Church-goers parking in Golden Gate bike lane between Masonic and Central, facing east
Looking west at double-parking in bike lane on Golden Gate Avenue before Masonic Avenue
Problems encountered by people riding bikes in the city, including the North Panhandle, were highlighted in the June 4th issue of the New York Times. San Francisco-based reporter Scott James examined the impact of double-parking in bike lanes and focused on the long-time occurrence of church-goers parking in many of the city's bike lanes during religious services. He accurately observed that double-parking on many of the city's narrow streets poses a real hazard to cyclists who would much prefer to travel in designated bike lanes...if they could.
Dolores Street is certainly a prime example of the double-parking, as the Times reporter noted, but he also took a look at Golden Gate Avenue, after asking me for my perspective on the matter. On a recent Sunday morning, James investigated the situation on Golden Gate Avenue from Masonic Avenue to Gough Street. He found double parking near four churches situated along the thirteen blocks while services were underway. At each church location he identified several legal street parking spaces that sat empty while cars obstructed what he described as bike lanes.
James' point is well-taken in general: double-parking is often a hazard for bicyclists. However, only four of the thirteen blocks of Golden Gate that James surveyed -- from Masonic to Broderick -- are actually part of a designated bike lane or bike route. Church-goers' double-parking regularly blocks the bike lane from Masonic to Central Avenue and sometimes to Lyon Street. Golden Gate is certainly used by a lot of people biking to and from the North Panhandle, but Sunday morning double-parking on the relatively wide Golden Gate Avenue occurs during a relatively quiet traffic period. Elsewhere in the city, as James found with the narrow lanes of Dolores Street, the problem is greater.
When I spoke with James, I mentioned that both church-goers on the weekends and school parents on weekdays often park or idle in bike lanes. Fortunately, several school administrators try to mitigate the problem with staggered drop-off and pick-up times. Both the San Francisco Day School on Golden Gate at Masonic and the Pacific Primary School at Baker and Grove Streets employ staff to keep the school traffic moving and the crosswalks clear. Their efforts certainly reduce the risks and the tensions on the street. Some of the churches also position congregation members to help get vehicles moved that are blocking someone's driveway during services.
Many people who bike are more concerned with the motorists who unexpectedly swerve into a double-parking spot in the bike lane -- often without looking for oncoming bicyclists -- than they are with the relatively predictable church and school double-parking. Other drivers who treat the bike lanes as convenient and free parking while they do their shopping, make pick-ups or deliveries, or check their email endanger bicyclists and undermine the whole notion of shared and safe use of the road. Bike lanes are traffic lanes and need to be treated as such.
In the New York Times piece, James noted that San Francisco is in the midst of a surge in popularity for bicycling as a means of transportation as well as recreation. The challenge for all of us who bike, walk, take Muni, or drive -- and most of us use more than one mode every day -- is how to get around San Francisco safely and with civility while doing the least damage to the environment.