8th St. Buffered Bike Lane a Step Up, But When Will SoMa Really Feel Safe?

Eighth and Mission Streets. Photo: Aaron Bialick

A new buffered bike lane was striped on 8th Street last week, re-purposing a traffic lane for bicycles on one of SoMa’s fast, one-way motorways. The new configuration, which removes bicyclists from the door zone and provides a much wider lane, is an improvement over the four speed-inducing traffic lanes and skinny bike lane that previously existed. Still, many say it’s just a small step toward a truly safer street.

The bike lane upgrade was included as part of a re-paving project at the urging of bike advocates and D6 Supervisor Jane Kim, who wanted to seize the opportunity to re-configure the street striping as a cost-effective way to help calm motor traffic, create a more comfortable space for bicycling, and reduce crossing distances for pedestrians.

“Eighth Street was prioritized partially because of its history of pedestrian injuries,” said Kim. “While SoMa is a mixed use neighborhood, we have many residents — families and seniors, in particular — on Eighth between Mission and Folsom, that cross these dangerous speeding intersections daily. The traffic calming efforts, repaving, bike lanes and speed limit reductions on Howard and Folsom are helping to change that dynamic.”

“Eighth street is an important connector corridor between the Civic Center, Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhoods,” she added. “As the neighborhood grows, I want to see more people walking and biking as their first choice of transportation to make short trips.”

Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, said the organization urges “the city to take advantage of more of these opportunities to piggyback onto existing repaving projects to make low-cost, yet significant, safety improvements.”

“In the case of Eighth Street, it was originally scheduled to be put back the way it was, which was more room for auto traffic than was needed and sub-standard bike space,” she said. “Now, thanks to the changes, we have a more comfortable bikeway for the growing number of people riding and we have a safer street for people to cross on foot.”

However, advocates and readers have noted that the layout is far from ideal. “There’s still the need to slow down the traffic on this street, as it still moves far too fast for what it should be — a neighborhood street,” Shahum said. Some motorists also drive in the bike lane, as it’s wide enough to accommodate them and lacks any physical barrier keeping them out. Muni buses must also now cross the wider bike lane and the parking lane to access bus stops.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Alison Sant, a SoMa resident who regularly bikes on Eighth with her husband and children, said she’s excited to see incremental improvements in her neighborhood, but that “we really need to look to more extensive measures including physically separated bikeways, two-way streets, slower speeds and greening to create more livable streets in this area.”

“We feel extremely exposed with cars rushing toward on-ramps at top speed with little regard for the pedestrians and bicyclists that share these streets,” said Sant, who bikes to work at the Studio for Urban Projects at Bryant and Seventh Streets. “It often feels like you are on a freeway walking and cycling in this neighborhood.”

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe said “they could certainly do more to narrow the street visually and calm it, make the crossing shorter, and provide some protection for pedestrians.”

The conceptual plan for Seventh and Eighth Streets recommended in EN TRIPS.

The long-term plan for Seventh and Eighth Streets recommended in the recent multi-agency Eastern Neighborhoods Transportation Implementation Planning Study (EN TRIPS) includes a parking-protected bike lane, pedestrian bulb-outs, and greening. By moving the buffered bike lane to the curb and placing the car parking lane to its left, a parking-protected bike lane would provide a physical barrier separating motor traffic and bike traffic, and the design could include pedestrian islands at the crosswalks. Bus stop boarding islands could also eliminate the need for Muni buses to switch lanes.

San Francisco’s first parking-protected bike lane was successfully implemented on John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park, though it didn’t require the concrete work that Seventh and Eighth would, since it lacks a transit line.

The funding and implementation plan for EN TRIPS is still being developed, so it isn’t known yet how long the Seventh and Eighth Street projects would take to complete. However, the study recommended a phased implementation, and the city has yet to release an implementation plan. Typically such projects take years to get built in San Francisco.

