Chavez East: No Place for Bikes by Mary Wings

Mary Wings is currently working on I Give Up My Car, a novella. Photos by Mary Wings and Jonathan Plowman

The importance of Cesar Chavez St. as a thoroughfare cannot be overestimated. With the coming 3rd Street MUNI line and Mission Bay, Cesar Chavez East will become more important for everyone. Jonathan Plowman and I recently documented our ride down Chavez East. I also spoke with a Department of Parking and Traffic (DPT) staff person about upcoming changes and possibilities on this important stretch.

1. Cyclists have been accosted under this bridge at night. Every day, hundreds of bicycliists and bottle recyclers use this route, which runs through a homeless encampment.
The Good News (photo 1) This odoriferous pedestrian underpass - the only route for bicyclists (short of "shooting the rapids" with cars on the ramps) - has been used ever since the freeway was built. It is currently the only way to get from Cesar Chavez West to Cesar Chavez East. This colorful route will soon be augmented with a bike/pedestrian bridge on the north side of Cesar Chavez. However, bicyclists going east will have to cross Chavez twice to use the new bridge.

2. Jonathan waits for numerous trucks to go by before taking the lane. There is no sidewalk to his right.
The Weakest Link (photo 2) While you can bicycle on the narrow sidewalk up to Evans, after Evans you have but one choice. Cars park on the eastbound side of the street. There is no sidewalk, just a steep drop off to your right. Your only option is to take the lane usually in front of a truck. The DPT staffer commented that it's difficult to eliminate parking spaces. While the DPT would like to have a continuous bike path, in some places there just isn't any room. But why, I ask, do fifteen parked cars have to put bicyclists' lives in jeopardy every day?

3. A moment of sanity: a segregated and safe bike path on Cesar Chavez under I-280.
No Precedent for Safety (photo 3) Transportation monies and redesign of the area allowed for this segregated bike pathway to be built, explained the DPT staffer. What about continuing to segregate the bike lane to the right of the parked vehicles? We'd both seen those lanes function well in Europe. There just isn't a precedent for that in the United States, the staff person explained.

4. Trucks park in the bike lane on the right while big rig mirrors part your hair on the left.
Nobody but the Brave (photo 4) I now take Evans St., which has a lot less traffic and better sight lines. I use the Chavez East sidewalk until Toland, then turn right. DPT staff have promised to look into Evans as a more acceptable route (Evans already sports a bike lane, but it's east of 3rd Street). Right now Chavez East is an obstacle course of garbage, dark and dangerous passageways, and bike lanes that drop you off in front of big rigs. I don't recommend this route to anyone but the brave.