By Ellen Huet
April 25, 2013
When San Francisco officials chose Golden Gate Park for the city’s first separated bikeway, they knew the format – with parallel parking sandwiched between car traffic and bicycle lanes – would take some getting used to.
A year later, however, the city’s efforts to educate cyclists and drivers have dropped off, and confusion is still rampant.
There are few signs along John F. Kennedy Drive to explain the odd format. And on fair-weather Saturdays, when thousands of people descend on the park, the street is a mess – with cars filling the bike lanes as if they were parking lots.
“It’s so new – without any signage, they really don’t know what to do,” said Ben Sun, 56, an engineer who commutes by bicycle on the bikeway. “I see it almost every day.”
Flat, picturesque JFK Drive has long been a popular route for bicyclists riding between western neighborhoods and downtown, but for years it was also popular with drivers who floored it through the park. The Municipal Transportation Agency first floated the idea of a separated bikeway in 2011, and after hearing community feedback, officials restriped the street in April 2012.
In each direction, cars are restricted to one lane in the center of the road. Next to those are lanes for parallel parking, then a “buffer zone” for passengers to open their doors and unload, and finally a bike lane next to each curb.
Cyclists said the new arrangement slows traffic and keeps them away from moving cars. But they also say too many people park incorrectly, either lined up to the right edge of the buffer zone or along the curb, completely in the bike lane.
What’s more, many of them say, people unloading slowly from cars – such as tour groups or families with strollers – tend to linger in the bike lane. Cyclists can’t swerve into the traffic lane to avoid them because they’re pinned in by parked cars.
“Our biggest nervousness as cyclists is hitting pedestrians, and they don’t quite understand where to go,” said Brian Turner, 32, an attorney. “It’s not intuitive. You’re not from here, you’re excited to be in the park and you don’t realize you’re in traffic. We could use a sign here and there that says, ‘Watch for bikers.’ ”
Even well-intentioned drivers find the signage misleading. Cheryl Woodie, 68, parked recently in the curbside disabled spot she’d used for years. She didn’t get that disabled parking is now in the middle of the street, but she did get a parking ticket.
“For me, there was no reason not to park there – the handicapped post was there, the curb was blue, there was nothing saying, ‘Don’t park here,’ ” Woodie said. “If you’re going to leave them open, they need to put a sign that says this really isn’t a parking place.”
Other drivers find the new system makes sense.
“At first, I really hated it,” said Chloe Molla, 23, a nanny who frequently brings her charges to the park. “There are so many tourists here, but I feel it’s fairly obvious.”
Parking control officers issued 479 citations between Jan. 1 and March 30 to drivers who blocked the bike lane, a violation that carries a $113 fine, said Paul Rose, a spokesman for the Municipal Transportation Agency.
Agency staffers handed out flyers and hung banners explaining the new layout for several months after the change, and a survey taken around the same time showed 87 percent of respondents understood the new format and 61 percent liked it.
Officials don’t have plans to do more outreach or add signage to explain the layout, Rose said.
For big events that bring in large numbers of out-of-town drivers, he said, “we’ll have to explore ways … to get that message across.”
What’s not working
Issue: The separated bikeway along John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park has been in place for a year, but drivers and cyclists are still frustrated by unclear signage and confused visitors.
What’s been done: When the lanes debuted, Municipal Transportation Agency employees put up informational banners and handed out flyers, but that outreach has slowed.
Who’s responsible: Bond Yee, director of sustainable streets at the Municipal Transportation Agency, email@example.com