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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.”

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