Thursday, February 4, 2010

Masonic Ave: Sidewalk Riding for Safety

Safer than biking on the street at Masonic and Golden Gate

Illegal biking or safe use of a wide sidewalk along a dangerous street?

Not much bike space on northbound Masonic Avenue

No better on southbound Masonic either

Golden Gate Avenue at Masonic Avenue registered the second highest percentage of bicyclists riding on the sidewalk during the 2009 Bicycle Count conducted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). During the evening traffic rush (5 pm to 6:30 pm) on an August workday, 30% of cyclists (13 of 43) rode on the sidewalk.

The SFMTA study also notes that Golden Gate and Masonic are both signed bike routes with bike lanes. But that’s only partly right. Golden Gate has a striped bike lane; Masonic does not. Golden Gate’s bike lanes, at least between Parker and Divisadero, are what cyclists in other parts of the city work for: they’re wide enough on smooth surfaces.

Masonic is a different story. There’s no bike lane, no sharrows, and little space to “share the road” with motorists. The three block stretch between Turk and Fulton Streets has steep inclines, and drivers regularly race up the hill northbound or rush down southbound to make the lights. The posted 25 mph speed limit appears to have had negligible impact since the neighborhood group FIX MASONIC pushed to get it dropped from 30 mph. In fact, the current design of Masonic offers next to nothing to cyclists, except for the posted bike route signs.

The SFMTA study does not indicate the direction cyclists were traveling, but it’s safe to assume that Masonic sidewalks are the ones that get the peddlers. “The bicyclists are trying to be safe,” a school crossing guard observed yesterday afternoon while helping pedestrians cross Masonic and Golden Gate. “Masonic has very little space for cyclists, especially north of here.” In the ten minutes I observed traffic at the intersection at 3:30 pm, four cyclists rode along the Masonic sidewalk at the intersection.

Why do bicyclists ride Masonic – either the street or the sidewalks -- and take the risk on the street or breaking the law on the sidewalk? For the same reason that motorists drive Masonic: it’s the primary north-south route through this part of town, especially for travel between the Fell-Oak corridor and Geary Boulevard. The Anza Vista neighborhood breaks up the usual street grid, as does the Panhandle Park.

The San Francisco Day School is located at the northeast corner of this intersection with one of its entrances on Masonic. The bicyclists riding the sidewalk in front of the school pose at least a theoretical threat to the school kids, staff, and neighbors walking nearby, especially if the cyclists indulge in reckless, erratic riding. But a careful biker riding slowly and cautiously poses little problem given the larger-than-usual width of the sidewalk.

Bicycle riding on sidewalks is illegal for adults in San Francisco. But then, bike riding on through-streets that the city designates as bike routes but fails to make safe for cyclists is unwise for most peddlers. The SFMTA weighs in on the issue of sidewalk biking at this and other locations. According to the report, “SFMTA will continue to monitor sidewalk and wrong-way riding, as well as work to implement additional bicycle safety and education campaigns on these two behaviors.” One might wish for something a bit more bracing and innovative like traffic and street designs that serve all users of Masonic Avenue.


  1. Masonic is basically the only street on which I occasionally use the sidewalk. I used to bike to work in Marin everyday, and I found Masonic to be the most efficient way to connect between the Wiggle in Lower Haight and its Laurel Heights sister--best way to get into the Presidio for me. F*** Arguello. I almost got killed so many times on that street in both directions.

    Anyway, I rode on the street on Masonic when traffic volume was high AND I was feeling both patient and agressive; otherwise, I would've gotten killed there too. The sidewalk is super convenient on Masonic if you're coming from the north and intend to take Golden Gate or Macalester down into the City proper. If you ride on the sidewalk, you don't have to turn across the lanes of traffic on Masonic at an intersection that easily hides approaching vehicles.

    I think this street corridor is of the biggest problems city-wide. It would be nice to have a physically separated, bi-directional bike lane on the east side of the street that connects logically from the Panhandle, through the weird overpass business to Laurel/Presidio Heights. It would encourage more people to take rides out to Marin, which though confusing, is really not very far.

  2. I teach at that corner. I've never seen a bicyclist riding carelessly on the sidewalks of Masonic (the author is right - cyclists do use the bike lanes on Golden Gate - it's Masonic that gets the sidewalk riders). Almost all cyclists who use the sidewalk are going uphill, which is slow work. I've also never seen a pedestrian get upset with such a bicyclist, because it's so obvious to everyone that riding on the street would be really scary.

  3. @ Philip Peter: Thanks for the personal take on the situation, shared by many others I imagine. The group FIX MASONIC can use help organizing to improve the street. Looks like some new developments are coming for the Masonic that will get the "FIX" going again.

  4. Me too, I'm part of the better illegal and safe then legal and dead sidewalk riding crowd. I've been riding in the City for over 20 years and for the past few years I've switched to the sidewalk on Masonic heading uphill to Geary. I had too many scary encounters to ride in the street.

  5. Masonic is the only street in the city which I regularly ride on the sidewalk - and only in the uphill direction. Riding in the street there is some of the worst in the entire city - and the sidewalk is pleanty wide to accomodate bikes and pedestrians. But that's not a good solution, compared to removing a traffic or parking lane, and putting in some real (painted GREEN!) bike space.

    Do you know if any sheduled repavings or anything are coming up for Masonic?

  6. @mfogel: re: repaving Masonic. Sad to say the only repaving of Masonic is for four intersections (Euclid, Hayes, Page, and Trumbull) that are part of other projects. Nothing for Masonic for the foreseeable future with the current funding sources. But, we wouldn't want Masonic repaved and "set in stone" the current street design for the next 20 years or so. The goal is to redesign for the long-term, and implement trial designs with traffic flow and better means of sharing the road for the short term. But SFBC also monitors Masonic to get the potholes and really bad patches repaired in the interim. Everyone call help with this: call 311 or report online.

  7. I commute On Masonic daily and it's still treacherous. The cars get the light at Turk and keep their momentum going past the 25 mph sign hidden by the trees. On Monday morning when the parked cars are cleared, it's even faster. The Allowed Full Use sign is placed at O'Farrel after the damage is done. It's also way above sight level.

    You're also very fearful of getting doored next to Wallenberg. I hate taking the sidewalk there which is uneven and terrible to ride on, but I do, only place in the city I do.

  8. Does anyone consider taking Broderick or Baker/St. Joseph north to cross Geary?

  9. I'm one of the pavement cyclists too. I live at Hayes near Masonic, and just that one block up from the Panhandle can be terrifying. That said, I go super slow, and in fact get off the bike if I see anyone with kids or a large group of pedestrians.

    It'd be great to see a painted lane on the pavement. This is quite common in places like London:

    They aren't perfect, but do offer some separation between pedestrians and cycle users.