It’s been 3 months now since I’ve started biking around Oakland as a resident, commuter, and recreationist. As my wheels have wandered into different parts of the city, I have often found myself saying, “This place really has the potential to be a wonderful bike city.” It is not just a matter of wishfully dreaming about it being a paradise for people on bikes, although that is certainly part of it too. It is more about seeing that there are a lot of inherent characteristics about Oakland that make it pretty ideal for biking, if the city can ever fully embrace it as a means of transportation and the infrastructure that it would require. (Like practically all American cities, the transportation budget allocates very little to biking.)
Oakland is a fairly dense city for the United States, registering at about 7,000 residents per square mile (2,705/sq. km) and growing. Although there are many neighborhoods which are quite suburban in character, there are significant parts of Oakland that are actually quite urban such as neighborhoods like Grand Lake, Adams Point, and Chinatown which have triple the density. Moreover, the city’s dense neighborhoods are mostly clustered together. Density is good for biking because it makes the travel distances between destinations much shorter.
One of the things that makes Oakland a special place is that the shops here tend to be mom and pop, which means small and local. There are some chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks, but they don’t have many big box stores. So that means that most of the shops tend to have a smaller footprint. These small shops tend to have limited parking because they usually do not have their own parking lots or garages and street parking is not always plentiful. Bikes complement these small shops nicely since 10-15 bikes can fit in one car parking space. The shops are human scale and that attracts people on foot or bicycle. Their signs are also smaller which makes them more visible by foot and bike as well.
The top biking cities of Copenhagen and Amsterdam have ironing board flat topography which is very conducive for biking. But Oakland isn’t too different in this regard. Although there are the Oakland Hills, large parts of Oakland are nice and flat. A visual estimate using Google Maps shows that at least 60% of Oakland is flat and the hills are tucked to the side. A side effect of this is that you see people on bikes coming and going in every direction. Although you will rarely see a whole bunch of cyclists stopped together at a traffic light, you will see one or two turn up here and there in all directions. This is due in part to that all the bicyclists do not need to funnel into a few preferred routes to avoid hills. For example, in San Francisco, there are many areas that are empty of bicyclists and yet when you go to The Wiggle during rush hour, you will see a whole bunch of them going by like a herd of wild gazelles. That is because The Wiggle is really the only east-west route to avoid SF’s infamously steep hills. (There are still some hills on the route, but the slopes are much easier to climb.) But in the flat parts of Oakland, you can bike for miles without meeting a hill. Combined with less traffic congestion, cyclists even regularly take routes without bike lanes on them. So, there is greater freedom to roam.
In addition to flat topography, Oakland has a lot of street space. Most streets in the urban areas are really wide and the width of many of them are not justified by the amount of car traffic that actually uses them. This underutilization is an opportunity for bike facility planners because there is enough space to put in cycle tracks without removing car lanes and/or the need to remove parking spaces. That means that, at least in theory, there will be less fighting between different interest groups over the scarce and valuable resource of space. Even if a few parking spaces have to be removed, not as many people are going to throw a fit about it because Oakland is not as space-constrained of a city yet. So in theory, it should be easier to implement bike infrastructure. But space will not always be this available. As the city grows and traffic increases, the opportunity to easily implement bike lanes with little opposition will disappear. It is better to incorporate bike infrastructure now rather than later when it will become more difficult to do just about anything in a crowded city.
Oakland is one of the few American cities which has a decent regional public transit system. The subway-like Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system has 8 stations within Oakland and connects to San Francisco (which also has 8 BART stations) and a large part of the Bay Area. Thousands of Oakland residents use the BART every day to get to SF for work or play. In fact, it is quicker to get into downtown SF from certain BART stations in Oakland, than from the western neighborhoods of SF to downtown using SF’s own metro transit system. However, not all people live within walking distance of a BART station. The solution is to take a bike to the nearest station. They are actually bike-able from most places in Oakland. Plus, the BART now allows bikes on board all the time and when you get to your stop on the other end, you can use your bike to cover the last mile to your final destination. With the sleek new BART cars (designed by BMW) coming in a couple of years, they will have better on-board bike racks in which you won’t need to stand next to your bike to keep it from falling over.
