Eyes on the Street: SFMTA Installs Green Bike Lane on Fell Street

IMG_1507.jpgPhotos: Bryan Goebel

In its best attempt yet to prevent drivers from obstructing the bike lane on a troubled section of Fell Street, alongside the Arco station, the SFMTA painted the lane green today, along with the dashed lane from mid-block to Divisadero Street, as part of its new configuration. Michael Helquist of BIKE NOPA had the story up first this morning, and said the Fell entrance to the Arco station was closed for the morning and early afternoon.

"We’re thrilled to see the city continue to experiment with green pavement to designate bicycle right-of-way along important bike routes," said Andy Thornley, program director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "We’re eager to see whether the use of green on Fell Street can call more attention to the bike lane and make it easier and safer for everyone traveling through this intersection. The city deserves credit for implementing long-overdue improvements at this confusing intersection and working to increase the safety of everyone who uses this street, but of course we’ll all be watching closely to see whether this solution is enough."

A number of bicyclists waiting for a green light at Divisadero this afternoon shrugged, and said they didn’t know whether it would solve the problem of drivers blocking the bike lane. The chaotic intersection has been a problem for years. Drivers violate the bike lane by crossing over it and waiting to enter the station to get cheap gas. Some activists have said nothing short of eliminating the curb cuts, closing the Fell entrance, and installing a cycletrack will do the trick.

"It’s a start. A separated bike lane would be nice. Shutting down this entrance would be nice. There’s all kinds of things the city could do, but you know, I don’t want to appear critical because it is very nice," said Steve, a bicyclist whose daily commute takes him through The Wiggle.

IMG_1458.jpgThe SFMTA recently eliminated five parking spaces to add a queuing lane for drivers.

"I think that this is great because this block has been a problem and for somebody who bikes this every day it’s just been extremely dangerous," said Abby, who didn’t want to give her last name. "I think this will make a difference. The green is really visible."

Stuart Matthews, who has been organizing protests at the Arco station over the past few months and writes the Fix Fell Now! blog, was taking photos of the new green lane this afternoon, and monitoring driver behavior. He acknowledged the changes that have been implemented recently do seem to be making a difference, even though it’s not an ultimate solution.

"The problem is that they’re doing things piecemeal and it seems like they’re trying to appease the bicycle community rather than fix the problem because actually fixing the problem is going to cause more of a reengineering and less of slapping paint on the road because it’s not going to change traffic patterns," he said.

"I agree it’s gotten better over the past two weeks but it’s no where near where it needs to be."

IMG_1493.jpgDrivers are still blocking the sidewalk.

One thing that is clearly evident is the new signage telling drivers not to block the sidewalk is not working, and the environment has not improved for pedestrians. Drivers queued to get gas are still idling on the sidewalk, and often roll into the crosswalk on Divisadero while they’re waiting for the light.

Natalia Ackerson, who lives in the neighborhood and said she mostly walks to get around, said crossing Fell with a stroller and her 2-month-old son, Nico, can be scary.

"Before, when they didn’t have the signs, the cars were coming from every direction," she said, referring to the gas station. And about the green bike lanes? "I think it’s a good idea that they marked it green so the cars can now respect the bike lane. But I don’t know, we have to wait and see."

As Helquist pointed out on BIKE NOPA, the SFMTA does plan on studying what impact the green lane has on both car and bike traffic. Last week SFMTA interns were out counting how many drivers were violating the bike lane on both Scott and Fell streets. The before and after data they collect could bolster efforts to paint more green bike lanes across the city.

IMG_1480.jpgNatalia Ackerson, left, walks across Divis Tuesday afternoon as a driver squeezes pedestrians in the crosswalk.
  • I was really surprised at how much better it felt riding on it! I felt much more welcome. My first thought: why does it end?

