Fell Street Arco Bike Lane Might See Improvements Soon

fell_st_changes_small.gifClick to enlarge. Proposed changes to Fell St. bike lane, soft-hit posts in red.

The MTA might have a solution for the dangerous conditions at the Fell Street Arco gas station, where motorists queueing up to buy gas routinely block the bike lane and force cyclists to navigate between bumpers or try their hand a lane over in speeding traffic. 

The proposal would move the bicycle lane toward the curb by two feet just before the driveway to the Arco station and would install four soft-hit posts, similar to those on the bike lane on Market Street, which would prevent motorists from occupying the bicycle lane while they wait to get gas. The proposal wouldn’t remove any parking, which is not allowed under the bicycle injunction.

The MTA’s bicycle program presented a mockup of the proposed changes to a working group it has established with community members in the area. According to Bike NOPA, the changes as presented would not need to go before Judge Busch for permission because they don’t violate any prescriptions of the injunction.

Michael Helquist, author of Bike NOPA and a member of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association, hailed the changes as an important step and said the MTA was being responsive to the community’s concerns. "I’m encouraged to see the MTA move forward on experimenting with different options without more delay in implementation," said Helquist. "I don’t want to be reporting on a bicyclist, pedestrian, or motorist crash, injury or fatality at this location for lack of making improvements."

The proposal received mixed reviews from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "I think this is a really good first step for fixing this major conflict point," said SFBC Program Manager Marc Caswell. "The city is finally ready to improve this area for cyclists and the four safe-hit posts are a great start to prevent queueing."

Caswell said the design failed to address the conflict at the driveways, however, and he was concerned that more needed to be done. According to Caswell, one option would be cross-hatching the driveway that leads to the gas station. Another would be extending the bicycle lane to the intersection of Divisadero and painting it green. Caswell also noted that the city could be more bold and remove at least two parking spaces before the gas station.

"There is the possibility to do something bigger and better," Caswell said. "With the creation of the Scott Street center bike lane, there were two additional parking spaces added, so if you removed spaces at Fell, there would be no net loss of parking."

  • So the solution to cars pulling in front of bikes in a bike lane is to just cut off the bike lane and adding 4 poles for cyclists to dodge? I know the last thing I need going through there is more things to look out for.

  • Jane

    I worry about cars making left turns into the driveway and cutting me off in the bike lane with this setup. I’d rather see a left turn lane for cars with the bike lane to the right of it.

    Relatedly, drivers seem to really not know that the dashed line on bike lanes means that they should merge into the bike lane before turning. Drivers are always turning across the bike lane and cutting me off.

  • (Copy and paste from my comment on bikenopa):

    I see both those diagrams above as worse than the current situation.

    Consider the case where there is congestion. In this case, there will be cars blocking both the sidewalk and bike lane perpendicular to the flow of traffic. Bikes will have to stop, then veer far out into the street to the right to get around the blocking, or ride on the sidewalk. Both options will involve cutting in front of a car that’s edging forward as much as they can because they’re trying to avoid blocking traffic on Fell.

    But much worse is the case when there is no congestion. Those soft hit posts will force the cars to do a fast left ‘hook’ turn. Those same soft hit posts will force the bikes right where they don’t want to be – directly in the path of that driver that forgets their turn signal!

    Currently, it’s possible as a bike to merge in with the left lane of traffic on Fell to avoid that danger zone. This is made easier by the cars merging to the left, into the bike lane, to turn into the gas station. The soft hit posts will prevent cars from doing this, which will in turn make it much more difficult for a bike to safely merge with traffic in advance of the intersection.

    However, the alternative (staying between the soft hit posts) puts you directly in the most dangerous spot of all: in the blind spot of the drivers who have to make a quick turn off a dense, fast-moving street.

    I know people have been working on this for a while, and there are no ‘perfect’ solutions. But this looks like a big mistake to me.

  • Noah

    What a terrible solution. With this solution, the illegally queued up cars will:

    (1) Block automobile traffic even more because they won’t be able to pull to the side;

    (2) Still block bike traffic, as they queue up while making the left turn into the ARCO station;

    (3) Be even more dangerous to pedestrians passing the ARCO station, as they will be coming from further away, making their moves across the sidewalk less predictable and at a higher speed.

    There is a very clean and simple and complete solution to this problem. Have the police ticket the cars who illegally queue up in the street.

    There’s also an incomplete solution that was already coming. Back when the Spirit station was a 76, not as many people went to the ARCO, because apparently people are more willing to go to a 76 than a Spirit station. That meant fewer cars queued up in the street. The Spirit has no changed back to a 76 (new signs presumably coming soon), so I assume that the ARCO traffic will die down a small amount.

