When Will One of the City’s Most Harrowing Turns for Cyclists Be Improved?

Gillian Gillett, an aide to Supervisor Scott Wiener, makes the turn onto Valencia Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Outbound bicycle commuters wanting to connect to Valencia from Market Street, two of the city’s busiest bicycling routes, are forced to navigate one of the most challenging turns found anywhere in the city. A project waiting to be implemented in the Bike Plan would change that, making the left turn easier with accommodations riders might expect to find only in a cycling utopia like Amsterdam.

“Since the bike lane is all the way to the right-hand side, trying to maneuver yourself to the left with only hand signals, you have to become really aggressive,” said bike commuter Natasha Opfell. “Cars get aggressive back, but sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and bolt.”

In a regular evening rush-hour, hundreds of cycling commuters can be seen employing their sharpest cycling skills to navigate the turn, which requires crossing over two car-clogged lanes and a set of streetcar tracks into a third left-turn lane. Riders must then make the turn sandwiched between motor vehicles.

Riders merge into the left turn lane through an opening in the car traffic. Photo: Aaron Bialick

“It’s probably fine for expert bikers, but I think it’s really difficult for your everyday commuter,” said Patrick Marks, a former bicycle messenger who owns Green Arcade books located on the north side of the intersection.

He pointed out that it’s just one problem at the messy intersection of Gough and Market. “It’s a very complicated corner, people are also constantly making illegal turns everywhere and block the intersection,” he said. “Anything that will help calm that is good.”

The turn pocket is at the top center of this illustration. "Bicycle signal heads" would be installed at points "C" and "E". Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA plan [pdf] would facilitate the turn by creating a left-turn pocket and a traffic signal for bikes. The space for the pocket would be allocated from a small chunk of the sidewalk (currently a seemingly unused curb cut) and some of the existing bicycle lane.

Left-turners in the bike lane would keep right and slow down on approach to the waiting area. They would then line up to wait for the left-turn signal while riders proceeding straight would pass on the left. On a protected green light, riders would proceed through the intersection, crossing the rail tracks at a safe angle.

“It would be really convenient,” said Opfell. “I think it would greatly improve the high traffic volume from Market moving onto another high bike traffic street.”

The SF Bicycle Coalition’s (SFBC) Connecting the City campaign envisions physically protected, connected bikeways along the length of Market and Valencia, which already serve two of the city’s most vital routes.

“This would be a critical connection between two of the most heavily used bikeways in the city,” said SFBC Deputy Director Kit Hodge. “Right now, the turn poses a definite safety hazard with the tracks there.”

The project hasn’t been scheduled yet on the SFMTA’s list of upcoming projects, but because it requires concrete work by the Department of Public Works, it could be an outlier in the Bike Plan’s timeline.

“My main problem is disconnected bike lanes throughout the city,” said Opfell. “It just seems intuitive to make them connected.”

An example of the treatment seen in Roskilde, Denmark. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/16nine/4594418397/sizes/z/in/photostream/##Mikael Colville-Andersen##, ##http://www.copenhagenize.com/2010/05/bicycle-infrastructure-creativity-and.html##Copenhagenize##
The left-turn pocket would cut into the sidewalk near the far end of the curb ramp. Photo: Aaron Bialick
Some riders choose to make the left turn in a similar way that they would with the turn pocket by waiting on the right for a clearing in the traffic to cross. Photo: Aaron Bialick
Riders complete the turn into the Valencia Street bike lane. Photo: Aaron Bialick
  • Anonymous

    Given that this is essentially a T intersection and there is no reason for cyclists going straight to ever have to stop, would it not make sense to make a longer cut into the curb and route through cyclists on it and have left turning cyclists wait in a pocket to the left of the bike lane?

  • Anonymous

    How bout require outbound traffic on market street to make a right on Franklin or a left on Gough right before this? No more heavy traffic… no more problem.

  • One question is how long to make the “cut”. The design here shows an approx. 25′ cut. That might fit 10 cyclists in tight 2×2 formation, otherwise the ones at the rear stick into the through lane. Include a cargo bike or two in the mix – Market to this point and continuing on Valencia is flat so it should get more and more popular – and things get fouled up. (Speaking of fouling, at least two trees seem to be at risk.)