Weather-wise, in Oakland it’s almost perfect for biking. The climate is mild all year round and on average there are 261 sunny days per year. The average low is about 45 deg F (7 deg C) and average high is about 74 deg F (23 deg C). It rarely goes above 80 degrees which is great for cyclists because we don’t want to get all sweaty. It doesn’t get that windy so you won’t get that strong headwind you sometimes have to face when riding. The fog which engulfs SF for much of the year dissipates by the time it reaches Oakland and the humidity level is pretty comfortable too.
In addition to the great biking weather, riding around the better parts of Oakland can be a very visually enjoyable and stimulating experience. The built environment around Oakland is aesthetically charming and pretty, has lots of old growth trees, a variety of neighborhoods, a variety of architectural styles, and many unique gems. There are many churches with great architecture, some of which are old like the neo-gothic First Presbyterian Church on Broadway or new like the glassy Cathedral of Christ by Lake Merritt. There are elegant old landmark theaters in the Art Deco style such as Fox, Paramount, and Grand Lake which bring you back to the Jazz Age. Then there is the beautiful Lake Merritt known as “The Jewel of Oakland”, a natural estuary lake placed in the middle of an urban setting for everyone to enjoy. You can see Oakland’s well-known and lauded diversity of people (people of every color and background) when they gather at the lake, strolling, biking, jogging, and boating. Also, the fact that Oakland has the most artists per capita in the US, besides Greenwich Village in NYC, gives Oakland a very visible artistic flair. There are art galleries and murals everywhere with a great concentration of them in downtown and the waterfront. It is great to roll by on your bike and take in these interesting and sometimes unexpected sights.
Now, I’d like to point out the elephant in the room that is always there when speaking of Oakland. Yes, as many of you have heard, Oakland does have a lot of poor residents and yes, it does have a problem with crime. Much like SF, Oakland is also a city of contrasts. So even though there are wealthy neighborhoods like Rockridge, Piedmont (which is technically its own city contained within the city of Oakland) and the Oakland Hills, there are lots of poor neighborhoods with a depressing and disturbing amount of blight. Even though Oakland has a lot of assets, culturally and physically, that other cities dream about, it also has an alarming amount of crime.
We all know that Oakland has long been comprised of low-income residents. The estimated household income for Oakland in 2011 was just a little bit over $50K and currently, the unemployment rate is at 11%. During the recession, Oakland was hit hard and the already financially strained city had to suffer through massive foreclosures. This took a toll on the city’s funds and they had to dramatically cut services. While the city has been forced to find ways to cut costs, these problems only make it more important for the city to look into investing in bicycle infrastructure. Bike infrastructure costs only a fraction of what costs for both car-oriented and mass transit infrastructure.
As well as saving money for the city, it also saves money for its residents at an individual level since more people will have the option to commute by bicycle since they will feel more safe and comfortable to do so when bike lanes are put in. More people will not have to own a car or can use their cars less frequently, saving them money. A study in Copenhagen showed that riding a bike for a mile provided an economic net gain of $0.42 while driving produced a net loss of $0.20. If there was any city that needed bike infrastructure the most it would be one that is economically strained, such as Oakland.
The other problem Oakland has is its crime rate. Although its robbery rate has dropped 26% and the homicide rate has gone down by 30% at the end of 2013, its crime figures still remain embaressingly high. Having real bike infrastructure would make Oakland a better city for its residents and a worse place for criminals. If more people are encouraged to bike, there would be more eyes on the streets. Having more eyes deters crime and is something even the famous urbanist Jane Jacobs has written about. More riding of bikes also means less parked cars which provide barriers needed for discreet drug dealing or other hidden criminal activities. A real example of this can be seen in SF, where they recently banned parking on the worst block in the seedy Tenderloin neighborhood. Crime dropped immediately.
It is the poverty and crime which has held Oakland back from taking its rightful seat as a world-class city (they’ve got the 5th busiest port in the country and their own international airport for crying out loud). That and the fact that San Francisco, its neighbor across the bay, has stolen a lot of the attention away. But because of San Francisco’s recent stunning economic growth, Oakland is also changing. Even Chip Johnson from the SF Chronicle admits there is something special happening right now in Oakland.
Right now, Oakland has about 100 miles of bike lanes, but none are protected or buffered from cars. A lot of them are comprised of these silly painted bike sharrows that I think should be completely eliminated. And some bike lanes just disappear right under your pedals. But even with its lack of real bicycle infrastructure, this city still observes a commute modal share for bicycles of 3% in 2012, an increase of 40% since 2010. What’s also interesting about these stats is that the gender split between male and female riders is about 50:50. That’s rare unless you’re in one of those bike-friendly European cities.
