Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Policy and Practice: BICYCLES IN SF

An errand yesterday afternoon took me south along Lake Merced Boulevard on my way to the 280 freeway. It was a beautiful, spring like afternoon, perfect for bicycling, and the evening commute was already warming up.

The stretch of Lake Merced Blvd is four lanes, two in each direction, with only double yellow lines for a median. On the west is Lake Merced/Harding golf course, on the east are the rear-ends of SF State and ParkMerced housing development.

Because there is no cross traffic the speed limit is 45mph. When traffic is heavy in both directions there are a lot of cars going pretty fast in a very small area.

So yesterday I notice a little congestion ahead in the curb lane, turns out it’s a bicyclist, racing bike, cool(?) spandex riding outfit. I thought, This guy’s a fool! He’s doing like 25 and the cars are trying to go 50.

Just as I’m passing the bicyclist I see a sign by the road saying, “Bicyclists have the right to the full lane.”

This sign has been turning up in Golden Gate Park. This is the first such sign I've seen on a road posted higher than 25mph.

The bicyclist yesterday wasn’t asserting his right, he was trying to ride next to the curb so that cars in the curb lane could pass him.

Such bicycling is dangerous and annoying. The anti-automobile, pro-bicycle lobby feels their cause to be morally correct and worth fighting, and possibly dying for. I’m afraid that will happen. SF Bicycle Coalition website here.

The signs about bicycles having the legal right to a traffic lane are kind of a joke, since most bicyclists routinely violate numerous laws in order to maintain momentum—stop signs, red lights, sidewalks, side-of-the-street.

As bicyclists become more assertive, the chances of tragic accidents go up. The relationship of cars to bicycles is not clearly defined by our city government. And nothing regarding bicycles seems to be enforced by the police.

I think the mayor and the supervisors all hold their breaths hoping significant bicycle fatalities don’t necessitate serious work on the problem, not to mention blame-dodging.

We obviously can’t have one bicycle going 25mph occupy one of the two southbound lanes of a major commute artery that’s posted at 45mph.

Because of cost and efficiency trade-offs, we design products and processes with minimal safety features, because that’s cheapest and most efficient. Then, when deaths occur or other liability is generated additional safety features can be deemed cost-effective and deployed. An obvious example of this is increased security procedures along with new, more expensive machinery at airports since September 11, 2001.

That particular stretch of Lake Merced Blvd has cars approaching each other at a combined speed of 100mph with a four or five foot painted median separating them.

I cringe.

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