MTA Traffic Engineer’s Rationale Behind Removing Bike Lane

Fleck_and_posters_2.jpg

The
Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) traffic engineer proposing the
removal of a portion of the eastbound bike lane and concrete barrier on
Market Street approaching Octavia Boulevard insists safety is his
primary goal in merging car and bicycle traffic at the city’s most
dangerous intersection for bicyclists.

In an interview in
his 1 South Van Ness office, Jack Fleck addressed numerous concerns
raised by bicyclists who fear the plan, which requires a judge’s
approval because of the bike injunction, will only worsen conditions
and create more conflicts between bicyclists and drivers making illegal
right turns. 

Fleck pointed to other intersections such as
Market and Church Streets where cars and bicyclists have been merging
with right turns "for twenty years and we have no history of any
problem."

"It’s the same thing (at Market) approaching
Guerrero. You have a bike lane, there’s a Muni island, the cars have to
merge to the right into the shared lane. The bike lane stops, it’s
dashed for awhile, and then the cars move."

Fleck said the
traffic patterns at those intersections are similar because it’s the
same group of bicyclists and cars traveling the area, though the Church
Street traffic is considerably lighter. He agreed the current
configuration has reduced the number of illegal right turns but is
concerned that collisions continue to happen.

"The
number one calculus is safety. I mean, we spent a lot of time analyzing
intersections in the city and trying to reduce collisions and this one
is just way off the chart," said Fleck, who admitted he was also
addressing the city’s liability.

"The lawsuits are an issue.
We certainly don’t want a situation where we end up paying lots of
money for something we think we can correct but even more important we
don’t want people hurt. So, we feel like we really need to do
something."

He denied that the city attorney is telling him
what to do but added: "I feel we can defend what we’ve done so far
because in each case I think we’ve taken steps that make sense."

Fleck
said he uses SFPD data and reads the testimony in police reports of
crashes between cars and bicyclists at the intersection. He said he
would support staying with the existing bike lane if the Legislature
passes a red-light camera law for Market/Octavia so he can gather real
data from the intersection. A similar effort last year failed, mostly because of opposition from State Senator Leland Yee. The camera would capture and ticket drivers who make illegal right turns.

When asked about a Planning Department report that envisioned a raised, colored bike lane for the intersection that would create more visibility for
bicyclists and cause cars and bicyclists to slow down Fleck said that
was not intended to address safety concerns but rather enhance the
existing bike lane.

"We would support segregated lanes
as much as possible and I understand the bicyclists do feel safer in
segregated lanes and, you know, that’s why we want to keep building
them as much as we can but if we have a situation like this where
bicyclists may feel safer but they’re actually not we’re not doing them
a favor by leading them into a potential collision."

If
the judge were to approve the plan next Thursday, and merged car and
bicycle traffic is implemented, Fleck was asked what the next plan is
if the conflict is not reduced, and bicyclists continue to be injured.

"If
we had collisions with this plan, which again, based on the experience
of the exact same bicyclists, the exact same street, you know, I have
no reason to believe that would happen, so I’m pretty confident this
would work. But if it did have a lot of problems I would say another
option, which some of the people have been emailing me about, is to
allow the right turn. These are all places where you can have the right
turn. The bike lane would continue but on the left side of the right
turn pocket. I’ve seen some alarmist things saying this is all just a
conspiracy to allow the right turn. That is totally wrong."

Photo: Matthew Roth

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Shorter Jack Fleck: If you run over enough bicyclists, we’ll give you the right turn.

  • I can’t tell you how much fun it is to get a good head of speed coming down the hill east on Market from Sanchez/15th in the bike lane just to have to stop short at Church when a cab decides to make a rash right hand turn without bothering to signal and share their intentions as required by law.

    Nor can I resist the temptation of creating pinch points at intersections with MUNI islands as exists further east on Market. It is really fun to have trucks take up almost all of the lane and have to negotiate around their bulk.

    As far as next steps go, can we please figure out a way to add some more light rail tracks at Market and Octavia, just like at Church and Market and while we’re at it, how about some cheese grater ventilation holes for the subway at that spot?

    NOTHING this controversial EVER gets on the fast track in this City when it comes to traffic improvements. Why are cyclists being excluded from the discussion, the solution and being run roughshod over by MTA staff in this instance? What does it mean that Supervisors, Assembly Members and a State Senator are opposed to this solution, yet 6 mayoral appointees are able to command the CIty Attorney to sue?

    Don’t blame me, I voted against Prop E.

    -marc

  • The article states that Fleck pointed to other intersections such as Market and Church Streets where cars and bicyclists have been merging with right turns “for twenty years and we have no history of any problem.”

    Rather disconcerting that I suffered a severe fracture of the back at 7th & Market due to such a design and Jack considers there to be “no history of any problem”. I guess I should have sued the city in order to get their attention. And don’t they take into account that the street is downhill there meaning that bicyclists go much faster than at other places, indicating that providing a safe and separated lane is even more important?

    And when is DPT going to release figures showing the rate of collisions now compared with the previous poor design. My guess is that the figures would show that making design improvements to the separated lane greatly improved safety. Maybe they should make simply implement some of the additional design improvements that have long been suggested by the SFBC.

  • CBrinkman

    I see his point – but is the safety acheived through fewer cyclists? Does the shared lane enhance and encourage cycling, or do you end up with only the bold and the brave cyclists? What about us timid cyclists who hate to share lanes with cars – it will discourage us from riding – then you have a safer intersection.

