Making 18th Street More Bike, Pedestrian and Commerce Friendly

2427291704_b669aa237a.jpgFlickr photo: tacopoet99

The crowded sidewalks on 18th Street between Dolores and Guerrero in the Mission are usually packed with foodies inching their way into renowned eateries like Tartine Bakery and Cafe or Delfina Pizzeria and Restaurant. Couple that with a high volume of bikes and a scarcity of bike racks and the block screams for improvements to benefit the public realm. 

"I think everyone looks at 18th Street as this great pedestrian-oriented street with these really amazing businesses on it where the sidewalks are too narrow and too crowded," said Tom Radulovich, a neighborhood denizen and Executive Director of Livable City, who is working with other advocates and merchants to make the block near Dolores Park more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.

"You see so many more people walking or bicycling through the neighborhood than driving, and a lot of them are locals."

As a first step, the MTA is considering — and is likely to approve — eliminating the 7-9 a.m. tow-away zone on the south side of 18th Street eastbound between Dolores and Treat, which would help calm speeding automobile traffic during peak morning hours, and hopefully reduce the amount of collisions in the area.

On a sunny Friday afternoon, while gathering interviews for this story, I witnessed a car collision on Guerrero at 18th, followed by a chorus of "whoas" from Tartine patrons. No one was hurt, but a Tartine employee said she’s witnessed or heard at least six collisions in the last year.

According to the MTA, there were 23 collisions on 18th Street around Dolores and Guerrero between October  2003 and September 2008, the latest date figures were available. Four of them involved motor vehicles hitting pedestrians and four involved cars striking bicyclists. None of the crashes was fatal but almost all resulted in injuries. It’s also important to note these statistics don’t include the number of injury and non-injury collisions that went unreported.

Radulovich said traffic engineers have typically prioritized high-volume, high-speed automobile traffic on Guerrero, a "classic traffic sewer street," and 18th, without considering the walkability, bikeability or commercial vitality of the neighborhood.

guerrero_car_collision.jpgA car collision last week on Guerrerro at 18th Street. Photo by Bryan Goebel.

"The city’s historic priorities for that neighborhood have been through-traffic, not livability," he said. "I think [getting rid of the tow-away zone] is a nice step toward livability and putting those two groups of users in better balance."

Additional steps being envisioned for the block include building bulbouts on the corners to narrow the crosswalks for pedestrians, taking over a few parking spaces for a pilot project (similar to the plaza at 17th and Castro streets) that would test out temporary, wooden sidewalk extensions, and using one or two parking spaces to build a secure on-street bicycle parking pen, which would create more bike parking while freeing up sidewalk space. Such ideas are only conceptual at this point and would eventually require backing from the MTA.

Marc Caswell, the program manager at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition who also lives in the neighborhood, said his organization is trying to secure a community challenge grant that would help fund a mix of bicycle parking, greenery and public seating on 18th and 24th Street.

"The SFBC is planning to work closely with merchants, residents,
government agencies, and other stakeholders to improve the streetscape
and create sufficient bike parking while improving pedestrian access by
moving bike racks off the sidewalk and into the street," said Caswell. 

bikes_on_18th.jpgBikes parked outside Bi-Rite Creamery on 18th. Photo by Marc Caswell.

Sam Magonnam, the co-owner of Bi Rite Market, said he’s been trying for awhile to get a parking space removed to create on-street bicycle parking in front of his store, "which I think should be a no-brainer now." He said a majority of his customers walk to Bi-Rite, but many also come on their bikes. He was planning to conduct a survey of customers to get specific data on how they arrive to shop.

"I also know a lot of people who work on this block do bike in. We provide eight parking spaces for bikes in our backyard but once those are full, staff has to find spaces up front, and a couple of people have lost their bikes because they have to park around the corner on Oakwood."

There are currently about ten bike racks on the block. Craig Stoll, the owner of Delfina,
said his bike-commuting employees usually pile their bikes in the back
patio, against a wall and stacks of wood, because the racks are rarely
available. 

Stoll both drives and rides his bicycle to work and said he supports making the block more bicycle and pedestrian friendly, but he believes many of his customers drive to the restaurant. Still, he said he would rather take away a few parking spaces and give them to pedestrians and bicyclists than preserve them for automobile parking.

“When I mention it to people, and I talk about it, some people’s first reaction is like, ‘oh great, now there won’t be any parking.’ And some people are really jazzed about it. I myself, I’m excited about it. I hate to inconvenience [anyone], obviously, that’s not what I want to do, but on the same token, I think it’s a great experiment and fun for the city as a whole, for this neighborhood.”

