Please welcome Alissa de Vogel. You might have already read her fine work over at Uptown Almanac. (If you haven't, please do so at once.) She can also be found here at SFist, tending to your bike-related and cycling-fixation (and more!) needs. Take it away, Alissa...
As a cyclist in San Francisco, we're lucky to live in the Panhandle. The lush, mature eucalyptus trees provide shade and make the entire neighborhood smell amazing. The long path of smooth, uninterrupted pavement allows us to move quickly between the Wiggle and our house without the hassle of stop signs and traffic. While biking through the Panhandle is easy and convenient, we'd like to suggest a few improvements.
To put it simply, the pedestrian and bike paths in the Panhandle should be segregated with bikes traveling on the northern path, and pedestrians on the southern side. Right now everyone seems to use the north path almost exclusively. Bikes should take the northern path since it is already striped and labeled as a bike lane, and the light at Masonic is timed for cyclists. Makes sense, right? Because the path gets so crowded on the weekends that we have to take the street instead of the bike paths.
On weekends and nice days the path becomes crowded with families walking three abreast, people walking dogs, and kids on tricycles. Nothing against children, but they frequently move in erratic patterns that are unpredictable for cyclists. Similarly with dogs; owners let their dogs run freely across the path with extendable leashes that are not visible to cyclists from a distance. Combine that with weekend warriors in skinsuits sprinting towards the Golden Gate Bridge, groups of teenagers on BMX bikes, and semi-oblivious Blazing Saddles customers, and the whole thing is a disaster waiting to happen.
In no way are we claiming that the rights of any of these groups are superior to the rights of any other, simply that keeping cyclists separate from everyone else would be much safer and more convenient for all. Cyclists like to go fast. That’s why cycling is so fun - because it feels like flying. Not to mention that maintaining a higher average speed is a more efficient use of your energy. It is very easy to gain and maintain speed in the Panhandle and it’s frustrating for cyclists to be constantly pumping the brakes (or skidding, whatever) in anticipation of a double-wide stroller ahead on the path.
Now, we don’t walk through the Panhandle too frequently, but we would guess that pedestrians feel a little unsafe sharing the path with speeding cyclists. It has to be a little disarming to be out jogging with your friends and have cyclists racing past you on your left at 20 mph. When we're out on our bike, we can see that the flying bikes grazing past with mere inches to spare intimidate some pedestrians. To demand that all cyclists change this behavior would be unreasonable and, more importantly, impracticable.
Further, there is no real reason not to make use of both the paths in the Panhandle. Almost no additional infrastructure would be required from the city - perhaps just a few signs, some new striping on the paths, and a little publicity would be enough to implement this change. Moving foot traffic to the southern path would promote wider usage of everything the Panhandle has to offer.