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Commentary: I Crashed on a Dangerous Grate in Golden Gate Park

Last week, I let Streetsblog readers know posts will be slow because I sustained injuries from a bicycle crash on July 19.

Originally, we decided to keep details under wraps. But I think we're obliged to point out a hazard in Golden Gate Park that could hurt other people.

Tuesday, July 19, I rode my bike to the park. I was following up on a lead about bike parking at the de Young. I wanted to see what bike parking exists around the museum. Since many of San Francisco's parking garages have bike racks inside (I've locked my bike inside public garages many times) I started by looking for any unpublicized bike parking inside the de Young's garage. I rode down the ramp towards the garage entrance at 10th and Fulton.

I flipped over and slammed into the concrete. I was shocked, dazed, and in enormous pain--especially in my left hand and right shoulder.

It didn't take long to figure out what had happened.

There are multiple, wide gaps between the storm drain grates on the ramp. The drain goes clear across the ramp. I had ridden right into one of the gaps (see close-up below with my shoe in the shot for scale).

My wheel fell in this space between the grates, catapulting me over my handlebars and into the concrete
My wheel fell in this space between the grates.

My first concern was to get to a doctor. I was then sent to an orthopedic center for x-rays and treatment.

I didn't set out to write a story about a deadly storm drain in the park. But over the next couple of days, I started calling and emailing to find out who was responsible for such obviously hazardous grates.

My emails were forwarded to Jan Berckefeldt of the Music Concourse Community Partnership. I fully expected to get a reply something like: "We're sorry about the crash. Thank you for bringing this hazard to our attention. We will get the grates fixed immediately." In my many years of experience doing this work, an official might not take a danger seriously in the abstract, but once somebody has been bloodied--as long as the fix isn't fraught or expensive--they generally try to do the right thing, if for no other reason than fear of liability.

However, this is the email I got Monday, in full:

Hi Roger: I am President and Managing Director of the Music Concourse Community Partnership (MCCP), the owners of the Music Concourse Garage. I have reviewed your photos and visited the area itself. Bicycles and skateboards are prohibited in the Garage for safety reasons. I am wondering why you were riding on an automobile ramp entering the Garage. That would pose a danger to drivers and yourself.I would be happy to speak with you. My cell phone number is below.


Jan BerckefeldtPresident and Managing DirectorMusic Concourse Community Partnership

I didn't call her because the only reason I was reaching out in the first place was that I assumed the gaps in the grate were an oversight. But in her own words, Berckefeld already knew the ramp was dangerous.

It's not a freeway ramp or the Western Span of the Bay Bridge. It's a lightly traveled, short little ramp inside a park, with a dedicated bike path on one side, and bike lanes all around. And not only are there no signs banning bikes on the ramp, there are bike stencils, as seen below:

Tell me again why I wouldn't think its' fine to bike here?
The entrance to the garage ramp on Google Maps.

I'm unable to bike or kickbox (my other favorite pastime). I still have pain and it's hard to type. This is going to be a long slog. Fortunately, I had follow-up x-rays on Tuesday of this week and I'm happy to say my prognosis for a full recovery is good.

The next person who bikes down that ramp might not be so lucky.

To point out what I thought is obvious, it's never okay to leave a booby trap for some hapless person on a bike trying to find secure bike parking. I'd even suggest after they fix the grates they add some bike parking inside the garage, although I won't hold my breath for either.

Inside the garage in Japantown on Geary. Photo: Japan Center Garage
NOT the Golden Gate Park garage. That's inside the garage in Japantown on Geary, one of many San Francisco garages with bike parking. Photo: Japan Center Garage

And if they won't fix the grates and make the ramp and garage safe for everyone, then the Park and the City of San Francisco should think real hard about what kind of people they're doing business with.

And, yes, I will be seeking compensation for medical bills, pain, suffering, etc.

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