Eyes on the Street: San Francisco Gets First New Bike Lanes in Three Years

PA221845.jpgHeading down the 19th Avenue mixed-use bike path (south) into campus. Photo: Randall Orr

Surprise! San Francisco has its first new bike lanes in three years, five days before a scheduled court hearing on lifting the bicycle injunction.

The new bike lanes are part of the 19th Avenue mixed-use path, Project 8.1 in the Bike Plan, filling the bike network gap between 20th Avenue and the heart of San Francisco State University. The project is exempt from the bike injunction because it’s on the university’s campus, which is not city-owned land.

The path removes the largest impediment to getting to campus by bicycle, said Jason Porth, associate director of community relations for SFSU. "The city’s bike lanes really funnel people who are going north/south in the vicinity of 19th Avenue to take 20th Avenue," said Porth, which is mostly a smooth ride through the Richmond and Sunset. "But when you hit Buckingham Way, you run into a very steep grade change, and no way to get into campus without going down 19th Avenue."

sfsu.jpgClick to enlarge: The new lanes (blue line) link University Park North with Thornton Hall. Image: Google Maps

Now, cyclists can reach the core of SFSU’s campus directly from Stonestown, where the 20th Avenue bike route passes through a parking lot. Porth said it’s part of the school’s plan to encourage cycling to campus. "We do hope to see an increase in the number of cyclists," said Porth.

While the new infrastructure is strictly on SFSU’s campus, students may not be the only bicyclists to benefit from it. "It fits in well with the campus’ desire to connect better to the city and the community at large and find more ways to allow people to access the campus," said Porth, including allowing Lake Merced resident to the south to access points north such as Stonestown, Stern Grove, and the Sunset.

SFBC Program Manager Marc Caswell praised SFSU’s efforts to improve bicycle access on campus:

This path connecting the Citywide Bike Network to the heart of campus is the first step in SFSU’s plan for the North-South bike path through campus. Combined with SFSU’s installation of over 200 bike racks over the past 2 years and the continued success of the Bicycle Advocacy Group’s SFSU Bike to School Day, SFSU is well on it’s way to being a bike-friendly campus. In the coming years, biking at SFSU will continue to grow and the SFBC looks forward to continuing our work with both the campus administration and the student-led Bike Advocacy Group to continue to improve bike access and build a greener, healthier, and more vibrant campus.

The mixed-use path was built on what Porth said was a steep hillside with dead and diseased trees that already required removal, as well as racquetball courts that were no longer in use and had been converted to storage. Once hillside landscaping and some additional painting is completed, there will be a community celebration for the new path.

The fresh lane striping arrives just in time for SFSU’s Bike to School Day next Wednesday, part of Sustainable SF State Week. Randall Orr, who’s coordinating Bike to School Day, said he’ll be conducting outreach to cyclists, and hopes they will advocate for even bigger improvements, like bike paths that reach all the way across campus. For now, bicyclists must dismount and walk through the campus core. "Unless people step up and advocate for better bike infrastructure, it won’t come anytime soon," said Orr. "They could be doing more to plan for having at least one or two bike paths that transect campus."

The timing of this project, which was funded by a Transportation Fund for Clean Air grant from the Bay
Area Air Quality Management District, administered by the San Francisco
County Transportation Authority, was coincidental, said Porth. While bicyclists hope the injunction will be lifted very soon, the SFSU project just happens to be a well-timed whetting of the appetite. "It could have been at any time," said Porth. "It just happens to be a funny coincidence."

3.jpgPhoto: Randall Orr
PA221841.jpgPhoto: Randall Orr
PA221842.jpgPhoto: Randall Orr
PA221844_1.jpgPhoto: Randall Orr

  • Looks nice. Is it a bike path or a walking path??

  • Don’t get me wrong, as a former member of the Bicycle Advocacy Group, of course I think it’s wonderful the path was put in, etc. etc.

    BUT – the first time I saw it, I was pained – I think it’s hideously designed! Call me picky, but it almost felt like a passive-agressive move from the anti-bicycle landscaper they assign to bike-infrastructure implementation. Sort of a, “Here’s your damn bike path.” Why did they decide to cut and paste two street bike lanes and put them next to each other on path? This level of marking is only needed on the streets to make sure drivers know what it is. It gives an unnecessary feeling of danger and apprehensiveness. Shouldn’t a simple walking and biking path only need a dotted line down the center? I think it’ll encourage bicyclists to speed, in the same way drivers are encouraged with dedicated infrastructure. A bike path is great, but they’re missing the point by marginalizing walkers on this.

  • Wouldn’t some sharrows on 19th have done the trick?

  • ps. i’m kidding of course, but such sharrowing would have fit nicely into our fair city’s upcoming sharrow bonanza.

