First, I want to give a little update on the death of Diana. Last night, I went to the site where she was hit to get a better sense of what exactly happened. When I got there, I saw this small and beautiful memorial for her (see photo below). That just sank my heart…
Another update is that Jo Slota from GhostBikes San Francisco will have a white bicycle memorial ready for her soon. I still haven’t heard anything from our District Supervisor Jane Kim (to be continued) though I read somewhere that she mentioned having a memorial for Diana at a meeting. DPW told me to contact SFMTA. I am also thinking of contacting AT&T Park to get them to try to influence the city to do something. It is in their interest to make the area around the ballpark safe for cyclists and pedestrians.
Also, Ellen Huet from the SF Chronicle just wrote a great article about the perils of King Street for cyclists and pedestrians. Read it here.
Now, in all of the discussion regarding Diana’s accident and King Street’s bike facility, I have read a few comments here and on other sites that Diana shouldn’t have been taking King Street because it’s dangerous due to the fast moving traffic. They say that no cyclist should take King Street and that cyclists should wise-up and own-up to the consequences of taking King Street if they do. There was even a comment somewhere along the lines of, “How dare cyclists use the vehicle lane and slow down cars!”
One of the problems with what they are saying (in addition to the insensitive tone of some of the comments) is that they assume that she was going to the Caltrain Station and that taking the bike lane on Townsend Street all the way to the station would have been a better and more responsible choice. However, it has been said by a couple of sources close to Diana that she was a huge Giants fan and was actually going to the FanFest at AT&T Park. I think Diana’s decision to take King Street to reach AT&T Park was entirely natural and logical. If you are trying to reach AT&T Park from the waterfront, you are most likely going to take King Street because it is the quickest and most convenient route. Especially since there is a bike lane that runs for most of it. So, I don’t think the accident was in any part her fault for being a cyclist who “ventured into an area that she should have known better to avoid”.
While awaiting the final investigation by the police as to what really happened in the last moments, we are all still guessing. I still question just how Diana was killed by the cement truck. My hypothesis on it has been evolving as more information comes out.
There were two first-hand accounts by witnesses saying that they saw her crushed in front of the donut shop, so I am thinking that she must have been waiting there with the crowd to cross the street to get to the ballpark. As I mentioned before, the sidewalk was packed with fans that day so she probably had to wait in the street next to the curb. A cement truck (which is the same width as the construction truck shown in the image below) would not allow any room for a cyclist waiting by the curb. She must have been in that spot before the truck came since I doubt any cyclist would dare try or have enough room to squeeze into the space between the truck and the curb. I think the cement truck driver didn’t see her, perhaps distracted by the sea of people on the sidewalk and from sitting high up. So my current conclusion is that she was there before the cement truck driver and that he pretty much ran her over. Arrrgh!!!
Even if that were the case, King Street’s bike facility still needs to be extended and/or improved. If Diana had a bike lane to be in at the traffic light, she would not have had to sit in the curb in a narrow space that she had to share with the truck while pedestrians crowded the sidewalk.
As we all know, San Francisco is a dynamic city and is changing all the time. That is especially true for the area around King Street. SoMa and that area are no longer places that cars use to zoom to the freeway as has always been thought. There are now a multitude of options for getting around the area and it is popular because of that. Transit riders, pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists all move through the space. It is now a real neighborhood with people, shops, recreational facilities, and families living their daily lives in addition to being ground zero for the oft-mentioned tech boom.
There is an argument that since King Street leads to the 280 freeway ramp, it is not meant for cyclists and that we all have to live with that. But do drivers need to go so fast and not allow other modes of transportation, as has been growing in the neighborhood? The accommodation of cars on King Street is overly disproportionate and it is known that even pedestrians have a tough time here. One just has to look at the statistics for pedestrian accidents and how long it took the city to adjust the insanely short crosswalk signals times (which still don’t allow enough time as you can readily see when elderly people try to cross). There is no speed limit sign to be found on the entire stretch going from the Ferry Building all the way to the Caltrain Station (freaking unbelievable), so cars practically have free reign to go along as fast as they please!
