highway or arterial, either.

  • anon

    “Appealing to sailing enthusiasts by encouraging them to try a different sport.”

    It’s not a sport, it’s transportation.

  • Anonymous

    This claim should actually be pretty easy to debunk since tourism in San Francisco is well studied. This report from the SF Travel Association showed just over half of visitors to the city use neither a private car nor a rental car. (And even if they did rent a car they might not choose to drive it to the clusterfrack along Embarcaderp) http://www.sanfrancisco.travel/media/San-Francisco-Travel-Association-releases-economic-impact-figures-for-2010-and-results-of-year-long-Visitor-Profile-Research.html

  • justin

    The Embarcadero is a giant on/offramp for 280 and the Golden Gate Bridge. What a wonderful space the waterfront could be for people, but instead it’s largely a wasteland.

  • Dan

    My thoughts exactly. The people in cars congesting Embarcadero are not your customers, they are on their way somewhere else. The people on bikes are the most likely to stop for a drink or bite to eat

  • Dan

    It may not be the most practical for transportation for locals but it could potentially get tourists out of rental cars and on to bikes

  • Walk Eagle Rock

    I love this article, and the accompanying video, because it demonstrates how gosh darn easy it is to make cycling appealing to the masses. Don’t need bike studies, or pilot projects– just give people cycling about 6 or 7 feet to travel in a single direction and physically separate them from motorized traffic.

    This wide, two-way Embarcadero bike path should be a no-brainer happily embraced by the local businesses. Those people cycling are having fun and enjoying their surroundings. If families, weekend visitors, and tourists are cycling it’ll give them a good excuse to work up an appetite and conveniently end their bike tour along the waterfront at the local restaurants.

    Cycling on a bike path that runs along a beautiful waterfront and is friendly for all ages and abilities should be added to the the list of “things to do while in San Francisco;” it can just as easily attract loving couples, families, bike enthusiasts, transportation planners…

  • In dense parts of the city like this a two-way path is usually not ideal as it makes intersections more complicated – that is, IF these intersections have bike-only lights and so on. But of course all the action is one side of the street so a two-way makes sense here, if it is wide enough, fully-separated and has safe crossings with signals to intersecting streets and the minority of direct destinations which are on the south side.

    To reduce noise and encourage further safety, there should also be a 15 mph speed limit — what is it now, 35 mph?

  • Nicasio Nakamine

    Sailing or cycling? Both are both!

  • tony

    Heading eastbound I rode on the sidewalk before the path started. It was at night so I basically had it all to my self. Riding to the right, next to the barrier, was a little harrowing with oncoming vehicle traffic. All in all, with the bike signals and extra space it was pretty nice. Still had to watch out for cross-traffic heading in and out of the driveways though.

  • That KTVU quote at the top is priceless and deserves video memeification somehow. The tools are coming soon that will allow this.

  • Gezellig

    That *is* rich! Should definitely be memeified. Way to concern troll, KTVU.