Creating temporary sidewalk extensions has been discussed in the Mission Streetscape Plan process, according to Andres Power, an urban designer at the SF Planning Department.

"There would be areas, perhaps in front of Bi-Rite, Delfina, and the
Bi-Rite creamery that would have a platform constructed to allow for
cafe seating and public seating in the parking lane," said Power. "Landscaping and
other elements would likely also be included."

He stressed that the Planning Department has not done any official outreach, though Radulovich has discussed it with the owners of businesses on 18th Street, many of whom support it. Stoll said he saw similar sidewalk extensions in front of an Irish pub in Florence and on the Amalfi coast in Italy.

2840637826_1fcbf66c7c.jpgThe crowded sidewalk scene outside Bi-Rite Creamery. Flickr photo: jen maiser

Chad Robertson, who, with his wife Elisabeth Prueitt, owns Tartine, said he loves to see customers, especially families, walking around the neighborhood or filling the chairs and tables on the sidewalks.

"When we moved in here seven years ago it wasn’t really like that. And now it’s really a lively neighborhood block," he said, adding that most of his customers are walkers. "I see the same people walking all over this neighborhood."

Kyle Foley, who lives in the neighborhood and was about to dig into a piece of coconut passion fruit Bavarian cake outside Tartine, said she thinks it would be "fantastic" if the improvements were made. She said the businesses attract a lot of people to the neighborhood, including "outsiders who wouldn’t necessarily come here as often as they do."

"I think it would be awesome to have more space for pedestrians and more tables outside. I mean, these tables are always packed, there’s always a wait, and there’s tons of bikers. I don’t see any down sides to that plan but I’m also someone who doesn’t have a car and I don’t worry about parking and that kind of thing."

tartine_line.jpgA line outside Tartine. Flickr photo: oieseau678
  • Solution: Pedestrian promenade on 18th between Dolores and Valencia, with a narrow, meandering bike path in the planted center median.

  • Stroll: “When I mention it to people, and I talk about it, some people’s first reaction is like, ‘oh great, now there won’t be any parking.’ And some people are really jazzed about it. I myself, I’m excited about it. I hate to inconvenience [anyone], obviously, that’s not what I want to do, but on the same token, I think it’s a great experiment and fun for the city as a whole, for this neighborhood.”

    I’m not castigating Stroll here, I think it’s a problem of how poor and restricting the discourse is, and Stroll is merely subconsciously drawing on it when he implies that converting a few parking spaces to pedestrian/bike uses on this block would be “inconveniencing people.” The whole point is the incredible inconvenience to the vast majority of the street’s users because so much of the street is given over to the smallest group of users, vehicle drivers and their parking. The people who choose to drive to Delfina rather than walk, take the 33, bike, bart, etc. are already inconveniencing themselves. It is really not up to us to find and provide them parking and chew our fingernails nervously when we think about opening up a few parking spaces to more appropriate uses.

  • Ha, my car was dinged by a bus while I was waiting for the red light at 18th and Guerrero, because he was trying to make a turn onto cramped 18th Street in front of Tartine.

    That street needs some serious work. I’d rather see cars banned altogether. Regardless, there should not be parking on both sides of the street and two lanes of through traffic.

  • I ride 18th from the Castro to Valencia every morning. I actually prefer the tow-away zone. In practice there is rarely enough traffic on that stretch to fill two lanes, the only spot I typically see cars in the right hand lane is when they are preparing to turn right on Guerrero or Valencia, or to go around a left turner onto Guerrero. Far more cars turn left onto Guerrero, Valencia, or Mission or keep going straight, perhaps eventually headed to 101 or something.

    The net result is that cyclists headed East on 18th at that time of day typically enjoy the benefit of using the whole lane unfettered by traffic, the primary concern being watching out for cars quickly changing to the right hand lane to go around a left turning car.

    Allowing parking in that segment will force cyclists to mix with cars in a single lane, the situation I must face when I leave home after 9 AM (well, actually after 8:45 AM, the cars start gambling with the DPT around 8:50 AM). In practice the 9 AM timeframe isn’t that bad because traffic decreases, but forcing the cyclists into the primary travel lane during higher traffic would be bad. The probable result would be that cyclists would filter down the left couple of feet of the former tow-away lane – inserting all those cyclists into a very nasty doorzone.

    The best solution would of course be to expand the sidewalk into half of the outside lane the entire stretch from Dolores to Valencia, and use the other half of that lane as a protected bike lane, demarcated by lovely planter boxes.

