There’s an interesting situation brewing in San Francisco over how to deal with bicycle traffic on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Richard Masoner, a veteran blogger and citizen bike advocate based near the Bay Area, reports on a bike safety study published on April 15th by the Berkeley office of Alta Planning + Design. Here’s a snip from Masoner’s story:
While they concede that safety is not a serious issue on the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB) sidewalks, they were paid to Do Something, so Alta Planning recommends a 10 MPH bicycle speed limit at all times on the west and east sidewalks, with a 5 MPH speed limit around the towers, where space and sightlines are constrained.
The Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District (they commissioned the report) says that the study, “confirms that the Bridge sidewalks and access pathways are safe for pedestrians and bicyclists” and that, “It appears that the current design of the bicycle paths remain safe, when bicycles use that path in a responsible fashion.”
Despite that however, they add, “safety can be further enhanced with the implementation of the proposed recommendations…”
(The study finds that speed was identified as a factor in only 39 percent of the 165 total reported collisions between 2000 and 2009. On a busy day, there can be as many as 6,000 bicycle trips on the bridge.)
In addition to the 5 and 10 mph speed limits, Alta proposes new pavement markings and signage along with a targeted outreach campaign.
Their final recommendation is the most intriguing. Under the heading “Other User Groups” Alta suggests a prohibition on tall-bikes and tall unicycles* with seats over four feet tall (*Note: Alta’s study points out tall unicycles specifically, but the Bridge District and others don’t make the height stipulation, just saying the prohibition would apply to all unicycles) :
“In terms of safety, a “tall bike” (a custom built bike where the seat is situated at a height that may be 5 or more feet off the ground) poses a safety risk to the user from toppling over safety railings. Because the safety rail stands 4’6” tall, prohibition of bicycles or unicycles whose seats are more than 4 feet off the ground might make sense so that no riders topple over the safety railing.”
According to a Bridge District Building and Operating Committee staff report on the new rules (PDF here), violation of the speed limit would result in a $100 fine and, “the CHP has expressed an ability and willingness” to enforce it.
It’s not clear yet what spurred the Bridge District to commission the study (we’ve got a call into the Bridge spokesperson and Alta declined to comment).
There’s a hearing on the proposed new rules tomorrow. According to Masoner, the study has been endorsed by Golden Gate Bridge staff and forwarded to the bridge’s Building and Operating Committee. If that committee approves the proposal, it will go to a vote of the full board on May 13th.
With no clear safety issue apparent, it seems surprisingly easy to set a new speed limit for bicycle traffic and to ban certain types of bicycles on a major connection in the bicycle network. This is an interesting case of how bicycling is a hybrid mode — sometimes treated equal to driving a car, and sometimes treated more like walking.
If adopted, this set of rules could serve as a precedent for handling the tricky mix of bicycling and walking traffic on bridges.
Richard Masoner is urging the Bay Area community to voice their opinions. I’ll leave you with his opinion on the matter:
“Alta even acknowledges that the sidewalks are reasonably safe even now, and asking the CHP to expend resources on bicycle speed limits seems like a waste of scarce state resources to me.
I get annoyed at the speed demons when I’m slowly riding across the GGB with my family, but 10 MPH is unreasonably slow. GGB District’s failed to even solicit user input on a change that will impact every regular bridge user.”
I spoke to Golden Gate Bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie on the phone today. She said her Board asked for an in-depth bike safety study in 2008 after seeing a “steady increase in bicycling” in the past 5-10 years. So far, Curries says she’s gotten 30-40 emails from the public about the proposals and says after the hearing tomorrow, there will be a three week public comment period.
When asked about why they agreed to a ban on unicycles (not just tall unicycles, but all unicycles), Currie said they already ban roller skates, roller blades, and skateboards, and that, “the control that a cyclist has is different than a unicyclist might have.”
I asked Currie, since they’ve seen such an increase in bike traffic if there might be a time soon when they’d consider giving some of the roadway space to bikes, she said,
“That would definitely not be an option. The mission is to carry vehicles on the roadway and we run at capacity and therefore the roadway lanes are needed to handle the motorists.”