SFMTA Report: JFK Protected Bike Lanes Have Calmed Park Traffic

Speeds have dropped by two to three miles per hour for cars and bikes, according to a new SFMTA report.

John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park is a bit calmer since it was reconfigured for San Francisco’s first parking-protected bike lane — and a majority of people like the change, according to a preliminary report [PDF] recently released by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency.

Since JFK was redesigned, average speeds are down by two to three MPH for both bikes and cars, the report says. The perception of safety for bicycling and driving went up significantly, though for walking, it went down a few percentage points.

“It’s having a calming effect in Golden Gate Park overall,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “Given the environment of a park, that’s a good thing to see.”

Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfbike/7103064765/in/set-72157629692947401##SFBC/Flickr##

The bike lanes are the first in the city to be placed between the curb and parked cars, separated by a buffer zone — a configuration that other cities have employed to help more people feel safe riding bikes. Although traffic counts won’t be reported until the release of the SFMTA’s final report early next year, they’re expected to show a significant jump in bicycle ridership. Shahum said the SFBC has heard strong anecdotal evidence that the lanes are attracting new riders who didn’t feel comfortable riding between parked cars and moving cars under the old configuration.

“If anything, Golden Gate Park should be the ideal location for people who are new to bicycling or who want to build up their comfort level,” said Shahum. “I think it’s really great to see that the JFK Drive bikeway is having that positive, intended impact.”

When the redesign was first implemented, it saw its share of complaints, especially as drivers adjusted to the novelty of parking away from the curb. In the SFMTA’s survey, conducted through interviews in the park and online submissions, 87 percent of respondents now say they understood the configuration.


“I think we’ve learned from other cities that when you try something new, there is a period of adjustment,” said Shahum. “It’s encouraging to see that people who are moving through the park in all different ways — biking, walking, or driving — were showing greater and greater understanding and support for the new design.”

One of the most common complaints in the survey was from pedestrians who were uncomfortable crossing the bike lane between the parking lane and the curb. Although there haven’t been any known collisions in the bike lane, respondents said crossing it was the least “acceptable” feature of the design, followed by the width of the parking lane and the buffer zones.

Sixty-one percent of respondents said they liked the configuration, though approval varied depending on where the respondent lived and the mode of travel by which they arrived at the park. About 62 percent of San Francisco residents liked it, while 65 percent of out of town visitors and Bay Area residents liked it. The lowest approval came from nearby neighborhood residents, just under half of whom liked it.

Another finding worth noting: Despite the roughly 80 car parking spots removed in the reconfiguration, the perception of parking availability actually improved: the number of respondents who drove and found parking to be at least “somewhat good” increased from 50 percent to 65 percent. The report doesn’t offer any explanation.

Shahum noted that some cyclists, many of whom used JFK’s previous configuration, complained about slower cyclists being in the way, but said that’s a part of adjusting streets to be accessible to a broader demographic. “I think in the end, we’re really thinking about how do we make our city really friendly for people ages 8 to 80 biking, and especially in those areas that are especially important to families, like parks? And that’s really been a successful effort,” she said.

The SFMTA says its final report will include design observations and recommendations for future protected bike lanes. Shahum says that while other minor improvements could be made to JFK’s design, the SFMTA’s next steps should focus on creating more bike-friendly connections to Golden Gate Park, including safety enhancements to intersections on traffic-heavy streets that border the park like Stanyan, Lincoln Way, and Fulton. The new Fell Street separated bike lane, which improves the connection from JFK to the Wiggle via the Panhandle, is a major step in the right direction, she said.

“There are more challenging intersections than there are welcoming intersections along the periphery of the park,” said Shahum. “Now, we’ve got to step back and think, what are the other gaps that need to be filled?”

JFK serves as an early learning experience when it comes to implementing future protected bike lanes throughout the city, she said, which is crucial in make bicycling more accessible. “That’s the way we’re really going to be bringing the next generation out on bikes and helping prove that biking really is equal opportunity for people of all ages and speeds.”

