Eyes on the Street: Valencia Streetscape Project Nearly Complete

Valencia_striping.jpgThe new striping on Valencia Street. Photos: Matthew Roth

The near total reconstruction of Valencia Street between 15th and 19th Streets in The Mission over the past year has seemed at times maddening to those who use the street, no matter what mode. From ripped up sidewalks to ripped up pavement, the area has been a construction zone for nearly a year now, causing businesses to bemoan the lack of sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to shimmy along the narrow strips of plywood and concrete that has passed for temporary sidewalks, and leading cyclists to dodge construction vehicles while navigating grooved pavement and large ruts.

Soon all that will feel like a distant memory, as the five blocks recently received a smooth layer of asphalt and over the past few days have been striped for a new lane configuration. To make room for the delightfully wide and sparkly sidewalks, the center median stripes have been replaced by two parallel yellow lines, an arrangement that is sure to make the old median double parkers upset.

While the new pavement is pleasant to ride over, cyclists will quickly realize the new lane configuration doesn’t provide them with much new space and doesn’t diminish the danger of dooring. If anything, the absence of the center median means delivery vehicles are no longer parking in the media and are using the curb for business, which can pinch the bike lane down and reduce visibility. Knowing drivers who used to pass cyclists with their left wheels in the median will also have less space to pass comfortably. Hopefully that will slow them down so they pass with greater care, but I’m concerned it could add to more conflicts.

feeling_the_pinch.jpgPutting the squeeze on cyclists.

Nevertheless, the new street is a banquet of space for pedestrians. New trees have been planted up and down the sidewalks and stylized lamp posts have been added at two heights, one for pedestrians one for motorists. Another interesting feature is the art project Valencia Street Post, four decorative boxes affixed to old telephone poles that are meant to be used to facilitate community interaction, according to artist Michael Arcega.

On his website, he writes: "The public is invited to use the four sites as informal community bulletin boards for notices, events, ads, and the like.  The (Stick-Style) Victorian signifier is meant to evoke the site’s history. Since most of the older buildings up to 20th Street were destroyed during fires in 1906, the area has transformed its appearance numerous times. The juxtaposition of a bulletin-street-pole with classic San Franciscan architecture embraces the past and present- leaving room for the future collaborations by the community."

As a semi-regular pedestrian on the street, the sidewalks are wonderful. But as a regular bicycle commuter on the street, I’m more than a bit concerned by the new configuration. What do you think?

H/T Mr Eric Sir.

New_sign_posts_2.jpgThe new community post poles, street height light poles, street trees, wide sidewalks and new lane configuration all together.
New_street_signs.jpgAnother variation on the community poles.
  • EL

    The new sidewalk width is taken up by trees so the actual walking benefit is arguably limited to non-existent. The trees do beautify the area (until 10 years later when the trees have yet to be trimmed). I think in the long run, the median lane that was (ab)used by the trucks will be viewed by bicyclists as better than what’s there now.

    And before folks think I’m being pessimistic, I’m only being practical. DPW widened the sidewalks on 6th Street and added trees just south of Market a couple of years ago too.

  • EL

    Just curious… how come there isn’t an article about the planters that were installed along Van Ness between Market and Grove? Is it because:

    a) the planters take up so much sidewalk width,
    b) coupled with the old trees that were not relocated, the sidewalk seems even narrower, or
    c) the planters and the old trees look so mismatched that it’s nothing to brag about?

  • Brian

    Glad to see the suicide lane is gone. Much better use of the street space.

  • I’ve been through a few times now both on foot and bike, and while the improvements do make the space look nicer and the extra inches in the bike lane are noticeable, overall it seems a pretty lame result when you consider the cost of the project and all the required disruption to local businesses and commuters.

  • samedude

    well @SteveS, as a local resident, I think its much better and easier to walk/bike around the yuppies. I welcome the change, no matter how much better it “could” have been.

  • Sean

    “…an arrangement that is sure to make the old median double parkers upset.”

    Nah, I’m sure they’ll just continue to block either the car or bike lane and that the SFMTA and SFPD will continue their joint non-enforcement of existing traffic laws.

  • @Sean has a point. Valencia has some pretty bad bike lane blockage and the loss of the median might make it worse. What’s maddening is that the SFPD are right on this street.

    But don’t be afraid to take the lane if needed. With the light timing on Valencia, cars can’t go any faster than you anyway.

  • orson

    The only conceivable way to improve the bike situation on Valencia would have been to create a sidewalk-adjacent bike lane with parking outside, and that just isn’t going to happen in SF yet. Considering what a huge victory this is for pedestrians — remember, this is SF, where nothing ever gets done, and pedestrians are criminals — I think the fact that it’s sort of a wash for bikes is, well, tolerable. Sorry cyclists, you do deserve better.