    But, yeah, ticket that illegal driving behavior. And don’t implement this ridiculous solution that makes it at best marginally better for bikes, but much more dangerous to pedestrians and creates more interference with automobile traffic.

  • Noah

    Where can you comment on this proposal to the MTA?

  • I love how the Google Street View captures the situation perfectly…

    Anyway, what really necessarily needs to be done for any real change once the injunction is lifted is put that bike lane against the curb with either parking or some other barrier on the right (doesn’t matter that much, but I’m sure it’s only politically feasible to keep the parking). Leave a few parking spots’ worth of space open for queueing with some special marking (still to the right) with soft-hit posts separating the bike lane and paint that motherf#@%er green, blue, red – whatever color and signage is necessary to get drivers to watch it and stay out of it.

    Here where I am in Denmark, a bike lane almost never goes unmarked at any point, especially not in an intersection, and they READILY break out the colored paint for any potential conflict area. Furthermore, on Danish standards, that bike lane would be twice as wide with a physical barrier separating it from traffic…

    Here’s an example right outside my residence (wave to me! :D)

    In fact, with these standards it seems insane to me that for some reason any sign of bike markings just suddenly disappear at the driveway and it just becomes a striped left-turn lane. Last time I checked, the bikes travelling there don’t just disappear (though the bike lane does underneath the cars).

  • On second thought, the parking should be removed completely – the driver doors would pose a major hazard to the bike lane unless there was a gap made, which would encroach on the vehicle lanes (and we can’t have that, can we..?).

  • Noah

    what about moving the bike lane to the right, having bikes turn right at Broderick, left at Hayes, left at Baker, across Fell and right onto the Panhandle. A bit out of the way, but it eliminates the inevitable problem with a left-side bike lane and a parking lot that you enter on the left side of the street.

    Another alternative (which I wholeheartedly support as a pedestrian and resident of this block): close the fell street entrance to the ARCO station.

  • Justin

    @Noah. I second that re: closing that entrance. Then the problem will be shifted to Divisadero, and then it will become more feasible to remove parking spaces because any long queue will be blocking motorists and buses, and not just ‘damned scofflaw cyclists’!

    If the city doesn’t have the guts to do this right while the injunction is on, or to ask for relief from the injunction and pester Busch while he makes us wait for him to maybe release the injunction in June, then better to let it just fester in the unsafe situation it already is rather than make it worse.

    Buck up MTA. Petitioning the judge to remove some parking and put in a solution here is not radical or revolutionary. It is simply prudent and smart.

  • Erik

    So instead of cars queueing up in the bike lane there will be car making a sharper left turn directly across the bike lane. And with all the craziness with the queue and the gas station and the stoplight, looking over their left shoulder while turning left is going to be the last thing on drivers’ minds.

  • Nick

    Hopefully they can fix the problem with Clipper Street while they’re at it. That has got to be the most dangerous bike lane I have ever ridden in. Never again.

  • It does look like cars will continually block the bike lane as they turn left into the gas station, and it will be very difficult and dangerous for bikes to maneuver around them in this set up. Is the city okay with cars queuing up on the street for this gas station or not? If yes, then take out parking (like Trader Joes on Masonic) and make a legitimate queue for the gas station with the bike lane to the right of the queue. If not, then either ticket the drivers 24/7 or shut down the Gas Station From Hell as a public menace. Last option: take out a lane of parking on Oak Street and make a two-way, physically separated bike lane on Oak from Scott to Baker. Then bicyclists can skip Fell altogether, and the Three Blocks of Terror can be turned into Three Blocks of Happiness.

  • the only way to fix the problem is to get the other gas station to have lower prices. either that or get rid of this arco station altogether.

  • It is nice to see, after soooooo many years, MTA paying attention. BUT this looks like a very dangerous band-aid approach. As a regular cyclist on Fell, I do not want to be the test case for why this fails to really improve safety. There will still be cars splayed across the bike lane and sidewalk, albeit more perpendicular. And this seems to accentuate the “left-hook” issue. But I do appreciate that the MTA is starting to recognize this is a problem and I am glad to see NOPA folks working on it.

    What seems to be missing from the MTA (leadership, board of directors) and the “city family” is a recognition of the strategic importance of Fell Street (and Oak Street). This is part of a major east-west bikeway. This bikeway is a major city transportation corridor, and should get the same respect from the city as it gives to autombilists and their one-way couplets. The wiggle should have a bicycle boulevard treatment on its entire route from the Mission to the Panhandle. Lanes on Fell and Oak need to be re-allocated from cars to bicycles. Between Baker and Scott, these lanes would be replaced with a very wide and safe bicycle lane with barriers. The city should revoke driveway curb cut permits – especially from businesses that have clearly displayed that they do not care about public safety – like Arco.