  • Next step — remove the autos entirely. 

  •  An interim step would be to charge for parking on JFK (a step the city was on the verge of doing several years ago and backed off with no explanation.)

  • mikesonn

    Exactly @google-c1054b713ae4d63cc3ebaf620c20fb35:disqus 

  • 85th percentile is still at 33mph in one place?? That is ridiculous for a park. The new reconfiguration has slowed down traffic but we have far to go in order to make the park reasonably safe. Right now it is still being used as a thoroughfare, not a park.

  • vcs

    @KarenLynnAllen:disqus The explanation was that some politicians were going to lose their job over the issue.

  • Anonymous

    As an interim step, how about blocking JFK to vehicles just east of the intersection with Conservatory Drive East, and creating a mini roundabout at that intersection so that vehicles can turn round if they need to? That way, cars can still access the park but not use it as a through route to Oak or from Fell.

  • My observation is that the speedier the traffic is in a particular area, the more likely the parked cars are parked over into the buffer.  Not 100% by any means, I guess I probably hit the curb too often when I have to parallel park, too, but I’ve noticed that close to the stop signs people tend to be able to find the parking area, but where cars are zooming past people tend to park into the buffer. 

    We’re ALL scared of fast moving cars.

  •  @jonobate:disqus I’m not sure how one would go about it, but it would be very interesting to measure the number of cars who use the eastern half of JFK as a way to get to a park destination versus the number that are just passing through.  My guess is the split is 20/80–i.e. fully 80% are using this stretch of road to avoid Lincoln or Fulton on their way to a non-park destination.

  • People just park badly.
    I’ve seen rows of cars parked within an acceptable tolerance of the lines, but every now and then you get a car that’s entirely in the buffer zone and half in the actual parking spot. They just don’t give a #$@^%#.

  • That is also true.  Aside from bad/indifferent parking I see another tendency:  driver doesn’t want to open their door too close to fast moving traffic so they give a bit more room for themselves.

  • mikesonn

    Drivers need a bike lane to protect them from cars when they swing their door up!

  • daisyrosa

    If I’m reading correctly, walkers in the park now feel LESS safe.  This is no surprise; walkers in the neighborhood where I live–adjacent to the park–are less safe ever since one of our quietest streets became designated as a bike-friendly route, with “sharrows” painted on the roadbed.  Bikes now zoom through all the stop signs and careen around corners without signalling; and some of them ride on the sidewalk as well.  Woe betide any pedestrian who steps confidently into a crosswalk, be the light never so green or the intersection never so well-marked as a four-way stop.  

  • In my experience sharrows don’t really encourage bicycling.
    It sounds like the demographics of your neighborhood is changing and people are choosing to be bad cyclists.

  • Sprague

    daisyrosa: Would it be preferable to have those who bike through your neighborhood be driving through instead?  I also live on a designated bike route, and in consideration of both air and noise pollution as well as pedestrian safety, I much prefer to have more local traffic be of the non-motorized variety.  Be there automobile traffic or bicycle traffic, while walking we always have to look both ways and be certain that the moving traffic stops before crossing – even if we have a green light.

  • Sprague

    Improvements to the park periphery, as Leah Shahum suggests, would be welcome.  Intersections like Stanyan and Fell, with their worn crosswalk paint and lack of traffic signals, seem to be accidents waiting to happen – especially when it’s dark out pedestrians are very vulnerable.  Certainly for those who access the park from the south, some of the bicycle improvements introduced to JFK may be welcome along MLK – especially east of Transvere Drive.

  • Gregski

    I love the Orwellian language in the this headline: “calmed traffic”. What’s really happened is that the new JFK design has provoked increased anxiety and vigilance among all users who must now deal with additional lane crowding and potential space conflicts (car doors vs. moving traffic, exiting car passengers vs. moving cyclists, right-turning motorists vs. sight-obscured straight-through cyclists) than what the legacy JFK design used to provoke. Users of JFK now rationally reduce the pace of their movements to give themselves enough attention and reaction time to deal with these new contingencies. It may be slower but no way is it “calmer”.