  • @orson One of the problems with the design implemented now is that Valencia is one of the top targets for a fully separated cycle path in the near future, and now when that gets put in they are going to have to tear up the sidewalk *again* to expand it into all the parking pockets.

    It just seems like this design inevitably results in a lot of very expensive double-work in the coming decade; it’s still great for Valencia to at least have some alleviation of the sidewalk crowding in the mean time, but it seems somewhat wasteful when you look at the opportunity cost to the huge number of other streets around the city that need physical improvements for pedestrians, bikes and transit

  • @SteveS – why not just make Valencia a bike boulevard, remove the bike lane completely and make it known that on Valencia cyclists are to take the lane. Block off the street to through vehicular traffic with bollards every 3 blocks or so and reduce Valencia to local traffic only. Guerrero, Dolores, and Mission can handle the through traffic.

  • @John Murphy — completely agreed. This works so well in Berkeley and other cities, and given the amount of bicycle traffic on Valencia, a bicycle boulevard is really the best solution.

    However, given the given the current political situation and the vocal pro-car minority, it will be extremely difficult to implement. I can imagine the protests already… “Keep Valencia open!”, “Don’t block Valencia!”, etc.

  • Nick

    Is there a reason the bike lane has just a single demarcation line?

    I mean it is an actual lane. Why encourage drivers to block it? And why make it look like an afterthought… like a freeway shoulder.

  • Scott

    Ugh, please, do not need more traffic on dolores.

    Also, The parking outside, bikes against the sidewalk was tried in Minneapolis, nobody could figure it out, they parked everywhere.

    Ie:
    http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/hennepinfirst/docs/Henn-1-handout.pdf

  • @Scott, you prove my point exactly. Never mind that curb-side bike lanes work great in NYC and all over Europe. Ignore everything we’ve learned over the last 50 years about induced demand and driving. Let’s widen those streets to “reduce” congestion! Keep Noe… I mean Valencia open!

  • JD

    I think it’s really great that the city has the vision to see that Valencia St needs to be made more cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly. However, I don’t get why they didn’t just go all the way with it; namely, make the sidewalk and bike lanes even wider at the expense of the car lanes (which are unnecessarily wide). The sidewalks aren’t even that much wider, especially when you consider that the new trees, lightposts, etc. actually block most of it (don’t get me wrong: I love the trees, but they didn’t do it properly, in my opinion). Also, the more narrow you make the road, the less people want to drive down it. As it stands, there are 3 streets within 4 blocks that cars can use as north-south thoroughfares through the Mission (Guerrero, Dolores, and South Van Ness), all of which have 2 lanes in each direction. There is no need for people to be driving all the way down Valencia (who are the people that do this anyway?).

    What I think they should have really done, though I know it probably couldn’t come to pass without major campaigning, is make Valencia one-way and remove the parking on one side of the street. The extra parking lane would be absorbed by the sidewalks and the bike lane. In addition, making it one way cuts traffic in half and overall makes it clear that it is primarily intended to be a pedestrian and cyclist street, not a car street.

    In the end, I felt like all this work really didn’t give us that much. It’s progress though, so I give them credit for that. Maybe we can at least get the cops to ticket cars for double-parking in the bike lane ….

  • JD

    Nick wrote: ” Is there a reason the bike lane has just a single demarcation line? I mean it is an actual lane. Why encourage drivers to block it? And why make it look like an afterthought… like a freeway shoulder.”

    Agreed. I think they should paint the bike lane green (like on Market St.) and add bike boxes at intersections (like Scott St @ Oak St). I’m tired of bicyclists always being treated like second-class citizens who get squeezed between parked cars and fast-moving cars as an afterthought. Right now, our roads are designed around cars, then, to a lesser degree, pedestrians (who at least get a sidewalk separated from moving traffic), and cyclists get the mangy (and dangerous) leftovers. Can’t we just have *one* street in the Mission, the most bicycle-friendly part of the city, that is designed around bicycles (and pedestrians) and cars are an afterthought? In fact, I don’t even see why we need cars at all down Valencia (except delivery vehicles, emergency vehicles, and public transit) when they can use Mission, Guerrero, Dolores, or South Van Ness.

  • I agree with John Murphy. Being on a mini-tour of a few European cities currently (and yes, still following Streetsblog!), this frankly seems like a joke to me.

    Assuming the pro-car lobby will be strong enough to keep precious car access and parking on Valencia, why not use bollards like John said to allow parking access while restricting through traffic? I’m about to leave my last stop, Prague, where most of the downtown streets are cobblestone. While it’s awful for cyclists (of which there are almost none in Prague), why not have cobblestone or brick traffic & parking lanes on Valencia, with a paved bike lane on the sidewalk level or at half-curb height outside of the parking lane? The others are right about this being wasteful and a loss of opportunity by not going far enough.

