Embarcadero Bikeway Hugely Popular, But Deliveries May Pose a Challenge

One vision from the SFBC (not the city) for a protected bikeway on the Embarcadero. Image: SFBC

At its first community meeting, a proposed protected bikeway on the Embarcadero seemed popular with just about everyone, though accommodating port deliveries could pose a challenge for its design.

Despite the green paint added last year, the existing Embarcadero bike lanes are routinely blocked by delivery trucks and private autos. Photo: SFBC/Twitter

“The reception has been overwhelmingly positive,” said SFMTA project manager Patrick Golier. “We’ve had a number of conversations with a variety of stakeholders, all with different interests in the Embarcadero, and everyone seems to feel the same way: The Embarcadero’s oversubscribed, it’s an incredibly popular and iconic place, and there are ways to make it safer and more comfortable for everyone.”

Under the status quo, the conventional bike lanes — striped between parked cars and moving cars — are often blocked by cars. Meanwhile, the wide north sidewalk along the waterfront, shared between bicyclists and pedestrians, has become increasingly crowded. The proposal to upgrade the street with a physically protected bikeway seems to have enthusiastic support from the Port of San Francisco, which shares jurisdiction with the SFMTA over the street.

The north sidewalk’s mixed traffic “is a historical characteristic of the waterfront — where horse-and-buggies and trucks and people and trains all shared the promenade edge. We never changed that when the promenade was created” after the fall of the Embarcadero Freeway, said Port Planning Director Diane Oshima. “It’s really been within the last couple of years that the volumes of people have grown, to an extent where we recognize that we need to be planning for a refreshed way to accommodate bicyclists in a safer way.”

But Oshima did say that delivery vehicles still need direct access to the piers, and that the street should be designed to accommodate both loading zones and occasional truck traffic that would safely cross the bikeway and promenade.

“The Embarcadero is a constrained right-of-way, and every single mode has a right to be there,” said Oshima. “Shutting down the curbside edge, or not allowing traffic to cross the promenade to get into the piers, is not a workable arrangement for thriving port and waterfront businesses. You need to be able to find a predictable way to find a way to manage that into the mix.”

With planning for any protected two-way bikeway or separated bike lanes in its infancy, planners have yet to propose any removal of car parking or traffic lanes — usually the main point of contention for such projects among car-centric merchants. So any such opposition may not have appeared yet.

There does seem to be an exceptional amount of excitement for the project, though. SF Bicycle Coalition Communications Director Kristin Smith said it could be partly attributed to the growing prevalence of successful protected bike lane models to point to, such as the contra-flow bike lane on the south end of Polk Street, and attractive bikeways on waterfronts in cities like Chicago and New York.

“Anybody who’s looking out these windows right now can see that the way that it is not working,” Smith said at the public open house, held in a building on Pier 1. The Polk contra-flow bike lane, which was designed with loading zones separated by a curb, “has been a boon for projects like this,” she said. Until now, “We haven’t had a project in our own city to point to and say, ‘this is what a truly [age] 8-to-80 bikeway, that’s also beautiful and inviting, looks like.'”

Oshima agreed that other best practices for bikeways should be considered in the Embarcadero design. “It’s not like these are completely unique situations, and I’m hoping that we can really take advantage of successes elsewhere. But you don’t have that many cases where there literally isn’t a back door to be able to get into these piers.”

The Polk contra-flow protected bike lane could serve as a model for the Embarcadero, as it was designed to accommodate loading zones. Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr
  • Guest

    Assuming that the city isn’t going to cut into the curbs, you’ll need to lose a northbound traffic lane to accommodate a two-way protected cycle track along the waterfront, because the parking lane is intermittent. That would leave one northbound lane for much of the route, which might be contentious.

    For two one-way protected cycle tracks, you can choose to lose a traffic lane or lose the parking lane, with the bike lane being unprotected (i.e. the status quo) in locations where there is currently no parking lane. While I’d rather see a two-way cycle track, this option might be politically easier. You could remove a traffic lane where there is currently 3 or more lanes, and remove parking where there is currently 2 lanes, leaving 2 traffic lanes throughout and preserving parking in the busiest area near the Ferry Building.

  • baklazhan

    Perhaps another option would be to ramp it up to sidewalk level, and back down again, where the parking lane disappears.

  • Greg Costikyan

    The Hudson River bike path should be considered both a model and a warning here. Because separated from traffic, it’s hugely popular, but as with pier access on Embarcadero, there are several points where vehicles need to cut across it to reach businesses or government facilities on the waterfront. And since traffic runs fast on the West Side Highway, and the turnouts across the bike path aren’t always well designed, those points of conflict can be problematic… as a post on Streetsblog NY today about a NY Waterway bus hitting a cyclist shows. Pretty clearly, an Embarcadero bikeway would get a lot of use, but some thought needs to be given about how to minimize conflicts, and potential injuries, when vehicles do cross it to the piers. (I’ve lived in both cities, and biked both routes.)

  • aanjager

    It definitely needs thought and good, careful design. Creating bike lanes that are clear for cars or delivery trucks (color) and safe (separated) is one thing.

