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Editorial: Prevent Another Tragedy on the Embarcadero by Dividing the Promenade

The ghost bike for Kevin Manning, killed by a hit-and-run driver on the Embarcadero. Photo credit held on request

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

On June 27, a hit-and-run driver slammed into a pedicab on the Embarcadero near Pier 29, injuring a family, including two children. The pedicab operator, Kevin Manning, later died of his injuries.

Matt Quinlan, the attorney for the pedicab passengers, reached out to Streetsblog shortly after the crash. The family is back home in Vancouver, Canada and not talking with the press, but Quinlan wrote that "they are heartbroken to learn of the death of Kevin Manning; so am I. The father was not injured physically. The mother and two children (5 and 8) were, with the mother and 5-year-old, who were in the pedicab directly hit by the Civic, receiving the worst of it."

There's a sad irony to this. If the family had stayed home and gone for a bike ride on Vancouver's waterfront, it's unlikely they would have been in a serious crash, because they wouldn't be riding in the street with traffic in the first place.

Vancouver's seawall promenade is comparable to the Embarcadero promenade in most respects. But in Vancouver's case, there is an ongoing project to organize and segregate the space, so it is actually usable for both cyclists and pedestrians.

Here's what some of Vancouver's Seawall promenade looks like:

A look at how Vancouver divides its seawall promenade. Photo: Chris and Melissa Bruntlett
A look at how Vancouver divides its seawall promenade. Photo: Chris and Melissa Bruntlett

And here's a short blog post about it.

Technically, San Francisco's Embarcadero promenade is already one of the few spaces in the city where cyclists are permitted to use the super-wide sidewalk, but it's not often practical to do so because it's so chaotic and disorganized.

Cyclists are constantly trapped behind groups of pedestrians--you spend the whole ride shouting "excuse me!" Pedestrians get flummoxed by cyclists passing too close. Close calls are inevitable. Many people don't even realize bikes have a right to be there, so conflicts are inevitable. As a result, for the most part, bikes and pedicabs are forced onto the Embarcadero's unprotected bike lane next to speeding traffic.

Vancouver had similar issues until they started dividing the seawall path between walking space and cycling space a few years ago. In different parts, it is done with benches, planters, street art, curbs, etc.

None of this is to suggest that SFMTA's current bike lanes--or the long-term plan to upgrade them--should be removed or abandoned. But for pedicabs, bike tourists, and people who just want a calmer biking experience, why not carve out some clearly defined, bike space on the promenade?

On some parts of the San Francisco Embarcadero promenade, space is already divided by the Promenade Ribbon:

This artwork could be the start of a delineator between bike and pedestrian space. Photo Streetsblog/Rudick

Plug some signs into appropriate parts of the ribbon that point bikes to one side and pedestrians to the other. Add a few planters, and, for a good stretch anyway, you're done. Some sections already have concrete blocks, so the city would literally only have to put in signs and maybe paint a stencil or two. They could even use San Francisco's favorite on-the-cheap tool: safe-hit posts.

Is this the best solution? Who knows? But it could be done in a matter of weeks or days. It doesn't require studies, environmental reviews, etc. It just requires the city bureaucracies to stop dithering, prioritize safety, and do something.

From the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's statement about Manning's death: "between 2006 and 2011, data shows that 84 people were injured on the Embarcadero while biking or walking, including two fatalities." In other words, it's just a matter of time before the next crash.

A couple more pics of Vancouver's seawall below:

Another section of the seawall through Vancouver's downtown. Photo: Bruntlett
Another section of the seawall through Vancouver's downtown. Photo: Bruntlett
By dividing their "promenade" into clearly defined bike and ped space, Vancouver has made a more safe and comfortable seawall. Photo: Bruntlett
By dividing their "promenade" into clearly defined bike and ped space, Vancouver has made a more safe and comfortable seawall path. Photo: Bruntlett

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