Similar but simpler street redesigns in New York have progressed from public presentation to implementation in less than a year. In 2012, the city is adding protected bike lanes with pedestrian refuges to segments of at least three Manhattan avenues.

In Santa Cruz, trees planted in parking lanes help calm traffic, improve pedestrian visibility, and can be installed without blocking stormwater drainage. Photo: Elizabeth Stampe

While the EN TRIPS plan wouldn’t convert Seventh and Eighth to two-way traffic, which could go even further toward calming the streets, Stampe said that change isn’t crucial, provided other major traffic-calming methods are used. As an example of a cost-effective tool to visually reduce the freeway-like character the street, she pointed to planting trees in the parking lane, which has been done on commercial streets in cities like Palo Alto and Santa Cruz.

“I think generally, I would like to see these streets two-way, but it is possible to use other solutions to calm traffic along here,” she said. “What we’ve seen here is very minimal, and we clearly need to see physical changes.”

  • That looks like setting up some right hooks with trees between the bikelane and the traffic lanes.

    But maybe we’ll end up with bike-stop signs to allow the auto traffic through, that’ll solve everything, right?
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/roycrisman/7565154480/in/set-72157629578495097/

     

  • Anonymous

    The city to take advantage of more of these opportunities to piggyback onto existing repaving projects to make low-cost, yet significant, safety improvements.

    You know, it’s great that bike advocates nipped this one in the bud. But this keeps happening —where staff promises “next time” to piggyback bike/ped improvements into repaving projects and that just never seems to happen. 

  • Sprague

    While these buffered bike lanes are clearly an improvement, I don’t understand why the MTA did not seize the opportunity to move the bike lane to the curb and reposition the lane of parking away from the curb so that the parked cars becomes the buffer (like on JFK Drive).  This would have reduced conflicts between bikes and cars.  Since the street was being restriped anyway this was a missed opportunity for more effective traffic calming and the creation of bicycle infrastructure that works for the 8 to 80 crowd.  Thanks for covering this, Aaron.

  • Casey

    I rode down to SFMOMA from the mission the other day and I have to say that there isn’t really a decent way to do it.  I lived in San Francisco up until 2008 and I was so used to the poor state of the bike infrastructure that I didn’t really notice how bad it is compared to a lot of other nearby places.  I’m in Sacramento now, briefly thank god, and it’s so much better here it’s unbelievable.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    That looks like setting up some right hooks with trees between the bikelane and the traffic lanes.

    Get with the “Cycletracks” program.  Right-hooks = double-plus-good!

  • Cyclists in SoMa would feel safer if the city made them all have bike lights. I can’t count the number of times I’ve nearly killed an invisible fixing-riding stoplight-burning-through invisible hipster.

  • mikesonn

    You are selling yourself short on stereotypes. You can do much better.

  • ubringliten

    That should be a yield sign instead of a stop sign.  More cyclists need to work for SFMTA.

  • ubringliten

    I agree.  That is a huge missed opportunity.  That area doesn’t have nimbies like on Fell and Oak streets.  A separated bike path continued from Market would make a lot of sense.

  • Anonymous

    SoMa will not feel truly safe until all of those one-way streets get converted to two-way streets and the City implements congestion pricing, at first for weekday, evening outbound only traffic to help clear things up when the cars negatively impact the experiences of transit riders the most and endanger pedestrians and bicyclists with impatient driving behaviors quite a bit. I’d love to hear the drumbeat for two-way streets and congestion pricing start playing…

  • Richard Mlynarik

    I rode down to SFMOMA from the mission the other day and I have to say that there isn’t really a decent way to do it. 

    Can’t get there from here!
    Valencia, Mission, Shotwell, Folsom, Harrison, Bryant, Potrero, Townsend, Brannan, … the way is closed.  Best to drive, or just stay at home.

  • I would like to see soft posts installed between auto traffic and the bike lane except where right-turn access is needed. Should help alleviate some of the right-hooking?

    Still, I ride down 8th everyday and this is a welcome improvement.