    A good and crucial addition could be to build bike lanes on almost the same height as the wide sidewalk, so delivery trucks slow down, have to go up a ‘bump’ and realize that they are ‘visiting’ and that bikes and pedestrians go first. Depending on each situation, and total number of necessary access points, traffic lights (for bike and turnout) can help. With of course a green wave for cyclists along Embarcadero.

  • jonobate

    Could be tricky… there are usually light poles or traffic signals at those locations.

  • Justin

    All I want to see is a two way waterfront side PROTECTED bikeway built period. The time for protected bikeways on the Embarcadero waterfront is so long OVERDUE, it needs to be seriously built in a timely manner along with the other improvements along the Embarcadero, its time has come

  • • Cargo bikes, duh.

  • @Greg – Revolution Rickshaws, duh. (Well, okay, admittedly that’s not going to get garbage to the transfer station.)

  • Especially important would be carefully figuring out how those conflict points are supposed to work and building that into the design. If we build a ‘canyon’ protected lane (like the contra-flow lane on Polk) that cyclists can’t get out of, cyclists won’t (and shouldn’t) yield to a vehicle that wants to cross the path through a driveway opening. Those are separate lanes of traffic and we don’t just yield because someone wants to cut across a street from alley to alley. If that’s what they want they must make it so autos _can’t_ easily cut off the bike traffic lane(s) and other autos need to deal with that turning vehicle sitting in front of them, etc.

    If it’s built more along the lines of a raised path with beveled edges that cyclists can get off/on easily, there’s more possibilities for the traffic streams to intermix, cyclists to go around a turning vehicle, etc.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    The picture of the USPS truck perfectly supports your idea. It’s less than 1000 feet from where that ridiculous jeep is parked to the nearest post office. You could deliver the mail over that distance with a handbasket. Or you could copy more civilized societies and deliver by bicycle, or motor scooter for those in a real hurry. Either would take negligible street space. Either could be parked up on the sidewalk.



  • p_chazz

    I’d like to see a cargo bike deliver a desk. Bikes and motor scooters may be fine for small items, but you need a loading zone for large items.

  • murphstahoe

    Most passenger cars cannot deliver a desk

  • Alicia

    Most delivery trucks can.

  • Great photo Aaron. Also check out, “How to Carry Major Appliances on Your Bike”:


  • Jeffrey Baker

    The fact that a given thing won’t fit inside another thing does in no way demonstrate that all things must be put in the largest possible thing.

  • The simplest solution would be turning most of the parking along Embarcadero into metered loading during a certain portion of the day, then shift it to passenger drop-off or metered general parking during the hours when it’s more about the customer.

    For the piers or heavier loads, maintain current level of access but use shark’s teeth and signage to indicate that delivery vehicles must yield to oncoming bike traffic.

    Am I missing something? I didn’t go to the workshop, so I’m not fully informed of the challenges, but it doesn’t seem that difficult to work out a pretty good solution using a little common sense.

  • SFnative74

    A key goal is to create space for a comfortable and safe bikeway – some people like the idea of a two-way path for cyclists on the waterside that is separated from pedestrians. A question is, where do we get that space, especially where the Promenade width necks down.

  • Gezellig

    “Oshima agreed that other best practices for bikeways should be considered in the Embarcadero design. “It’s not like these are completely unique situations, and I’m hoping that we can really take advantage of successes elsewhere.”

    That’s exactly it. All the supposed cycletrack killers (frequent driveways, deliveries, etc.) are not unique issues to SF and it’s funny to me when people bring up these challenges as if no one had ever encountered that issue before.

    “But you don’t have that many cases where there literally isn’t a back door to be able to get into these piers.”

    Oh, but you do! There’s that whole lowlands nation filled with harbors, rivers, oceanfronts, waterways, piers, dykes, polders, etc. that have plenty of excellent two-way cycletracks along them that have addressed just this issue when it’s come up. 🙂

    I know SF likes to think its problems are unique but this is another case where they’re really not.

  • A desk, you say? Been there, done that, moved all my furniture by bike. Admittedly, the fancy cabinet took special care: https://flic.kr/p/awyPy3

  • Oh sure, a Bikes at Work trailer can carry all sorts of things, but it must be totally impossible to move a piano. https://flic.kr/p/avLGrc

  • We can’t have bikeways because of fog, earthquakes, sourdough, and Burning Man.

  • p_chazz

    Now let’s see them move a concert grand.

  • Though it’s far less than ideal for bicycle movement inside cities, the Embarcadero clearly needs a two-way path as most of the destinations are on that side.

    But in the visualization at top it’s too narrow! This is very clear, isn’t it? There has to be more room both for people to ride side-by-side, for cargo bikes, and to avoid head-on collisions.

    Get rid of all the street parking, insert some taxi/delivery parking and ADA-parking into various nooks & crannies, widen what’s in the visual by at least 50%, slow down the street to 25mph, enjoy the waterfront.

    A nearly carfree Embarcadero would really put SF on the map, ahead of every other dense U.S. city.


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The current green-striped, unprotected lane on Embarcadero. Photo: Streetsblog

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