SFMTA, Newsom Support Study of Protected Oak and Fell Bike lanes

The SFBC's rendering of what a protected bike lane on Fell Street could look like.

The SFBC's rendering of what a protected bike lane on Fell Street could look like.

During routine business at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board meeting Tuesday, Director Cheryl Brinkman recounted how enjoyable it was to ride her bicycle on the new physically separated bike lane on Division Street between 9th and 11th Streets. Brinkman said she hoped the SFMTA would consider how it could improve the connection for cyclists between the Wiggle and the Panhandle, including the possibility of adding physical separation to the bike lanes on Fell and Oak Streets between Scott and Baker Streets.

“I think it’s such an important connection and I’ve been riding that stretch more and more recently,” Brinkman told Streetsblog. “I don’t know if it’s the quality of the traffic changing, or if I’m getting older, but riding with the moving traffic so close to my handlebars is very unpleasant. I choose not to ride that section anymore.”

Brinkman added that she had heard from several people living in the Sunset and the Richmond districts that they would ride downtown to work if it weren’t for those three blocks along Oak and Fell. “It seems such a shame to have that great corridor but to have those three blocks that way,” said Brinkman. “It shouldn’t be designed so that only the brave cyclists use it. No one should be dissuaded because they are frightened.”

As it turns out, Mayor Gavin Newsom is open to a study to improve that section of the bicycle network. According to Johanna Partin, a policy adviser to the Mayor, he would be “supportive of anything that would increase bike safety in the city.” Partin said Brinkman’s comments were a catalyst for addressing those blocks of Oak and Fell. She said Newsom was going to encourage the SFMTA to look into the possibility of improving the bicycle facilities and was going to ask them to work with the neighborhood to address concerns that might arise about parking, for instance.

“He’s supportive of beginning the process with the neighbors. Because it’s such a heavily trafficked area, there’s going to need to be some significant community outreach and traffic studies,” said Partin. “He’d be very supportive of that, but he wants to make sure the study was thorough.”

Over the past year and a half the SFMTA has tinkered with various treatments to try to improve the conflict between cyclists and cars trying to enter the Arco gas station on Fell Street at Divisadero, including the recent green lane. A group of neighbors and advocates as part of Fix Fell Now! also held weekly protests at the Arco station.

This is the first time anyone with the power to change the street has spoken seriously about traffic studies and physical separation and the news caught even the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition by surprise. The SFBC recently announced its vision for a network of physically separated bike lanes, “Connecting the City,” which included a bi-directional, physically separated cycle track on Fell Street, but they had not heard from the Mayor or the SFMTA about a study.

“We would love to see a continuous separated bike way along the curb from Scott Street to the park,” said Renee Rivera, acting executive director of the SFBC. Rivera said Connecting the City had called for removing a travel lane and moving the parking off the curb so cyclists could ride without worrying about moving traffic or doors swinging open. According to Rivera, the SFBC would support the removal of parking rather than the travel lane because parking would not trigger environmental review under CEQA.

“The key thing is a buffered bike lane,” said Rivera.

Though Newsom’s term is ending in a few weeks and a traffic study and community outreach would take considerably longer, Brinkman said she was committed to following through with the SFMTA staff to test the feasibility of the protected lanes.