Pedestrian and cyclist safety has always been a pressing issue in the San Francisco Bay Area, with injuries and fatalities currently reaching record highs. In this post, I would like to steer clear of contributing to my previous tirades about the lack of pedestrian safety in San Francisco, leaving that to my previous article addressing the topic. Instead, I would like to discuss the core of the problem regarding pedestrian and especially bicycle safety in cities; a lack in infrastructure.
San Francisco may have slathered some paint here and there to indicate bike lanes, but the automobile continues to rule. Those who choose to walk or ride are often expected to succumb to the authority of the car, unless they want to test their luck. As San Francisco Poet Laureate, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, stated in his Inaugural Address:
“What destroys the poetry of a city? Automobiles destroy it, and they destroy more than the poetry. All over America, all over Europe in fact, cities and towns are under assault by the automobile, are being literally destroyed by car culture. But cities are gradually learning that they don’t have to let it happen to them.”
Although some may see the idea of a car-free city as idealistic, there is a sense of truth in his writing. The car plays a large role in the image of the modern city, but a purely “car-centric” mentality may lead cities to what Ferlinghetti refers to as the death of a city by automobile; an “Autogeddon.”
The Bay Bridge serves as a prime example of the present and historical reign of the automobile. The bridge was built in 1936 in response to the economic and social changes taking place with the popularity of the automobile. Today, the span from Oakland to San Francisco still has that purpose: to pump cars in and out of the city. The new bridge spanning from Oakland to Treasure Island is designed with the cyclist in mind with a beautiful bike path running along the outer edge. Unfortunately the path is commonly referred to as “the bike path to nowhere.” It takes you halfway across the bay before turning you right back around after giving you a glimpse of the city. Currently it is impossible to reach San Francisco by bicycle from East Bay. There is a glimmer of hope for the bike path to extend all the way to the city, but this is just a hope due to struggling budgets. In a study, bike lanes would be cantilevered off the sides of the bridge, but by adding more weight to the structure, lighter materials would then be needed to replace some of the existing heavier materials.
The bridge has become an icon for the city, but it is also a selective tool, enabling only those who have cars or can take public transit to enter and leave the city. This eliminates the population of commuters who wish to ride to work. Until the far-off dream of being able to bike into the city from East Bay is realized, residents will have to settle for fantasizing about the future of bicycle infrastructure in their city.
In the meantime, Architecture firm Foster + Partners’ project “SkyCycle” in London can fill the void. In response to the city’s dense urban setting, the project consists of a 220 kilometer network of bike paths suspended above railway lines. Set to be fifteen meters wide, the system would be able to accommodate 12,000 cyclists an hour. The project was developed in response to the rising number of cyclist fatalities in the city and aims to provide a safe, car-less system of paths for bicyclists. Designers for the project are reconsidering the motions of the daily commute in which you could, in theory, live in Paris, travel by train to the UK, and ascend the SkyCycle to bike to work.
The idea may seem somewhat outlandish, but it has evolved from very similar urban conditions and issues to those in which San Francisco is facing. Could the idea of an elevated bike path work to connect the Bay Area? San Francisco’s famous 45°+ hills may not be the most welcoming to this type of network, but a path above market street (where the largest number of these automobile vs. bicyclist incidents occur) may have a positive impact in saving lives.
Is insufficient infrastructure the real issue behind pedestrian and bicyclist safety in San Francisco? How does your city address the topic of safe mobility?
Credits: Images by Lauren Golightly. Rendering by Foster + Partners. Data linked to sources.