Eyes on the Street: San Francisco’s First Green Bike Box Remains Unfinished

bike_box_1.jpgA truck driver encroaches on a bicyclist in the green bike box. Photos by Bryan Goebel.
San Francisco's first green bike box, painted by a smiling group of electeds and bike activists earlier this month, was heralded as an important first step toward finally advancing some "innovative design treatments" in the city's long-stalled Bicycle Plan. But nearly three weeks later, the MTA has yet to paint any kind of bike symbol in the box, and many San Francisco drivers, and even some bicyclists unfamiliar with the concept of bike boxes, are still not getting the message that it's for bikes only.

"I think it's a very good idea to display this bike box here, but most of the public is not familiar with what the purpose of it is," said Wakeem Shehadeh, the owner of Oak Fair Market, which is just several feet away from the new bike box on Scott Street at Oak. Shehedah said he's spent a great deal of time observing driver and bicyclist behavior since the bike box was installed December 3rd, and has witnessed a few confrontations.

"I still see some cars stop on the green spot, and some pull back, and go into the bike lane," he said. "I would suggest we paint a bike picture on top of the green box so it can tell the driver and the bicyclist, this is for you, and this is for you."

Indeed, some bicyclists are still not familiar with it. As I interviewed people on bikes along The Wiggle today I encountered a few riders who had no idea. "Oh, that's what that's for," said one guy, who told me he lived around the corner. "I haven't been using it."

Judson True, a spokesperson for the MTA, said the agency has to first collect data on the green bike box -- because it's a trial -- but assured Streetsblog a bike symbol would be painted in by mid to late January.

"We want to see what the behavior's like now. We want to test compliance so we need before and after data," said True. "Right now, it's not an approved traffic control device. There isn't a uniform standard for bike boxes in California or the nation and so we want to help move in the direction of the most successful bike box installation we can."

Fine, but how do you test compliance on a traffic control device that isn't complete?

bike_box_4.jpgWe love PCOs but even some of them don't get the green bike box.
True said the agency is collecting information on bike box signage symbols from all over the world and said Streetsblog readers should chime in in our comments section on what kind of symbols they'd like to see.

Andy Thornley, the SFBC Program Director, is frustrated by the delay.

"We're thrilled to have some green bike space on the streets of SF, but with the sharrow missing it's even less evident now just what the thing is supposed to mean, to drivers or cyclists or anyone. It's important that the SFMTA complete this bike box with a sharrow and some sort of signage to explain how the bike box works, such as "Stop Here on Red Except Bicycles" (R10-6 standard, for MUTCD geeks), at minimum," said Thornley.

Picture_7.pngAn excerpt from a Portland DOT glossy on bike boxes.
4052879393_07ff6548de_o.jpgWhy can't we have this? Flickr photo: itdp
Thornley said the agency should Portlandize the box, giving it the full treatment "with a 'WAIT HERE' legend and lead-in/lead-out green bike lanes and public outreach and education."

One has to wonder, though: If all the recent bike improvements are reversible, as a judge demanded, why didn't the MTA finish the job on the first day? If they found a better treatment, they could easily change it, right? It doesn't take a great deal of data collection to know that a bike symbol in the bike box will help people understand what it's all about.

If the MTA does need data, though, it should turn to Portland, where a study analyzing that city's innovative bike boxes (see the Streetfilm below), installed about a year and a half ago, is expected to be released in early 2010. Preliminary data from the study by Portland State University Professor Jennifer Dill found that most motorists understood and obeyed the boxes and 81 percent of bicyclists surveyed think drivers are more aware of bicyclists because of the bike boxes.

Despite the publicity surrounding the Scott Street bike box, and the fleeting excitement it generated, it still seems that despite a partial lifting of the injunction, and promises that more "innovative bike treatments" are coming soon, the MTA is still afraid to do anything really bold because of the injunction. True denied the City Attorney's office had anything to do with the lack of a bicycle symbol in the bike box, but we have to wonder.

bike_box_2.jpgA driver who gets it.