SFMTA Installs Bike and Ped Lights on the Broadway Tunnel and Tenderloin

Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA installed two new signal lights this week that the agency hopes will lead to increased safety for people walking and biking in the Broadway Tunnel and a Tenderloin intersection.

The Broadway Tunnel may feel less intimidating for some bike riders after the SFMTA installed a sensor-activated signal this week to alert drivers of their presence. It’s aimed at boosting visibility for people riding eastbound through the harrowing tunnel which, not surprisingly, has historically drawn little bike traffic.

“Signage and a flashing beacon have been added to Broadway Street just east of Larkin to alert motorists to be vigilant of cyclists sharing the tunnel,” SFMTA staff wrote on their Livable Streets Facebook page. “The beacon will be triggered by magnetic loops in the ground that detect cyclists approaching the tunnel.”

Eastbound Broadway serves as a connection from Pacific Heights to Chinatown and North Beach, but it appears to have little appeal for residents who aren’t willing to share a dark tunnel with speeding motor traffic. Many bicyclists choose to use the elevated sidewalks.

The improvement, which is in the Bike Plan, should add “a little bit of comfort,” the SF Bike Coalition’s Andy Thornley told Streetsblog last year, “but honestly, that’s not going to get cautious folks on bikes much.”

“If the city decided it wanted to allocate more room for bike right-of-way in the tunnel, it could certainly do that,” Thornley pointed out at the time. “It’s really a political question rather than an engineering question.” He couldn’t be reached for comment today.

Mike Sallaberry of the SFMTA Sustainable Streets Division said there are plans to add sharrows in the eastbound tunnel and staff is working on an alternative route for westbound riders. The agency is also considering lowering the speed limit in the tunnel by 5 mph. He said the beacon should be activated soon, pending the replacement of some malfunctioning equipment.

New pedestrian signals crossed over with tape wait to be activated at Polk and Eddy. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Just over the hill in the Tenderloin, new pedestrian countdown signals were spotted at Polk and Eddy Streets. They come as part of the SFMTA’s continued efforts to improve pedestrian safety in the Tenderloin, which has been the focus of much-needed attention in recent months.

The neighborhood lies within District 6, where more pedestrians are injured and killed by drivers than in any other area in the city. A year ago, two pedestrians were killed by a driver at the intersection of Polk and Turk Streets just one block away, according to police crash records.

Countdown signals can help pedestrians gauge when it’s safe to cross and discourage drivers from running red lights. The SFMTA stated in its Pedestrian Action Plan [pdf] last year that it plans roll out the signals at 1,500 intersections citywide as part of its efforts.

Updated 8:00 pm

  • Hot. Although it seems like the tunnel light would be better on the right side to catch the eye of cars in the right lane.

  • Les Shrader

    I think this explains a lot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=988g5mckxb0

  • The beacon light and the sharrows are unjustifiable.  The coalition should be against such non-improvements that do nothing to improve the safety of cyclists in San Francisco.  I mean its really kind of offensive for the city to make such partial and ineffective changes to the city’s infrastructure.  Who in their right-mind is going to take a risk in that tunnel?  I find the tunnel in the headlands with a flashing light and bike lane mildly safe and reassuring and am willing to ride it, but there is only one lane of traffic and cars are generally going to be less out of control than in city traffic.  Its kind of gross that SF has the money to waste on projects like this.  Please, please do not sharrow these tunnels. 

    Give us separated bike-ways in them. It’s the right thing to do and its the only real way to make this cross-town route into a real and viable bike route.

  • Sprague

    A comment posted to this youtube video reports driving up to 110 mph through the tunnel.  A flashing light alerting motorists to cyclists is a small measure to increase safety.  A bigger step would be installing cameras tied to radar that would photograph speeders (like how red light runners can be fined).

  • HellaLocal

    Since when is the Broadway tunnel “In Pacific Heights”?

  • mikesonn

    Totally agree. You have to have a death wish to ride the road in the Broadway tunnel. As much as I hate the “path”, there is NO WAY I’m riding on the road and I’m all for rubbing elbows with cars in traffic. Taxis routinely go in excess of 50 mph and that’s being conservative. It is irresponsible of the SFMTA to implement this and it should be removed immediately before someone gets killed.

