MTA Traffic Engineer’s Rationale Behind Removing Bike Lane

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