17th Street Flourishes With Bicycle Traffic as SFMTA Extends Bike Lanes

17th Street west, between Valencia and Treat. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Seventeenth Street seems like it is quickly on its way to becoming one of the city’s busiest bicycle routes, and with SFMTA crews extending the bike lanes east of Valencia this week, it’ll be even more cycle-friendly.

New lanes were partially striped from Valencia to Treat Streets yesterday, and the section from Potrero to Kansas is planned this week as well, the SFMTA Bicycle Program said on its Facebook page. The overall project includes bike lanes along the entire stretch of 17th Street from Corbett to Kansas as part of the Bike Plan.

The remaining section from Treat to Potrero “will come at a later date, assuming approval of a number of parking changes to make room for bike lanes in this narrow stretch,” the SFMTA said.

The project [pdf] calls for replacing 199 parking spaces between Valencia and Kansas Streets with safer curbside bike lanes. However, the configuration that’s being put on the ground from Valencia to Treat Street was a compromise from the original plan to retain on-street parking on that section, said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose. Those lanes were striped between parked and moving motor traffic instead, but between Potrero and Kansas Streets, a parking lane was replaced with a bike lane as planned.

Nonetheless, at least a dozen riders per minute could be seen around 7:00 pm yesterday on 17th Street heading westbound at Folsom. It’s a noticeable increase since last month when the first section of bike lanes were striped from Church to Valencia. Considering the importance of this vital east-west connection between the Mission and the Castro, the jump isn’t a huge surprise.

The SFMTA’s latest bicycle counts in 2010 [pdf] show 771 bikes passing though 17th Street at Valencia between 5:00 – 6:30 pm, a 27 percent increase over the previous year. Since 2006, traffic has jumped 75 percent, all without any added infrastructure.

Bike lane additions have consistently caused a jump in bike traffic as high as 300 percent.

17th Street, east between Valencia and Treat. Photo: Aaron Bialick
The same section of street as laid out in the plan. Instead of replacing the parking lane with a bike lane, the SFMTA squeezed it into the door zone. Image: SFMTA

  • mikesonn

    For the proposed Valencia to Treat, is there a reason the 6′ isn’t on the side with parked cars? Does that off-center the road too much? I’d rather see the extra space on the side with the possibility of dooring. I’m sure there is a reason I’m missing.

  • taomom

    I noticed yesterday that this additional stretch of lanes had been put in. This is indeed highly better than nothing, and I am glad to see large numbers of adults use them. But will I let my 13 year old daughter ride alone on these bikes lanes on her way to dance class? Not a chance, although I would seriously consider it if indeed they were physically-protected curbside bike lanes instead.

    These new bike lanes (again, better than nothing) do not pass the 13-year-old-ride-alone safety test because:

    1.) Cars and trucks double-park in them prodigiously, forcing bikes to merge with traffic as often as two or three times a block. Let’s not call them bike lanes–they really are double-park in me lanes. Physically-separated bike lanes are safer because they cannot become an unofficial parking lot.

    2.) Cars weave in and out of them when parking, sometimes quite abruptly. Physically-protected curbside bike lanes are safer because bicyclists don’t have to compete with cars in the process of parking or leaving a parking spot.

    3.) Every car has a driver who, roughly 50% of the time, flings their car door open without looking. Danger, Will Robinson. A curbside lane may also have dooring issues from oblivious passengers, but since so many fewer cars have passengers, the danger is considerably reduced, and could be reduced even further by soft hit posts between the parked cars and the bike lane.

    Inadequate infrastructure is better than no infrastructure, but it is still inadequate.

  • Nick

    MTA should really try to standardize 6 foot wide bike lanes for new installations. 5 feet lanes on busy streets isn’t enough.

  • mikesonn

    Now I’m confused, are the pictures showing two parking lanes, two bike lanes, and two driving lanes on 17th between Valencia to Treat? Is that the same stretch as is shown as losing a parking lane?