  • Is it supposed to be a multi-use path or a bike path? From the way it’s marked, it’s looks like a bike path which the bicyclist in me thinks is excellent. I hope pedestrians have another path available to them, or are they supposed to squeeze themselves in on the sides? There are serious problems with a shared-use path like the Panhandle once they get clogged with dog-walkers, pedestrians walking three and four abreast, etc. Makes it hard to even go five mph on a bike. Believe me, I’m not arguing for ripping through the area at 25 mph, but it is pleasant to be able to go a least 10 or 12 mph.

    That said, I’m sad this path is in an area I don’t go to much and can’t take advantage of. All in all, it seems a hearty step in the right direction.

  • Susan

    Black bollards in the middle of a bike path, at the bottom of a hill?

    That’s not just passive-aggressive like Aaron says- that’s like a bear trap- and a major liability for SFSU.

    Ed McLaughlin, expert rider for over 25 years, was killed by a similar design 2 years ago in Chico. http://www.newsreview.com/chico/content?oid=627177

  • XC

    Now they need a campaign to get students sweet-ass bike bells so peds can hear them coming. Undergrads the world over are notorious slow and absent-minded shufflers – at least that pesky iPod trend is nearly over, so everyone will be able to hear bikes approaching and the pleasant calls of “on your left” . . . *bell chimes* . . . “ON YOUR LEFT!!” . . . “AUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!”

  • I like the defined bike area. If you really are trying to get bike traffic through an unmarked path tend to get blocked by meandering groups of peds. People are walking on the ped “shoulders” in the photos, which is the way it’s supposed to work. looks good to me!

  • David, not sure I get what you mean? The 2nd to last photo as two groups of people walking side by side with the inside person in the center of the bike lane.

  • i like it.

    and i agree that it appears walkers are being shortchanged. we want walkers and bikers to both feel welcomes, and ideally, to both be able to walk/ride two-abreast when they can. that’s life, man! we’re social animals — let the car drivers have their alone time — i want to ride together with my peeps. 🙂

    maybe just paint something to make walkers feel more welcome? maybe drop the ‘bike lane’ markings altogether, but leave the middle paint — or make it striped?

    adding a ‘SLOW’ sign in the area would work.

    and yes, painting those bollars white or yellow would work. and light them, ideally.

    and I wonder how much lighting would cost? wouldn’t mind a nice night shot of the area so see what the lighting is like.

    thanks to all who made it happen. that’s the toughest part. hopefully a few tweaks and we’ll be golden.

    this area was desperate for some bikey treatment. bravo!

  • oh, i see that the bollards have the white strips at the top — that’s cool. [are they lights?]

  • Nick

    I just got back from riding it and it does look nice. However it is only about 1/3 of a city block long and not visible from either the street or from the main campus area. The average student probably won’t even know it’s there.

    Cyclists riding south on Route 75 to SFSU have 3 options:
    -Ride the 19th Avenue sidewalk
    -Take the lane on 19th
    -Take the official route which winds through the Stonestown parking lot (the least desirable option in my opinion)

    It looks like this path was constructed to appease cyclists so that they can’t ask for the better option in Project 8.1 (namely parking removal along 19th so a dedicated bike lane could be installed).

    It’s the equivalent of stiping a bike lane for 3 inconvenient blocks of Page and discouraging bike use on Oak.

  • Nick, a little paranoid I think, especially in light of this “is the first step in SFSU’s plan for the North-South bike path through campus.”

  • Mike

    Just say no to bollards! Good to see some progress on the path though.

  • get_some_perspective

    jeez, people… from these comments, you’d think they were taking away bike improvements rather than adding shiny new ones.

    yes, the bollards are black, but it looks like they have reflectors on top (you are riding with a light at night, right?). yes, they could use dotted stripe rather than solid… and yes, there could be some more obvious indication that pedestrians are also welcome. i suspect if it is a shortcut, peds will use it anyway.

    sometimes it is best to build a space, wait and see how it gets used, then do another round of changes to adapt to reality. case in point: the panhandle: someone above mentioned that the path through the panhandle is getting a little overcrowded with uses, particularly at peak hours.

    in my opinion, the time has come to cede the panhandle path to the joggers and dog walkers and little tikes on little bikes. and don’t take this as a bad sign for cycling in sf, on the contrary, take it as growing pains from massive success. there are simply so many bikes going through this route that even weren’t it for the walkers, it would still be at capacity sometimes. the solution for bikes is fairly straightforward: take the leftmost lane of oak (now parked cars), separate it with parking barriers or ‘j’ barriers from the car lanes. paint a new, 2-way bike path in this space, linking it on one side to the oak/fell/stanyan intersection (where the existing path ends), and ending the other side of the dedicated path all the way down on scott street. just like this one in montreal:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/moved/buffered_bike_lane4.jpg

    this would finally bridge the safety gap going eastbound between the panhandle and the wiggle, provide an alternative to the fell street slog with gas station of doom, and separate runners/joggers/tikes from freely moving bikes in the panhandle.

    if the car people freak about the displaced parking, simply move the left side parking one lane to the right…oak street will still run smoothly with 3-4 lanes instead of 4-5 lanes (still so many lanes for cars!)

