An Emerging New Bike Plan for San Francisco is a Bold Path Forward

Image: RG Architecture
The Brian O'Neill Memorial Peopleway is one of the highlights of Connecting the City. It would circle around Black Point and land you at the Fort Mason firehouse so you wouldn't have to pedal up a steep hill. Image: RG Architecture.

After four years of an agonizing bicycle injunction that prevented the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) from adding any significant improvements to the city’s bike network, a judge earlier this year finally freed the SFMTA to begin building out the city’s long-promised Bicycle Plan.

In short order, the SFMTA made some very noticeable improvements, adding protected bike lanes on Mid-Market Street, installing thousands of sharrows on bicycle routes, striping ten miles of new bike lanes in a year and placing hundreds of new racks around the city. However, the game changing transformation that will elevate San Francisco into the upper echelon of world-class bicycling cities has yet to happen.

Those of us on the streets every day know the city can’t settle for six-foot lanes that leave cyclists straddling the perils of speeding traffic on one side and car doors swinging open on the other. Why should the only truly dignified bicycling space be a handful of blocks on Market Street, the Duboce Bikeway and the Panhandle? To bring San Francisco up to date with Copenhagen and Amsterdam, or even Portland and New York, the city must embrace the infrastructure that makes those cities safe and inviting to people who ride bikes.

Given how long it took to get this far, you might reasonably wonder if San Francisco will ever get to a point where cycling is a safe mobility option and welcoming for people of all ages. Maybe, though, if you consider the strong advocacy community we have here, elected officials who really do want to change the streets and the projected population growth that will stir a greater demand for bike facilities, it won’t take as long as you think.

Perhaps all the city needs is a new bike plan.

In its most ambitious undertaking to date, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) has launched an initiative it calls “Connecting the City,” where bicyclists of any age and ability would be able to comfortably pedal across the city on a network of continuous bikeways from the Ferry Building to Ocean Beach, Park Merced to Downtown or Mission Bay to the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Connecting the City’s priority crosstown routes would take routes that are already being used and elevate it to 8 to 80 standards that feel comfortable and inviting for someone who is 8 years old or 80 years old,” said Renee Rivera, the SFBC’s acting executive director, borrowing a page from Gil Peñalosa.

Courtesy SFBC
Connecting the City's proposed three priority crosstown routes. Map: Jack Reinick for SFBC. (Click to enlarge).

The three crosstown routes in the plan are not a revolutionary idea. Bicycle advocates have been talking about similar concepts for years. This time, however, the SFBC, one of the city’s most influential advocacy organizations, is pouring its resources into Connecting the City and luring some of the Bay Area’s most talented transportation planners, designers and architects to fashion a plan that would be shovel-ready.

The 27 miles of crosstown bikeways are laid out over some of the city’s most important bicycle routes and would connect current gaps in the network. The SFBC is focusing first on getting those priority routes in place within 5 years, but it is also advocating for growing the current 55 miles of standard bike lanes to 128 miles of “next generation” bikeways in 10 years, a dramatic increase reflective of New York City’s recent expansion. The early estimate for what the whole plan would cost is about $100 million.

“Peanuts,” said Rivera, when you compare it to the cost of adding transit capacity.

Segments of each route might feature different treatments depending on the neighborhood, but the theme is comfortable and continuous, whether it’s a cycletrack with safe-hit posts, a green bike lane along the curb with buffered parking or a bike boulevard. As the SFBC’s Andy Thornley describes it, each route must produce the “aaah” effect, the sensation you get when you’re liberated from the anxiety of threatening auto traffic.

“Our design vehicle is the 60-year-old woman with two bags of groceries. How does that user look when you set her down on these various points?” Thornley explained during a recent presentation to Streetsblog. Connecting the City, he pointed out, is as much about calming bicycle traffic as it is about calming auto traffic and making the streets more pleasant for transit riders and pedestrians.

“What [San Franciscans] want is a neighborhood where they don’t have to live in the back of the house and can live up front, where you can take the dog for a walk and not worry about running across the street,” he said.

“This is not just bicyclists advocating for more street space. This is many groups coming together to advocate for a city that’s going to work better for everybody,” said Rivera.

The current bike lane on Fell Street would be transformed into a curbside cycletrack. Image: RG Architecture for SFBC.
The current bike lane on Fell Street would be transformed into a curbside cycletrack. Image: RG Architecture for SFBC.