Oakland is a city with a lot going for it and if it can fix its problem with poverty and get its crime under control it will become another amazing city that people everywhere will want to visit. Oakland also has a lot going for it bike-wise and if it can truly embrace biking by financially supporting bike improvements in a significant way, it could become one the best bike cities in the US. It would not just be great because it would have cycle tracks and such but also because it is an incredibly rewarding and pleasant urban city to ride your bike in. The biking in turn would make Oakland an even more desirable city. It would be wonderful.
One of the things we love about blogging here at I Love Biking SF & Oak is being able to connect with the bike community about issues that are important to bicyclists everywhere. Every once in a while, we get a message in our inbox that really stands out to us. Recently, we received an email by a gentleman named Doug Bowman who knew Susan Watson. He kindly sent us a lovely photo of her from back when he was close to her in the 70s and wrote some beautiful words about her. We have shared them below. Thank you Doug for giving us all this special glimpse into another part of Susan Watson.
“I had the privilege and honor to be very close to Dr. Watson for a number of years beginning soon after she arrived at NIH in the mid 1970s as a post-doc fellow. I had not heard from her since last Nov, and was stunned a couple of days ago to learn of her death. I do not recall ever being as stunned as I am by this. I want those who knew her only recently and were moved by her untimely death to see her as I saw her all those years ago. I have attached a photo I took of her in those early years after she arrived in the US. She was the most penetrating personality I have ever known, intense, deep, having endured much, having overcome much, and having accomplished much by force of her own will and intellect, yet, like so many long time “performers” she had an easiness about it all. Some of the comments seeking to characterize her are so very accurate. You are welcome to post this photo on your memorial to her.”
I went back to the location of Susan’s collision (Market and 5th St. in Oakland) to investigate and I saw that a ghost bike was placed there for her. Below are the photos I took of it.
Going there again along with info from recent news reports, I got more insight into how the collision happened and will be writing my thoughts about it in an upcoming post.
Here are some news articles with more info:
Posted on December 18, 2013:
In my last post, I talked about how nice the ferry ride is. Part of what makes the ride nice is that you get to ride with other bicycle commuters. We all commute from different parts of Oakland but join at the ferry terminal. We all know when it is time to get off the ferry by seeing others put on their helmets and gloves. That is when you know that the ferry is about to land at the pier. Then, we would line up to get off the ferry after all the non-bike passengers exit first. That’s our routine every day. Bike helmets on, then gloves, turn on our bike lights, and wait in line patiently.
There was this one lady in her
50s (62 y.o.) whose bike was decked out with lights – MonkeyLectric lights on the wheels, lights on her backpack, and both front and rear bike lights. We all recognized her by the Stegosaurus-like spikes that decorated her helmet and she liked to wear a red jacket. She was always smiling and chatting with everyone of us. Her name was Susan Watson. She’s a scientist that worked at a small biotech in South San Francisco. That is the little info I know about her. Well, today she wasn’t on the ferry. I had read the horrible news this morning and had a thought it might have been her, but I wasn’t certain. The mystery of this lasted until this evening when we waited to get off the ferry- this gentleman told me and the rest of us that Susan just got into a bicycle collision with a truck driver. It’s heartbreaking. She had all the lights and safety measures correct and was even riding in the bike lane on Market St. The truck driver still didn’t see her and killed her. What else can bicyclists do to stay safe?! It’s up to the city and the drivers out there to look out for us!
Ride safe out there.
I will update if I find more info about her.
Rest in Peace, Susan… We will miss you.
Since our move to Oakland a couple of months ago, we have spent many weekends exploring the city on our bicycles and found that Oakland’s Chinatown does indeed have many great and inexpensive casual Asian eateries. It is also very accessible for us to get there from where we live. So one day, to our wonderful surprise, we discovered this Vietnamese restaurant that not only serves my favorite dishes but is also supportive of the bike community. For me, it’s like a match-made in heaven! Vietnamese is one of the cuisines I grew up eating, is one of our favorites to eat in the Bay Area, and it is even better that a family-owned Asian restaurant like this one shows support of bicycling as a means of transportation.
