Hundreds Rally to Save Market/Octavia Bike Lane

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In a powerful show of opposition to a plan that calls for removing the eastbound Market Street bike lane and concrete island at Octavia Boulevard, hundreds of bicyclists, their supporters and local and state elected officials gathered today at the dangerous intersection to loudly urge the MTA to scrap its idea for a shared lane.

"This would indeed be a step backwards," said State Senator Mark Leno. "When I first heard about it I thought this is about as counterintuitive as it comes. Automobile users are breaking the law by turning right so we’re going to penalize those who are legally using the bike lanes."

Leno was joined by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and Supervisors Bevan Dufty, Ross Mirkarimi and David Campos.

3202455616_e386cca5d3_m.jpgState Senator Mark Leno supports a Planning Department vision for the intersection.

"I am frankly tired of this kamikaze corner here," said Ammiano. "I think the solution… might have been well intended but it totally misses reality. Reality is taking the lane is going to cause more carnage, more bad will, and let’s face it, more rebellious behavior because you know how we are."

Dufty said he planned to call for a hearing on the issue next month before the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

"Bicyclists never asked to have a freeway touch down at Market Street here," said Dufty. "This is the major thoroughfare for bicyclists to get to work downtown and I really think that this change would absolutely undermine it."

Mirkarimi directed some of his criticism at law enforcement, pointing out the numerous SFPD and CHP units that turned out at the rally to enforce the no right turn law.

"If we would have as many officers here enforcing this intersection as we have today, my god, I believe that we on the budget committee would be happily surprised by the revenue that is being generated based on the penalty infractions that would be solved just by enforcement right there."

Leah Shahum, the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which organized the rally, said it was the largest turnout she has ever seen for a protest at the intersection. An estimated 200 people showed up.

3201608909_00ed20c025.jpgSFBC members demonstrate what a colored bike lane would look like at Market/Octavia.

Shahum supports a Planning Department vision for the intersection, which calls for a raised, colored bike lane and extended safety barrier. To partly illustrate what it would look like, SFBC members used green chalk paint to color a portion of the bike lane.

The plan to remove the bike lane must get the okay from Judge Peter J. Busch because of the current bike injunction. It’s unclear what Busch will do January 22nd but he rejected a similar plan in April. This time, to support its argument a shared lane is needed to reduce collisions, the SFMTA has presented more documentation and the plan has the backing of the SFMTA Board.

Campos called on the Board of Supervisors to provide more oversight of the MTA.

"I think it’s very important for the Board of Supervisors to keep a
close eye on what the MTA does and I want to send a clear message that
we are going to pay close attention," Campos said. "If
they don’t do the right thing, we need to think about what legislative
solutions can be put in place so that we don’t see ourselves back in
this position again."

Bicycle advocates have made it very clear they don’t support the status quo at the intersection but credit the bike lane and concrete barrier with dramatically reducing the number of illegal right turns. At least 15 collisions have been reported at the intersection in the last three years, according to the MTA.

"We’ve still got a problem at this intersection. It’s still scary and it’s still dangerous. All we ask is that we not move backwards by taking away this bike lane," said Shahum.

Photos by Bryan Goebel

  • As discussed previously on this blog, State Assemblywoman Fiona Ma unsucessfully introduced legislation last year that would have allowed the City to install photo enforcement for illegal right turns at this intersection. Jack Fleck agrees that this would probably resolve the situation without removing the bike lane.

    State law currently allows for photo enforcement of red lights, but not illegal turns. Hopefully she will reintroduce this legislation next year.

    My colleague had a brilliant idea: Why can’t the city install a right-turn arrow signal that is permanently red? Then they could legally install a camera and have photo enforcement for red light runners.

  • Why can’t the city install a right-turn arrow signal that is permanently red? Then they could legally install a camera and have photo enforcement for red light runners.

    That’s genius.

  • Why not a Bike Box?

  • Matthew Roth posed the bike box question to Jack Fleck in our interview with him. Here’s his response:

    In a sense this plan will have kind of a defacto bike box because you can kind of scoot past any queue and then once you’re up there the island actually extends past the crosswalk. I say ‘de facto’ because you have to cross the crosswalk and technically you’re not supposed to cross the crosswalk but everybody will. So you’d be on the other side of the crosswalk in a protected area. I mean, I think every bicyclist would do that. I don’t think anybody’s going tell them not to. So it is going to be like a bike box… it creates a space for people to get up ahead to the queue but it doesn’t solve the problem we were having which is when cars are moving simultaneously with the bikes.

  • Sarah H

    A red right-turn arrow would be confusing because it would imply that it is sometimes green. I imagine cars would queue up behind it.

    A bike box would not solve the biggest problem at this intersection which is that when the light is green and traffic is flowing, cars will sometimes make that right turn straight into a traveling cyclist. The east-bound lane also travels downhill, so cyclists and motorists have gained a bit of speed here, making the situation extra problematic.

  • “I imagine cars would queue up behind it.”

    This means they would be stopped, right? Hey, if someone who is operating thousands of pounds of motor driven metal on our streets is going to be so stupid that they can’t read myriad signs that urge them to turn down Duboce, South Van Ness or 10th Streets to get on the freeway, then perhaps the best place for them to be is stopped at an intersection, confused, waiting for a green light that is never going to come. Perhaps a “No Right Turn EVER” sign under the permanently lit red left turn signal would get the message across?

