People-Protected Bike Lane on Embarcadero

Protesters Try to Bring Attention and Urgency to Unsafe Conditions

A 2017 People Protected Bike Lane Protest on the Embarcadero, one of many streets still lacking safe infrastructure. Streetsblog/Rudick
A 2017 People Protected Bike Lane Protest on the Embarcadero, one of many streets still lacking safe infrastructure. Streetsblog/Rudick

Some 45 yellow-shirted safety advocates turned out last night to demand a protected bike lane on the Embarcadero.

“We as a city have prioritized cars over safety,” said Matt Brezina, a chief organizer of this protest and previous ones on Valencia and Golden Gate. Brezina was pleased at the turnout and the fact that, as with the previous People-Protected Bike Lane protests, it attracted the attention of mainstream media (see photo below).

Matt Brezina, one of the chief organizers of the protest, doing a TV interview.

The protesters stood on the white line that in theory separates motor vehicles from bicyclists. In practice, of course, paint on its own does little to keep cars out of bike lanes. As seen in these photos, not only do cars regularly stop in the bike lane to discharge passengers, but fast-moving buses and huge trucks pass within inches of people on bikes in a way that is so clearly dangerous that it’s difficult to comprehend how this ever got built like this in the first place.

Positioning vehicles in such close proximity to cyclists is insane and irresponsible.
Positioning massive, fast-moving vehicles in such close proximity to cyclists, without any kind of barrier, is insane and irresponsible. What were engineers thinking?

That’s something Andrew Davidson, seen in the picture below, wonders about too. “It was a rainy morning and a bus overtook me and turned into me,” he said, motioning down the street from where the protest was taking place. “He hit me in the shoulder.” Davidson got lucky and managed to stay upright and was not injured.

But depending on luck isn’t something most cyclists are willing to do, especially when they ride with children. Elisabeth Snider, who lives in the Sunset, rides almost everywhere with her kids, but she won’t on this stretch. “I want to take them on the Embarcadero, but it’s just too dangerous with a seven-year-old.”

Cyclists can ride on the promenade/sidewalk instead, but that invites conflicts with pedestrians. One woman stopped to grouse to protestors about cyclists riding on the promenade. But, Davidson explained to her, while riding in the pedestrian-packed area is not ideal, it is legal. That’s just another reason for a protected bike lane–it gives cyclists a space where they feel safe and reduces potential conflicts with walkers.

This woman stopped to complain about cyclists using the Promenade. Andrew Davidson explained that it’s legal to do so.

BART director, Streetsblog contributor, and candidate for Supervisor Nick Josefowitz also stopped by on his bike. “I regularly ride on the Embarcadero, and it’s a mess of a street,” he said. “Protected bike lanes would make it safer for all of us–it would make all of this area much less chaotic whether you’re driving, riding, taking a historic streetcar, or walking.”

Of course, in theory, SFMTA has a plan to fix this chaos–the Embarcadero Enhancement Project. But several protesters wanted to know why the agency can’t get something up quicker, as they’ve done in SoMa under Mayor Lee’s executive order. Ideas include demarking the pedicab/multi-use path on the Embarcadero sidewalk with green paint and plastic bollards to make it clear that the space is available for bikes, or putting up temporary construction barriers to protect the curbside lane. Several protesters also took issue with the fact that the bike lane doesn’t follow the curb at drop-off zones–it forces cars to cross the bike lane to discharge and pick up passengers (that is, when they can be bothered to do so). This creates nearly non-stop conflict between motorists and cyclists.

Do we really have to wait for a truck or another speeding driver to veer into the bike lane and kill a bunch of people before there’s a sense of urgency from the city? It seems the only time we see fast action from the city is when it removes safety measures, rather than when it adds them.

Nick Josefowitz said city executives need to be held accountable.
Nick Josefowitz said city executives need to be held accountable for unsafe conditions.

“We need to address the inability of the city to deliver projects on time,” said Josefowitz. “We need to bring a performance-driven culture to the city where we hold executives accountable.”

Amen to that. Meanwhile, this protest had a somber tone compared to similar actions on Valencia. Perhaps it was because cars and trucks move so frighteningly fast on the Embarcadero. The recent mass-murder-by-pickup-truck in Manhattan was on everyone’s mind as they stood on the edge of the bike lane, trying to bring more attention to this dangerous condition. Everybody said they felt vulnerable. “It is tenser,” than past protests, said Skip Pile, another of the protesters. “Especially after that New York thing.”

More photos of the protest below.

Maureen Persico, one of the organizers of the protest, attempted unsuccessfully to coax a scofflaw driver off the bike lane.
Dan Orseck said he hates to pick on Uber, but if the car fits…
The obligatory group photo after the protest.
  • Andy Chow

    Frankly if I am on my bike I would be really uncomfortable to have people standing so close to me for my “protection”!

    A reason that bikes are allowed on the sidewalk/promenade is that it allows bikes and pedicabs to access the piers on the bay side of the road from either direction. A one way path on each side of the street wouldn’t work as well in this case, especially a narrow one where faster cyclists wouldn’t be able to pass slow ones (like seven year old kids) unless the slower rider cooperates and pull aside. This would be difficult especially with pedicabs since pedicabs are wide, slow, and heavy. (I rode pedicabs before)

    Then you also got the F-line tracks and platforms which can’t be moved by paint unlike traffic lanes.

  • David Macpherson

    Great ambassadors of safe infrastructure. Now, let’s get the engineers to work on a workable barrier.

