Eyes on the Street: SFMTA Crews Remove Sharrows on Sutter/Post Streets

Here lies a spot on Sutter Street where a sharrow once existed. Photo: Bryan Goebel

SFMTA crews have removed the sharrows in the center lanes on long stretches of Sutter and Post Streets, eliminating a confusing design that didn’t seem to be at all popular with bicyclists. The problem now is there are no amenities for bicyclists on those portions of Bicycle Route 16.

We first wrote about the issue last July, and the Bay Citizen/New York Times picked up the story in January. Many bicyclists we spoke to felt the center lane was too dangerous, especially considering both streets are one-way arterials. Their design encourages drivers to speed above the posted 25 mph limit.

“I think it’s just asinine,” one bike rider told us. “You’re trusting the car coming behind you not to hit you.”

A better alternative might be to allow bicycles in the bus lanes. As we pointed out last summer, “the Bike Plan does call for the SFMTA to experiment with bikes in transit lanes. Other cities around the U.S., and the world, have lanes that accommodate both buses and bikes, such as Paris, Madison, Wi., Vancouver, B.C., Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.”

When we last contacted the SFMTA bike program about the issue, staffers claimed allowing bikes in the bus lanes would require a change in state law, but doesn’t that same law also apply to taxis, which the city allows in transit lanes?

We’ve emailed the SFMTA and are hoping to get some clarification. In the meantime, what do you think the SFMTA should do for bicyclists on Sutter and Post Streets?

  • Evan

    Yeah…I’d love to know how I should bike home now. I always just used the bike lane. Biking in the middle lane is nuts.

  • Caleb

    The solution to the problem on Sutter and Post starts with the bus lane. It is precisely because the bus lane is routinely abused that these streets are so perilous for biking. A possible solution:

    1. Prohibit right turns off of these streets. This way, there is no legal reason for private autos to be in the bus lane.

    2. Paint the bus lane a different color (I always imagined a reddish-orange). Reinforce the message that this is a reserved lane.

    3. Put a regular bike lane (not sharrows) immediately to the left of the bus lane. There is room for a standard-width bike lane while keeping 2 auto traffic lanes. Since there are no right turns allowed, no cars will be turning across the bike lane. This could one day be further reinforced with concrete barriers or soft-hit posts.

    Faster bus service: check. Safer bike facilities: check. Fewer pedestrians at risk from high-speed right turns: check.

  • Mike

    If they’re only going to do sharrows, and won’t do them in the bus lane, then the absolute no-brainer is to paint them on the left side. The now-erased placement was completely moronic. Why didn’t they put them on the left side to begin with?!

  • Alai

    Yes, the left side seems to be the obvious place. It’s a one-way street, so the sides are otherwise equivalent, and the middle lane is the natural “fast lane”.

  • Aaron Bialick

    Caleb –

    Even if you prohibited right turns, cars would still be using the bus lane to park in the right-side parking lane. Also, I say if you’re going to replace a car-accessible travel lane with a bike lane, you’d might as well move it to the curb and make it parking-protected – that 9 or 10 feet should provide enough room for a door buffer. But ideally, why not remove the right-side parking lane too, create a two-way bike lane adjacent to the bus lane (separated by planters and bus islands), leaving one car-accessible travel lane and a parking lane? The fact that two-way access for bikes was eliminated on many streets to serve the spacial needs of automobiles is absurd in my mind, and it should be restored on all of them.

  • Caleb

    Aaron-

    For much of the length these streets, there is no right side parking lane, or the one that is there has a very limited number of spaces, particularly the further east you go. I’m not suggesting replacing a car-accessible lane with a bike lane, I’m suggesting using physical and other cues in addition to right turn prohibitions to enforce the bus-only lane. Once private autos are forced out of the bus lane (which they should not be using in the first place), the space immediately to the left of that bus lane becomes just as safe as the space immediately to the left of the curb. In fact, you could even put a curb-like barrier there. Like this:

    Auto lane, Auto Lane, Bike Lane, (barrier), Busway.

    or, if you like:

    Auto Lane, Auto Lane, (barrier), Bike Lane, Busway.

