Eyes on the Street: San Francisco’s First Green Bike Box Gets Bike Stencil

IMG_1369_1.jpgDPT crews reveal a brand new bike stencil. Photos: Michael Rhodes

San Francisco’s first green bike box can no longer be mistaken for just a car-sized strip of green paint: this morning, DPT crews stenciled in a bicycle symbol to indicate to cars that the green box on Scott Street at Oak is for bikes only. In marked contrast to the pre-stencil bike box, the new stencil seemed to help most drivers understand that they’re required to wait behind the box during red lights. Only a few scofflaws ignored the bike box, often stopping behind it initially and then rolling into it – often with cell phones pressed against their ears.

The new stencil is the latest development in the ongoing saga of the Scott Street bike box, which started as a traffic stop line and bike stencil without green paint, and was then painted over in green last month when a partial lifting of the bicycle injunction allowed some experimental treatments. At that point, the MTA did not paint in the stencil over the green paint, citing the need to collect before and after data on the traffic device since it’s still experimental in California. Judson True, a spokesperson for the MTA, said the agency did four one-hour p.m. peak counts last month, and found that half of stopped vehicles were encroaching into the bike box. Fifty-five percent of stopped cyclists were waiting in the bike box, and 30 percent were waiting in the crosswalk.

"We did go ahead and collect some data, and we felt like we had enough ‘before’ data to go ahead and install the symbol," said True. "We had planned to install it later in the month, but when we looked at the data we were getting and decided that was sufficiently informative, we went ahead and moved forward."

IMG_1396.jpgThis driver understood and obeyed the newly-updated bike box.

Volker Neumann, a cyclist who rides down Scott Street regularly, was pleased to see the bike stencil go in. "Yay," exclaimed Neumann, encountering the freshly-dried stencil. "It’s nice to finally see it official and not just have a bunch of rogue graffiti types put in their own version of it."

While more drivers now seem to understand the bike box, the design still doesn’t seem to be entirely intuitive for bicyclists, since the box doesn’t extend to the bike lane. True said the MTA was open to looking at other design modifications if the current configuration doesn’t send a clear enough message to drivers and cyclists. Even though dozens of cyclists passed through the busy Wiggle corridor on Scott immediately after DPT crews left, it took about 25 minutes after the paint dried for the first pair of cyclists to make use of the bike box, so a full Portland-style bike box, complete with a painted bike lane and additional signage, should be a logical next step in the evolution of the MTA’s bike box experimentation.

The Scott Street green bike box, painted on December 3rd, was the first in California. Long Beach installed a green bike box December 20th that more closely resembles the Portland bike boxes.

IMG_1404.jpgSome of the first cyclists to use the updated bike box.
IMG_1347.jpgLoaded up with bike stencils.
IMG_1344.jpgThe final pre-stencil moments of the Scott Street bike box.

  • friscolex

    Whoohoo! I’d so love to hijack that truck and just stencil the whole city! Oh, I jest. Of course. Kind of.

  • “Rogue graffiti types”! I can’t imagine what he could be referring to.

  • Thanks, SFMTA, good stuff!

  • When doctors, let’s even assume their leading doctors, MD/PHD types, are approaching a disease in a patient that they have not worked on directly, have not researched for years, etc. they consults journals and the papers of other doctors to see what the state of the art is, how things have worked in the past, etc. They draw on all of that.

    They don’t say, hmm, this is an interesting problem. I’m the first person in my hospital to think about this! (Ignoring all of the other hospitals in all of the cities in the country, world, etc.) They do not say, ‘I will experiment to get to the bottom of this!’ and start at the most basic level imaginable to collect data.

    To me it is pretty clear that we have a disease and Portland’s bike box infrastructure is that well-respected and peer-reviewed paper just waiting to be read and implemented here. The patient cannot be all that different.

  • Mo

    Oh, thank god, because I was going to send SFBC an email about it. The green box is grand and all, but every time I come up to it (just about every day), no one– bikes or more importantly, cars– seem to know what to do about it since here was no other symbol or sign other than the box itself. Cars would just roll over it, clueless.

    While a bike sign is now certainly nice, the words “Cars Wait Here” before the 1st white line would be even better. 🙂

  • I like the bike box! It may take time for drivers to figure out how to handle it. But the concept works.

  • I think “Cars wait here” is needed at every intersection in SF.

  • Justin is right. The sad part is that this happens over and over again in every city in this country. And not just bike infrastructure too, just general road improvements. How much time and money is spent doing pilot programs for a proven concept?

    Other examples:
    NYC is “testing” countdowns in their pedestrian signals.
    LA is “testing” zebra crosswalks.
    Hundreds of cities are “testing” sharrows.

  • Clutch J

    Is this a left-turn only lane?

  • @Clutch J: Yes. Across the intersection is a left-turn bicycle lane that leads to Fell Street. This is one of two left-turn bicycle lanes in SF. The other is on Howard Street at 11th.

  • volker

    rogue graffiti types… by that I meant awesome DIYers.

    my humor doesn’t translate into a soundbite or short quote very well. oops.

  • Michael Rhodes

    @volker: Indeed, that probably should have read, “‘rogue graffiti types,’ said Neumann, with a wink.”

  • John Rogers

    What possible use could the data be that shows that drivers, and many cyclists, do not know what an anonymous green box painted on the street is for? Why not just do the damn thing right in the first place and collect data on that?