    Also, what goes through drivers’ minds when they’re sitting in a crosswalk or sidewalk and watching (or trying to ignore) pedestrians walking around their car? I realize sometimes they can’t back up because there isn’t room behind them, but too often, even that isn’t the case.

  • Sean

    @Aaron

    One might argue that the driver shouldn’t have pulled forward in the first place if there was a clear lack of room such that they would be forced to block the sidewalk / crosswalk.

    As I was riding home past the Intercontinental on Howard today there were no fewer than four tour buses blocking the bike lane. I stopped to call DPT and in the process told the woman running the tour that it wasn’t safe.

    Quote of the day (from tour guide): “Well, I CAN’T block the street, so I have to block the bike lane.”

  • Nick

    It’s extremely important to keep in mind that the use of green paint is on a “3 month trial basis” according to the MTA’s own literature. I’m too tired to hunt down the link tonight… but the MTA is legally obligated to collect before and after data and submit it to the State Department of Transportation.

    If after 3 months, the data indicates the paint has had no effect on driver behavior or made safety conditions worse, then they must remove it.

    So if their last, best and final solution fails…. it’s “Cycletrack Now.”

  • @Nick: No- that is not the case. There is nothing compelling the city from removing the paint should it not meet the expectations, especially after an arbitrary limit as you reference.

    This project is also not a ‘last, best and final solution’ from the MTA or the SFBC- this is one location of the colored pavement experiment approved by the FHWA years ago, but on hold due to the injunction. Since the injunction was partially lifted allowing for trials and experiments in November, this was the first project location advocated for by the SFBC which received final approval in April 2010, and requires pre- and post-data; which will inform the SFMTA and FHWA/FTA for future use of colored pavement.

  • patrick

    This is the first improvement I’ve seen so far that I feel has the slightest chance of making any noticeable improvements to the Fell & Divis intersection.

    There’s still a lot of improvements needed, all the way from Scott up Stanyan, before things are really where they need to be, but I’m happy that some real change is finally is happening.

  • cr

    Hey San Francisco techies,

    How about a one-click smartphone app that takes a picture of a vehicle blocking designated bike or pedestrian space and then emails it automatically to the relevant agency?

  • JD

    cr: great idea. I can’t believe how many cars block the bike box on Scott at Oak St. I don’t know how much more friggin obvious a huge bright-green-painted box with a bike symbol can be, but so many cars just pull right up over it. I usually keep my mouth shut and just deal, but the other day I couldn’t take it and had to signal to the woman that she needed to back up and get out of the bike box (she seemed to have no clue what I was talked about and just ignored yeah … though I’m not surprised as a bicyclist I was ignored by a car driver).

    I think we need some serious, serious driver education that explains to them how to drive with bikes on the road, what rights those bicyclists have, and how to be more considerate of them.

  • @JD in Portland the “stop line” on bike boxes is labeled “CARS STOP HERE”. Seems to help. Plus they print large informational posters at new facilities like bike boxes that are zip tied to poles in the area. People perform better with education. Another idea worth trying.

    I’m a big fan of the “piecemeal” or “incremental” approach that the SFMTA has been doing recently. This traffic stuff is not an exact science and this sort of iterative feedback approach is really the best way to get to a good solution in my opinion.

  • “Drivers queued to get gas are still idling on the sidewalk, and often roll into the crosswalk on Divisadero while they’re waiting for the light.”

    Can they be ticketed for that? Is there a law against blocking the sidewalk? If not, there should be.

  • @Sean did you ask the tour guide – “Why not?”

  • Why don’t the cyclists just take the adjacent lane? I know it is somewhat hazardous on this fast road. But I think they have a legitimate reason to do so. Try to merge in the traffic lane as soon as you enter block. It should be obvious to everyone that the bike lane is blocked and the bicycle have to move around them. Too bad if this slows down the vehicle traffic. Blame the assholes who blocks the lane.

    This should be applicable to all incidents of double parking and lane blockage.