When we discovered this place, we quickly found ourselves sitting at a table inside Tay Ho Restaurant (344 12th St.) where they serve northern Vietnamese cuisine. They specialize in “banh cuon” which stands for hand-rolled rice noodles and “bun bo hue” which is a popular spicy beef noodle soup (not to be confused with the widely-known “pho” which they do also serve). Many of their dishes are from authentic family recipes and it is the proprietor’s mom who is cooking in the back. When it comes to ethnic food, you know it is the real deal when the dishes are coming straight from the momma. We tried both of their specialty dishes and they were delicious. They also have really great local beer which seems to go well with the food. They have a Yelp rating of 4 stars based on 225 reviews.
Not only is the food delicious and gets two thumbs up from us, but like I mentioned before- they are a bicycle-friendly business! What does that mean? Well, they offer a 10% discount off your bill if you bike to the restaurant. (Note: Helmet is required to get the Pedaler’s Discount.) The proprietor contacted the city and requested multiple bike racks for the front of the shop. So instead of the usual one or two racks you might occasionally see in front of some businesses in Oakland, they have five. They also serve coffee from Bicycle Coffee Company, a local coffee roaster that delivers their products by bicycle. Bicycles are also aesthetically featured in their decor. The restaurant is made distinctive with their red Fuji fixie hanging in the middle of the restaurant and on the walls of their restrooms, they have framed photographs of people in Vietnam riding bicycles. When we saw all of this at their restaurant in addition to the great and authentic Vietnamese food, I told myself I just have to meet the owner of this restaurant.
Luckily, the proprietor Denise was working there that day and she was really cool to chat with. In addition to being the owner of a Vietnamese restaurant, she’s an avid cyclist and a bike safety advocate. I asked her why she supports the bicycle community and she said that besides being a cyclist herself, bicycling makes the community better. I agree!
So bicyclists, if you are hungry for some delicious and authentic Vietnamese fare, ride on over to this bicycle-friendly business and you will be very satisfied that you did! Slurp!
We put together this video to capture the spirit of Susan’s memorial ride last Friday evening. We were so impressed with all the people that came out for her and to show support. We hope that positive changes will come out of Susan’s death.
Once again, a huge thanks to all those who helped make this memorial possible. Lorn and Owen for building the ghost bike and setting up the event, Robert from the EBBC for advising, supporting us, and helping to get the word out, Chris from WOBO for advising, Wilson for helping us get the word out to all the folks at the East Bay Bike Party, Scraper Bikes for coming out and showing support, Denise at Banh Cuon Tay Ho Restaurant for accommodating us for dinner after the event, all the friends, family, and co-workers who knew Susan and others who came out that night for her and to support the cause. You guys are awesome!
There is an inexplicable feeling of camaraderie among the bike community that I hope shines through in this video and in all that we do. We are so glad to be a part of this great and growing bike community.
Please forward this video to anyone who knew Susan or that you think might be interested.
Be safe, ride well, and ride every day!
Hello fellow bicyclists,
We want to remind you guys that the Memorial Ferry and Bike Ride for Susan Watson is this Friday, 1/17. Details about the ride can be found in our last post.
Also, we made this flyer, below, that we are going to be handing out to participants and bystanders. Its purpose is to introduce people to Susan Watson and call attention to bicycle improvements. Please feel free to print some to hand out yourself or use in your own publications, etc.
PDF File – Click Image Below to Enlarge
We look forward to seeing you all there!
Thanks to some wonderful organizers, there will be a memorial ferry and bike ride to honor fallen bicyclist Susan R. Watson while calling attention to bicycle infrastructure improvements. Please join us on the evening of Friday, January 17th as we start by taking our bikes aboard the 5:20pm ferry from Oyster Point in South San Francisco (the ferry Susan used to take) and landing at the ferry terminal in Jack London Square in Oakland. Those of you who cannot take the ferry can just meet us at Jack London Square where the ferry will land at 6:00pm.
From there, we will then ride along a planned route which will increase our visibility to truck drivers coming from the Port of Oakland. Please make and have signs asking for truck drivers to ‘Share the Road’ and also asking the city to do more to improve bicycle safety and infrastructure.
Our ride will stop at the corner of 5th and Market which is where Susan Watson was killed. We will visit her ghost bike, say a few words, place candles and flowers, and clean the area around her ghost bike.
“While this will not bring Susan back, we have to celebrate her and do our best to improve on the conditions that resulted in her not being here any more.