  • J282sf

    Posts would be nice, but then parked cars can’t get out.

  • Anonymous

    As a daily rider down 8th st, I can’t get behind this idea. Maybe it reduces conflict between autos and cars, but it creates greater conflict between cyclists of different speeds. The lights are timed for cars, and if you are fast, you can make them all on a bike. If you are stuck behind a slow cyclist and have nowhere to pass them on the left, this is frustrating.

  • Guest

    Have you rode down JFK recently?
    It’s been almost half a year and drivers STILL CANNOT understand how to park and I see them parked in the bike lanes on a daily basis. This will be a huge fail unless we convert ALL bike lanes like this so people have some uniformity in how to park in relations to bike lanes.

  •  Guest: Really?  It was just fine late Thursday afternoon, I did JFK pretty much end-to-end west, then more than 1/2 east.

  • Yeah, that really hasn’t been my experience on JFK as a regular user. Pretty much the only time I see bad parking anymore is during Friday Nights at the de Young (in the area behind the museum).

  • Guest

    I guess to be fair, I probably recall the more busier days on JFK.
    The mornings are fine, which is when people aren’t actually in the park and most are at work. The problems are after work hours. That is when cars are actually traveling through, and busy. Similar to conditions of 8th?

    Starting from Thursday; Lots of illegal red-zone parking. Probably due to Night at Cal Academy.

    Friday: Again, Overabundance of illegal parking and bike lane blockage. Due to Night at de young.
    I decided to stick around the intersection of Music concourse, for about 30 minutes at 6pm, and witness about at least 3 serious traffic violations. Driving in bike lane was a a forerunner. Otherwise people again tried to park in no parking zones. I told them all they were parked illegally. Half of them moved after being notified.

    Saturday
    While heading east bound to pan handle, came across a tour bus driver that wanted to park in a no parking zone right before the intersection of Nancy Pelosi Dr and JFK in front of the conservatory. His door swung open practically in front of me, to let off tourist despite having a tour bus zone across the intersection where he decided to pull over. He ‘pulled over’ in a right turn traffic lane, and completely blocked it off forcing bicyclists to go around him and into the normal traffic lane. Informing this driver resulted in “Ok! I’ll move right after I unload all these passengers.”

    Sunday
    Despite portions of JFK being closed, after the AIDS walk, some cars managed to get into the closed portion of the street, and parked in the bike lane. They received tickets for their trouble.

  •  I’d much rather have bike v bike conflict then bike v car because of mass, just for starters. Better to give the elderly and timid more reason to try biking – even if that means that wild and fast bikers will have to ride a little slower every once and a while.

  • @RoyCrisman:disqus @c8e1eaf6f0df7e2c4bac028b8b4dec16:disqus @f84b22d3acf35e1589e626b8e51fe1a4:disqus An SFMTA staffer tells me the stop sign situation is temporary, that the bikeway isn’t officially open, and that a separate bicycle signal phase will be put into action in early August.

  • Dr_Ace:

    In building out a better bike network, I think most of us would agree that allowing the young and agile to zip down our streets at/near the speed of cars is a pretty low priority. The whole 8-80 concept is about building infrastructure which is comfortable for children, older adults, and everyone in between.

    Someone racing down the street to make all the green lights is behaving directly antagonistic to this vision.

  • Tim

    In many ways, it’s worse than when it was a simple narrow bike lane. Now that it’s wide, cars use it as their secret pass-on-left lane. 

    It needs soft posts, tyre strips, or some other physical barrier.

  • Terry Dean Cain

    i work right there in the middle of of 8th between howard and folsom and use the new bike lane daily. at least once a week i’m either nearly ran over or have some agro driver right up on me blaring their horn for me to move out of their way. one guy was hanging out of his window swearing he was going to run me over if i didin’t get out of his way. 
    honestly, when traffic’s bad on 8th, you’re way safer riding in the street between the cars than in the bike lane.