  • Get Some Perspective,

    You’re probably right about the Panhandle, and the picture of the buffered bike lane you linked to doesn’t look too bad. (Way better than no buffering.) Still, it’s so nice to able to bike away from car fumes and noise and through lovely grass and trees instead. Ah well.

  • TIMTOWTDI

    In my opinion, the buffered bike lane photos appears to be too narrow. Perhaps even more so than automobile traffic, there is going to be a speed differential between cyclists. Why would you engineer a passage for cyclists that doesn’t have adequate space to safely pass each other?

    I don’t get bollards on bike paths at all. What’s the point of deliberately creating a situation where users of the path have to dodge an obstacle that could cause serious injury if they hit it?

    The last time I rode from GGB down to Crissy Field I was delighted and dismayed. The new path had bollards. A path used by many, many, many inexperienced tourist cyclists was designed to be an obstacle course.

  • patrick

    I don’t think there’s any reason to take out the Panhandle bike path. Just fix the foot path on the South side of the panhandle. Right now the pavement is horrible, there’s often ponds submerging path, and there’s a bunch of drunks and drug addicts hanging out on the South side (more so than on the bike path). If you fix all that and make it a pleasant path, I think the majority of walkers & joggers will use that side.

    Personally, I find the traffic jam at the gas station works as a pretty effective traffic calming system. I find the block leading up to Divisadero much more pleasant than the 2 blocks after. Once you pass Divis you have people driving 1-2 feet from you going up to 40 mph.

  • It’s a start, but the three bollards at the bottom of the hill scare me too.

  • Clutch J

    Looks like a nice path for people who like them! It’s good to see bike projects on the move in SF.

    (OK, take a deep breath, resist commenting on the death-bollards and how they would be tough to see at night or during a rainstorm or how they would inhibit travel by cargo bike or with a bike trailer or could harm just about anyone who’s inattentive or unlucky for even a split second).

  • Investigate

    It would be an interesting investigative article to determine the design process for this sort of path: why did they go with the strange paint design, why did they go with bollards? I’m sure there are design standards for this sort of thing. (For example: I know bollards are specifically anti-recommended due to the injuries they cause.)

  • patrick

    The bollards are certainly stupid. It should be pretty easy to get them removed, just point out that the University is exposed to huge liability. If anybody is killed or seriously hurt, huge lawsuit.

  • Clutch J

    The Uni would counter that by removing bollards they’re open to liability should a motor vehicle enter the path and hurt somebody.

    But I’m with you…We need to figure out a way beyond bollards.

  • Investigate

    See page 33 (“Barrier Posts”) of http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/traffops/signtech/mutcdsupp/pdf/camutcd/CAMUTCD-Part9.pdf : “Before a decision is made to install barrier posts, consideration needs to be given to the implementation of other remedial measures”. Which is pretty weak. But by the same token they don’t install tire treadles on every one way street, though they are fairly effective.

  • ZA

    What I find ironic about the Panhandle is that there are in fact TWO paths through the Panhandle, but almost all users seem to prefer the northern route.

    As it is, bicycles are forbidden from the southern route, but few joggers/pedestrians/dog-walkers choose THEIR dedicated path.

    Anyone care to speculate why this is?

  • ZA,

    I’ve always kind of thought it’s because the northern path feels more open than the other – the southern path seems to be more tightly flanked by trees. I can’t quite put my finger on it, as I admit I’ve only been on that path a couple times, but I think it’s just not as pleasant.

    Get_Some_Perspective,

    It’s definitely a promising idea and I think I heard in a past article that a cycle track is one already in the discourse with the NoPa people or something. But my thought is: how about one way cycle lanes, on Oak and Fell respective to their flow? (Whether or not they remain one-way.) That way, more room could be given to each lane for passing, and space could be consolidated more evenly on each thoroughfare (as opposed to taking a bunch of space from one and not the other). Passing bicyclists wouldn’t even have to worry about others oncoming.

    My other beef with the Panhandle is at the Masonic crossing – besides the illegal left turns – cars blocking the crosswalk in the middle lane! Something needs to be done, as it’s guaranteed to happen every time there’s enough traffic to fill it up. (I’ve begun signaling with my hand for drivers to stay back from the intersection when it’s filling up – seemed to actually have worked today.)

  • patrick

    The southside path in the Panhandle is in an atrocious state of disrepair. It’s frequently blocked by large puddles (20 feet or longer sometimes) and has tons of big cracks and overgrown roots making the asphalt pretty hazardous.

    I think that’s the main reason it is so lightly used.

  • ZA

    Sooo…how much would renovating/redesigning the southern path cost? That would effectively double the Panhandle capacity for all users without impacting vehicle traffic and probably avoids triggering permit community meetings, and lawsuits, etc.

    Sounds pretty darn ‘shovel-ready’ to me, and fulfill those Livability Principles various federal agencies have been talking about.

    http://fastlane.dot.gov/2009/06/livability-principles-will-guide-federal-housing-environmental-and-transportation-policy-.html