“Bay to the Beach,” “Bay Trail,” and “North-South Backbone”

The Connecting the City “Bay to the Beach” crosstown route would provide a comfortable, continuous bikeway from the Great Highway to the Ferry Building, with protected lanes spanning the entire 8-mile route on JFK Drive, Fell and Oak streets and the Duboce Bikeway and Market Street. Parts of the Wiggle may not need separated bikeways, but streets would be traffic calmed. The route would feature a smooth ride for the entire length of Market Street, which is scheduled to be repaved in 2015, and continue through Harry Bridges Plaza to the Ferry Building.

Cars would have limited access to Market Street, transit would run in the two middle lanes and cyclists would pedal along a wide dedicated bikeway with high-visibility European-style treatments at intersections. A multi-modal trip from the Richmond District on the Bay to Beach route might include dropping your bike off at a new bike station near Market and 8th, a former boarded up storefront, and taking BART to work in Oakland.

The 11-mile Bay Trail route would begin in Indian Basin and end at the Golden Gate Bridge. You could start in Hunter’s Point and continue on to Hudson Street, the Indian Basin Pathway, Heron’s Head Point, Cargo Way, Illinois Street and Terry Francois Boulevard. Crossing the Lefty O’Doul Bridge would be a lot easier thanks to a two-way path that would become a two-way protected bikeway along the Embarcadero. If grandma and grandpa were visiting, you could check out a few bikes from a bike share pod along this route and ride peacefully to a pedestrianized Jefferson Street in Fisherman’s Wharf, where you could drop off the bikes near the Hyde Street Pier.

The 8-mile North-South Backbone ride would take you from Park Merced and San Francisco State University all the way to Aquatic Park. The continuous bikeway would run along Holloway Street, Lee Avenue, San Francisco City College, Ocean Street, Balboa Park, Tingley Street, the Still Street pathway, Phelan, Judson, Gennesee, Monterey/Hearst, Arlington, San Jose, 29th Street and Tiffany. When you get to Valencia Street you wouldn’t have to worry about double parked vehicles and delivery trucks blocking the bike lane: a protected cycletrack would be installed in the center of the street.

A two-way dedicated bikeway would run through the center of Valencia Street. Image: RG Architecture.
A two-way cycletrack would run through the center of Valencia Street. Image: RG Architecture.

You could then pedal onward to Market Street and Polk Street, where a counter-flow bike lane would take you north on Polk. Curbside bikeways protected by buffered parking would run on both sides of Polk. When you reach Aquatic Park, and want to head toward the Golden Gate Bridge, you’d no longer have to huff and puff your way up the MacDowell Road hill before Fort Mason or to the bridge itself.

One of the signature elements of Connecting the City would be a causeway that would circle around Black Point (see the first image in this story). The Brian O’Neill Memorial Peopleway, named for the late superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, would set off at Pier 4 and stretch over the water to the old Fort Mason firehouse, akin to Portland’s Eastbank Esplanade. The SFBC’s Rivera said funding for the bridge could be folded into the waterfront improvements that may come if San Francisco wins its bid for the next America’s Cup.

Moving along the route would take you past the Marina, Crissy Field and Fort Point, but what happens when you or your mom needs to climb yet another hill to get to the Golden Gate Bridge?  Borrowing an idea from Norway, the SFBC is proposing a bike lift that would take you from the Fort Point parking lot up to the visitor center.

“This is basically using cable car technology but on a smaller scale,” said Rivera. “You put your foot on a foot pad and then it goes about three miles an hour and carries you right up the hill.”

The three priority routes and all of the city’s bikeways would include simple wayfinding signs so any tourist or bicyclist unfamiliar with the city wouldn’t need a map to get around.

A network of 128 miles of bikeways in the city. Image: SFBC
A draft network of 128 miles of bikeways in the city. Image: SFBC. (Click to enlarge).

From Conceptual Design to Implementation

The SFBC has a “plausible conceptual design” for the routes, but Rivera stressed that realizing the vision would take outreach and much more feedback from the public. The organization plans to present more information in 2011, but for now is working behind the scenes to vet Connecting the City with key agencies like the SFMTA, the San Francisco Planning Department, the Department of Public Works, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) and elected officials.

“We’re gathering the input and the conceptual framework and then we’re going to be out there meeting with neighborhood groups, with merchant groups and getting that level of input,” said Rivera. “I want to emphasize it’s not a baked cake. It really is going to be a constant process of refining to make sure that it really does work for everybody.”