I rode the ferry last Friday to work and the magic of being on the ferry was diminished for me. I had the upper-outside deck all to myself for most of the ride. It was a 40 min long moment of silence for Susan. I was just getting to know her…”
After the ceremony, those who want to can join us as we make our way to the Vietnamese restaurant Banh Cuon Tay Ho (344 12th St. between Harrison and Webster Sts.) in Oakland’s Chinatown for dinner. The restaurant is a bicycle-friendly business and offers a 10% discount if you come with your bike helmet. There is also plentiful bike parking on racks in front of the restaurant.
Please bring with you:
- Signs asking truck drivers to ‘Share the Road’ and calling for the city to do more to improve bicycle safety and infrastructure
- Bike lights, the more the better
- Flowers, candles, etc. to place at Susan’s ghost bike
- If riding the ferry, the fare is $7
- Your bike helmet is required to get the Pedaler’s Discount at the restaurant
The route map is here.
Please help us get the word out!
Special thanks to Lorn and Owen for setting this up, Robert from the EBBC and Chris from WOBO for advising.
It’s been a year since we started blogging about bike culture and biking related issues in San Francisco and now Oakland. We can’t believe how fast the time rolled by! We want to wish all of you fun and safe NYE celebrations and an awesome New Year! We look forward to sharing more about biking in Oakland and SF in 2014! Here’s to a great year ahead on two wheels!
In urban cities, over 50% of all collisions involving bicycles are at intersections. Up to a third of all bike collisions involve heavy trucks, despite there being less trucks on the road than passenger vehicles. These two statistics help paint a horrifying picture of how a lot of bicycle collisions happen. In most bicycle collisions involving trucks, the bicyclist is usually heading straight when an oblivious truck driver makes a right turn and “right-hooks” him or her. This past August in San Francisco, Amelie Le Moullac, a 24 y.o. woman, was killed exactly this way. This time was no different in Susan Watson’s death.
Susan Watson, a dear and wonderful friend to many, was riding on Market St. in Oakland after getting off the ferry at Jack London Square on Monday evening, December 17th, 2013. She was a dedicated bike commuter on her way to her home in El Cerrito, about 9 miles away. The shortest route with some sort of bike facility for her to take was northbound on Market St. and she wore all the things that would make a cyclist visible to drivers in the evening hours: an assortment of flashing and colorful wheel lights, bike lights, and lights decorating her backpack. She would have known that this route, close to the Port of Oakland, is often filled with trucks- even more the reason to have so many lights.
Her route going home has bike lanes in both directions, but it is also a favorite route for truck drivers coming in and out of the Port of Oakland to pick up and drop off all those cargo containers (see the stack of Matson containers in the image below). Anyone who rides a bike can tell you that large trucks are the scariest things on the road (aside from maybe aggressive and impatient taxi drivers), but the city decided to put bike lanes there anyway, sharing the truck route without doing anything more than painting white stripes. Obviously, doing only that much wouldn’t and doesn’t work and this setup hasn’t worked in San Francisco either.
Trucks come and go on this route because of its vicinity to the Port of Oakland and the nearby freeway entrances and exits (see image below).
Furthermore, when I was taking photos at this intersection, I saw that over 95% of the truck drivers did not merge to the far right before making a right turn (see image below). Although that would require trucks to merge into the bike lane before executing the turn, this is what they are supposed to do. Trucks need to do that so bicyclists and everyone else can predict where they will go and not think that they are going straight instead of turning. Also, it will keep bicyclists from treacherously ending up in their right-side blind spot.
Why aren’t truck drivers merging all the way to the right before turning? There’s definitely still enough room to make a right turn if they do so. This is probably so they can make wide turns which would also require less effort than having to merge to the right and then make a tight right turn.
In the image below, you can clearly see that the rear end of the truck is far from the corner curb. The front wheel axle barely turned.
Another reason why truck drivers might make such wide turns is to avoid the tail-end from hitting curbs, light poles, and pedestrians waiting on corners, etc., but does it warrant such a wide turn? I have seen big rigs make tighter turns than this.
Another reason for such wide right turns is so that after making the turn, the truck would not end up outside the boundary of the road he or she is turning onto. However, at this intersection these truck drivers clearly have space. The photo below shows that 5th St. is so wide, almost 4 lanes wide in one direction (including street parking space), that there is actually room for truck drivers to make tighter right turns. Tighter turns would mean trucks would have to merge to the far right, crossing over into the bike lane before turning, which would also mean that the driver would more likely see a bicyclist in the bike lane where Susan was located at the time of the collision.