  • Sprague

    Aaron:

    Thanks for pointing out the bicycle unfriendly nature of one-way streets. I was positively impressed in Vienna, Austria when even very narrow one-way streets were made two-way for bicyclists (and not for cars). Having bikes travelling in the opposite direction of automobiles forced drivers to slow to speeds that were safer for narrow streets. Of course, these wider U.S. central city streets are a bit different, but there are many instances where contraflow bike lanes would make sense.

  • Those sharrows were very confusing. I would occasionally ride in them on my way to a doctor’s appointment, but never felt safe and often just moved to the rightmost lane, moving out of the way if a bus were coming up behind me.

    It’s markings like that which add to the ‘taking away my automobile infrastructure’ complaint, but don’t do anything for safety or traffic flow.

    In this case, a protected bike lane at curbside, then parking, then traffic lanes would make most sense, IMHO.

  • ^^ …a protected bike lane at the LEFT curbside… was my intended statement.

  • tNOB

    I used to ride both Post and Sutter to my old apartment in Russian Hill before the sharrows were there. I always rode in the transit lane, and I found the contact with buses to be rare in the time it takes to travel from Kearny to Polk. Taxis were the most frequent interactions, most were fine, they would pass you (although sometimes closely) without much trouble. The cars were the worst, although not as frequent as taxis, they were by far the most hostile. The obvious point being they are rarely in that lane to make a right hand turn. They often travel several blocks at a high rate of speed. I wasn’t going to throw it out there, but I will anyway… more often than not, Range/Land Rover or BMW,and oddly the occasional junker.

  • There’s another of these, not as bad, on 5th going north between horward and mission.

  • Dan

    I think this discussion brings up interesting issues about official Sharrow use. These markings on the street are FAR more effective notice to bikers and drivers than any signage on the side of the road. Currently the Cal Trans standard on when to use sharrows is far too narrow: only next to parallel street parking. (Obviously SF, rightfully, uses sharrows as a broader tool, however any project that doesn’t follow Cal Trans rules can not get California grant money.) I’ve worked on the SSF bike plan and TDA granted projects and found this standard overly restrictive.

    I think it is important to include other uses in the Cal Trans standards including their use in right lanes without parallel street parking and, to bring it back to this discussion, in Transit Only lanes.

    (Frankly, I think the marking standard for transit only lanes should be much more significant than the current diamond. Honestly, if you want to get busy drivers attention and concern, hatch out the lane with white striping as if it was not a traffic lane at all. Driver’s natural understanding will shift to understanding that it is not a lane of traffic for them, and muni drivers will be trained to take the hatched out lane.)

  • Nick

    You know there’s not much discussion of the “amount” of sharrows that catch drivers attention. Some bike routes in the city get 4 sharrows per block while others get 10. They should standardize it.

    For cyclists, the expectation of safety shouldn’t vary from block to block.

  • I believe that not all conveyances should share every street all the time. Streets like Pine and Bush are no places for bicycles and should be car-preferred. However, streets like Polk, 24th St, and 18th St should be bike/walk-preferred and should have parking spaces selectively removed (like between Bryant and Potrero on 16th St.) to make ample space for pedestrian/bike/bus lanes. Let’s decide how each street should be utilized, and show a preference for those types on those streets. Copenhagen has been doing it for years. I also believe that pedestrian plazas, crosswalks, and walking paths should be clearly marked with ‘DISMOUNT ZONE’ for bicycles.

  • animal_rider

    I never used those shallows. In fact, I didn’t even know about them. I always have and always will use the bus lane on those streets. Hell with the shallows. ‘good they’re gone anyway. There’s rarely a Muni bus in the bus lane, but lotsa folks waiting at the stops. That’s how Muni operates. Bring all the buses en masse, then nothing for an hour or two.