  • dan

    the accidents at 18th and Guerrero may in part be caused by the traffic lights on Guerrero. they are synchronized so that if you go the speed limit, you get stuck at almost every light. it encourages speeding. also, eliminating some left turns on Guerrero would be really helpful for traffic calming. the lights, left turners, and double parkers coupled together whip the traffic into a frenzy which caries over to 18th St.

  • marcos

    Once the better off white people ooze into the Mission, it is time for the City to drop major coin in order to “beautify” the space in front of a $50 pizzaria owned by someone who has been front and center opposed to the Healthy San Francisco legislation.

    Perhaps if the chi-chi restaurants did not privatize public sidewalk space to ply their overpriced trendy food, we might have more space for the ambling public.

    Combine this with the paean to gentrification that the Valencia street redux implies and we’ve got the City doing the work of the Dufty for Mayor 2011 campaign throughout the west Mission.

    -marc

  • yeah, screw the white people. Let’s install spikes in the sidewalk.

    The Cesar Chavez corridor/area isn’t exactly what I would call “gentrified”, if it’s after dark I won’t ride down 26th St. Yet the city is planning to drop major coin to redesign that street. The losers in that deal will be the car commuters from Noe Valley and the Castro. Does that project pass muster with you since it’s not for the Trendy Google Professionals?

  • marcos

    @John Murphy, I’d bet that there was some quid pro quo on Cesar Chavez improvements and neighborhood approach to luxury condo development in that area.

    And, yeah, until better off white folks got involved in CC puede, the CIty could have cared less.

    There are tremendous unmet needs in poor communities and communities of color that white folks just expect for their entitlements to be granted as a matter of course.

    If you think that Bernal Dwellings is dangerous now, you should have seen its previous incarnation. But with a little more post-3400 Cesar Chavez, “Eastern Neighborhoods” gentrification in the Mission, not to worry, bicycling will be safe!

    -marc

  • Glad to see an article about 18th street! I ride 18th street between Castro and Mission nearly every day, and I agree with John Murphy that I like the tow away lane. In the evening, anyway, there is almost always a car or two parked in the westbound tow lane, rendering the lane rather unusable to cars and giving bikes their own lane for large stretches. I would actually rather have bike lanes striped on 18th street than 17th street because 18th street is both flatter and a happier street to ride down. All the shops, cafes, restaurants, and people and bicyclists out and about make the street very friendly.

    My answer is to get rid of parking to make 18th street more ped/bike friendly, but it’s true I don’t live there (so less parking wouldn’t be any skin off my nose) and I never even consider driving there because it’s so congested. (Why does anyone drive down 18th? You can’t go more than five miles an hour by car and only three cars seem to make it east across Valencia with each light. Seems to me 17th has got to be faster. I feel sorry for the cars as I squeeze my way past the stationary traffic.)

    There definitely needs to be more and better bike parking in the area. I once saw a car pretty much crunch a bike parked at the rack in front of the Bi-Rite. (The driver was extremely incompetent at parallel parking. Totally ruined the bike’s front tire. Bummer to come out of the store and not have a ride home.)

  • @taomom I would actually rather have bike lanes striped on 18th street than 17th street because 18th street is both flatter and a happier street to ride down.

    Not to mention the tracks on 17th. The bikes use 18th because it’s better. Of course I don’t think it’s possible to stripe a lane West of Dolores where 18th becomes narrow.

  • Lucifer T Chesar RN retired

    I’ve lived in the same apartment on 18th near Dolores since 1989 and have seen it change from a block dangerous enough that people would avoid driving thru to one where they’re out there fighting for parking! Parking’s been horrible for quite a few years and the sidewalk’s impassable a lot especially on weekends. For those of us that live on this block, our day to day functioning is hugely inconvenienced by the growing throngs that invade Dolores Park and the local eateries and shops these days. The businesses seem to try to be aware of our needs but many in the crowds behave quite rudely refusing to budge an inch from the ice cream line to let locals pass with laundry, groceries, or whatever. Weekends find the street congested with motor vehicle traffic when the 7am-9am tow away lane and the 4pm to 6pm tow away commuter lane have all day parking. Rush hour will unfortunately find similar congestion every weekday without these lanes so I hope we keep them but I agree something MUST be done! Dolores Park was a graveyard in the 1800s until they moved the bodies out. Not as pleasant sunbathing out there knowing that historical tidbit….especially when there are rows of bodies sunbathing on the tiered levels!

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