    I wish the people at the MTA would quit and get jobs at Disneyland. Amusement parks are the only places in America I know of where people pay money to be more scared and where people want their rides to take longer. Two things that our MTA surface designers are good at. And, apparently, proud of.

  • So you are saying that they painted some sharrows on the road and cyclists sprung up from the ground like zombies? Where were they before?

  • That’s the first step. The next step is to be stop being anxious about the fact you are going slower.

  • Gregski

    Yep, murph. The new JFK is SUCH an improvement. Now I get to spend more time in traffic and, if I take your advice, spend my healthcare deductible on therapy and tranquilizers. Neither of which was necessary on the old JFK.

  • Gneiss

    Gregski – slow down and you won’t need therapy and tranquilizers.   If you need to travel east-west quickly there are two 4 lane roads on either side of the park you are welcome to.

    My wife likes the separated lanes since it keeps her away from cars while we have our daughter on a trailer bike.  She finds it far less stressful than how it was previously configured.  If car drivers are a little more vigilant with all the other turning movements around them, then the new arrangement has accomplished its goal. 

  • mikesonn

    Gregski, traffic? It is a park. Are you using it as a cut-thru?

    “car doors vs. moving traffic”:
    – so car doors vs cyclists is better?

    “exiting car passengers vs. moving cyclists”:
    – don’t park over the buffer, this allows the passengers to exit and assess the situation before crossing. No different than any other street.

    “right-turning motorists vs. sight-obscured straight-through cyclists”:
    – all the intersections are day-lighted many car-lengths before the actual intersection allowing plenty of time for drivers and cyclists to see each other and adjust.

    Slow down. Chill out. Maybe walk or bike or take Muni. Enjoy the beautiful city you live in, especially the park!

  • gregski – why exactly are you spending “time in traffic” in Golden Gate Park? Headed to where? Why not on Fulton or Lincoln?

  • Iloveopera

    But it is SOO ugly!  I used to love walking in the park along JFK.  I avoid it like the plague, now.   Truly bad.   It feels constricted, congested.  Yuck!

  • mikesonn

    Reason: cars. Direct rage appropriately.

  • Mom on a bike

    Yes. Take a walk along lovely, idyllic MLK drive then. It’s a frightening traffic sewer which stresses me out every time I drive my kid’s carpool to the botanical garden. (Yes, I’m driving too, but I’m driving three kids at once, at least!)

  • Gregski

    Sheesh. You guys really won’t get a clue, will you? First of all, what I wrote is that anxiety isn’t the result of the slow down it is the CAUSE of the slowdown. Second, your lecturing comments about crummy alternative routes presuppose that I’m still riding east-west on JFK. When and how did you conclude I was still doing this? It used to be great experience for me and is no longer so why the hell would I still be riding there? Yes, mikesonn, car doors versus cyclists is better. Cyclists on JFK used to have plenty of room to ride clear of the door zone and lots of escape room if they got too close. Now, in some parts of JFK full-size motor vehicles have less than 28 inches of free space between the center divide and the parked cars. “No different from any other street”? What are you talking about? What other street in SF requires curbside car passengers to walk through moving bicycle traffic to get to the sidewalk? They have to do this on JFK no matter how well or poorly their car is parked in its space. “Day-lighted many car lengths before the intersection?” Puhh-leeze. The westbound-JFK left-turn onto Conservatory West is day-lighted 3 Smart Car lengths, maybe. And finally, where do you get off ordering me around in the imperative tense? Are you my dad, my manager, my drill sergeant, a cop? Pretty boorish of you.
    Please get a clue, people. For plenty of JFK users, life is now less convenient and more effortful. Walking across a moving bike lane to get from car to sidewalk is NOT an improvement over exiting immediately curbside. Exercise riding east-west on Lincoln and Fulton is NOT an improvement over riding east-west on Old JFK.  Crossing, stopping, pivoting the bicycle to the left, waiting for a gap in traffic then crossing the road is NOT an improvement over smoothly mixing and merging into the left-turn lane. Your efforts to deny this and to encourage people like me to deny and disregard it and like it are condescending and juvenile. Maybe the loss of convenience and carefree ease that has been suffered by some JFK users is a price worth paying so that doddering boors like you can have things your way. If so then I think you would do yourselves more credit by openly gloating over your win (and others’ loss) than by denying that your gain has been achieved at the expense of other’s utility.

