SFBC Presses for Bike Access on a Piece of Geary Boulevard

geary_at_beaumont.JPGThe relatively gentle grades of Geary Blvd. approaching Masonic make it the route of choice for most bicyclists in the corridor.

The SFBC is working with the Transportation Authority (TA) to get a
bicycle path considered for a portion of the Geary BRT project, a
result of a meeting held between the two groups recently.

Livable
streets advocates around the country are often surprised to hear that
such a large capital project does not already include bike lanes. "If
you’re going to spend more than $200 million, how can you not squeeze
bike lanes in," goes the refrain. But the impact of capturing an
additional ten feet from the 90-foot right-of-way is significant.
Something has to give: a lane of parking, a pedestrian refuge, a
transit passing lane, or one of the two remaining travel lanes.

None
of these are attractive options for a project that is already getting
political pushback for its relatively minor traffic and parking
impacts, nor is it an attractive option to spend nearly $250
million on a project and not do anything to improve bicycle safety on
Geary. Volunteers, including me and staff of the Bicycle
Coalition, have been trying to resolve this conundrum since the
inception of the project.

The
SFBC has asked the TA to focus on the segment of the
Geary BRT project between Arguello and Webster Streets. West of
Arguello, Anza is a good alternative to Geary for most bike trips,
while between Arguello and Presidio, there is no parallel route. The
SFBC requested the TA to look at bike access as far east as Webster in
order to connect a Geary facility with the Webster Street bike lanes.

In
asking project leader Zabe Bent to sketch out potential designs that
include a bike facility in that stretch of Geary, the SFBC will make the debate about tradeoffs public – what costs are worth the benefit of
bicycle safety on that stretch of Geary? So far, there has been little
public debate about this possibility.

At a
meeting earlier this month, SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum stressed that losing the
pedestrian refuge was not acceptable. She also introduced a new idea to
the discussion: a cycletrack. "It will be a crying shame not to have a
bike lane or track here, with all this investment," she said. "It’s
worth the political/parking battle."

  • Subway. As someone who lived in Paris, I can’t understand why we can’t suck it up and make more subway lines happen here.

    Geary by bus is just crazy. The dedicated bus lanes might help – but imagine the room for bike infrastructure if there were a subway.

  • patrick

    Agree with Andy, it seems like the whole project is a little backwards, they’re only doing BRT because they don’t want to build a subway. We should just bite the bullet and build the subway.

  • Christopher

    Also, sometimes it’s just not the best idea to put everything on the busiest street. As a cyclist, I’d rather have the bike lanes on one of the many less busy parallel streets to Geary. Multiple lanes, higher speeds, frequent transit stops, and new bike lanes just doesn’t sound safe. I’d rather be riding on a road with less potential vehicle-bicycle conflicts.

  • Geary is well warranted for subway – strong ridership, upzoning potential in many places, and lots of destinations along the route. I’d love to see it happen.

    But getting back to reality: Geary Subway could cost $3-5 billion. That’s money that’s very difficult to find. Honestly, I believe that’s money better invested at intercity/high speed rail which aims to reduce reliance on the most inefficient mode of travel in the world: short-hop aviation.

    I also don’t want to see another hurdle for Geary BRT as it faces enough opposition already. Can the SFBC push for an O’Farrell or Post/Sutter alternative? How about a bike flyover of the Muni yard?

  • Dave

    Plus, if the BRT is replaced with a subway in the future, then those protected bus lanes could become protected bike lanes!

    (I know, I dream…)

  • Geary is such a wide street, there’s got to be enough room for surface transit and a bike path. I think a subway would be an unnecessary waste of funds.

    My problem is: why do they like the dedicated bus lanes on the inside, where peds have to cross the dangerous road to? Why not have this design:

    (Starting from the inside-out)
    -Removed median
    -Two down-sized traffic lanes (they’re too wide)
    -Parking lane (shortened on the ends for right-turn visibility)
    -Bike lane
    -Bus lane
    -Sidewalk

    There’s so much room, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some left over for sidewalk widening, which should definitely be done where it can. Maybe some foliage and trees can be added to separate people from the bus lane where there’s no stop.

    All the center median does is take up space and increase drivers’ false sense of security, encouraging them to drive inattentively.

    With this plan, cars still have two lanes and are optimally separated from bike, bus, and people traffic by the parking lane. People can reach the bus directly from the sidewalk.

    I didn’t do the actual measurements, but from a rough look, it seems like it should fit.

  • Michael P.