  • Wow – I’m surprised on all the hating on the new Valencia here, though I agree with some of the specific critiques.

    As someone who worked hard on pushing the City to make this happen I’m overall quite pleased with the results (as much as a few significant details bother me.)

    We now have a MUCH MUCH better pedestrian space (room to maneuver in groups larger than 1, sidewalk seating, art, trees), much more attractive fixtures, and a much better sense of place. We removed a TRAFFIC lane for pedestrian amenities – in SF – wow!

    I agree that there are some bonehead things: the stupid cage outside EL Toro at 17th, the lack of a widened mini-park in front of the police station, and perhaps worst of all the street tree placement – while this makes sense for existing trees, they should have made cut outs for moving them when these tress die! It is all too likely they will be put back in their current positions.

    And as an avid cyclist and SFBC board member, I’m concerned about how this will ripple through the bicycling on Valencia (it is clearly a tad worse in terms of lanes, but perhaps better in terms of overall traffic calming) – but I think the massive wins in the pedestrian realm go a long long way.

    All in all, I think the project has been 12 steps forward and maybe could have be 15. And yes there are maybe 1 or 2 steps back. But I’ll take that happily as much as I hope the next one will be better!

    ‘deep
    Amandeep Jawa

    .ps
    The City was pushing to do “median beautification” as the Valencia Street improvement project, and we had meeting after meeting saying “no the Street is fine- we need better pedestrian space!” and they kept coming back with “too expensive! how about some lovely medians!” – we went round and round until finally they had a change of heart and found money to do this. It was very expensive because of the need to move sewer grates & lines, but they found the money to get it done. There were various problems with the process and the results, but it was a learning experience. I hope we can find the rest of the money in the next few years to do this for the rest of Valencia as originally planned & hopefully we can fix some of the errors of this first effort.

    In the meantime, I’m *REALLY* enjoying walking and biking on the new stretch of Valencia – IT’S A HUGE IMPROVEMENT!

  • Deep – you didn’t get the memo. “avid cyclist” jumped the shark a long time ago.

  • @John – Crap! I’m so behind the times! What am I supposed to say? “Everyday-Biker/Trikeasaurus-Bike-Muisc-Blaster/Rickshaw-walla” seems a bit long?

  • @Deep – there is only one way for redemption (oh no here he goes again).

    http://www.noevalleyplaza.com/

    Sign it or you will be in deep trouble.

  • There are so many great things that have happened on Valencia St.- the trees make it so much less industrial and sad, the beautiful grates at the base of trees (no one notices them until you point them out), the Public Polls for posters and ads, the smoothed pavement… As Valencia St. becomes more and more popular with those on foot and bicycle, it will become a car free boulevard just out of practicality. In the mean time, we still have bicycle infrastructure that is indifferent at best. Don’t get me wrong, it is a step in the process that I am grateful for, but as a daily transportation cyclist, I am not convinced that the planning that was done for bicycles was either creative enough or thorough enough to be considered completely successful.

  • Almost

    As noted, the removal of the median has increased the number of double-parkers in the bike lane. Forced turns for cars every 2 blocks and a design that fixes the dooring issue is needed.

    But in the meantime, why doesn’t MTA “Sustainable Streets” set up a parking officer beat on Valencia? It should patrol by bike. By enforcing the existing loading zones, trucks would not have to double-park in the bike lane.

  • @John Murphy and Sean, I have to agree with everything that you have said. There IS an issue with bike lane blockage, however, that seems to be an issue on most busy streets in SF that have a bike lane. Additionally, cars drivers are just as often the perpetrators as are delivery truck-men.

    @Deep, I would also agree that the improvements for pedestrians are magnificent and well worth applauding. And as a daily cyclist (and avid), I feel that Valencia bike lanes have still improved even if not to the same extent that the sidewalks have.

    Lastly, I love the idea of limiting car traffic on Valence to ensure and safe and pleasurable experience for cyclist and pedestrians. Many others have noted that there is sufficient north-south vehicle infrastructure to provide Valencia with a bike boulevard.

  • rocky’sdad

    So, murph: sounds like you are beginning your endless rant to close even more of San Francisco’s well used streets to ONLY bikes..Are you f**king insane?

    Now you want Valencia St. closed off to cars? And you want to push more cars onto Dolores St?

    I love how Valencia has improved and fully support the wider sidewalks, the new trees and landscaping, and the marked bike lanes. It works well.

    But it also works well and is NECESSARY for cars, trucks as well. If Valencia were closed to all vehicles, exactly how do you propose that works? Where would they go? How would deliveries work? And what about the important cross traffic every block?

