Changes are coming to the Embarcadero, San Francisco's waterfront

Michael Finney Image
Saturday, January 12, 2019
Changes are coming to Embarcadero, San Francisco's Waterfront
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The Embarcadero is a busy place filled with people, cars and all sorts of transportation devices.

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This is a report about San Francisco's Embarcadero and the challenges facing the waterfront. It is a story of urban planning and urban change. How even the best-laid plans can be waylaid by changing times.

The Embarcadero is a busy place filled with people, cars and all sorts of transportation devices. It can feel dangerous walking there. It can feel dangerous riding in the bike lane.

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Port of San Francisco Executive Director, Elaine Forbes says, "It is fairly chaotic right now."

We start our conversation on the ribbon of concrete that runs along the waterfront. The stretch of concrete is probably not what you think.

"It is not a sidewalk," Forbes tells me, "it does look like one, but it is a promenade."

That is an important distinction. Sidewalks are for pedestrians only, the promenade invites cyclists, scooters, skateboards, electric vehicles-- you name it, to come on board.

There are signs letting everyone know, the promenade is not just for pedestrians. Still, is this a good idea?

I find Reihard Ludke walking on the promenade.

"I think it is best if you just have pedestrians because there is a bike lane right there," he says, "Electric vehicles shouldn't be operating on the promenade. That is my opinion."

David Hogan is walking on the promenade too, he doesn't think all the traffic is a big deal.

"You just figure out how to walk," he says, "You see people coming and going. It is like crossing a street, you just deal with people running and rolling around."

Helping to sort all this out is Senior Planner with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Casey Hildreth.

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He says, "The issues we are grappling with are not necessarily the issues that we thought we would be grappling with when we started this project."

About four years ago the port and various city departments started working on a plan, only to be upset when Uber and Lyft started dropping off passengers, new vehicle types took to the promenade and visits to the waterfront exploded to the now 24 million a year.

Forbes tells me, "Our interest is any kind of vehicle goes slow enough to keep our pedestrians safe."

She is talking about the promenade and The Embarcadero itself.

It has been decided that traffic will be slowed, but still hustled through with synchronized lights. So, expect fewer left turns, fewer lanes-- and parking? That is oh, so four years ago.

"I think it is safe to say that personal storage of a private vehicle along the waterfront, Hildreth says, "is not the highest priority of our project."

Everyone is very careful when talking about this project, bicyclists are powerful, so are walkers and motorists.

Hildreth tells me, "The promenade is a shared use path so cyclist are legally allowed. What we want to do is invite them into a new facility which will be a two-way waterside bikeway."

We asked, "Are they being invited or forced"?

"The question we are focused on, again, is the design," he tells me, "We are working as a partner with the port and so the discussions around policies are things that will have to materialize over the next several years."

Much of the public comment has already been made and some of the work has been started and even completed, but there is still a long way to go before.

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