Wanting to avoid the mistakes of the past, the SFBC is also thinking ahead about the CEQA process, so that projects don’t get stuck in environmental review or sidelined in court. Rivera said some bikeways could be done on a reversible trial basis, carrying a much lower environmental review threshold that would also speed the process “because it actually allows you to gather some real data.” Another question yet to be decided is whether the majority of projects could also fall within the scope of the current EIR since they are on the existing network.

“I think we’re mindful that it isn’t just about showing the vision and building the appetite. We really do have to fix the process and that notion that CEQA review is a big challenge,” added Thornley. “There’s no point in doing something that is going to set us back.”

Rivera also hopes an update of federal bike facility standards in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) will help put Connecting the City and all innovative bike projects on a faster track.

For now, the SFBC is setting a near-term timeline for what’s most realistic. For the rest of this year, it will conduct further outreach and identify funding. In 2011, the coalition wants to see trials of innovative bikeways on the ground and “3 miles of continuous 8 to 80 bikeway.” By the end of 2012, it wants the city to complete its first crosstown route and reach a mode share target of 10 percent of all trips being made by bicycle.

Though currently 6 percent of trips are by bicycle, Connecting the City would help propel San Francisco toward achieving the SFMTA’s 2030 mode split goal of 20 percent of trips by bike.

Supervisor David Chiu, who recently returned from an inspirational trip to Amsterdam, thinks we can do better than the SFMTA’s goal. Today, before the SFCTA Plans and Programs committee, he announced the introduction of a resolution[pdf] before the Board of Supervisors that would set a goal of 20 percent of bicycle trips in San Francisco by 2020. Connecting the City, he said, will help get us there.

“If we want to grow as a city, if we want to ever get denser, if we want to protect our environment and make sure that our residents are healthy and make us a more livable city with a higher quality of life, I think this is a goal that we need to adopt,” he said.

  • Mick

    Aaron

    OK, so what is “as simple as that” is that you only see one side of the story, you crave total victory because you think you are right, and that Jason’s lament that this “war” should end is misguided is, well, unfounded and unreasonable?

    Your denial that there even are “two parties at odds” shows an astounding insensitivity to any opinion other than your own.

    So should I conclude that there is nothing of value or substance to your posts other than the fact that you think you are right? As if there is anyone on this planet for whom that is not true?

    Why the hate?

  • “I’d just like to add one thing: is there any hope for putting an end to the ‘car-driver vs. biker thing’ in the comments? When did these things become mutually exclusive?” – Jason

    “Your denial that there even are ‘two parties at odds’ shows an astounding insensitivity to any opinion other than your own.” – You

    I’m done. This is too ridiculous.

  • Mick

    Aaron

    YOU were the one denying that there were even two sides to this debate.

    While I was the one arguing that there are genuinely two valid constituencies at odds here, as Jason observes, and I was suggesting that those two parties work together with a willingness to compromise.

    Somehow, that idea offends you. Why?

  • Mick

    SteveS

    I agree that bike and bus transit will always make sense for some in SF. And even in some more typical US cities like LA, Houston and Phoenix.

    However, SF is a city that still works well for cars. I can get to most places in NW SF in 10/15 minutes, while bike and muni would take an hour or more, and involve risk.

    So my argument is for retaining the car-friendliness of SF wile supporting other modes of transit. Can we all just get along?

  • Al

    Your idea of ‘compromise’ seems to be “I’ll give up nothing, and you can take what’s left”. ~1% of the streets are currently devoted to bikes. The idea that there can be some sort of compromise which benefits drivers as well as cyclists is ridiculous– even if cycling facilities were wiped off the map, even if 100% of streets were devoted only to maximum auto throughput, you would see only a marginal improvement in traffic (which would quickly be wiped out by the additional drivers who lose their alternate means of transportation). So, yes, I would propose that the 99% be reduced to 95%. Yes, this would reduce, ever so slightly, the facilities available for cars. But it would DRAMATICALLY improve the situation for bicycling, to the point that many people who now drive would be able to get around town in safety and comfort on any old bike, which would improve the situation even for you.

    *Estimates used: 45 miles of bike lanes (SFBC website) and 4000 auto lane-miles (my own estimate: 140 cross-town streets (or equivalent) at 7 miles and 4 lanes each, including parking).

  • Mick is as relevant as the Phillies and the Yankees. Do not feed the troll.

  • Troll indeed. A troll who goes by many names, by the way.

    Ahem:

    Mick
    Walker
    Doctor No?
    Souper
    Moley
    TF
    JohnB

    He’s even done it within the same discussion.