Why such a wide turn when there is so much space? Do truck drivers do this so they can more easily position themselves on the farthest left lane on 5th St. so they can get onto the freeway ramp a few blocks down? To me, they just seem carelessly lazy.
Whether or not such wide right turns are indeed necessary at this junction, traffic engineers must design it better and also wherever there are bike lanes sharing the road with heavy traffic and in close vicinity to mass transit stops (in this case, the ferry terminal in Jack London Square).
Here are my ideas to improve this area:
Better and adequate street lighting in the right places, which it currently does not have (see photo below). For some strange reason, the street lamps are placed away from the sidewalks on the median island, so that means that they will not really light up the curbs and sidewalks. This is pretty darn silly if you ask me. Why would street lamps be placed in the center of a road when pedestrians and bicyclists need it the most? Moreover, this junction is partially under a BART bridge and so needs more lighting than usual.
In addition, I think a bicycle alert signal placed near the intersection for alerting truck drivers of the presence of bicyclists is another good measure for safety.
Speaking of lights, another thing they can do is have different traffic signal lights for both drivers and bicyclists at this kind of junction.
Perhaps, let’s have green marked lanes such as green cross bikes all the way through the intersection.
Of course, protected bike lanes are ideal but that is going to be perceived as too expensive and intrusive in our car-centric society. Instead, put buffered bike lanes in that stretch since there is no street parking allowed anyway (see image below) and there is plenty of space. That way, bicyclists are placed closer to the curb and away from the back end of trucks making right turns. This extra distance will allow them some space to react.
To conclude, Susan’s death could have been prevented but a truck driver that night was too carelessly lazy and traffic engineers were too incompetent to see that what they put there is not enough to allow for the safe mixing of bicycles and trucks on open streets. They need to do more and they need to do it right.
We recently went to Vancouver, B. C. for a short vacation. It was my third and Nellie’s fourth time visiting the west coast Canadian city. We enjoy visiting Vancouver because it is the closest destination (just 2.5 hrs by plane from San Francisco) where we can experience something different from American cities. The people are nice and helpful and the city is clean, well laid-out, and beautiful. In addition, the food is excellent. You can randomly walk into any eatery and come out feeling satisfied. Vancouver has been ranking near the top in livability for the last few years and I can see why.
The last time we were there in 2009, we saw very little bike infrastructure. But recently, John Pucher, a cycling guru paid a visit to Vancouver and said that this city should be talked about as the best bike-friendly city in North America. The city was selected to have the Velo-City Global conference, a premier marketplace for bicycling delegates, which was held last year. They have mayor Greg Robertson who is a bike commuter and a city council that is not afraid of implementing bike facilities. Moreover, a bike-share program is expected to roll out early next year in downtown Vancouver. In addition to striped bike lanes, they have a few real cycletracks that are as good as those in Copenhagen, but of course they are not nearly as ubiquitous. Bikes are allowed in all modes of transit from buses to Sky Trains to Seabus ferries. Not to mention, a popular bike/fashion magazine called Momentum which is geared for regular people riding bikes, is based in Vancouver. Every year, there is a very large and notable turnout there for the World Naked Bike Ride.
Because Vancouver doesn’t yet have bike routes going everywhere, it is nice to see bike signs showing where the bicycle routes are. Having bike routes clearly marked and indicated on street name signs like the one shown above allows our eyes to automatically know where to look for the bike signage. It also helps drivers know to expect bicyclists if they are taking that street. It is so much better than placing bike signs on the sidewalks which are hard to see, can be blocked by tree branches or other nearby sign poles.
Although I despise anything that is just merely a striped bike lane, I think Vancouver does them better than San Francisco. For example, notice the green paint near the driveway for cars (see image above). It alerts drivers that they are crossing a bike lane and to look out for bicyclists. I think this is a brilliant way of using green paint. In SF, this is done in the opposite way. An example would be the Embarcadero in SF (sorry no photo) where the bike lane is painted green but when it reaches driveways the green paint disappears. What this signals is that it tells bicyclists to be the responsible party. It doesn’t make any sense, right?
In the image above, the bike lane is painted green as it reaches the intersection to warn motorists merging right to execute a turn that they are crossing through a bike lane. However in SF, this is not being done at all.
