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America's Cup

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.

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.

"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.

Most eastbound bicycle traffic continued to use the regular bike lane on the south side of the Embarcadero. Photo: Aaron Biailck

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