Work Begins on Upper Market Street Bike Lane Improvements

Market Street approaching Sanchez. The bike lane will be extended along the painted lines and the three front parking spots will be replaced. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Preparations for improvements [pdf] to the Upper Market Street bike lanes are underway and when completed will mark a step towards safer passage for travelers by bike at three intersections along the city’s busiest bike corridor, where a vision for a protected bikeway was dropped nearly forty years ago.

The extended bike lanes should provide safer guidance through intersections where they previously ended abruptly, forcing people on bikes to merge or squeeze between faster-moving motor traffic and parked cars. The redesign will facilitate riders more safely by replacing several right-turn lanes and fifteen hazardous parking spots between Castro Street and Octavia Boulevard.

“The improved bike lanes will help draw more people to the Upper Market businesses,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC). “There are a ton of families in the neighborhoods lining Market Street, so I think we’ll even see more people bicycling with their kids, which is already a growing trend.”

Cars will still be able to turn right by merging into the bike lane, a standard practice in San Francisco: “Bike lanes serve as the right-turn lane for all vehicles by definition,” the SFMTA noted in a presentation on the project last year.

Upper Market Street was actually slated to receive the city’s first parking-protected bike lanes in 1972 during its reconstruction, according to an article in a recent issue [pdf] of The Tube Times, the SFBC’s magazine. After neighbors organized by the SFBC and other community groups testified at a public hearing on the need for a separated bikeway, rather than the proposed six-lane widening, the Board of Supervisors approved a bikeway plan 10-1.

“This is a major advance towards our goal of a comprehensive system of protected bikeways throughout San Francisco and rationalization of the city’s overall transportation facilities. It is a step towards a new reality,” said Jack Murphy, who had just founded the SFBC a year prior, according to the article.

Ultimately, “the Department of Public Works opposed the idea and despite urging from the Board of Supervisors, these visionary protected bike lanes on Market Street were never built,” wrote the SFBC.

“Market Street is a work in progress,” said Shahum. “This is a step forward, and there’s a lot more we can be doing on all the sections on Market Street to make it even more inviting to the growing number of people bicycling, so we’ll keep watching and learning what works.”

Market Street approaching Noe. The two front parking spots will be replaced. Photo: Aaron Bialick