  • patrick

    Mick, you don’t get to call taking away one of the most important routes in SF and giving nothing in return a compromise. It’s already been stated that Page is not acceptable, get over it. If you want to talk compromise then you need to offer something of benefit, so far you’ve only tried to take away. Educate yourself about the issues cyclists deal with, and then maybe you can come up with something useful.

  • To Aaron

    Al,

    “Your idea of ‘compromise’ seems to be “I’ll give up nothing, and you can take what’s left”. ~1% of the streets are currently devoted to bikes.”

    I already suggested putting bike lanes on many streets, even most of them.

    And in return I was asking that a dozen or so major thruways be designated bike-free both to speed up vehicular traffic and to make things safer for cyclists.

    If nobody else here is interested in any type of compromise, then fine, but at least be honest enough to say that.

    Patrick

    Same point really. Many cyclists here have said that Fell is terrible and that they use Hayes or Page anyway. While the thing with a compromise is that you have to give up something too. So what is it that you are offering?

    Aaron

    “Troll indeed. A troll who goes by many names, by the way. He’s even done it within the same discussion.”

    By making up ridiculous and personal accusations, you make it clear to everyone that you have no refutation to my appeal for tolerance, co-operation and common sense, nor any interest in Jason’s clear appeal for reasonableness

    I will debate with those with serious points to make but will leave you to discuss it with your list of imaginary friends.

    Mick

  • Mick,

    Not that I wanted to jump back in this, but many “serious points” have been made that you clearly either do not grasp or do not care to grasp let alone address.

    Also, your IP address is linked to those names, he isn’t making anything up.

    Furthermore, I really don’t know who you think “everyone” is. “Everyone” can clearly read through the comments and see that you have continually made circle logic your main defense for any point (and I use that term loosely) that you think you have made.

    You are in no way calling for compromise. That has been made clear time and again no matter which way you flip words to appease yourself.

    Finally, I strongly suggest that no one continues to engage you in any way.

  • patrick

    Mick “While the thing with a compromise is that you have to give up something too”

    Another thing with compromise is you have to gain.

    Since Page is already perfectly usable for those that want to, there is no gain. Many have also pointed out that Page is unacceptable as a replacement for Fell. Some people use Page, the vast majority don’t, there is a reason for that.

    How about this compromise: since your reasoning about Fell is that some people complain that Fell is dangerous, cyclists give up Fell as a bike route, but drivers give a road that people complain about being dangerous, I suggest Fell.

  • Ditto what Mikesonn said.

    There will always be an obvious refutation to what you say. But then you ignore points or come up with ridiculous responses to them, and it is clear it will never end.

    Btw – weird, I thought they were your imaginary friends, having posted using your IP and all and speaking with a distinctively identical style.

  • Might I point out, folks, “Mick” made his last comment under a new IP & e-mail, and wrote his name as “To Aaron” instead.

    JohnB/Moley/Mick/whatever you call yourself: by doing anything fishy with your IP & name, you’ve only helped to confirm your use of many identities.

    The situation seems that because reasonable people get fed up with your circular arguing, you must make up new names in order to get them to even respond to you or take you seriously.

    Please stop this and stop wasting our time. I don’t know what you’re trying to gain. You officially have no credibility here, and you’ve acknowledged that well.

  • Al

    I dislike the ‘shoot the messenger’ approach. It’s not very productive, anyway. Granted, it may not be possible to convince Mick, but there are plenty of other people who will need to be convinced for progress to happen, and I consider this a form of practice if nothing else.

    That said:

    “I already suggested putting bike lanes on many streets, even most of them.”

    You have suggested putting bike lanes on streets which don’t need them, in exchange for not putting bike lanes on streets which do. As a compromise, this is nutty.

    It is, however, a classic move of politicking. When people start agitating for better and safer facilities for bikes, announce that you have reached a ‘compromise’ by installing some that are impractical and just don’t make sense (but are out of the way). Then, when the people who persevere continue to use the routes that do make sense, accuse them of being uncooperative lawbreakers who are responsible for the very unsafe conditions that they complained about! Finally, point to your “marvelous” new bike routes’ scant use as evidence of the failure of bike planning, and kill the project.

    Fortunately, I think we have enough people who understand the problem well enough to avoid this trap, and I look forward to seeing some results!

  • Consensus Builder

    Thnnk you Al, for at least recognizing that dismissing those (or insulting those, or trying to censor those) who see the problems with a totally one-sided approach isn’t going to build the necessary consensus for moving forward.

    And I agree that the dispute centers on a realtively small number of key routes where demand exceeds supply. I am in fact open to a wide range of solutions, as long as the process imposes ompromise on all parties. The actual ideas employed may vary and I certainly wasn’t suggesting that mine were the only possibilities.