  • Michael

    As Aaron notes, the MTA dropped its plan to remove a parking lane in that stretch.

    This first iteration of the 17th Street bike lanes is pretty low-amenity on the whole, but it’s clearly drawing riders from parallel streets and creating a critical mass of cyclists on 17th, so there’s great value in that alone. When the time comes to re-stripe portions of 17th in the next few years, hopefully this will make it easier to organize people who identify as 17th Street users, and push for much better facilities.

    It’s also not too late to make sure that Potreto-Treat and Church-Castro turn out as well as possible. With all the 18th Street and 16th Street folks moving onto 17th, it’s going to be easier to convince the MTA that this really needs to be a top-notch facility.

    Viva 17th Street Bicycle Boulevard!

  • jr195

    I don’t understand why bike lanes are considered to be unequivocally good for bicyclists — unless they are strictly enforced for double parking [or physically separated], they often make conditions *more dangerous* for cyclists. Blocked bike lanes force cyclists to weave in and out of car traffic, and bikes in the car lane simply make drivers angry and aggressive.

    I used to experience this every day on Townsend in the blocks around the Caltrain station. There are typically at least 4 cars parked in the bike lanes between 3rd and 5th at any given time, and I’ve never seen anyone getting a ticket, despite complaining to the Police Dept and SFMTA multiple times. I eventually realized I would be safer and less frustrated riding one block over on Brannan. Drivers on Brannan are actually more respsectful and less aggressive! Same with Valencia—I now usually ride on Folsom instead and feel safer and happier.

    Berkeley seems to get this right with Bicycle Boulevards: they barricade streets every few blocks or otherwise make it impossible to drive too fast, and plaster huge bicycle stencils in the middle of the streets. Cars learn that these streets are not good for getting somewhere quickly and drive elsewhere.

    Streetsblog, please stop lauding these lanes as improvements for bicyclists when there is obviously no intention to actually keep them clear.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I bike Townsend 2nd to 7th. Everyday there are about 3-5 car double parked on that stretch. It is en epidemic. People do it with complete impunity.

  • Anonymous

    These lanes are great! I live on this route and think it’s a big improvement. SFMTA deserves much credit for making this happen on this limited width street. Kudos!

  • mikesonn

    Thanks Michael. That makes sense. Parking uber alles.

  • Lmz

    I would still laud them as an improvement because painting them has at least marked that the the space is *supposed* to be for bicyclists, even though I agree that enforcement would be much better. I don’t see how not having the lanes there was better? We have to weave with or without them but at least now there is the potential for enforcement (although only between the hours of 7-9a and 4-6p? according to http://www.sfbike.org/?bikelane_rules)

  • Dave Campbell

    Love these 17th St lanes! My bike ride from 16th St BART to my boyfriend’s place in the Mission just got so much better. The bike lanes really narrow the travel lanes, which should slow traffic down, but it will be interesting to see if this results. And, yes, it sure seems like there are more cyclists out on 17th.

    As for jr95, I live in Berkeley and we do love our Bicycle Boulevards, which as a concept are one of the ultimate solutions to safe and inviting bikeways. Bicycle Boulevards, for the most part, have fewer cars, which allows us to slow traffic, divert traffic, and have everyone share the road safely. Indeed, parents with their kids bicycle all over our boulevards. It is wonderful to see.

    However, there is still much work to do in Berkeley to complete the boulevard network and ‘connect the city’ if I may borrow that term. And in a City as busy as San Francisco, separation and a bit more traffic engineering is often needed. Hence, bike lanes and the growing number of separated bikeways. It all helps the experience and is well worth dealing with the double-parkers, which by the way are dealt with in Emeryville by dispatching their police department to ticket vehicles that double park on their bicycle boulevard in the morning commute. It should help. Go bike lanes!

    Dave Campbell
    Program Director
    East Bay Bicycle Coalition

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