  • Gneiss

    Gregski – Spoken like a true vehicular cyclist.  It’s a good thing you’re no longer riding on JFK.  It would just upset you too much.

  • Gregski

    I made a typo in my previous post. I meant to refer to the RIGHT turn onto Conservatory west, not the left turn.

  • sfmom

    i just hope an emergency vehicle never has to go down this street. It is incredibly dangerous and there is no where for cars to pull over. Traffic is significantly worse and you can’t see the bicyclists as they race through stop signs and do other illegal things..Nothing calming about it..Just a big joke!

  • mikesonn

    @6e366185c101e91154119ca228be7c79:disqus  Problem: cars. Direct rage appropriately.

  • It’s interesting how a small change alters people’s perception. In general cars are like overhead wires–we’ve become so inured to them we subconsciously edit them out of our vision and only become conscious of them again when something changes (either they disappear and we suddenly feel more open and less oppressed; or the configuration changes, they pop into our consciousness again and feel more oppressed.)

    The park would look better without cars. It would smell better, too, and be quieter and calmer, a true place of refuge and respite. However, I think it’s unlikely cars will be banned from the park until car ownership levels in San Francisco drop below 50%. (How fast this will happen will depend on the economy and how fast the world oil supply tapers off.)

     In the meantime, a number of things can be done to reduce the negative impacts of cars in the park without getting rid of all cars completely: 

    1) Make it so that it is impossible to use JFK to traverse the park as an alternative to Fulton/Lincoln.  (Through traffic should not be using the park! Through traffic is the majority of the traffic in the park!)  This will get rid of the traffic complaints, reduce the pollution and noise significantly and increase safety for all. However, it won’t reduce the number of cars parked.

    2) Charge for parking on JFK, the lot by the Children’s Playground, Bowling Green Drive, Nancy Pelosi Drive, (honestly, there’s a Nancy Pelosi Drive? When did that happen?), and MLK Jr Drive from Lincoln to the turn off to Stow Lake. It wouldn’t have to be much, just a dollar per hour 9 – 5 Monday- Saturday.  All of the sudden walking, biking and taking Muni to the park will become much more attractive, and the underground parking garage will become comparatively better value as well. Leave free parking up by Stow Lake and in the west half of the park. Result: demand for parking in this area will drop in half. Then remove parking from one side of JFK altogether and car-junkiness visual issues will nearly disappear (or at least drop below present consciousness-threshold.) (If adjoining neighborhoods aren’t insane, they should already have Residential Parking Permits to prevent park visitors from parking on their blocks.) Add meters to Fulton between Arguello and Funston, and Lincoln between 1st Ave and 12th Ave to better manage those blocks as well.

    3) Reduce park speed limit to 20 mph with plenty of speed humps to physically enforce the limit.

    4.) Encourage parking in lots out of sight–such as the lot by the Dahlia garden next to the Conservatory of Flowers. I don’t think most people realize that lot is there.

    And lastly, to improve the park experience just a little more:

    5.) Turn four way stops into 7 mph stop-for-pedestrians-yield-to-moving-traffic-on-the-left roundabouts. Turn stops at crosswalks into yield to pedestrians zones. Give serious tickets to car drivers and bicyclists who fail to yield to pedestrians. Result: bikes will no longer run stop signs because there won’t be any stop signs to run.

  • mikesonn

    I think Pelosi Drive happened this spring.