  • Anonymous

    I’d really like someone to explain what section of the Vehicle Code makes one a “scofflaw” for ignoring the bike box.

    California law (VC 21453), which the Legislature has made uniform throughout the state, says one must stop at a red traffic signal before entering the crosswalk, or if there is no crosswalk, before entering the intersection.

    A bike box is not a crosswalk and not within the intersection, so how is there a legal requirement to do anything in its presence?

  • smushmoth

    It looks like a lot of cyclists don’t know what a crosswalk is, not what the green box is. VC 21453 applies to cyclists as well as motor vehicles.

  • marcSFBC

    @Anonymous: If you had chosen to *quote* the law rather than summarize, it would be pretty clear to everyone.

    VC 21453(a) states, “A driver facing a steady circular red signal alone shall stop at a marked limit line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then before entering the intersection, and shall remain stopped until an indication to proceed is shown…”

    A Bike Box is an Advance Stop Line, which means entering a bike box before the light changes is, in fact, breaking the law.

  • zsolt

    Gee at this pace we’re going to be Copenhagen by the year 2200. Sorry to be this negative, but as a sales- and property-tax paying resident of SF, this is depressing.

    Lately as a macabre form of entertainment, I have taken to count the number of close calls I experience every day. It’s never zero. Less than 5 is a good day. Biking in this city, watching the politics in this city, and watching our tax dollars wasted on bullshit studies and back-and-forth, have one thing in common: they all are exercises in stoicism.

  • Anonymous

    @marcSFBC: If a bike box is an advance stop line as you say, please explain how it doesn’t apply equally to bicyclists.

  • zsolt

    Looks to me that bikes have their own stop line, as signaled by the green box and the bike stencil. It’s not the first time that different rules would be applied to different vehicles. Happens all the time, chief.

  • @ Clutch J: I neglected to mention a third location in SF for a left-turn lane: southbound 7th Street at 16th. Thanks to MTA for letting me know that.

  • This is great. Can’t wait for the current box at 14th and Folsom to get green. Bike light there too would be great!

  • The legal argument by anonymous seems a serious matter. To what extent can a limit line apply to a sub-class of road users? The law speaks of a single limit line, not multiple lines for different classes. It seems we want legislative help here.

  • Judy

    I just told a senior officer at SFPD about the box, and he asked whether the vehicle code has been updated to specifically address the bike box and define it as an advance stop line, applying only to cars and not to bikes. He says that unless SFBC lobbies to make sure the vehicle code specifically addresses this new entity, it will be difficult for police to enforce it. The more specific the vehicle code, the easier it is for them to enforce, since then the entity and fines/consequences are clearly defined and officers are trained to enforce them. There also needs to be some level of lobbying on the State level to make sure this is understood by drivers: i.e. it needs to be written into the driver’s education booklet at the DMV, so drivers understand what the rules are. I don’t know if there has been any effort by the SFBC to address these issues, but I think there needs to be, otherwise this beautiful new box is just “graffiti”, as a previous poster called it.

  • The code specifically says “a marked limit line”. I see two marked limit lines. I choose to stop at the second one. I am thereby obeying the code.

    Sure, there’s a picture of a bicycle there, but that symbol has applicability only for marking a bicycle lane. That is clearly not a bicycle lane because otherwise it would be illegal to drive through it unless turning right. So the picture painted on the pavement has no relevance, at least to my reading.

    Cities can’t willy-nilly write their own laws by painting the roads green.

  • luc

    As an non-SF resident, I have to say that I would probably have been confused by this box if I encountered it while there were no bikes in it. If someone showed me a picture in advance and I had a minute or two to think, that would be one thing. But when you’re driving through the city and you’re concerned with figuring how where you are, how to get where you’re going, and with all the traffic, I think some cars may accidentally end up inside the box.

  • Nathan Frankel

    I really hate to be negative, but as an everyday cyclist that lives in the neighborhood I don’t support the bike box design in this location. This is one of the few bicycle improvements in the city I’m not behind. Shouldn’t be bike box be located a block up at Scott/Fell? Isn’t the purpose so that we as cyclists have a safe place to wait until turning left? I bike this route multiple times per day, I’d rather stay on the right side at Scott/Oak, then get into position for the left turn when approaching the intersection where I’m actually going to turn. Wish I could say I put this bike improvement to use, but I don’t as I think it creates unnecessary conflict with cars as bikes slowly cruise up the center of the street when they could easy ride on the right hand side and move to the left at Fell.

    Glad to see everyone excited about improvements; I generally am, but I’m not about this one.

  • Joel Ramos

    We’re not inventing anything here, folks. This has been a success up in Oregon. It helps to remind cars of the rights of cyclists to the road, and to remind cyclists that they should be vigilant of pedestrians in crosswalks. If I see a cool “green” place like this for me, I’ll be less inclined to “creep” into the cross walk in anticipation of the green signal change.

    Kudos for MTC for having done this! Given time, MOST people will naturally figure out what the box means, and that bicyclists not only have the right, but are required to make full use of the mixed-traffic lane if there is no bike lane.

  • claudia

    I’m glad I receive your emails…otherwise as a driver of a car I would not know what the green box with bike stencilled in it meant.
    I don’t think it is intuitive.

  • straw

    This is a very odd location, it seems to me. The box is great for turning left, but you can’t turn left here. Not really sure what the point is. Lots of other locations are much better for this treatment.

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