Valencia Project Will Bring Improvements Worth the Short-Term Headaches

Construction begins this week on a nine-month project that could periodically disrupt Valencia Street’s bike lanes. The result, residents hope, will be a greatly improved streetscape for pedestrians and bicyclists.

2434451382_26522a8fe6_b.jpgValencia Street at 15th Street. Flickr photo: Iznot

The Valencia Streetscape Improvements project, which spans Valencia from 15th Street to 19th Street, is intended to provide a safer, more inviting environment for the street’s users. Moving block by block over the next nine months, Department of Public Works crews will remove the striped center median, widen the sidewalk, add bulb-outs at some intersections and in the middle of some blocks, and add pedestrian scale lighting, art elements, bike racks (assuming the injunction is lifted), and new street trees. Parking lanes will also be widened to prevent dooring of bicyclists, and curbside loading zones for trucks will be reconfigured.

valencia.gifProject area. Image: DPW

The crux of the project is "six to nine feet of sidewalk widening," said DPW project manager Kris Opbroek. "The sidewalk widening eliminates the center median," said Opbroek. "It should have a traffic-calming effect which would then benefit cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists, just in having everyone slow down basically."

The $6.1 million project is funded through a combination of federal Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA) funds as well as two Transportation for Livable Communities (TLC) federal grants with local matching funds.

The final design is largely the result of neighbors’ input, says Livable City’s Tom Radulovich, who also lives in the neighborhood. "I and a bunch of neighbors went to some of the meetings," said Radulovich. "We designed the street we wanted, mostly. There’s still some things missing from the street, but the good news was we had a design and then a few pieces of funding that nobody had anticipated came forward."

One feature of the project will be unfamiliar to most San Franciscans: mid-block bicycle oases. "On the mid-block bulb-outs and a few of the other corner bulb-outs, we’ve actually planned bike oases," said Opbroek. "There’s an example of this up in Portland, where they’ve done a space on the sidewalk with rows of bike parking."

If the bicycle plan injunction isn’t lifted before the project is completed, however, there’s a chance the bike oases could be jettisoned. In that case, "they’ll have to be installed at a later date," said Opbroek. "If for some reason that didn’t happen – I expect that it will, but if it didn’t – that space could also be used for tables and chairs or additional merchants spilling out."

Illustrative16thto7thsm_1.jpgClick to enlarge: Valencia plan for 16th Street to 17th Street. Image: DPW

In other locations, the extra space created by bulb-outs and widened sidewalks will be left with "informal programming," said Opbroek. "Because of the heavy pedestrian activity here, we’re not putting in additional landscaping. We’re leaving the space kind of free for merchants to use."

Radulovich was hopeful that Valencia could serve as a model for many of the ideas that are in the Better Streets Plan. "We’re really hoping we can point to Valencia as, ‘well, here’s our new standards, here’s the city’s new commitment to better streets, and here’s what a neighborhood commercial street ought to look like," said Radulovich.

Some concerns remain, however. Chief among them are loading zones and enforcement. "It’s a poorly-enforced street now, there’s a lot of double-parking in the bike lanes, there’s a lot of double-parking in the median," said Radulovich.

"We’re getting rid of that median, replacing it with left-turn pockets in a few locations, so definitely there’s going to have to be an emphasis on enforcement. I’m a little more worried about double-parking than I am about speeding, just seeing how the street works now."

Radulovich would also like to have seen more bulb-outs added, though he said that traffic engineers are reluctant to make improvements that would make it difficult for deliveries by large trucks and trailers. "That kind of giant trucks obsession that a lot of the traffic engineers have compromised the design somewhat," said Radulovich. "We feel like it’s a missed opportunity to have done them on the numbered streets."

On the whole, though, the project should bring a streetscape virtually unrivaled in San Francisco, and one that can serve as a model for future design. In the meantime, however, bicyclists may have to contend with intermittent bike lane interruptions.

valencia.street.jpgRendering of proposed treatments for Valencia at 16th Street. Image: DPW

During other construction projects, DPW’s response to bike lane obstruction has "largely been complaint-driven," says San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Community Planner Neal Patel.

Valencia Street will require extra vigilance, because it’s one of the most popular routes in the city for bicyclists. "We really need to make sure that it’s not a complaint-driven requests, and the city and contractors understand that they need to maintain the bicycle right-of-way. They seem to be on par with that, they agree. DPW has had special talks with the contractors to say, ‘make sure that you do everything according to the law.’"

During construction, crews are legally required to maintain all existing bike lanes, or to post signs stating "Bicyclists Allowed Use of Full Lane" or "Bicycle Route Detour" when the lane must be obstructed.