  • Gregski

    Sfmom: It looks like you, too are being treated to the authoritarian, imperative-tense hectoring that’s favored by these tiresome cyclepaths. In case anybody is wondering, their definition of “appropriate” rage direction is any rage that’s directed towards the things THEY hate. They don’t hate it at all when pedestrians and motor passengers must yield to them and suffer inconvenience in order that their shaking terror of bike riding be assuaged by physical segregation and therefore YOU ARE HEREBY ORDERED NOT TO HATE IT EITHER!

  • First of all, what I wrote is that anxiety isn’t the result of the slow down it is the CAUSE of the slowdown.

    Exactly. This is a park. Trafffic SHOULD move slower! That’s the point!

    Drivers on a wide open road drive faster. Drivers who have a narrower road drive slower. This is a park, with pedestrians and cyclists, not Lincoln or Fulton. Drivers should drive slower. That is why you design the road in a way that drivers instinctively drive slower.

  • mikesonn

    “For plenty of JFK users, life is now less convenient and more effortful.”

    I guess you missed the surveys shown above.

  • Gregski

    Be careful, murph, you’re shoulding all over yourself. It’s not just car traffic that’s slower it’s also bike traffic. That is not an improvement for those of us who value utility.Mikesonn, there’s a typo in your post. Should say “I guessed I missed the surveys”. Plenty of negative feedback, especially in the Parkside where I live. Plenty of red responses, especially from pedestrians. But you just go on and keep trying to deny the obvious: In order to coddle your sensitive, terrified selves a price in utility has been exacted from some (not all) others.

  • Gneiss

    You say ‘utility’ but what you really mean is – “so I and my adult male friends can go as fast as I want to’.  That’s a poor definition of utility if the goal is to increase mode share from the current ‘bold and confident’ cycling demographic to add more people who are not like you.  Sure, if you don’t want to create safe places for children and less confident cyclist to ride then you are right – it’s a sucky revision.

    However, for those who don’t feel comfortable riding in the same space as cars, the changes make a lot of sense.  Let’s not forget that this is a park, shared space the city has designated for lots of users, rather than your (and your friends) personal roadie paradise.

  • gregski – pre and post strava logs or it didn’t happen. 

  • mikesonn

    I am a vehicular cyclist, but I don’t expect that of everyone. Also, it’s a park, twenty is plenty.

  • Gregski

    Hey Mikesonn, I like your live-and-let-live attitude towards other people’s pace. I really do and I share it. If you want to go faster I happily yield the passing lane to you and if you want to go slower all you need to do is yield the left side and we’ll be at peace. I wish our city’s meddling cyclpaths would adopt your way of thinking and stop coercing the rest of the wheeled vehicles down to the tepid pace at which they insist we “should” be travelling. Yeah, twenty is plenty but apparently too plenty for these parental authoritarians.
    Gneiss, you get the prize for being the first one to finally acknowledge that your coddle lane has indeed been a sucky revision to some cyclists. That kudo is genuine and I’ll add a sarcastic one to you for your convenient silence on how sucky it also is for some pedestrians and drivers and wheelchair riders.
    A traditional striped bike lane inside the parked cars on JFK could have improved utility for most cyclists at only a tiny cost in utility to motorists and no cost to pedestrians. But, NO, that isn’t good enough for a group of San Franciscans that is far more important than motorists, pedestrians, training cyclists, the disabled or museum employees: THE FRIGHTENED CYCLIST WANNABEES. Yes, we’re assured, there are thousands of them cowering in their garages, gazing longingly at their dust-covered 1970s Schwinns and Motobecanes, achingly praying for the day that the SEPARATED BIKE LANE appears and their dark days of terror will come to and end and they can post their minivans for sale on ebay and resume the life of two-wheeled utility that they’ve fantasized about daily for decades.
    Funny thing is, I’ve never met one of these people. Never heard one speak at the public hearings about bike lanes. Never encountered one at any MTA open houses. You guys who pester me on this blog like to speak (supposedly) on their behalf. The Coalition blathers about them endlessly. But they themselves are curiously silent and invisible whenever and wherever these things are being discussed in public. Is anyone out there reading this willing in good faith to post a comment like this? “I haven’t ridden a bike in San Francisco in __ years but I promise that as soon as the MTA completes the _______ bike lane you will see me out on my bike at least 3 times per week.”  ???

