Plan to introduce speed limit for cyclists on Golden Gate Bridge hits opposition

If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to fit a speedometer to your bike

by Simon_MacMichael   April 25, 2011  

San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge (Picture Credit - Aslak Raanes, Wikimedia Commons).jpg

City officials in San Francisco are planning to introduce speed limits for cyclists on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, but their proposals are meeting with strong opposition from local cycling campaigners.

The measures, which would see cyclists fined $100 for exceeding 10mph on shared used paths along most of the bridge’s 1.7 mile span, falling to 5mph around the towers, are being introduced due to the frequency of accidents, some involving pedestrians, reports SF Gate.com, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.

Yet a study commissioned by bridge officials last year on the subject of the safety of cyclists and pedestrians on the bridge found that during the previous decade, there had been 164 crashes on the bridge involving bicycles – around one a month – and speed was only a factor in 39% of those. During the same period, there were 235 incidents involving motor vehicles.

Bicycle campaigners say that rather than speed, most accidents are caused by slippery conditions brought about by the city’s notorious fog.

The speed limit will be monitored by officers of the California Highway Patrol equipped with radar guns, although campaigners point out that since speedometers are not fitted to bicycles as standard, it is difficult for riders to assess their speed.

Kim Baenisch, executive director of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, which covers the area to the north of the bridge, across the bay from the city, said: "To be ticketed for going 11mph because you have some tailwind behind you seems really unreasonable."

Commuter Lew Ketcher, aged 68, who rides across the bridge nearly every day, said that the biggest safety concern was tourists using hire bikes.

"There are people coming right at you with a camera in one hand, looking out at the water,” he explained. “There are people stopping right in the middle of the path to take a picture."

However, Denis Mulligan, general manager of the bridge, insisted that introducing speed measures was a necessary step because of narrow sidewalks and the number of tourists visiting it. “Our concern is safety,” he maintained.

Opposition to the plans has met with some success, however; instead of pressing ahead with the proposed speed limits, officials have postponed a vote on them and agreed to hold meeting with bicycle campaigners to hear their views.

"Since we're asking them to go slower, it seems reasonable for us to go slower,” said Mr Mulligan.
 

9 user comments

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The solution could be to have 2 enforceable by-laws

1) Moving pedestrian traffic has priority over all wheeled traffic, so that failure to yield (ie slow down and alter course/speed) can be ticketed and cited as the offence when a cyclist collides with a moving pedestrian - a further clause might include downhill and faster wheel traffic yielding to uphill and slower wheeled traffic.

2) Stationary pedestrians and cyclists should not unduly obstruct moving traffic on foot or awheel and should move to the side.

The old UK legislation also had a fine way to deal with this issue with wheeled transport not fitted with a speedometer (horse drawn vehicles and cycles) HA 1835 s.71 An offence to ride or drive furiously.

As a starting point simply test out a pedestrian priority regime, placing the responsibility on cyclists to ride appropriately for the conditions.

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [494 posts]
25th April 2011 - 12:03

1 Like

Hmm, not been across the Golden Gate in many years but I was in the US just last week and I did cross the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC. One thing that struck me as I walked with my family along the shared use path was the low riding ability of many of the cyclists pedalling their rental bikes over the bridge. There were a few close calls between pedestrians and cyclists, not all of which were the fault of those on two wheels either as pedestrians kept stepping out over the painted white line and into the cycle way without bothering to look. A similar situation was apparent in Washington DC's National Mall park area between the various monuments. My wife and I are both regular London commuters and our kids are pretty skilled on two wheels too and I have to say, those using the rental bikes in both US cities were struggling with basic braking and steering skills and many of the adullts and kids seemed to be riding for the first time in years. Given that the Golden gate is such a oturist draw, I do wonder how many of the cyclists using it are inexperienced on two wheels (and in a similar way how many of the pedestrians are tourists who are unused to walking on shared use paths alongside cyclists), which may be the real cause of the accidents. There are some good cyclists in the US, as I found when mountain biking with my wife's cousin in a Philedelphia park, but in the tourist areas a lot of the cyclists will be inexperienced wobblers while the pedestrians whille be similiarly unused to being in the proximity of those on two wheels.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2238 posts]
25th April 2011 - 14:49

2 Likes

10mph? When I'm riding around the city and taking my time, I'm going 12-13 mph. 10 mph on a bike is almost unbearably slow. Are they trying to discourage all cyclists from using the bridge at all? It's a fairly major transportation artery. I'd be upset if there was a section of my commute that forced me to go 1/3 slower.