Alex Murillo of DPW vowed to keep the lane open as much as possible and to stay in touch with the SFBC. "Our goal is to keep it open 24/7," said Murillo. "There may be a time or two where we need to detour traffic on that block. I can assure you that we are going to keep it open as much as possible."

Murillo said that any bicyclist who finds that the lane is closed or obstructed without proper signage should call him immediately: "I will be on it like you have no idea, because, trust me, my goal is to keep that lane open."

Bicyclists are encouraged to contact both DPW’s Alex Murillo and SFBC’s Neal Patel if they encounter an obstructed bike lane without proper signage during the nine months of construction. Murillo can be reached by phone at (415) 437-7009 or email at alex.m.murillo (at) sfdpw.org. Patel can be reached by phone at (415) 431-BIKE x312 or email at neal (at) sfbike.org.

  • Bob

    Valencia should be pedestrianized from 15th to 25th. As everyone saw yesterday, it works much better as a car-free space. But I guess merchants just don’t want all those extra people walking down the street, shopping, and coming into their restaurants.

  • Can anyone here remember when Valencia was four lanes of auto traffic, with no bike lanes, no bulbs, and no hip restaurants?

    This really marks the final chapter in converting an ugly street without character into a fantastic neighborhood. These things are *related*.

    Well done, San Francisco!

  • jwb

    Agreed, Banjo K. Valencia has gone from a dump to a really nice place to be. The only real shame is that the aerial freeway structure still exists.

    Any chance we could get some of this streetscape love over on Divisadero?

  • ZA

    I love that these changes are underway! I can only hope similar improvements will be seen for Mission St in time, so long as the pedestrian value is placed first, and all those precious trees are preserved.

  • @jwb: Divisadero will be getting some streetscape love, but unfortunately the wrong kind.

    DPW is planning to widen and plant Divisadero’s median. Livable City argued for a road diet (removing a lane in each direction, and adding a turn lane) which would have allowed wider sidewalks, bike lanes, or both. We argued that the draft Better Streets Plan calls for sidewalks of at least 12 feet, and Divisadero’s are clearly deficient, and that investments in greening and street trees are of greater value when they are along the sidewalks, rather than in the median.

    DPW made the argument that there was not enough money to make Valencia-style improvements for the length of their project area, which would also involve replacing Divisadero’s highway-style streetlights. They opted to widen the medians and make no improvements to the sidewalks for 8 or so blocks, rather than widen sidewalks and replace the lights on a smaller number of blocks.

    We are concerned that DPW’s investment in the medians will make it harder to do a road diet in the future.

    Divisadero is a useful, if sad, illustration of how far we have to go to make this a city of great streets.

  • The rendering looks nice. Bye bye median parking. Someone should certainly document how the street once was before all this changes.

  • Ryan MacPhee

    I think the street will probably look beautiful but it still doesn’t address that if you are going to make it harder to drive you have to make public transportation a lot better in the city. I think if Valencia is going to be a more difficult street to drive on, we need to make sure that other streets can absorb the traffic, preferably by metering the lights. I think we need to be careful not to make driving in the city too difficult otherwise you will have drivers pushing back on many of these positive changes. I think we should look for efficiency all around in the end.

  • “if you are going to make it harder to drive you have to make public transportation a lot better in the city.”

    No you don’t 😉

    But seriously, just making it harder to drive will improve Muni. Also, this plan doesn’t make it any harder to drive, it just makes it easier to walk and bike down Valencia.

  • SFresident

    @Ryan – Valencia is already a bad street to drive on. Dolores and Guerrero are much better for both through and local traffic.

    I’m glad that the project on Valencia is going forward, but it’s both sad and typical that this kind of thing isn’t happening on Divisadero – I wonder how much the demographics of local residents along the respective corridors factored into funding allotments?

  • ZA

    @SFResident (and Ryan):

    @Ryan – I’ll double-down on what SFResident said. Guerrero and Dolores are better for cars, MUNI train users have Church, and BART and bus-riders have Mission. Valencia is ripe for conversion to less-car use. It seems any decent commercial district in nightlife SF needs twice the sidewalk space that it currently has at present.

    @SFResident – I don’t think there’s a significant difference between Divisadero and Valencia demographics apart from about 5-10 years difference in development. Both share a lot in common, including gentrification tensions. I hope more is done to bring these communities together (e.g. Divisadero Art Walk, Dia De Los Muertos, Sunday Streets).

  • Sue

    Where I come from, rural PA, we called the Route 11 median the ‘suicide lane’. In most respects, I’m glad to see that the suicide lane on Valencia will be going the way of the dinosaur. But then where will people toss frisbees during the next Mission Sunday Streets After Party (as did a San Francisco Guardian reporter and a local political organizer on Sunday, July 19).

  • marcos

    The displacement of poor folks, people of color and lesbians and their replacement with trustafarian hipsters and urban pioneers is what drove the boutiquification and upscaling of Valencia’s retail, not the three streetscapes the street has had over the past 20 years.

