SF Plans to Act Quickly on Bike Projects When Injunction is Lifted

sfmta_bike_rack_stencil.JPGThe SFMTA is already surveying locations where bike racks have been requested and plans to add 750 racks as soon as the injunction is lifted. Photo: Dave Snyder.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and MTA Chief Nat Ford have made repeated promises that they will act swiftly to build out large segments of the city's Bicycle Master Plan when the 3-year-old bicycle injunction is lifted. Behind the good rhetoric, the agency does appear prepared to begin striping lanes and adding bike racks when the long legal wait finally ends.

Superior Court Judge Peter Busch could make a ruling on the state of the injunction as early as this Friday, though it is likely he will wait until after the November 2nd hearing. The City Attorney's office filed its response [PDF] yesterday to an opposition brief [PDF] from Rob Anderson's attorney, Mary Miles, which argues that claims the city must prove the adequacy of an exhaustive EIR before dissolving the injunction have no merit.

Most advocates and City Hall insiders who have followed the case closely don't expect a ruling before mid-November, though they are hopeful the judge's recent actions are a positive sign: the litigants had asked for a continuance to a later date, but they were denied.

"We believe the city completed a comprehensive and unprecedented EIR, but there is no certainty what the court will do," said MTA spokesperson Judson True. "Our charge is to be ready when the injunction is lifted and we are. Of the 45 projects we hope to complete, we anticipate more than 20 in the first year after the injunction is lifted."

The cost of the 56 priority projects in the Bike Plan was projected in June of this year to be about $14 million, a trivial sum compared to the agency's annual capital budget of approximately $700 million, but far more than the $1 to $2 million the agency spent on bicycle improvements before the injunction. Subsequent design changes have shaved several million dollars off that total, and only 45 of the 60 projects in the bike plan were approved by the MTA Board of Directors in June. The cost to build all 45 projects, plus bike racks and parking corrals and signage, is estimated at $10 million over two years. 

According to Timothy Papandreou, the MTA's Deputy Director of Transportation Planning, the agency is prepared to spend what is necessary to build the network, even if they have to use funds not specifically dedicated to the bike network. "We don't feel we don't have enough money to fund the majority of the program," he said. In addition to grant sources dedicated to bicycle improvements, the city could spend its flexible surface transportation money on bicycle improvements, but to date, it has not done so.

"I can't guarantee that we're going to get the funds we apply for next year, but we will find the money to build everything that's approved within the next two years," Papandreou said.

For fear of upsetting the court further and adding delay to the injunction, MTA staff repeatedly told Streetsblog any preparation they were planning was contingent on the judge's decision. The injunction was punitive, after all, and any action by the MTA that is perceived as disrespectful of the strict interpretation of environmental law -- the grounds for his earlier decision to impose the injunction -- might be reason to continue it for a longer period of time.

True said he was cautious about sharing any specifics of the more than 20 routes the agency intends to paint in year one, but he said some of the obvious ones would get priority, though they could be subject to change. From his shortlist:

  • Townsend Street, project 2.16
  • Alemany Boulevard, project 5.2
  • Illinois Street, project 4.3
  • Clipper Street, project 6.2

True also said the agency would paint all 75 miles of sharrows in the first year and planned to increase the total supply of bicycle parking by nearly 50 percent, adding 750 new racks to the 1550 total citywide. Hundreds of those racks are sitting in a warehouse ready for installation and agency staff have already been surveying locations where bike racks have been requested by the public.

According to Bridget Smith, Director of the Livable Streets Program at the MTA, the agency is even studying low-cost ways to build on-street parking corrals, which accommodate 10-15 bicycles in the same parking space holding only one car. She said up to a dozen could be constructed soon after the injunction is lifted.

In the end, True said it would be an understatement to say that bicycle advocates are "chomping at the bit," but he cautioned patience in the lead-up to the court's decision

"We can mobilize paint crews quickly and we have projects identified that are ready to go. We've identified wet-weather projects, for example," said True. "I think the cumulative effect of the work that we plan to do, even in the first few months, will be noticeable to everyone. It's a big deal."

Dave Snyder contributed reporting.