As mentioned in my other post, crossbikes are such a brilliant idea utilized by many bike-friendly cities. When you are riding across a busy/large intersection, do you ever feel that you are endangered? What about when you are walking and there’s no crosswalk? I got to ride in these crossbikes in Vancouver, and I can tell you it’s one of the best bike facilities ever created. Again, SFMTA needs to implement these.
There are five bridges in Vancouver, and four of them you can bike on. A popular bicycle route to get from downtown to the Kitsilano neighborhood (known for having the best beach in the city) is through the Burrard Bridge (image above). It has a dedicated cycle track for bicyclists. However, these bridges have a long incline and are not suited for any 8 to 80 y.o. bicyclist. What they need is a separated bridge just for bikes and pedestrians.
Below is a video (Note: Sound is muted, so don’t think your computer speakers are broken) showing what it’s like to ride in a cycle track in downtown Vancouver. (Editor’s Note: As you might be able tell in the video, he was having a ball!) The cycle track on Hornby St. is raised with car parking to the left, and a buffer with plants to the right of the parked cars. It is a great piece of bike infrastructure!
Although Vancouver has some great pieces of bike infrastructure and an amazing sea wall (which will be discussed in Part 2 of this series) navigating around Vancouver on a bike was not really that easy. It is still a very car-centric city. There seemed to be way more cars than when we were there before. There are many streets that do not yet have bike infrastructure. Riding on the main streets can be hair-raising. Also, there are only one or two streets going east to west that have bike routes. Then there are streets like Robson, Denman, Granville, and Davie Streets that are meccas for shopping and eating but do not have any bike routes on them. It seemed intentional that bike routes were not placed on them perhaps because they don’t have much space. But I thought that was kind of ridiculous. It is all a matter of re-prioritizing use. Bicyclists also shop and eat too, and studies (1,2) have shown they spend more money and frequent businesses more than motorists. At the very least, there should be bike sharrows.
In Vancouver, helmets are mandatory and I believe this could dampen ridership which may lead to less safety for bicycling on the streets. It should be optional for adults and mandatory for children. Motorists in Vancouver are courteous and more patient, and with some streets that have really good bike infrastructure, I don’t see why helmets are mandatory. In addition, they have a wonderful seaside bicycle route away from car traffic and they are still required to wear helmets there. What they need is to get more bicyclists on the streets and a helmet law doesn’t help with that.
I gotta admit, Vancouver is a hilly city. Although the hills aren’t as steep as San Francisco’s, it’s going to be tough to attract the 8 to 80 y.o. crowd. In order to get more people to bike over those hills and bridges, I believe electric bikes is the answer. I think if somehow electric bikes are marketed right like having e-bike shares for the public to try, that could be a good way to help people who are on the fence realize it is right for them.
Overall, Vancouver has done a great job in improving their bike infrastructure in just a few years. The speed at which they have been able to implement bike improvements is impressive.
In the next post on Vancouver, I will discuss more about biking along the sea wall in Vancouver and what we saw while biking around. Stay tuned…
As I mentioned in a previous post, I was really ecstatic about the implementation of the Bay Area Bike Share (BABS) and I think it is a sign that bicycles are less marginalized in SF than previously. Having the bike shares lends great legitimacy to the whole bicycle movement. It’s not just obligatory bike lanes going down. Now, the city is backing and putting actual bikes on the road.
Just riding this bike around town branded with its official Bay Area Bike Share logos, I feel that I get more respect from motorists. Now if these anti-cyclists get angry at us like they often do, while riding these bike shares they would be putting the blame on the city too. We’re no longer fringe outcasts in the mean streets of SF. We are now officially backed by the government, consummated in the coolness of a celeste green color.
Right on the day it was launched, Nellie and I couldn’t wait to get on one. We had tried City Bikes in Copenhagen and it was a terrible system, but of course it was implemented in 1995. My workplace has a free bike share system but it is rarely used due to its campus location on hills. So, I was hoping for a better overall system.
We just wanted to test out the bikes so we got the 24 hours pass. The 24 hours or 3 days pass is inconvenient because you would have to buy it at the kiosk, not online. You would have to first to stick your credit card to purchase, it gives you a 5 digit code on a small piece of paper, and enter it into the keypad on the rack. Then you have five minutes to pull out a bike from the docking station (if you don’t undock your bike within the grace period, repeat the process), then when you want to get a new bike at the next kiosk you would have to do the process all over again. I thought it was annoying. However if you purchase the one year membership of only $88, you just swipe the key fob (which they mailed to you) over the keypad and you get the bike instantly.
