Golden Gate Bridge Walkway Closure Comes At Worst Possible Time

One thing separating locals from tourists is the knowledge of what season is best for a leisurely stroll across the Golden Gate Bride.

While your average out-of-towner might deem July an ideal time to cross the iconic span, savvy locals know better. "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco," is something Mark Twain would have said had he not been too busy putting on another layer of clothes to insulate himself from famously sunny California's unyielding summertime blanket of frigid fog-rain.

Despite the inhospitable weather, summer is the heaviest season for people from all around the world to put on the $60 San Francisco sweatshirt they just bought at Fisherman's Wharf and meander across the Golden Gate Bridge. That is precisely why many San Franciscans are grousing that this the absolute worst time of year to temporarily close the western sidewalk of the city's most recognizable landmark.

The Golden Gate Bridge normally divides all of its non-motorized traffic onto opposite sidewalks--with pedestrians on the east side and bicyclists on the west. However, with the closure of the bike-only side, everyone is now crammed onto the same small pathway.

"We're hearing a lot of concerns from our members about people having to bike and walk in the same space," said San Francisco Bike Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. "Effectively there's been a 50% reduction of space."

Shahum told HuffPost that the bike advocacy group has been getting feedback from some of its members who feel uncomfortable riding across the bridge without their own dedicated sidewalk.

The four-month closure is part of the bridge's seismic retrofit, the most significant construction project undertaken on the bridge since its original completion nearly 75 years ago. The $660 million project has been underway since 1998; however, the vast majority of work has happened out of the public eye, either scheduled in the middle of the night when few people are crossing or done underneath the span itself.

This sidewalk closure is a direct consequence of the replacement of the north anchorage housing, something that Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District Public Affairs Director Mary Currie insisted was inevitable. "Yes, this wasn't the best time to do this," admitted Currie. "But we couldn't delay it until the end of summer or do work on another part instead--it's a necessary part of the construction to complete it in this order."

While there's only been one bike-related accident on the eastern sidewalk since the closure began, many people crossing the bridge since then have expressed concerns. "This is horrible," San Francisco resident and regular bridge visitor Heidi Spreng told the Examiner. "I actually didn't feel safe out there. I think next time I'll just drive across the bridge and go biking in Marin."

Shahum feels like the bridge officials was caught off-guard by the issues surrounding the convergence of bikes and pedestrians onto the same cramped sidewalk. "This is a problem they should have anticipated," she attested.

Currie says that district employees, who have been working in conjunction with representatives from the Bike Coalition, are in the process of taking measures to mitigate some of the sidewalk closure's detrimental effects. In the coming days, they are painting a striped lane divider along the eastern sidewalk to hopefully separate pedestrians onto one side and bikers onto the other. Within the next couple weeks, they're planning on rolling out signage urging both pedestrians and bikers to slow down and be weary of each other.

The specifics of such signage are surprisingly complicated. Since the bridge is an international tourist destination, a sign conveying everything bridge officials want to convey needs to be easily understandable by people speaking a multitude of different languages.

"We're just asking local users, who have experience on the bridge, to use some patience," said Currie. "I know people are upset. I recognize that the timing is terrible, but the bridge is safe. If it wasn't safe to cross we'd close it, but it is."

The western sidewalk is expected to reopen near the end of September.