    When bike advocates start developing reasonable, workable LONG term solutions to closing off a street and dealing with vehicles, parking and deliveries, then we will begin to take you seriously.

    Guess what? vehicles are here to stay for a long time. Deal with it. Work with it.

  • Rocky’s dad, a bicycle boulevard does not mean closing a street to vehicles. It means slowing the traffic WAY down through the use of speed bumps and other traffic calming measures. Berkeley has some great bicycle boulevards if you’d like to see them in the real world.

  • Southvannesstraffic

    Maybe the residents of those streets do not want increased traffic. Valencia has been slowed so let’s move on. By the way cars can use Folsom, Harrison and Bryant as well. They are easy to travel on and are less travelled. I use them all the time and will continue doing so.

  • Southvannesstraffic

    Dolores is residential in contrast to Valencia and you want more traffic on Dolores? Seems a bit odd.

  • Dolores also has 2 lanes in both directions compared to one on Valencia, with a large median in it. It leads to San Jose which is effectively 280.

    If you want to campaign to take out one lane each way to restore the residential quality… 😉

  • Southvannesstraffic

    If Valencia qualified for lane reductions so do South Van ,Guerrero and Dolores. You ask who are the people who drive on Valencia. Maybe visitors to the shops , residents OR people trying to get to Mission or CC. Last I checked Valencia is a public road. Give me a break.

  • Anonymous

    @0fbd98b6ff12125eafd274d59ddfd47e:disqus I’m talking about the people who drive *all* the way down Valencia, i.e., that use it as a thoroughfare. And this is a lot of the traffic on the road, because since the lights are timed for bicycle speeds, I ride the whole length (from 15th to 24th) alongside the same cars. My point is, motorists should use Valencia for the block or two where their destination is, but otherwise, stay off it and use the parallel streets for covering distances. It’s irrelevant to being a public road: it’s common courtesy for a 4,000 lb vehicle to use another road when their loads of pedestrians on cyclists on Valencia … and those other roads will be faster for the motorist.

    However, in the year since I wrote my comment above, I take back the whole making-Valencia-one-way thing. I’ve come to realize that one-way roads only induce high speeds in motorists and make the area more freeway-like and hence less livable. However, they do need to get rid of the useless center lane and use the resulting extra width for a cycletrack and wider sidewalks. And they need to add bollards every block of two to keep motorists from using it as a thoroughfare (since they clearly can’t seem to figure that out on their own).

  • Anonymous

    @0fbd98b6ff12125eafd274d59ddfd47e:disqus  wrote: “Maybe the residents of those streets do not want increased traffic.”

    Then their battle is with the motorists who are driving all over this city and creating the traffic. It makes no sense for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists — who so heavily use Valencia — to be trumped because some residents don’t want extra traffic. And, by the way, I think the addition of Valencia’s traffic spread out on Guerrero, South Van Ness, and Dolores will have negligible effect on traffic on those roads.

    The point here is that, moving into the future of urban design, I don’t think it’s appropriate that *every* street is a thoroughfare for motorists. And Valencia is clearly the main pedestrian and cyclist street in the Mission given the nature of the businesses on that street, so I think it’s high time this street was given the attention it deserves and putting priority on pedestrians and cyclists and relegating motorists to only using it for a block or so (via bollards). Not *every* damn street in our city needs to be for motorists to just cruise through.

  • Southvannesstraffic

    Because Valencia is a direct path to Mission as well as CesarChavez which leads to the freeway.

  • Southvannesstraffic

    With the proposal for no left turns on Mission from 7a-7p it looks like more cars will end up on Valencia as a result

  • Southvannesstraffic

    Like citing bikes?

  • mikesonn

    Wow. You are digging up some old stuff. Congrats SVNT, well done!

  • Anonymous

    Guerrero, South Van Ness, and Dolores are all direct paths to Cesar Chavez. And when you say a “direct path to MIssion”, do you mean Mission St south of Cesar Chavez (because north of it all the streets in question are parallel to Mission St)? If so: so what? You really mean to tell me that most cars driving up and down Valencia are coming form/going to Mission St south of Cesar Chavez? And you do realize that Guerrero easily gets you to Mission St south of Cesar Chavez?

    And even if you really are up upper Valenica and you want to go to Mission St, then going one block out of your way to Guerrero really won’t take you any longer, and you reduce the risk to a lot of pedestrians and cyclists. Don’t you think that is worth it? Must motorists always be entitled to the most direct line everywhere, all other consequences (like going down a major pedestrian and cyclist route) be damned?

  • Southvannesstraffic

    The 14a mission news just came up four days ago…..hardly old my good man.

    You should be proud that you got what you wanted on Valencia even though it was at great expense to other streets.

    A classic tale of a few dictating to the masses what is good for them.