So we set up a test ride around South of Market (SOMA) to get lunch, errands, shopping and dinner in the end. We got the bikes at Townsend and 4th St kiosk across from the the Caltrain station, and rode toward the Embarcadero because that was the safest route to get to Financial District for lunch. It took us 25 minutes to get to the kiosk at Market and Battery St close to Specialty’s, our lunch place. On the way there, we passed 5 other stations!
It was a little exhaustive pedaling the 50 lbs (23 kg) clunky bikes for 25 minutes but it was very comfortable. They absorbed shocks very well from cracked pavements and potholes. We felt safe riding them, even without helmets. It’s probably due to a few reasons; the upright position you’re sitting provides a better all around view of the surrounding; the stability of the bike from the weight and fat tires; high visibility from the bright celeste green color; and the bike can’t go that fast. These bikes should fit anyone from 5 ft (1.5 m) to over 6 ft (1.83 m) tall. Moreover, I like that the seat post has markings on it to help adjust the next bike you rent to your specific height quickly.
The nice thing is that we just dock the bikes without having to find a pole (bike racks are rare in the Financial District) to lock them. We walked 2 small blocks to get lunch at Specialty’s. That was a nice one hour lunch and felt pretty relief that we didn’t have to worry about leaving them outside. When we were done, we walked another small 2 blocks to get to another kiosk at Market and Sansome St. We stick our credit cards into the machine to get the 5 digits code again to get the bikes. That is about the only hassle we experienced all day – swiping our credit cards to get the 5 digits code and entering on the keypads.
Then we rode for a few blocks to Union Square for shopping. We docked the bikes at Market and 4th St. We usually don’t take our bikes to Union Square because of bad experiences. I have two friends that got their saddles stolen. Also in our first few months living in SF our bikes were stolen in the vicinity, albeit we used cable locks. Even though now we have u-locks, but we still don’t want to take any chance.
After shopping we walked to Howard and 3rd St to get some photos for this blog. We wanted to get some cool looking people and their bikes going home from a long day’s work. Howard St is a one way thoroughfare going from east to west, and it has a high volume of bicycle commuters. Then we rented the bike again to get dinner at Tin’s (our favorite Vietnamese restaurant in the city). It was pretty cool to ride down on Howard St with a bunch of bike commuters.
Tin’s is located on Howard between 5th and 6th and guess what, a BABS kiosk was nearby. Wonderful! Dropped off the bike at Howard and 5th St, and walked half a block. After dinner it got dark, so we returned to the same station, picked up the bikes and rode almost 2 miles (3.2 km) home passing one other bike share station on the way.
It was such an easy and pleasant experience with the bike shares at our finger tips. Most bike share stations are located in SOMA (and Market St.) which I think is wonderful. SOMA is such a large neighborhood with some sketchy areas and shops/eateries that are located far apart. Walking could be long and dangerous, so bike shares help in these kind of situations. Moreover, these bikes are available 24/7 any time you need to be transported. You can’t count on taxis and buses during odd hours. Now you may not need to buy a new bike since these bikes are available. It’s almost like you have your own bike but without any maintenance to worry about. Pretty cool, eh!
Even though we didn’t encounter many issues with the system as would be expected at its start, the BABS system can certainly be improved. Here are some of the things that may help:
– There must be a way for kids younger than 18 y.o. to use them besides having their parents or guardians be around to borrow them for them.
– I find the process of checking out bikes for the short-term 24 hour or 3 day memberships to be inconvenient as I explained above. Since it’s part of the public transit system, I think it would be great to be able to use the Clipper card with it.
– Why do all bike shares weigh so much? Nellie has a hard time picking up the bike onto the sidewalk.
– Having a built-in lock would be a nice addition I think. What if you need to make a quick stop in between stations, like for a quick coffee? Maybe, a cup holder to go with your coffee?
– They should put a map near the handlebars visible from the seat of the bike that shows where the locations of the kiosks or a smartphone app to display availability of bikes.
– When they expand this next year, hopefully they will put a few stations in other neighborhoods such as the Mission District, Dog Patch, and Mission Bay.
– In addition to SF and the cities on the peninsula having bike share stations, Oakland should have them too!
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