Jul 23, 2010

Cycling in the Panhandle: We (all) need a better path

When I talk with neighbors and park users, the most common complaint I hear is that the Panhandle's north path is no longer fun or safe. There are more cyclists than the path can handle, some cyclists and walkers are inconsiderate or oblivious to others, and there's no room for people to walk, especially when they have strollers and pets.

The most recent renovation of the multi-use path - completed by SF Rec and Park about six years ago - was a major accomplishment. Besides a new, smooth surface and a slight path widening, the upgrade also added lighting, and the benches and trash barrels were set back from the path. Since then, additional improvements such as the Fell Street bike lane, the rebuilding of the median on Kezar at Stanyan, the "Shrader valve" bike light, curb ramps at most entrances, and the dedicated crossing phase at Masonic, have gradually created a better experience for cycling to and from the Panhandle. When you combine all these gradual changes with the huge increase in cycling citywide, and the surge in neighbors enjoying their park, we've reached a tipping point, where the north path is no longer up to the demands we're putting on it. The crowding, the yelling, and infrequent, but serious collisions show that need a re-thinking of how the Panhandle paths are designed, and how they connect to the cycling routes in the city.

Ideas are bubbling up from neighbors, and I'll suggest three guiding principles for figuring out the best way forward:

1. Just like you treat the "whole patient," we need to treat the whole park. It would be a mistake to renovate one path and leave others to crumble. And before we start digging anything up, we need to figure out key issues like irrigation and drainage. Let's think about how the paths are affected by both natural processes (such as sunlight, runoff, soil quality, tree health) and human processes (the cars and trucks of SFPD, Rec and Park). This kind of thinking is needed to create long-lasting, attractive paths that don't have an adverse impact on the environment.

2. We should attain all reasonable standards for designing multi-use pathways. An excellent pathway meets a bunch of standards for width, grade, surface quality, materials. Its design nudges people in the right direction to share the path in a way that's safe and considerate to others. It accommodates diverse users, including disabled people. Because our park's path is in a special setting - in particular, a grove of mature trees with historical significance - some of the standards may not be attainable - for example, having a lot of clearance on each side.

3. Plan for increases in cycling. More and more local residents are finding a way to bicycle on a routine basis. And visitors are also hopping on bikes. The Panhandle is part of a major cross-town bike route, and it's the gateway to Golden Gate Park. We need to think about the future.

Fell Street Solution? 
Fell Street on street cleaning day

One idea bouncing around in the cycling community is to add a two-way bike lane on the south side of Fell Street by moving the parking lane over. Fell Street currently has 4 lanes of moving car traffic next to the Panhandle - one more than it has east of the Panhandle. By separating the bike lane from moving traffic, we could make a safer, more comfortable riding area that would appeal to a broad range of cyclists. Or, the two way bike lane could be applied on the Oak Street side.

Do we need a bike lane and a multi-use path? It may be the only way to satisfy current demands and to plan for increases in cycling. And we can find local examples as close as The Presidio.

Options in the Presidio: traffic lane, bike lane, buffer, multi-use path

Still hard to imagine? Check this video, which shows a new, separated two way bike lane in downtown Vancouver. The 3-D animations may help people visualize how the space adjacent to the park could be converted to different use, while paying attention to everyone's needs.

1 comment:

  1. As a biker and walker of the panhandle I love the bike lane on Fell idea but if for some reason that's not possible why not just spruce up the south path and dedicate the North path for bikes.