  • Christopher Childs

    huge trucks pass within inches of people on bikes in a way that is so clearly dangerous that it’s difficult to comprehend how this ever got built like this in the first place

    Is it really that difficult to imagine? Shoulder to bike lane conversions are so common around the country that shoulders are de facto bike lanes. We know it’s unsafe, which is why they don’t really move the needle on attracting people to cycle instead. It takes zero imagination, and it standardizes existing practice; it’s merely the path of least resistance.

    These protests show the design doesn’t work, but it also shows why slapping protection on this type of design doesn’t work — you already allude to this with the mention of constant conflict. We’ve got more and more people using taxis and “taxis”, which require tremendous pickup and drop-off space. The only way for these vehicles to reach their passengers is to reach the curb. What’s in the way? Oh, just the bike lane. Blocking off huge swaths of curb space on a surface street and only designing it with through traffic in mind is just silly. It doesn’t suit how people actually want to use the road. Many of us subscribe to the philosophy of designing out traffic violations (see the Fell/Scott traffic diverter). It should apply here, too.

    But, really, it’s not a car vs bike thing. People are lazy. Even if you look to red-carpeted streets that are largely hostile to and free of bikes, people happily block buses _that have automated enforcement_ to serve their own convenience. There could be a free drop-off space just a little bit further up the road, but there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell they’re going to take a chance on upsetting the passenger when their destination is “right there!” The drivers have no problem complaining about bus bulb-outs, but they don’t fully leave traffic lanes for a drop-off because they want to get back into traffic more easily.

  • jonobate

    The obvious solution to this issue is to convert the northbound bike lane and adjacent northbound traffic lane to a two-way protected bike lane, with the other traffic lane maintained for deliveries only. The southbound lanes would be converted to two-way traffic.

    This gives plenty of width for pedicabs and for cyclist overtakes, as you could use the opposite direction lane to get past slower bikes if necessary.

  • Easy

    There are both one-way and two-way options on the project site:
    At the last meeting (1 year ago) it seemed like most attendees favored the two-way bayside option.

    The real problem is this project has been going for 3+ years now and there’s not even a date for when changes would hit the ground!

  • crazyvag

    There was glimmer of hope when Embarcadero was repaved last week of hope that parking and bike lanes would get reversed, but everything was repainted just like before.

    Wasted opportunity.

  • Corvus Corax

    Sure. Just ignore the studies that have shown what a bad idea two-way bike lanes is.

  • Easy

    That doc, written by the highway administration, is based on references from the 1990s. Two of the three reasons it provides are invalid for a curb-separated lane without cross streets. In fact, it even argues against curb-separated lanes.

  • Corvus Corax

    Yeah, I guess you are right – sorry. I linked that as I was in a hurry and could not find an earlier discussion about two-way lanes that appeared on Streetsblog (or on a linked article). I do remember that some of whom I consider knowledgeable commenters criticized them.

    And I, too, had serious reservations: it has happened to me a few times (even a couple days ago) that cyclists who wanted to go faster than I have squeezed by me in a bike lane and cursed me for not riding in the death-zone (door-zone) if I would ride as fast as they wanted to. Certainly the majority of cyclists are polite and know to pass by leaving the bike lane to overtake, myself included. But these bad actors are more common than one could wish – my last encounter was a crazed cyclist who suddenly appeared alongside me just as I drifter left to avoid a patch of broken glass, and who insisted that I should be riding to the far right as I was not going as fast as she wished. She cursed me with minority slurs, even.

    So my concern about two-way lanes is that these reckless idiots will blow past slower cyclists by drifting into the oncoming lane, forcing some to ditch to avoid a head-on collision. Even if the lanes are wide there will doubtless be a cyclist who is passing a cyclist who is passing a cyclist (sic), something that would not happen in one-way lanes. Adding pedicabs to the mix would only exacerbate the problem.

    There is also the issue of making left turns.

  • jonobate

    This issue is not specific to two-way bike lanes; in the post that started this discussion, Andy’s concern was that overtaking would be an issue with one-way bike lanes, and that’s why I suggested two-way lanes. But with either design, you can help prevent this issue by making the lanes wide enough that overtakes can be made safely.

    If you took the bike lane plus a traffic lane to make a two-way bike lane, you’d have 15-20 feet of space, meaning 7.5-10 feet for space for each bike lane, or 1.5-2x the width of a standard bike lane. That should be plenty of space for most overtakes to occur without going into the opposite lane; you’d probably only need to do that for pedicabs or groups of cyclists riding adjacent to each other.

    It would be similar to the panhandle path, but wider, and without any pedestrians to contend with. Seems pretty good to me. It would also provide the opportunity to remove all parking on the northbound side of the road, preserving some as loading spaces, but utilizing most for additional bike/ped space.

  • Mark

    Is this the best way to address the concerns of pedestrians, “This woman stopped to complain about cyclists using the Promenade. Andrew Davidson explained that it’s legal to do so.”? Davidson gave her an answer that he would probably hardly tolerate if given to him by a driver. For just about every complaint a bicyclist could make, a driver could say, “It’s legal!” But it’s a terrible answer for anyone. Legislation is not fixed. This protest by bicyclists was important and vividly showed the issues we face (I bike too). I hope both bicyclists, drivers (and motorized scooter riders and etc.) will in turn accept that pedestrians are also trying to make the city safe for themselves and have a right to be critical of what is legal.

  • @Mark – While there are things i find bothersome for motorists to be allowed to do, I hold my tongue about them. Mostly they are breaking the law when i have a criticism, and mostly they either have no awareness of the law (as with this person) or are contemptuous of it.


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