  • patrick

    @wai

    I’m usually not afraid to take the lane, but in this spot it’s almost impossible. Either cars are stopped at the light, with no room between them, or they are moving way too fast for a cyclist to get in front of them.

  • janel

    If you see cars blocking the bike lane or sidewalk please call the police non-emergency number: (415) 553-0123 and request they come out and resolve the issue. There is also the Parking Enforcement number (415) 553-1200. http://www.sf311.org/index.aspx?page=738

  • Nick

    @MarcSFBC: I stand corrected. I misread this statement concerning the paint removal:

    REMOVAL OF EXPERIMENTATION INSTALLATIONS

    The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will remove experimentation installations within three months of completion of the experiment if the FHWA or CTCDC reaches a decision that changes to the MUTCD or the California Supplement of the MUTCD are not warranted.

    http://www.sfmta.com/cms/bproj/documents/SF_Colored_Pavement_Experiment_Request_FINAL_9_08.pdf

    —————————————————-

    Read carefully, this means that if these experiments are found to be successful then the color green can be added to the list of acceptable traffic control devices.

    That’s a pretty good reason for all of us to support these changes to Fell Street (even if we think a cycletrack is a much better option).

  • patrick

    Unfortunately I don’t think this is going to make any difference at all. I just went by on my way home from work and saw 2 cars blocking not only the green bike lane but the leftmost driving lane, even though the area to the left of the bike lane was completely empty.

    As far as I can tell it’s a complete failure as an improvement.

  • @Wai Yip Tung:

    It shouldn’t be the cyclists’ responsibility to do such a maneuver, and if conditions are promote as much cycling as possible, most of the population is not willing to deal with that much danger regularly. And the reality is drivers often don’t see that cyclists adjacent to them will be forced to merge to avoid a vehicle in the bike lane, which is why I always stick my arm way out when doing such a maneuver. Cyclists are taking a safety risk to a much greater extent than any traffic is being slowed down, and that’s not right.

    If people are going to double park, they should do it in the regular traffic lane. There’s no reason a bike lane should be considered inferior enough that it should be blocked first to endanger those most vulnerable. What you said, “Too bad if this slows down the vehicle traffic. Blame the assholes who blocks the lane” can stand true without involving the bike lane.

  • @Nick: Yes, in typical MUTCD/FHWA/(other three letter acronym) fashion– it says, very convoluted, that *only* if the experiment is deemed to have a negative affect of safety, they must remove it. Which, I think we all agree is a good idea. And, I don’t think anyone (certainly not SFBC) believes that this experiment/installation precludes or negates a fully separated cycletrack in the future.

    For over a year, I’ve been advocating to move the parking over 1 travel lane and put a bike lane along the curb, protected from high speed traffic– but with the current state of the court injunction, City Attorneys believe they cannot remove car parking or a car travel lane for bike infrastructure.

    @Aaron: Not quite- the law is that a driver is supposed to turn (onto a street or a driveway) from the furthermost lane– and the furthermost lane into Arco when the parking was still there was the bike lane- those drivers were following the letter of the law. It’s why bike lanes are become dashed leading up to intersections- drivers are supposed to merge when turning and prevent a cyclist (or vehicle) from fitting between their car and the curb. (http://www.sfbike.org/?bikelane_right_turns) Now that the parking lane has been removed and converted into a turn lane, drivers can follow the law without blocking the bike lane- and hopefully the green will draw attention to the bike space, and make them realize they need to move all the way to the curb.

  • Katherine Roberts

    Patrick: I disagree. I think the green lane will make the drivers feel ever-so-slightly guilty while they’re blocking it. In my mind, this is a vast improvement over their blocking it with complete impunity.

  • Patrick

    Any thoughts or comments on how slippery the paint might become in the rainy season if you want to make a left turn off of it or if you need to brake sharply as a car cuts you off to get in the gas queue? I see plenty of fixies cruising that stetch which already have a tendency to skid when braking.

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