    As the city guts Muni, sustainable transport activists and progressives should demand that, in exchange for gutting Muni, more city street space be re-allocated throughout the city for bicycling and walking. (what we have now from MTA is eliminate bus service and turn bus stops into parking – F’D Up)).

    If the curb cut is kept, create a queue lane in the automobilist lane, put out clear signs, and ticket. The Arco station should also be required to hire an attendant to keep cars out of the bike lane and from blocking the sidewalk. Or they could pay for a PCO.

    -jh

  • John

    I assume that the well-intentioned folks who came up with this design assume that cars lining up for gas will wait patiently in the traffic lane until they can safely cross the bike lane and sidewalk and fully enter the station, rather than splaying themselves perpendicularly across. Or, when there is no queue, will stop in the middle of the street and not go careening into the station without giving careful consideration to the presence of cyclists and pedestrians approaching the entrance. That is some hopeful &%$#@* thinking. On the other hand, I think this arrangement might have a temporary traffic calming effect on vehicles flying down the Fell St. hill and seeing a lane full of stopped cars. Temporary, as there will likely be a burst of outrage from drivers that now “their” lanes are being blocked by the Arco station entrance problem, and this will finally force the MTA to get it right.

  • Noah

    @John — It’s not just that this solution would slow down traffic in the left lane, it’s that the left lane will be backed up all the way to scott, and perhaps beyond. people like me, who live on the S. side of fell on that block, will never be able to get out of our driveways.

  • patrick

    Personally I don’t mind the current situation. I ride Fell every time I bike to work, and although there are frequently cars in the bike lane, it’s usually pretty easy to get around them. They also block the leftmost lane of Fell, thus slowing the cars to my right. I’ve been irritated by the cars in the bike lane, but I’ve never been afraid of them. I feel the 2 blocks after Divis are much more dangerous as the cars are passing at as much as 40 mph only 1 foot from my elbow. There is no part of my commute that feel more dangerous than Fell between Divis and Baker, and it’s the only place where I am scared every time.

    This proposal means the cars that block the lane will be pretty much completely perpendicular, which will make it more difficult to get around them, especially with the posts restricting the places that I can get out of the bike lane to pass cars.

    I don’t really believe there is a way to improve this interchange, what should really be done is to change the timing of the signals on Fell so cars are always moving at a slower speed, or even better, turn Fell & Oak back in to two way streets.

    I really just don’t think there is a simple way to make this situation better without a major change to the intersection.

  • Patrick points out that the stretch of Fell from Divis to Baker feels more dangerous than the Arco Station. This is also a point I share. The left lane of Fell, immediately adjacent to the bike lane, feels like the inside lane of a freeway. The fast lane. The passing lane. Its also a huge problem at Baker, where motorist speed-up to get into that fourth lane that they magically get along the Panhandle.

    Having said that, I do mind the situation at the Arco. Even if I am comfortable going around the cars, its not about me. Its about getting 15-30% mode split for cycling in this city. That will not happen with this kind of mess.

    The station should be required to hire an attendant to manage traffic until the city can get its act together to make the wiggle a strategic priority.

  • I suggest that the best solution is to have animatronic puppets of naked people dancing on the sidewalks to induce similar traffic jams on all three blocks of Fell. It would create a traffic-calmed zone like the one already where MTA is trying to “fix” it.

    I agree with Patrick that this isn’t so dangerous, really. It’s just badly designed for smooth flow. The reason it’s being addresses so seriously by MTA is that one very vocal bicyclist is pushing them frequently and strategically. She means well, but I think the effort is misplaced. Personally, I think smooth flow is more dangerous. Chaos is traffic calming. Cars slow down when they see a queue at the station, and bikes find their way through with very little danger. We don’t need to make it a bike highway through there. I sure don’t prefer that.

    Yes, I see the current situation there at the ARCO as pretty good. The real long-term fix is to change Fell back to a 2-way. Short of that, the ARCO driveways could be changed to Exit Only until the injunction is lifted.

  • Katherine Roberts

    I would love to see that Fell Street driveway closed. What are the chances of getting a movement going to effect that?

  • Jay

    There is really only one solution. The City should require that Arco make the Fell Street side an Exit Only. No left turning cars to dodge and no backup of cars down Fell. Okay, they would back up down Divis – not blocking driveways (seriously, it is impossible to use my garage most days) and not taking away parking that many who live on Fell depend on.

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