    Another solution would be to turn the left lane into a bikes-only lane, which would require that someone wanting to turn onto the freeway turn from the far left lane across the right lane.

    Ross is correct, and this is another area of policy advocacy which the SFBC has steadfastly refused to pursue over the years, demanding of the largely suburban SFPD that their traffic enforcement priorities reflect the City’s commitment to encourage non-auto transportation rather than the personal pro-car inclinations of many cops.

    -marc

  • Oops, typo, turn the right lane eastbound on Market into a bikes-only lane between Guerrero and the freeway. These javascript comment forms sometimes are cranky on linux firefox.

  • Peter

    I guess one standard solution is like that pictured in the link below – provide a right-turn lane for cars, paint the bike lane, have it cross diagonally to the left with auto traffic:

    http://bikeblogs.org/sf/2008/09/24/changes-to-7th-street/

    One could argue that it removes the protected bike lane, but I would argue that it removes _the illusion_ of the protected bike lane — obviously, if bikers are getting steamrolled when going through that intersection, then the bike lane is not, by definition, ‘protected’.

    And the bike lane is not protected anywhere else on Market, is it? So why at this Intersection of Mass Destruction?

    A main point of contention that nobody seems to have talked about yet, is that the City probably wants cars to be able to be able turn right there, directly onto the highway — this is only a guess, but it’s the only reason I could think of to explain why the city going against the wishes of most of their constituents on this one. It’s kind of bizarre.

    It would be easier for the city to paint the bike lane, and see how it works. Then raise it and paint it (if necessary), and see how that works. If all else fails, do the traditional solution (cross traffic). But we don’t want this institutional learning, it seems, because I’m guessing the city wants cars to be able to make that right turn, there.

    It still seems odd to me that the downhill direction of Market/Octavia in San Francisco is the first intersection in the world to ever face this problem. Bueller? Bueller?

    For the record, when I roll through there, I just take the lane — why tempt fate? And I suspect I would continue to take the lane even if the lane was painted green or pink or purple or rainbow (which would be cool) or whatever, even if it was elevated an inch or three inches or sixty inches. Cars *want* that highway — they *need* that highway. I’m certainly not going to try to stop them on my Roadmaster. My bike *is* awesome, but it’s like an X-Wing fighter going up against the Death Star — and I don’t believe in miracles. Though, Hillary _did_ manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, so I guess anything is possible. Yes we can!

    How about a big sign for outlaw drivers?

    “Watch for bikers when you make your illegal right turn.”

    Another ‘for the record’ — I think human-based spot-enforcement is always a losing proposition. It’s like the war on drugs — it’s just a bit of absurdity occasionally used for political advantage. Even if camera enforcement cut down on illegal right turns by 90%, we’d still have a couple of severely injured or dead bikers a year, there — especially since bikers would start relying even more on their false sense of security. That’s when you see comments from friends in post-crash newspaper articles, “But he was such an experienced rider…” — we should do it right, and remove as much possibility for risk due to human error as possible.

    Yay rainbow bike lanes! Maybe just through the Castro?

    Side note – the other day I was standing at the left-turn drag race intersection at Octavia/Fell. It was fun just standing there for a minute or five, watching the maniacs rip around that corner, honking at each other, cutting each other off, muttering, yelling, fuming, squealing — pushing their pieces of trash for all they were worth. Even those 30k pieces of Euro trash couldn’t keep those corners. Suckas.

  • Sarah H-

    If designed properly and in conjunction with the existing Right Turn Prohibited signage, a red right-turn arrow should not confuse drivers. It would add reinforcement to the prohibition, and allow the installation of a camera.

    Specifically, replace the existing 3-section signals (red, yellow and green circle indications) with 4-section signals. Top to bottom, the signal would show: red right arrow (always on), red circle, yellow circle, green circle.

    Keep in mind that here, like elsewhere in SF (i.e. Fell/Masonic), drivers knowingly violate turn restrictions. The streets have been well designed to minimize any potential confusion. The reality is that drivers will continue to violate turn restrictions unless there is enforcement.

  • I’ve been thinking about this “fix” of the intersection that Jack Fleck proposes. He claims he wants to make the intersection safer for bikes. I would have more faith in his in statement that he wants to increase safety, and that shared space can do that, IF the MTA had done 1 thing to decrease the number of cars zipping around SF and make bikes and peds safer. I can’t think of any example of decreased car capacity that gives me faith in his lip service to safety.

  • Fredo Lua

    Why not put an arm that goes down between the bike lane and car lane just like at a rail road crossing? Something light and fast that goes down before the light turns green with a sign that says “DANGER! NO TURNING!” Maybe add some blinking lights with solid lines like at crosswalks.

  • Mike

    Hi Cheryl, re your statement “I can’t think of any example of decreased car capacity that gives me faith in his lip service to safety,” SFMTA/DPT has removed car lanes on 29 streets to slow cars and improve ped/bike safety. That’s more streets than any other city in North America as far as I know (Seattle’s a close second).

    SFMTA/DPT also uses ped head starts, where drivers are given a longer red so that pedestrians can start crossing the street before drivers can go.

    Fact is, the city’s done a lot of work to improve conditions for pedestrians and bikes.

  • Gavin

    Please take the time to visit http://www.integratedpaving.com/government/ride-a-way/?context=ride-a-way_main.
    Ride-A-Way is the product used on the project. In terms of skid resistance, it is as high, and in some cases has higher skid resistance than the pavement. From the link you will notice this product is used worldwide. The city of San Francisco should look at using this too.

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