  • Sprague

    In response to mikesonn, I think it’s commendable that the SFMTA is trying to more safely accomodate cyclists on this route.  Of course, as Justin wrote, a seperated bikeway would be better.  State law may not yet allow it, but automated speed limit enforcement (with cameras) would also help make the tunnel safer and more inviting for cyclists.

  • Sprague

    Now having read the comments from the streetsblog article one year ago on the Broadway tunnel, San Francisco could think big and (one day) close or redo one of these tunnels to make it truly safe and more inviting for cyclists and pedestrians.  In the meantime, safety improvments are welcome.

  • I agree with Mike and Justin. It is irresponsible to encourage bicycles to ride the road through this tunnel with a pretense that sharrows and the beacon light somehow make it even marginally safe. Now if the speed limit were lowered to 25 mph, speed bumps of one kind or another added, and bicycles were encouraged to take the center of the lane so that cars couldn’t squeeze past at high speeds, that would be different.

  • mikesonn

    Sprague, SFMTA has been doing a lot to help cyclists around the city, but this is flat out putting their lives in danger. No one drives that tunnel going the speed limit so lowering it by 5 mph is a joke. There is zero enforcement and the tunnel jogs slightly so there are “blind” curves. I think the SFMTA needs to acknowledge that and either provide a fully separated bike lane or just concede the road to vehicles.

    Many locals will continue to not ride on the road, but what about tourists? Will they be duped into thinking this is a safe choice and that drivers will actually slow and become aware of them? I just shudder at the thought. I really hope no one gets hurt.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t even know cyclists were legally allowed on the road in the tunnel, I thought they were banned to the dinky sidewalk like the tube in Alameda.

    I’ve gone through it a couple of times around 3am when it’s generally empty, but it’s still concerning. Cyclists shouldn’t be encouraged to use this tunnel.

  • Alex

    I agree completely with Sprague here.  Automated enforcement a la average speed cameras like you see in England would be a /big/ win.  Apparently, instead of the flashing red lights and empty cop cars we’ve out here… the English set up mobile average speed cameras for road maintenance.  A fixed installation in the Broadway tunnel would be great.

    Justin, well, right.  It’s also not in a centrally located area, and even with one lane of motor vehicle traffic it’s still a very narrow tunnel.  Instead of two bicycles lanes there should be perhaps one, wider one.

  • all they would need to do is to take away one lane, on either side, not both, and make a separated (with concrete divider!) bi-flow bike lane.  there would be nothing earth shattering about this because as we all know, traffic will mitigate itself given less capacity.  riding such a bike lane through the tunnel would be fun too.

  • Upright Biker

    Agree this is a complete non-fix, and could lead to serious injury or death for unwitting bicyclists. The only thing I could think of that could be a bit better would be a law and signage “Autos MUST use Left Lane when Blinking.” Lights in the pavement indicating right to left could also increase safety.

    But really, why am I bothering to kluge together a Rube Goldberg solution? Nothing short of a physically separated lane and speed bumps is going to make this safe enough to ride through.

  • LS

    There are also new countdown signals at Turk and Larkin

  • john

    Like the downtown, uphill, sharrows in the middle lane of Sutter St, the Broadway Tunnel bike amenities seem ill-advised. I pity the tourist families from more civilized bike cultures, lured into the tunnel only to find themselves riding on a highway with no shoulder and no bike lane. 

  • mikesonn

    I commented on the SFMTA’s Livable Street Facebook post and they removed it. As you can see, the link in this article no longer works. Does this mean the SFMTA is going to remove this horrible idea as well before someone gets hurt?

  • Sprague

    Mikesonn, I appreciate your concern and that of others for tourists that may enter the Broadway Tunnel not knowing that it’s a street with fast moving cars.  However, I think the sign and flashing light helps legitimize the presence of cyclists on a city street where they may not be expected and also, in the eyes of some motorists, may not be welcome.  The “Share the Road” signs help convey the message that cyclists are welcome road users, and this sign has a similar message.  Of course, there should be better speed enforcement, too.

  • mikesonn

    While I agree, that tunnel is a freeway, not a street. It has blind turns and drivers routinely hit 50+ mph. Yes, it is all well and good to let the world know cyclists deserve to be on the road as well, but this isn’t the place to start.

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