    My understanding is that subway lines are 10x the price of BRT per mile of service. With the current financial woes possibly extending for a decade, we probably missed the window for this back in the 70’s. Unless we’d like to lock in the cost now and hope for hyperinflation to reduce the debt burden over time. Seems unrealistic to pull off.

  • ZA

    I’ve been told that we can all thank Mr. Justin “Pee-wee” Herman (of the plaza) for the lack of a Geary subway today.

  • dude

    A “connection” between Presidio and Webster already exists! It’s called Post Street, it has bike lanes, it’s a perfectly good route, and it’s one block north of Geary. Puh-lease! There is zero reason why anyone should be riding on Geary between Presidio and Webster.

    West of Presidio, both Turk and California are good bike routes, the former of which already has bike lanes, and the latter of which is totally flat (even more so than Geary) and is a better candidate with fewer issues than Geary.

    Let’s not be unreasonable here and try to complicate the matter here unnecessarily.

  • Emma

    I agree with Christopher that I usually try and avoid super busy streets when I ride my bike to work. (I’m amazed as cyclists that use Oak!) However, in this case Geary is the flattest option as a route in this part of town, which is also something I take into consideration.

    What I think is interesting is a similar project on Van Ness, another gentle grade street, is also lacking bike lanes. What’s up with that? Just because I would never ride those streets right now, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to if the traffic were calmer and there was infrastructure.

    I also think it’s important to make the bus on Geary work. Unfortunately I had to take the 38L, aka cattle car, into work today and I wanted to shoot myself. There should be no regular buses, just limited stops, and the bus should come every five minutes. Maybe if it was reliable and there was guaranteed breathing room, people would forgo their cars and use the bus. And maybe if Geary wasn’t scary and had bike lanes, more people would ride their bike!

  • Alexei

    Here’s an idea:

    How about having a short subway under the Masonic hill? It’s a traffic mess up there as it is, so getting the bus out of the way is a plus. It frees up space for bikes on precisely the segment where it matters most.

    The best alternative might be Anza approaching from the west, going up to Geary via Masonic, going on Geary for a block and up again to the existing bike lane on Post.

    Of course, a bart-style subway would be my ideal, or, failing that, Muni-style. But it’s all a dream…

  • Sub

    Aaron, your layout is great. The parking lane would become a short right-turn pocket approaching intersections, and cars turning right would have a right-turn signal separate from the bike & bus signal phase, so they did not conflict. Perfect!

    The only problem with this is that BRT buses would not be able to pass local buses. One day, when Geary has a subway, this design should be installed on the surface, with local buses using the bus lane, which would connect with subway stations. If you had a subway on Geary, the only bus service necessary would be local service.

  • Just because I would never ride those streets right now, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to if the traffic were calmer and there was infrastructure.

    that’s exactly right. there’s every reason in the world for us to demand full bicycle infrastructure on Geary, Van Ness, and every other major corridor in the city. and that means at least fully-buffered bike lanes. if some motorized lanes and/or car parking have to be disappeared, even better.

    as for a subway, i still don’t think humans should have to travel underground. but if they do, let the cars go underground, and leave mass transit upstairs. another way to look at subterranean transit — it is just protecting asphalt right-of-way for private automobiles — not desirable.

  • Sub,

    You are right – I’d completely forgot about local buses. So how about this:

    The first few spots’ length of a parking lane, after an intersection, would be a boarding/waiting island. So people would only have to cross the BRT and bike lane (with a striped crosswalk) to get to it. Buses would make the stop in-lane (rather than having to pull over), which makes the ride a lot more comfortable and having the stops post-intersection would decreases the buses’ time waiting at lights. Cars would be made to pass around the bus (as ends up being mostly the case anyway).

  • Nick

    I’ve always wondered why there never was a light rail line put into the Richmond district. The Sunset gets 2 train lines and zero miles of bike lanes while the Richmond gets 10 miles of bike lanes and no light rail. It’s like no citywide planning was ever done.

  • Alexei

    The question is not why light rail lines were never put into the Richmond, the question is why the light rail lines were taken out of the Richmond. The answer is “in preparation for BART, which will be constructed in 1970 or so.”

    Yeah.

  • Sue

    Here’s my preferred route of travel when I bike from my apartment on Clement west of Park Presidio to downtown or the Civic Center: 21st Avenue south of Geary to Anza, Anza East to Masonic, Masonic to Golden Gate and so on …

    On rare occasions — for example if I’m going to the Fillmore Farmers Market on a Saturday morning — I’ll ride up and over O’Farrell, and then return by walking my bike back up the O’Farrell Street hill.