    As WinstonK suggests, cyclists going straight should not have to stop, especially as they are just about to head uphill. Faster always overtakes on the left so going right is not idea.

    Now think of a cyclist who wants to go left on Valencia: They first might look left and consider using the vehicular left run lane, which means they will be accelerating. If that looks risky or impossible, they will then have to slow, move to right if necessary, and slow quickly and stop in the pocket.

    It’s also important to consider cyclists going the other direction who will want to take advantage of their momentum coming down the hill. This get complicated when you consider the streetcars and motor vehicles, so while starting with WinstonK’s alternative of a left left turn space will be implemented, decide what you want to happen with bikes here, which be stopped as little as possible, and for a short a time as possible.

    For example, starting a “Green Wave” up the hill from this point and continuing it past S. Van Ness would be a huge bonus. What speed do street cars like to operate at? Will something like a 15mph-bike/30mph-streetcar Green Wave work?

    Since a lot of cyclists will turn left here, the left left turn space needs to be very long. This can be sorted out by seeing how many cyclists go this way now, double it for optimism re: SF goals or bike mode share, and figure how long a green signal cycle should be. There should also be a goal to have a low number of left-turning cyclists required to stop. 

  • Anonymous

    Until there is a fix, maybe bikes could go right on Page or Haight and left on Octavia, or maybe left at 11th, right on Folsom, left on 14th?

  • @google-14337a1ef15748d16fa8ce174e953d81:disqus NextBus shows the median speed of a moving F Market vehicle to be 20km/hr, or about 12.5 mph.  (It can get going twice that speed in the right circumstances, though.)

  • There is one very good reason for bikes to stop here: pedestrians. There is currently (and must continue to be) a signal phase for people crossing on foot. It’s a no-brainer to combine that with a phase for bikes and cars turning left onto Valencia and bikes and cars turning right from Valencia to Market.

  • Guest

    all of those are both longer and far more difficult: up haight == a hill, then a nasty left down octavia, then what once you hit market again? 11th to folsom = nasty illegal left turn across many tracks, then way out of the way, then a wrong way on a 1-way street?
    if you need to avoid this merge today, simply use the existing pedestrian crosswalk at Valencia. (or if you really want, ride up the hill to octavia then cross to the mccoppin cut.)

    as for the t-intersection… many bicyclists can’t seem to handle keeping left of right-turning cars, i can’t imagine them handling a merge to go right of left-turning-bicycles in the lane. this controlled jughandle may work, though it’s very ‘euro’ in the sense that it’s safer, slower, and far more restrictive than the chaos and speed of vehicular cycling.

    btw if you get a red at gough, move to the left lane at that point.

  • I agree that this turn is anxiety-inducing on a bicycle and I take it only with trepidation. This solution seems like it would work, especially if waiting bikes got their protected green to go before the cars in the left-hand turn lane got their green. (This would give bicyclists an incentive not to take the left-hand turn lane with the cars since it would end up taking longer.)  I agree that there needs to be adequate space for plenty of bikes to queue up.

  • Anonymous

    Oh hell, why not just build a flyover.  Nothing is too good for SF cyclists!

  • David

    A flyover would be nice but too much like a freeway. A burrowing-under for the carz would please me more. 

  • Abe

    If every cyclist used this new pocket it would probably fill up quickly.

    I’d like to see an early bike/ped signal at the Gough/Haight/Market stoplight. The bike box there is nice, but it doesn’t extend into the middle lane of Market (where the tracks are) and cars block it more often than not. Putting in an early bike-only light would allow cyclists who want to use the left-turn lane to get there while the road is clear.

    Giving cyclists two ways to make this left turn would alleviate some congestion at the new pocket.

  • Sprague

    Great suggestions all around.  Looking forward to a safer, better designed intersection that helps make young, old or timid riders feel safe cycling these great bike-friendly streets.

  • Me

    I’m all for it. too. I rarely bike Market St., but I do wind up driving this section semi-frequently, and I always approach this intersection with trepidation as a driver too. I do try to do my best to slow down here and allow cyclists to merge across into the left turn lane, but trying to simultaneously look out for left turning cyclists, cyclists proceeding straight, streetcars, pedestrians (many crossing against a red light), double-parked cars, and just ordinary traffic isn’t exactly an easy task from a car either.