Another thing is that the area on King Street from 2nd Street to 4th Street and the Caltrain Station has one of the highest walk scores in the city. To have a high walk score, there must be a lot of shops and restaurants in the area, and this place certainly does. It must be close to where people live and yes there are plenty of residential complexes that have sprung up over the last decade with more on the way. It must have nearby public transit – it has 3 MUNI light rail stations and a Caltrain station and a few bus stops and shuttle pick-up areas. By having a train station across the street from the light rail stations, there are high volumes of pedestrians rushing to cross the streets to catch their connector trains. Not to mention Caltrain has two train cars for bicycles. And there is also AT&T Park- no explanation needed there. Does it make sense to have a car-reigning zone in an area immersed with public transit and all these other aspects?
I have a question for all the anti-cyclists and/or know-it-all cyclists (who like to use their part-time cyclist badge to qualify their statements against bike improvements). What route do you think is the best way to get from the Ferry Building or Embarcadero to either Mission Bay, the Caltrain Station, or any of the shops and residences on King Street between 2nd and 4th by bicycle? Yes, Townsend Street is deemed as the safer way because it has bike lanes and works well for reaching the Caltrain Station, but taking King Street is the most logical, natural, and direct way to reach the multitude of other destinations along King Street and in that area. Here’s why:
First, if you have a little bit of faith in Google Maps directions which many tourists and other people unfamiliar with the area often have to use, the recommended bike route is King Street. See map below. But even more…
The photo below is at the intersection of Townsend and King Streets. If you are a cyclist going down the Embarcadero and choosing to continue ahead with King or turn onto Townsend, which direction would you likely take, just by looking at this alone? What if you are not that familiar with the area? What you would see is that Townsend Street has a 2-3 degree incline with bike sharrows while King Street continues with its bike lane on the same path you are already heading and is flat to boot. Taking King Street is the natural choice for me as it is with many other cyclists.
But let’s say you do take the Townsend route. You will eventually have to make a left turn at an intersection to go back down to King Street if that is where you are headed. Many cyclists do not prefer making left turns because it brings them into more conflict with traffic when merging lanes to execute a left turn, making a turn against contra-flow traffic, or just having to deal with pedestrian crosswalks which makes them have to switch quickly between vehicle and pedestrian modes, which can be confusing for everyone at the intersection.
Even if a cyclist just needed to get to the Caltrain Station, taking Townsend isn’t always their preferred route and it is a bit ridiculous to only allow bicycles on certain streets. We allow cars on just about every street in San Francisco. Pedestrians too. Why are bikes any different? This is a democracy, isn’t it? Each citizen in the US has one vote. Each person should be allotted the same amount of space. If a bus has 20 people on it, then it should get 20 times the space of a person in a car. Four cyclists riding their bikes should get the same amount of space as four people riding in a car.
There were a few comments that putting down bike sharrows on King Street isn’t enough. There is some truth to that because that alone isn’t going to fix things. Without car speed reductions, cyclists will still be afraid to take the lane and will probably want to hug the curb. Below is a video of cyclists taken at rush hour on a recent Wednesday evening. These cyclists look like they are regulars, but they are still not taking the full lane as is their legal right. Every cyclist I see coming down King Street to reach the Caltrain Station are doing exactly what these 5 cyclists are doing, other than a few taking the sidewalks. It is probably due in part to the lack of bike sharrows, but also I think the speed that traffic moves is also a major factor.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/o52WDz3TkzU?rel=0&w=600&h=338]
Bike lanes would be much better and ultimately they should be on King Street as well as Townsend. Traffic engineers must look at how cyclists naturally travel through a space and design by that. (On a related note, I also think that having Mission Street be the thoroughfare for bicycles instead of Market Street is not going to work. See this article.)
Cars are not king on King Street. It needs real bike infrastructure all the way down to the Caltrain Station for so many reasons. It is a street that has as much importance as Market Street for bicycling. The Exploratorium, the James R. Herman Cruise Terminal, and the America’s Cup are coming to the Embarcadero and these attractions are going to attract even more cyclists. Let’s do this right and make King Street a crown example of how great SF streets can be for everybody before someone else gets needlessly hurt.