Commentary: The Eds Respond to Frustration With Fell/Oak Bikeway Delay

Note: The discussion on the Fell and Oak bikeways begins at about 11:05.

Mayor Ed Lee and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin (a.k.a. “the Eds”) faced questions about the city’s extensive delivery time on the Fell and Oak bikeway project at Google’s recent “Fireside Chat” forum. A questioner asked why the project is coming in 2013 rather than this year (though, as of last week, staff has moved the timeline up a few months to next winter).

Reiskin repeated the SFMTA’s assertion that it’s not a “delay” at all, and claimed that complaints about losing car parking are important enough to prolong safe bicycle access for the public. As for the mayor, he said he would “bring leadership” to the project and mentioned that he’d rode on the route in a caravan of public officials before pointing to progress on the long-awaited JFK Drive Bikeway (which, as of last weekend, still hadn’t started construction despite promises of starting in January).

Technically, the SFMTA is correct that Fell and Oak’s official delivery date was originally set for the fall of 2013 in project funding documents [PDF] approved last summer. But its public relations staff hadn’t openly announced that fact at public meetings or elsewhere, and expectations were still mostly set on this year based on the originally proposed date for a trial in June 2012, which Mayor Lee told Streetsblog a year ago he wanted to implement “quickly.”

When staff told Streetsblog recently that implementation would wait until some time in 2013, it was, by and large, news to most people who’ve been following the project. The main reason for the delay (what else to call it — a “timeline change”?) cited by the SFMTA is its decision to abandon what would have been an efficiently-delivered trial project in order to create a more permanent project that tries to appease pushback from car owners over 80 parking spots (despite the roughly 120 overnight paid spaces opened at an adjacent lot last May).

“We had been talking about trying to pilot something sooner, but we have run into a pretty significant amount of opposition in the directly impacted neighborhood… and we don’t want to steamroll over folks,” said Reiskin. “We’re taking the time to try to find ways in which we can mitigate the parking loss.”

Good public process and outreach are key in turning out the best project possible. But that’s not the same as letting the terms of public safety improvements be dictated by those who want to keep on receiving precious public space to store their private automobiles for free — a status quo bias which has “steamrolled” nearly everything else on the city’s streets for most of the past century.

H/T Streetsblog commenter Mike Sonn for the video.

  • Anonymous

    Ok, I found the problem (apparently Google Earth freaks out if you ask it to draw an elevation profile more than so many pixels wide). So here is attempt #2, with all four streets. I still think some of the data is off– indeed, Google Earth seems to give me different results for the same graph at different times. But the gist is there. They should be to scale both vertically and horizontally.

    Compare especially the third & fourth images– Oak and Page.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, and here is a map of the four routes as I plotted them on Google Earth. It would be good to redo them with a more reliable data source– I’m fairly sure, for instance, that there’s no 10-foot rise on Baker between Fell & Oak. But it’s mostly accurate, as far as I can tell.

  • Anonymous

    @86883e1d8289f5b704d6504ff6f52ab9:disqus The downsides of the Bay Bridge bikeway project have already been (almost gleefully) laid out by its detractors: cost, distance, elevation, wind… Fewer people seem willing to compare its strengths, of which there are many, in an effort to make an accurate cost/benefit analysis.

    Strengths: Unlike the popular and well-used GG bridge, it connects two of the largest population and employment centers in the region. Unlike the typical bike commute, the bridge route would be uninterrupted and with no cars to contend with, making it less stressful than the average stop and go traffic. Bridge elevation is very gradual compared to most bay area hills. Great connection to the Bay Trail on the east side, leading through Emeryville, Berkeley, and Richmond (and the new LB Labs site). Great connection to the new Transbay Terminal on the west side. Lots of untapped tourism potential between SF and the East Bay. Gives bikers full access during commute times, and takes some strain off of BART the rest of the time. Considerable future development on Treasure Island means many commuters would only be riding the western span. Provides better cross bay connectivity during low transit hours (late night). In 2022 through 20?? when the pathway would actually be completed and in use, fuel prices will likely be much higher and auto congestion much worse than it is today. Millions and perhaps billions of dollars in deferred health care and air quality mitigation costs resulting from higher rates of non-motorized traffic. If the cantilevered bike path is built, then there would also be reduced auto congestion and fewer lane closures on the bridge caused by routine maintenance.

    I am sure I am missing many additional points, but I am also sure that the path detractors are vastly underestimating the potential ridership and overlooking many of the positive effects the path would have on the bay area, even to non-cyclists.

    “Dedicating a single lane in whatever the reverse commute direction is (managing that would be a headache)”…

    I’m not sure it is a great idea for a bike/ped path, as they would need better separation from auto traffic, but this is already done in the Caldecott Tunnel using a pretty creative solution of pneumatic, pop-up bollards in the roadway. Undoubtedly this would be harder to implement on a bridge, but I think some professional engineers could figure it out.

    As with most bridges, the congestion mostly occurs at the toll booths and in the intersections leading up to the bridge, and not on the bridge itself, since much less passing and merging occurs there. So taking away an auto lane for bike traffic even in the commute direction would not contribute as much to additional congestion as one would think, as long as the approaches are handled elegantly. However, an on-bridge bike path would be much less appealing and comfortable to the non-hardcore commuter, and would inevitably receive a lower ridership than the more expensive option.

  • Anonymous

    Feel free to take my Bay Bridge West Span Bikeway potential ridership poll if you like: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?hl=en_US&formkey=dHFyOUpGc1U3UGp3STBmUVhpOFc0QlE6MQ

  • Dustin White

    The City presented elevation profiles of various routes at the public workshop on December 3 and at the last Bicycle Advisory Committee Meeting on January 26. See attached images.

  • Anonymous

    Ha– well, I knew it was too obvious an idea for me to be the first one to think of it. Thanks.

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