    My only concern is that this plan would make things even more confusing if some cyclists used the new turn cutout while others crossed over and went with the cars, meaning we all have to watch out for cyclists going every which way. Is there a reason why the cyclists couldn’t turn left at the same time as the pedestrian crossing period?

    In general, Market St. sidewalks are unnecessarily massive, and selectively cutting them down to be merely wide instead of enormous would permit more room for dedicated bike lanes and/or cut-outs to keep double-parked delivery vehicles out of the road.

  • in case it’s useful for anyone else, I’m actually terrified of this turn and i opt to go a long way around by taking 12th st on market (where it meets with page) and hop back over to valencia with right turns on mission and mccoppin. still equally busy, but has lights that i can maneuver around. any improvement to this corner would certainly help – glad to see it!

  • mikesonn

    Totally agree. Great ideas. The light will help those waiting at the intersection already and the turn pocket will help those who arrive after traffic is already proceeding through the intersection.

  • @Eric Fischer – It is based on top speed but I suspect my methodology is not so precise. I mainly want to ask: “Computer, what is the best way to get bikes and streetcars up and down Mkt so that 1 – Streetcars only stop at halts, 2 – Bikes never have to stop whilst going about 12 mph.
    @Charles Haletky – The question is if non-bikes (peds, also in wheelchairs etc.) can cross here using only an island between the non-stopping bike path and the stopping motor vehicles path. Does this fulfill ADA? How about – modifying your suggestion – if those who feel they need it press a button to turn the stop the bike traffic just for a few seconds — synced with the motor vehicle light but normally red or amber or ?
    @2c232dd069922070a01c69ae4849c3fa:disqus Guest, repsonding to lostjr – There is nothing “Euro” about this wacky counter-intuitive pita pocket. The Danish example shown is old skool and they agree that the Dutch do it better. My suggestions are based on Dutch-best practice.

    In relation to the last point, people may wan tto check this out: Tuesday June 7, at 8 to 8:45am. Bicycle Capitals of the world: Sustainable mobility in Copenhagen and Amsterdam – KpVV Webcast – http://tinyurl.com/5wf84om 

  • @google-14337a1ef15748d16fa8ce174e953d81:disqus  It is true that streetcars go faster when they aren’t stopping for
    traffic signals.  Their median moving speed in the unobstructed private right
    of way of the Bernal Cut is about 17 mph.

    It is unfortunately very optimistic to think that it is possible to make a green wave (at any speed) on Market Street, with its two-way traffic and extremely irregular block lengths.  It’s just not mathematically possible at most locations.  The 13 mph on Valencia is not really because it is an especially good speed for bikes but because that is what you get when you have blocks that are about 585 feet long and choose to have the signals change every 30 seconds.

    Do not even *dream* of ruining the only decent pedestrian environment on the entire west coast by installing button-actuated pedestrian signals.  I will fight this with every bone in my body.

  • Flyovers are indeed a fantastic way to bypass all the dangers/challenges of intersections for dedicated bike lanes. 

    Cost is always cited but take a look at Las Vegas:

    http://www.planbike.com/2010/05/cycling-las-vegas-strip.html

    Almost every single intersection of the strip has flyovers for pedestrians. It can could be done for bikes as well. 

    There are plenty of safety and efficiency arguments to justify them.

  • @Eric Fischer – Thanks for all the info on green wave possibilities. Regarding the button I suggested, it is more of a “Stop the Bikes if you feel you need to” button for this special case location of a popular T-intersection, and it only for the first part: from the curb to an island, and it turns green for the ped and stops cyclists only when the part from the island to the other side of the street gets the green. Again, I know that non-standard signals are a problem and that this might be against ADA.

  • mike

    Before this change can go in, a friend mentioned to me that one way to make the turn onto Valencia from Market is to continue west on Market to Octavia, then go left onto the bike path along the eastside of the freeway that will take you to McCoppin then Valencia.

  • Bingo

    I would simply stop my bike at the crosswalk and ride through the crosswalk with the pedestrians. Totally protected and no need to try and merge. Is there a rule against doing that? Even so, I doubt it would be enforced.