    Alternatively, if I’m headed to Pacific Heights, I take Lake Street to Arguello, and then ont Sacramento to ???. Not sure of the street — avoiding the hills in Laurel Heights becomes treacherous and I just look for the least challenging ones.

    I would love to see bike lanes on Geary, but short of bike lanes, I would like to see some sharrows on Anza and O’Farrell — as they are both going to become important feeders to Masonic when bike lanes finally get striped there.

  • patrick

    It’s not that Geary needs subway the whole way out to Ocean Beach. Yes, there’s plenty of space, but when you go east of Gough, if you want any form of rail, there is nowhere near enough room. It has to be a subway there. There’s about a mile between Gough & Market St. It’s also much more traffic impacted, and it’s why the time savings for BRT are pretty modest.

  • I’m having a hard time seeing how Geary is ever going to be a happy bicycling street until vast numbers of people abandon their cars. Too many buses, too many noisy pollution-spewing autos. Crazy pedestrians crossing against red lights, crazy drivers running red lights. Too much overall congestion. Anza, one street over, has a quarter of the car traffic and easily has room for very pleasant, physically separated bike lanes. Right now I take the bike lanes on Cabrillo from 23rd Ave to 8th Ave routinely, but there does need to be another east-west corridor between Cabrillo and Lake Streets. You could redesign Anza with traffic-calming roundabouts at each intersection so bicyclists could travel the entire length without stopping (except at 25th and at Arguello.)

    I’m having a hard time with trying to cram bike lanes onto Masonic as well. It has a really good-sized hill and is the only North-South street besides Franklin in the city that works decently for cars. I’d rather see lanes taken from Divisadero which is already hopeless for car travel and pretty flat from Haight to California Street and make that into a friendly biking street.

  • RachaelL

    The reason big arterials need good bike facilities is that often the alternate side streets have problems with excessive stop signs and lights. For instance, there is a reason people choose to bicycle on Oak rather than page — and one reason is that they won’t have to stop at a stop sign every 500 feet (or lights that are timed to make the north-south cross road run smoothly). Moreover, big arterials get re-surfaced more often and often have better surface (this is not the case for Page / Oak but is for some other alternatives I know about — until recently, for instance, Turk was much better than McAllister).

  • patrick

    taomom, I like your idea of roundabouts. I lived in Berkeley when they were putting a lot of these in, and they work really well to calm auto traffic. They actually are way better than stop signs, since you have to go around them or you will crash, plus another car could be coming, so you get a little nervous, slow down, and really look to see if anything is coming. Plus bikers can cruise through without stopping and without give drivers an excuse to bitch about running stop signs. They can also be a nice spot with plants and benches for non-drivers to enjoy. So much better than a fully paved intersection.

    As far as Masonic goes, It is a bit of a hill, but it’s really the least steep road, there are pretty major hills to both sides. I agree Divisadero would be great for bike lanes, but if I wanted to go to Trader Joe’s from my house and had to take Divis, I would have to turn a 5 block trip into a 15 block trip, and still have a major hill to climb going up to Masonic from Divis. Plus, USF is right there, and lots of students in the vicinity. Masonic does see a decent amount of traffic, but it’s really not that heavy. I drive it almost every morning, they remove 1 lane of parking for driving, but I don’t think traffic would be that much worse if they just left it. There is only about 5 blocks where you have 3 lanes, on both sides it is 2 lanes. I’d like to see that 1 lane of parking permanently removed and turned into a bi-direction bike lane.

  • I’m having a hard time with trying to cram bike lanes onto Masonic as well.

    i don’t think that’s the right way to look at these types of issues. the question is, what design would make this street excellent for walkers and bikers?

    after you figure that out, then see if there’s any room left over. if so, figure out how to divide it up between the various motorized modes of transport.

  • rzu

    Aaron:
    You are forgetting that not everyone who wants to go downtown is coming from the south side of Geary, and that not everyone who wants to take the bus to the outer Richmond is coming from the north side. In order to take the bus anywhere, pedestrians need to be able to cross the street safely.

  • Carletonurdoorman

    This is a bunch of BS. When is the last time ANYONE saw a bicyclist stop at a STOP sign? 11 years ago? Bicyclists are the WORST with traffic laws – they switch between either the laws that apply to motorized vehicles or pedestrian laws..whichever is more convenient for them. What a crock.

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