My biggest issue with this is the speedometer issue. This law would basically require each cyclist to buy and install a speedometer on their bike, which imposes an economic hardship on following the law. Many who ride their bikes do so because they can't afford a car, and this new law would affect them a lot.

posted by rcs500 [60 posts]
25th April 2011 - 15:59

1 Like

10 mph?!; is the local authority fucking insane? I struggle to keep my speed beneath 30 kph. (Recumbent syndrome.) Going at 5 mph on an upright bicycle is a recipe for falling off; far far too slow.

Kevin Steinhardt's picture

posted by Kevin Steinhardt [30 posts]
25th April 2011 - 20:38

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A V Lowe wrote:
The solution could be to have 2 enforceable by-laws

1) Moving pedestrian traffic has priority over all wheeled traffic, so that failure to yield (ie slow down and alter course/speed) can be ticketed and cited as the offence when a cyclist collides with a moving pedestrian - a further clause might include downhill and faster wheel traffic yielding to uphill and slower wheeled traffic.

2) Stationary pedestrians and cyclists should not unduly obstruct moving traffic on foot or awheel and should move to the side.

The old UK legislation also had a fine way to deal with this issue with wheeled transport not fitted with a speedometer (horse drawn vehicles and cycles) HA 1835 s.71 An offence to ride or drive furiously.

As a starting point simply test out a pedestrian priority regime, placing the responsibility on cyclists to ride appropriately for the conditions.

I think thats the way it is now, the problem is that due to being a tourist attraction the path is always full of pedestrians snapping away or walking along looking up at the towers. Couple this with heavy wind noise and traffic and unless the pedestrians are looking around the whole time you even get them walking into each other nevermind cyclists! Now add in the fact that this is a major cycle commuter route and you get a lot of interaction.

I rode across it last summer on a trip and got stuck behind a group of people walking along obstucting the whole path who couldnt hear me ringing my bell or shouting at the top of my voice. In the end i had to actually get off the bike and tap one of them on the shoulder to get past!

A lot of people use that bridge to commute and since the cyclists are required to use the path (not roadway) i can imagine they would be infuriated at having a speed limit slapped on them due to stupid tourists.

STATO's picture

posted by STATO [418 posts]
26th April 2011 - 10:06

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...or they could close one of the six lanes dedicated to car traffic. Certainly on the weekends, there are enough serious cyclists heading over to do laps of the hilly loop around the Marin Headlands (it's like the Tour de France at times up there - Americans having so little time off work they like to cram as much leisure activity as possible into the weekends) to warrant a fast cycling lane.

posted by handlebarcam [529 posts]
26th April 2011 - 10:37

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Like I said - the tourist issue is part of the problem - much as I observed on the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC. I doubt any of the six lanes devoted to car traffic could be closed. It is a major artery for cars and trucks. I expect similar rules will be introduced on the Brooklyn Bridge given that it faces a similar problem of gawping tourists observing the scenery and not looking where they are going, as well as large numbers of inexperienced riders on rental bikes. I do wonder if the rental bike companies will face liability issues as I expect so many of their customers will be involved in accidents. I have to say that on the Brooklyn Bridge the regular commuters could easily be identified as they clearly had better levels of control, but several were also riding at a fast pace unsuited to the narrow cycle way and large numbers of unaware tourists. At the Golden Gate I think the problems will be much the same - sorry to say it but I doubt there's any alternative to the fact that riders will have to slow down - the speed limits may be silly but there isn't much choice.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2238 posts]
26th April 2011 - 10:52

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As a local to the GG Bridge (cycle over it every few weeks), I thought I'd explain the madness.

The GGB has two separate pathways for foot and bike traffic (i.e. the East and West sides).

The East side is the side that is always open, and always full of gawking tourists.

The West side is the side they open for cyclists to *already* solve this problem, i.e. it's open weekday afternoons-evening and weekends:

http://www.goldengatebridge.org/bikesbridge/bikes.php

If you're doing 10mph on the West side, you're going way to slowly.

I guess part of the issue is also that some cycling tourists end up on the Westside, which is painful for those of us doing a headland loop.

posted by McBadger [4 posts]
26th April 2011 - 16:39

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Thanks McBadger, always very valuable to get a local's point of view.

A quick bit of research suggests that successful suicide attempts on the bridge happen more frequently than any kind of accident involving bicycles. That's a real eye-opener.

As for the proposed 10mph speed limit, a further issue I suppose is that once you cross the apex of the bridge, you're actually heading downhill, albeit on a gentle incline, and that's way too low a speed to be descending at (unless you're Dennis Menchov having one of those days, I suppose...)

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8248 posts]
26th April 2011 - 17:07

3 Likes