Cyclists Await Presidio Bike Plan by Nadia Khastagir

The Presidio, once a military base and now a national park, is a favored place for some great bike riding. It offers challenging hills, surprise views, long winding roads amidst eucalyptus forests, and comparatively mellower traffic levels than the rest of San Francisco.

At least for now. The Presidio could undergo a major transformation in the next few years, and unless bicycling advocates are involved in the controversial planning process for the park, we could lose ground, literally, in one of the city's best biking environments.

Presidio road improvements would benefit cyclists of all types, including tourists, commuters, and recreational riders.
The Presidio Trust - which was formed to ensure that the park become financially sustainable by 2013, as required by Congressional mandate - recently released the Draft Presidio Trust Implementation Plan, or PTIP (available online at www.presidiotrust.gov), an update of the park's management plan. The PTIP devotes much attention, though vague, to transportation needs in the park and reducing automobile use and increasing sustainable transportation such as bicycling.

The Trust is also working on a Bikeways and Trails Draft Plan, which will detail the traffic solutions and issues of most concern to the bicycle community. This plan was drafted after several months of cyclist focus groups, public comment meetings, and outreach through the SFBC and neighboring communities. The draft plan should be released by the end of the year.

Chris Ottoway from the Trust Planning Department says that cyclists "will be pleased with [the Bike plan]," which will include improved crossing areas, signage, traffic calming, and multi-use trails.

But we cannot take assurances for granted. Bicyclists who travel through the Presidio - or who simply value the freedom to do so safely and conveniently - should galvanize to attend hearings and submit public comments to the PTIP before October 25 and to the Bike Plan, when it is released.

In order to effectively accommodate cyclists in the changing Presidio, the SFBC has identified some of the following needs: lower speed limits throughout the park; physical traffic calming to ensure slower car speeds; bike lanes along major bike routes within the park; changing Washington Street to a non-through street; closing Crissy Field Drive (the popular bike street between Lincoln and Old Mason); better directional bike signage, including signs directing to bike parking; "Bicycles Allowed Full Use of Lane" signs and bike stencils on streets without bike lanes; and less parking within the Presidio to discourage driving.

The Trust has already made a few improvements for cyclists. Some of the more notable changes include: posting city bike route signs; repaving Arguello and Presidio Boulevard - the two major southern entrances - and striping the uphill sides of these streets; adding stop signs on Lombard Street at Letterman for making a safe left turn; connecting the Bay Area Ridge Trail (even with some off-road track) to the Golden Gate Bridge; proposing Greenwich Gate access for bikes and pedestrians; installing bike racks at all inhabited buildings; and supporting Polk and Arguello bike lanes.

The hazardous Merchant and Lincoln intersection is of particular concern to Presidio cyclists.
Of primary concern is the Merchant and Lincoln intersection - the popular approach to and from the Golden Gate Bridge from the Fort Scott area and Washington Boulevard. Safety studies were conducted with a consultant (although any cyclist could have told them) and this intersection was marked as dangerous. An idea for a bicycle overpass is in the works, but this could take five to ten years.

Despite the improvements, there remains a prevailing sense of frustration among cyclists. Implementation of changes is a long time coming. The plan for more development raises concerns about an increase in traffic. Free parking lots abound, in no way discouraging commuters, even tenants who live and work in the park, from driving to work.

"The Presidio is used as a thoroughfare for cars to get from point A to B," says Stephen Casey, a longtime cycle activist in the Presidio. "They have made little effort to show that cyclists are sharing the roads."

"My worst fear," adds Joel Ernst, an SFBC member who goes 12 miles out of his way just to commute through the Presidio, "is that there will be special paths for bikes to ride which will give the belief that the roads are just for cars."

Cyclists must actively play a part in this planning process to ensure that bikes will still have a safe place on the Presidio's roads. Comments on the draft PTIP can be sent by email to ptip@presidiotrust.gov or by fax at 415-561-5315. When the Bicycle Plan is released in a few months, it can be viewed at www.presidiotrust.gov.

If you're interested in becoming more involved in Presidio bike issues through the SFBC, please contact Leah Shahum, shahum@sfbike.org, 431-BIKE x2