Monday, April 26, 2010

bike ban on East Road in the Headlands


The forbidden way... click for larger map.

"No Bikes" is all the sign at the entrance to East Road says. The old sign, which said "due to gravel" along with how vehicles and pedestrians were still allowed, was gone. I guess they decided it was time to get serious.

That sealed the deal. I turned onto East Road, rather than continue on the more direct route up Alexander.

It's all completely ridiculous. There's a few trenches, marked with ominous "open trench" signs, which are filled with dirt and covered with gravel. Sanchez Road between Market and Duboce in the City is far worse. Yet for some reason cyclists, the majority of the traffic mountain bikes designed for riding up fire roads and single-track, is forbidden. Oh, my -- a cyclist might hit the gravel and crash! But so might a motorcyclist, or for that matter any vehicle. During the week the road is completely closed to all traffic, but on weekends, cars and pedestrians are allowed. Only cyclists are denied access.

In California, cyclists may only be banned from freeways, tunnels, bridges, and expressways (a recent addition to the list). I suppose temporary emergency situations which might be particularly hazardous to cyclists, such as a power line downed in a storm, might also apply. But East Road is different: it's national park land, part of the Golden Gate National Park. The Federal government is far less pro-cyclist than California, at least in talking the talk. The California Bike Coalition and the San Francisco Bike Coalition have each done fantastic work towards promoting the rights of cyclists to use the roads. The League of American Bicyclists far less successful, in my humble view. In fact, only recently has the federal government made it a policy statement that cyclist access be a priority in transportation projects. And for this, Transportation Secretary La Hood has taken a lot of flak from the radical motorheads, who very much like the monopoly their carbon-spewing behemoths of steel and plastic have on the federal transportation infrastructure.

The whole Headlands project, of which the East Road trenches are a part, promises to improve the conditions for cyclists there. But it's all porkified hogwash. Conditions for cyclists in the headlands now are almost idyllic, all except for the tunnel on Bunker Road, which at least has a trigger for cyclists to illuminate a warning sign of their presence in the tunnel. No -- the purpose of the project is to facilitate car access: to "handle the rigors of 21st century tourism." Whoa -- I thought the "drive the SUV up the hill, take a photo, and drive back down" paradigm was the folly of late-20th century tourism, hopefully not the 21st. This century, we've realized we've got to be smarter managing the movement of people and objects: hauling 6000 lb of mass-produced, over-marketed junk up a 1000 foot climb to carry a 150 lb tourist (okay, I'm optimistic: most are a lot more than 150 lb...) to a viewpoint is obscene. For those that can't hike up, there can be a shuttle. Wider roads = more cars = just as much congestion, more pollution, and worse conditions for cyclists, not better. A few painted stripes and bike stencils on the road won't change that.

So please ride East Road. Ride it often. Fortunately, I wasn't the only one doing so: I saw a number of other cyclists doing the same. We as cyclists don't need to be coddled any more than motor vehicle operators need to be coddled. If anything, we need to be coddled less: cycling, unlike driving, is a right, not a privilege.

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