The Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors has unanimously endorsed its traffic engineer’s plan to remove the eastbound bike lane on Market Street at Octavia Boulevard despite pleas from cyclists and advocates who fear merging car and bicycle traffic will worsen conditions at the notoriously dangerous intersection.
"I just urge you not to do away with one of the few safety improvements for cyclists in San Francisco in the last two years," said Michael Borden, a 57-year-old bicycle commuter who was thrown ten feet off his bike when a driver in a van bolted into him while making an illegal right turn onto Highway 101. He suffered broken ribs and torn ligaments and it took him several months to recuperate.
"For me, this would be a huge step backwards. It feels like the safest part of my commute down Market Street now where you are walled off from the cars," Borden told the directors Tuesday. "It would really affect my decision to bicycle commute to work."
Since the touchdown ramps opened in 2005 on Octavia at Market, following the demolition of the Central Freeway, Borden and numerous cyclists have been hit by drivers making illegal right turns. It took several serious crashes, protests, media coverage and lobbying by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and Supervisor Bevan Dufty to get immediate physical improvements, which did not require court approval because it wasn’t part of the bike plan currently locked in an injunction.
The proposed change by MTA traffic engineer Jack Fleck must go before Judge Peter J. Busch, who rejected a similar request to modify the injunction last April and could do so again. This time, however, the MTA has provided more documentation in an attempt to back up its claim the change is needed.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed the latest request (download the PDF) in early December, to the surprise of bicycle advocates, citing 15 cyclist injuries and arguing immediate improvements were needed:
To most effectively prevent further automobile-bicycle injury collisions, city traffic engineers have recommended combining the currently separate automobile and bicycle lanes eastbound on Market Street approximately 120 feet before the Octavia Boulevard highway entrance. The new design, which is consistent with many intersections around the city, would designate a clearly marked shared lane for motorists and bicyclists so that they queue up in front of each other rather than side by side.
But SFBC Program Director Andy Thornley, who strongly opposes the plan, urged the Board to consider adopting a Planning Department blueprint that calls for a colored and raised bike lane at the intersection, which would slow cyclists and raise their visibility among drivers.
"MTA needs to be improving the right of way for bicyclists but it seems to be giving up before it’s done and I really hate to see this agency give up before they’ve done all the work that they could do or that they should do."
Directors, however, wouldn’t budge.
"Accidents are still happening," said Vice Chairman Tom Nolan. "It seems to be me this is a reasonable alternative to try."
"The issue here is has anything we tried worked? The answer is no," Director Bruce Oka said. "I’m reluctantly supporting this until we come up with a better solution and I don’t see any better solution."
SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum said she was shocked by the board’s action, especially considering there was no public or advocacy input.
"We’re not championing the status quo of that intersection by any means. We’re not saying what’s there is perfect or even great but what’s there is a start to great and what the Planning Department proposes after years, literally years, of public input and community discussion around this is enhancing the bicycle facility and adding on to the separate bike space, to the visibility for bicyclists."
Shahum wonders whether the city attorney’s request has to do with the city’s liability for the number of injuries at the intersection. Herrera’s office confirmed one lawsuit and at least one claim have been filed against the city by injured cyclists.
A hearing on the relief from the injunction before Judge Busch is scheduled for January 22nd.
Flickr Photo: Brian Brooks