Sunday, June 5, 2011

Golden Gate Bridge PTSD

After watching Escape from Alcatraz triathlon (epic, epic, epic) I joined up with what portion of the Mission Cycling ride didn't flee south today and headed into Marin for a Paradise Loop. I wanted to work the kinks out of my legs after an over-enthusiastic 30 km road run yesterday.

But to get into and out of Marin, we had to ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. Little did we know what horrors awaited...

Starting May 31, the Golden Gate Transportation District shut down the western cycling path on the bridge for seismic retrofit work. As a result, cyclists must now share the eastern path with pedestrians for close to four months, the season of peak use of the bridge by both pedestrians and cyclists. The timing couldn't be any worse.

I remember the first time I ever crossed the western path. It was quite a shock, leaving me with a survivors rush. But over time I got to know the western path, became familiar with the order behind the seeming randomness, and it became an ordinary part of weekend rides ... even enjoyable with its spectacular views.

Here's what Bike Snob recently wrote about the cycling path:

If you're unfamiliar with the Golden Gate Bridge, it is a bridge that links the city of San Francisco and the profoundly smug county of Marin, and it also happens to remind me of a Samurai sword, albeit a really big one that spans a large body of water. Anyway, I heard about this proposal during my leave of absence last week, and I would agree that a 10mph speed limit is absurd. However, having ridden over the Golden Gate Bridge a number of times, I would also say that it's like someone took all the most annoying elements of the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, and George Washington Bridges and forced them onto a single path. Freds, tourists, wobbly triathletes... You haven't experienced fear until you've been approached head-on by an oblivious tourist on a rental bike, weaving as he simultaneously smokes a cigarette and attempts to take a photograph of one of the towers, while you brace yourself for a collision that could send you hurtling into the icy waters below.

But with the diversion of cyclists to the eastern path it's gotten worse. Much worse.

I'd hoped the increase in overt danger would yield a compensating increased awareness by tourists, both on foot and on their blazing saddles.... but there is no evidence this has occurred. I rediscovered, with interest, that feeling from my first ride. Survival? Technically yes, but senses overloaded...

And the number of rental bikes was substantially below normal today. The forecast of possible thunder showers, rare for June, had no doubt taken a toll. Next week there will no doubt be more... and more on foot as well.

The consensus among the Mission ride participants is it's time to take a break from Marin.

The disturbing thing about all of this is San Francisco has a "transit first" policy which at least nominally says that "travel ... by bicycle and on foot must be an attractive alternative to travel by private automobile." Combining cyclists with pedestrians on what is the only viable transportation link between San Francisco and Marin counties, while maintaining full auto capacity couldn't be a clearer violation. The problem is the Golden Gate Transit District isn't part of San Francisco: it has no "transit first" policy and it's actions speak, over and over, that its priority is drivers.

I absolutely guarantee recreational cyclists, most strongly affected by this closure since pedestrian traffic is heaviest on weekends, will either go elsewhere or will drive across the bridge to begin rides on the other side. This will result in increased auto traffic on the bridge and on surrounding roads, more strain on parking in the Headlands and in Sausalito, and more noise and pollution for everyone.

The solution? If the western path absolutely must be closed, and I don't accept that it must without seeing the plans, then shut down an auto lane and divert the cyclists to that. Then the pedestrians can keep their eastern path. "Can't be done", the Golden Gate Transit district reponds.... cyclists can't cross the expansion grates on the bridge. However, this issue has been addressed before:

Tour of California crosses Golden Gate Bridge
Tour of California crosses the Golden Gate Bridge in 2009

It's time San Francisco demand that the Golden Gate Transit district adopt the same "transit first" policy in the City Charter. At least then "plans" like this can be judged to the standard that bike access is fundamental to a well-working transportation network.

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