    Aaron/Mike

    That’s very impressive that you can read all our IP addresses, given that they are not published alongside our posts.

    As Al said, trying to discredit the messenger isn’t sending out a real positive message to the community.

    Mick

  • Al, I don’t believe it was a “shoot the messenger” approach. It just became a game of chase the tail. And while I agree it is good practice to discuss issues here so we can better discuss them out in the real world, it is also a huge waste of time to talk to someone like Mick.

    And well over half of this thread has been used to discuss whether or not Mick is truly for consensus or if the rest of us are just heartless and want to slam through our narrow agenda. When, in the end, how we each individually feel about the process has nothing to do with what is in this plan, if it will benefit the city and those that live here, or the chances of its implementation.

    I completely agree with you on the your points about the usual form of bike lane politicking (could be applied to transit as well).

  • Al –

    Going along with Mike’s analogy, after a certain point of chasing the tail so long, you have to stop and look at the tail.

    And “Mick” – yes, I can see IP addresses & e-mails.

  • Muck

    Mike

    We can certainly agree to disagree, although as the one seeking change and needing to convince others of this plan, I still feel the onus is more on you.

    But FWIW, I prefer the idea of one negotiated plan and then we’re done, rather than incrementally bleeding drivers to death.

    Aaron

    The StreesBlog Privacy Policy specifically bans sharing emails, which is why only the handle is displayed with posts. I assume that goes for IP’s too.

    You could prove me wrong by citing the addresses for me and your list of imaginary friends.

    But then of course everyone would see that I am not them.

    Tough dilemma, “Aaron”.

    Mick

  • Eric

    I’ve lived in SF for close on 25+ years, I work at home, on the top of a hill, and travel all over the city and the Bay Area to work. While I am sympathetic to the idea of bicycle travel, it is important to remember that there is a significant differnce between San Francisco and the comparison cities mentioned in this article. Unlike Amsterdam, New York, Copehagen, and to a lesser extent, Portland, our city is not flat. Our topographic realities mean that bicycle travel will always be limited for many, many people. This geographic reality, coupled with the miserable transit options most of us face, means that bicycles are not a feasible alternative for reliable, quick transportation. On a typical day, I visit job sites and venodrs all over the city. Muni is just not an option – I can’t afford to spend 20% of my day waiting for a bus, and I can’t arrive at a job site covered in sweat after trying to peddle to the top of Potrero Hill or Twin Peaks. If someone can show me an INTEGRATED transit plan that accomodates 1) non-commute hour transit alternatives that connect SF neighborhoods with quick, reliable transit, 2) a way to get from the tops of the hills where a significant portion of San Franciscans live to the bike lanes on the flats, and 3) a way to move around the Bay Area without a car and to destinations more that 1/4 of a mile from a BART station without a car, I’m all in. In the mean time, a 100 million dollar recreational bike bridge around Ft. Point is obscene. That money should be used to help make up some of the gaps in muni funding so I can at least have a snowballs chance for reliable bus service.

  • Eric,

    You are so lucky, your problems are solved. Check out:

    http://www.nycewheels.com/electric-folding-bike.html

    On my electric bike I can

    1) get to any neighborhood in San Francisco.

    2) get to the top of any hill in San Francisco.

    3) easily go within five miles of any Caltrain stop or Bart Station.

    Electric bicycles are fun, easy to use and won’t require you to sweat. For trips in the city under 3 miles, an electric bike is quicker than taking the car. For trips over 3 miles in the city, it probably takes 3 minutes longer than by car per mile traveled. You will save money in gas, insurance, traffic tickets, and parking tickets. And you will get more exercise and be healthier. (It’s proven that the more time you spend in a car the fatter you are.)

    I have a car that I use for carpooling children. But when it’s just me that I need to transport, I take my electric or regular bike to any destination in the city.

    I agree we need to improve Muni so that it is safe, reliable, frequent and pleasant to use. But making bicycling a safe, viable, pleasant alternative is also critical. Even if we are blase about floods, famine, and starvation (as long as they don’t happen to us), even if the extinction of half of all species on the planet is just another boring headline no one pays attention to because some polar bear can’t possibly be as an important as an SUV,Peak Oil means we are soon going to need every non-fossil fuel method of transport we can come up with just to have any kind of economy at all.

    By the way, tourists love to bicycle in San Francisco. Given how important tourism is to our economy, I figure the Fort Point bike bridge (aka “Tourist Attraction”) is a good investment.

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