  • Simple: just get rid of one of the _four_ lanes dedicated to non-transit motor vehicles (two travel, two parking). Give that space to cyclists.

    Problem fixed.

  • Aaron Bialick

    tofutart –

    Why would we ever intentionally design any of our streets as places not for bicycles? What if you live on those streets – you must walk your bike? Copenhagen certainly doesn’t do this. While it’s true that they do a better job of designating some streets as motor thru-ways (as opposed to American cities, where pretty much all streets are designed to prioritize motor vehicle speed and access), they are still sure to accommodate safe cycling. All streets in that city, as far as I’m aware, have a raised bikeway, a painted bike lane, or are calm enough for cars and bikes to travel together (i.e. where sharrows would be appropriate, though I don’t think they use them).

  • cafebmw

    muni busses are pretty slow anyway, so the bus lane shoud be shared with bicycles.
    in europe you just don’t have bike lanes on the left because the left lanes are being used for passsing (passing on the right is unlawful, remember?!), meaning the left lane traffic is faster than the right lane traffic. slowest traffic on the right, faster traffic on the left.
    i know coz i used to be bike messenger over there…

  • Otto

    CafeBMW,

    It is legal to pass on the right, at least in California, as long as there are two or more lanes of traffic in that direction. This partly contradicts the rule that “slower traffic should keep righ” but, in practice, there is no lane discipline in CA.

    While in Europe, so-called “passing on the inside” is strictly illegal and enforced.

    So there is no particular reason to place a bike lane on the right as opposed to on the left here, except insofar as where there is a bus lane, which clearly has to be on the right, and then of course the bike lane should be there too.

  • Paul S

    Keep the bike lane in the center. Paint it green, install posts on either side as on Market Street.

    Sounds unrealistic? Come on, this is social change! If the city is serious about encouraging more and more people to travel by bicycle, the city will have to stick its neck out. If the infrastructure does not adequately support the political will with protected, efficient transit routes for bikes, the project will fail.

    ALSO: SF urban planners should attend the VeloCities conference in Seville.

  • cafebmw

    otto, you are wrong. look up the ca vehicle code. passing on the right is not lawful. the code is just not enforced.

  • @cafebmw I’ve been through this many times. Otto is correct.

  • SF Resident

    It’s hard to believe that MTA’s traffic engineers are all that incompetent. Even drivers were complaining about how dangerous that idiotic design was for bicyclists. What a waste of money!

  • Sprague

    For what it’s worth, passing on the right is prohibited on freeways (ie. Autobahn) in Austria but it is legal on city streets. If there’s stop-and-go traffic, passing on the right is allowed on freeways, too.

  • Otto

    CafeBMW,

    I was referring to section 21754 of the CA Vehicle Code. What section of the CA Vehicle Code were you referring to?

    V C Section 21754 Passing on the Right

    Passing on the Right

    21754. The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass to the right of another vehicle only under the following conditions:
    (a) When the vehicle overtaken is making or about to make a left turn.

    (b) Upon a highway within a business or residence district with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving vehicles in the direction of travel.

    (c) Upon any highway outside of a business or residence district with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width and clearly marked for two or more lines of moving traffic in the direction of travel.

    (d) Upon a one-way street.

    (e) Upon a highway divided into two roadways where traffic is restricted to one direction upon each of such roadways.

    The provisions of this section shall not relieve the driver of a slow moving vehicle from the duty to drive as closely as practicable to the right hand edge of the roadway.

    Amended Sec. 39, Ch. 491, Stats. 2010. Effective January 1, 2011.

  • Note that CVC 21754 (b) and (c) say “two or more *lines* of traffic”, not *lanes*. A subtle difference, but relevant when each line of traffic does not have its own striped lane, as is the case when bicycles advance alongside a slow or stopped line of cars.

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