  • Gregski – if all those bikes are sitting in the garage covered in dust, it seems that the pedestrians should be just fine crossing an unused bike lane…

  • mikesonn

    “far more important than motorists, pedestrians, training cyclists, the disabled or museum employees”
    I like how you used the term “training cyclists”. Solution: spin class.

    Also, “museum employees”? My neighbor (in North Beach) works at De Young and commutes on his bike. He rides a upright 1970s Schwinn at leisurely pace. Also, isn’t there a huge underground garage attached to the museums that doesn’t even require a driver to use JFK to access?

    And because I think you are confused about “20 is plenty”, here you go:

  • Gregski

    Thanks, Mikesonn, for revealing your true disdain for those who wish to use the park for exercise. C’mon man, let’s see some gloating about how your coddle lane drives cyclists off the road and into the studio. C’mon.

  • mikesonn

    You can still ride with the traffic. Also, plenty of people still use the park for training rides. Give me break, you are getting ridiculous now.

  • Gregski

    You forgot the rest of your sentence. “You can still ride in traffic [and get doored due to inadequate escape room.]” No point now in changing your unasked-for advice. You’re already on the record, MS, for urging cyclists out of the park. That’s the purpose of MTA bike improvements, right? To discourage cyclists from riding outdoors?

  • You forgot the rest of your sentence. “You can still ride in traffic [and get doored due to inadequate escape room.]”

    For someone who claims to be such a skilled cyclist, apparently you aren’t.

    The lanes are still at least 10 feet wide.

  • Gregski

    Point well taken, MS. Truth be told I do not have faith in my skill to avoid a 36-inch car door when I’m riding next to a 79-inch-wide vehicle (Chevy Tahoe, for instance) in a 120-inch-wide lane. It would provide only 5 inches of clearance (assuming the SUV is driving as far to the center as the lane allows). If you know of a coach who can train me on how to maintain forward momentum in that situation please post his or her contact information.

  • Don’t ride next to the SUV – take the lane. If you are going slow enough as to impede the SUV, this whole discussion of you being delayed in the bike lane is moot.

  • Gregski

    Once again, point well taken, murph. Moot is a legal term and it it indeed legally moot, since anyone riding a bike in the middle of the roadway when a bike lane is present is violating the California vehicle code.


  • Terryrolleri

    As a cyclist with 42 years of experience I consider the bike lanes in GGP a dangerous disaster that serves the needs of no one.  The lanes are very narrow with storm drainage grates on the right side and car doors and steel access plates on the left side.  Bicyclists are forced to ride this gauntlet with little room for error.

    The design also unnecessarily removes parking spacves and motorists must now back into a parking space while holding up traffic.  After they park, if they get out on the passenger side they must watch for bikers.  If they get out on the driver side, they might be hit by a passing car since the travel lane is super skinny.

    And how does this design serve the needs of the disabled community?  The disabled often need to unload their wheelchairs on the right side of the van using a plank that extends to the sidewalk.  However now, it extends across the bike lane.  This design gives the disabled community the middle finger

    Bottom line:  a bicycle is a vehicle.  Bicyclists are safest if they behave as operators of vehicles.  Bicyclists are safer if they are perceived as operators of vehicles.  JFK was safer before this so  called improvement.

    If the Bicycle Coalition is concerned about safety, it should encourage its members to wear helmets and follow traffic laws.  No street design can eliminate the need to obey laws and exercise common sense.

    Those of us in the experienced road bike community are not happy with the S.F. Bicycle Coalition, which has filled our streets with new riders but failed to educate them on the rules of the road or the importance of following these rules.  When I’m stopped at a stop sign and signaling a motorist to proceed through the intersection I do not like it when these “newbies” go flying past me, ignoring the stop sign and my signaling to the other road users.  We may all be riding bikes but PLEASE  do not associate us with these reckless idiots.

    Please Leah, put JFK back the way it was.  It was MUCH safer before….


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