    Of course, these hipster bars and restaurants have displaced much community serving retail and most light industry, gaining much of their revenue from the Bridge and Tunnel crowds on weekend evenings, driving rents up and spaces for live music out.

    I’m sure that the quo pro for this quid is going to be the Planning Department squeezing heights up to 85′ along Valencia as it rushes that project to completion.

    What we’re going to see on Valencia blocking bike lanes during the day with the removal of the median is what we see blocking Muni on Haight Street, delivery trucks that can no longer park in the median.

    Valencia is a good street to drive on so long as you drive at the speed limit or slower, we get our CarShare from the Hoff lot and use Valencia often.

    -marc

  • The question that Tom Radulovich and Marcos raise, of what to do with loading zones in a newly streetscaped commercial area, is fairly important to livability. (And more relevant than 1998-retro anti-“gentrification” trolling. Yeah, I hear it was also cool back when the beatniks all lived up in North Beach.)

    You can put in all the mid-block yellow zones you want, but currently it seems like most delivery truck drivers won’t parallel park. If they can’t just drive or back in, they’ll double park. Fortunately if there’s any enforcement at all they’ll get caught and stop — driving around all day really increases your chance of catching a ticket.

    I’m not entirely sure what Tom’s saying about bulb-outs — is the DPW’s idea that delivery trucks should be parking in loading zones along the numbered streets instead of along Valencia, so they need to keep those zones clear of bulb-outs?

  • ZA

    Loading Zone Solution:

    With strict controls on times of day, it should be fairly simple to have a designated loading zone with on- and off-ramps onto a hardened concrete platform that serves as a pedestrian pavement (or cafe seating) the rest of the day. If that’s not particularly aesthetic, add your own patterns to the surface, but have clear signage, different colors, and strict enforcement.

    That way heavier delivery vehicles can complete their runs during specific business hours that won’t interfere with the customer hours.

    Otherwise, for the specifics of Valencia, there’s already limited loading zone parking at some spots, including for the funeral home near Albion. That should be matter for DPT and closing the budget gap.

  • jim

    @Tom R – Did the planners ever discuss removing car parking? That would leave room for 20 ft sidewalks. Use low curbs to allow delivery trucks to pull into designated parts of the sidewalks during certain hours and leave the entire space for pedestrians the rest of the time.

    Perhaps we are not quite ready to remove car parking to this degree but it would be quite nice.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    As for deliveries, it’s high time the city considered adopting a system of neighborhood freight terminals. Large trucks would deposit their deliveries at a proper loading dock of a dedicated terminal, then loaded into much smaller handcarts or half-width electric vehicles for delivery in the immediate area. The current system where every restaurant receives tiny deliveries from huge trucks six times a day is completely ridiculous.

  • ZA

    @Jeffrey W. Baker

    Neighborhood deliveries, even by Bakfiets, would be great. It comes down to cost, though, and SF has lost *a lot* of warehouse space. All that’s left is the Bayshore infill, which already is in use, and is not suitable for at least half the city.

    Every restaurant getting heavy truck deliveries 6/day is ridiculous, especially if those trucks are running mostly empty. The milkrun in non-commuting hours can work for many (not all)…especially if deliveries can be shared among competitors.

  • @Jeffrey Baker: a fine idea. As one watches giant truck after giant truck double park on Valencia to deliver a few cases of beer, cartons of Doritos, or whatever, it seems such a vast waste. The EU did a report a while back on a few cities’ experiments with logistics centers that sorted and consolidated deliveries into smaller vans to reduce traffic in the historic centres; I’ll try to track it down. I suggested a study/pilot for San Francisco to the Transportation Authority, but they didn’t bite.

  • Mary

    I still have big concerns about this project. The lack of median parking for trucks is an unresolved issue, but more important is the removal of left-hand turn pockets at most intersections. What happens when a car turns left? I doubt the driver behind it will patiently wait for the next light cycle, but will instead swerve to the right — into the bike lane — to get around it. Some of the angled intersection striping even appears to encourage this, but there simply isn’t the physical space to accommodate corner bulbouts, bike lanes, and three rows of auto traffic.

    The extra-wide sidewalks and corner bulb-outs are great for walkers, but unfortunately, it appears the new scheme will make it worse for bicyclists.

    Hopefully, I’ll be proved wrong.

  • @Tom Radulovich and alles, some good ideas about logistics in different European countries here: http://www.bestufs.net/

  • Biker

    This project is a complete waste of time, because it continues placing bike lanes between drivers and parked cars, instead of placing them in a protected lane between the sidewalk and parked cars. This is what they do in Copenhagen and Amsterdam and is really only way to make most people feel safe when then bike.

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