  • e

    What about using some well established technologies to prevent or discourage automobile movement, like retractable bollards, self-raising barriers, or a crossing gate?

  • Donovan b

    The MTA is a one-trick pony. Jack focuses on safety – and the very narrowest definition of safety. If safety is achieved by discouraging cyclists, he’s completely comfortable with that (I’m not convinced in the least that the MTA’s “solution” would be safer, either). The solution in place now is safe and cyclists love it. I ride it everyday and am thankful to have some protection from traffic, and I’m an experienced cyclist. We need more improvements that are both safe and are attractive to a broader group of people, especially people who aren’t regular riders, but would like to be if the streets felt safer to them. The existing M-O design achieves this, if in a somewhat inelegant fashion. I would love to see more improvements that ensure cyclists get some dedicated space on the road that can’t be violated by any driver who decides he wants to pull over and hang out in my lane.

  • rzu

    I can see where some of the problem lies. Fleck is basing his solution on police reports of accidents. Regular cyclists are well aware of the anti-bike bias in most police reports. SFPD is likely less of a problem in that regard than say the CHP, but the bias is still there.

  • Why doesn’t the city do what it did at Fell/Masonic? Change the traffic lights so cyclists and motorists don’t share a green light?

    One of the problems the city will be facing in court on Jan. 22 is that they are arguing in another case that the Market/Octavia intersection is already safe.

  • bikerinsf

    Why is Jack Fleck planning intersections based on his assumption that they can’t stop illegal actions, rather than planning for safety?

    If SF is really a ‘transit first’ city, why is the first idea Mr. Fleck has come up with is to remove the bike lane, rather than the car lane or, say, the freeway on-ramp?

  • The other aspect to this is the lack of a predictive, proactive toolkit on the part of the MTA and a reliance on a reactive, after the fact toolkit for assessment and safety treatments. In this case, it appears that they have iterated reactively around the solution so that each successive treatment is off by the margin of error in a different direction.

    However, had MTA developed a dangerous conditions inspection system and rectification plan as brought forth by Greg Hayes back at the Bicycle Advisory Committee in 2002, then there would be a ranked list of problem spots which would be made safer according to a plan.

    That is not the case, and it appears that the MTA is simply groping blindly trying something, anything to fix a poorly engineered solution based on the metrics of broken bones and lives.

    -marc

  • Trevor

    Allow vehicles to make right hand turns onto the freeway. It creates gridlock and frustration to prevent this obvious maneuver. Yes, not every person is a rules following driver, some people will always break the law either way. Red light (or in this case, illegal right) cameras work and make sense, we should have one there. When the Fell/Masonic light change went in, there was an SFPD motorcycle cop onhand to make sure people got on board with it. I saw him issuing tickets.

    Not a popular sentiment judging by previous posters, but bikers are not the best road citizens either and as a car driver I feel their belligerence on the streets. I know lots of bikers and almost none of them make proper stops at intersections, wear helmets or use night flashers or don’t have brakes at all. Getting a good head of steam on a downhill stretch is no excuse to blast illegally through intersections. It would be plainly fatal at this one, but around Lower Haight, in the Mission, in Hayes, bikers rarely respect the traffic laws.

    For car drivers wanting to get onto the freeway, being blocked when clearly access is possible, they’re forced to go down to Valencia and make that sharp right turn. I’ve seen accidents there too. Why not let cars get off your precious Market St. and continue on their way? Bikers will have more room to maneuver on the street if they do.

  • http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/science/earth/13profile.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=bicycle%20congress&st=cse

    ‘But the surge of bicycling in Portland has not been free of incident. The Oregonian newspaper and bloggers have reported on “bike rage,” drunken biking, hit-and-run bicycle accidents and other problems. Drivers complain about bikers who ignore traffic rules or hog narrow roads, phenomena some irritated motorists attribute to feelings of entitlement or moral superiority.

    Mr. [Representative Earl] Blumenauer brushes off this criticism. “They are burning calories, not fossil fuel, they are taking up much less space, they are seeing the world at 10 miles per hour instead of 20 or 30,” he said. “And even though there are occasionally cranky or rude cyclists, they are no greater a percentage than cranky or rude motorists.”

    Plus, he added, “they have really fought for their place on the asphalt.”’

  • LB

    1) as a chicken cyclist I can say without a doubt that asking me to merge with traffic at an intersection discourages me from riding. I’m 120lbs, I don’t feel comfortable merging with 2 ton vehicles. Especially if I’m doing it so they can make illegal turns.

    2) regarding the standard rant against bikes in #11. yes, like all other modes, some cyclists suck. but cyclists are not operating 2 ton vehicles with 250hp that can KILL. Countries like the Netherlands get this and put the onus for safety on the operators of the vehicles that can do the most damage – to the point where drivers are expected to be ready for cyclists to do crazy, unexpected, illegal things and respond to avoid collisions. So there are different ways of viewing the car-cyclist relationship.

  • Mary

    I spent my lunch hour last week on the free, open-to-everyone 4th floor terrace of the LGBT center. From this vantage point, I had a very clear view of cyclists/driver behavior at both intersections. This theoretical “merging” at Market/Guerrero did not occur — in practice, bicyclists hugged the curb, a few feet from cars/massive trucks/etc. This, no doubt, will occur at Market/Octavia if the bike lane is removed. Cars will continue to turn right onto the freeway… nothing solved.

    I suggest MTA engineers spend some time up on the terrace, taking in the view. Will provide more information than sfpd crash reports…

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