Eyes on the Street: Remove Car Parking, and Bike Lanes Vastly Improve

Despite the utility ditch, do parts of the Valencia bike lane actually feel safer with the parked cars removed? Photos: Aaron Bialick

In most of San Francisco’s bike lanes, people are forced to ride between parked cars and moving cars. The looming threat of opening car doors and cars entering the bike lane is unsettling enough to keep many San Franciscans from riding a bike at all.

But take the car parking out of the equation, and that same 5- or 6-foot wide bike lane can feel immensely safer. That difference is apparent at construction sites like the current one at 1844 Market Street, between Octavia Boulevard and Laguna Street, where the north-side parking lane has been replaced by a fence separating the walkway and the bike lane. Suddenly, climbing the hill towards the Wiggle has become a less harrowing experience — at least until the parking comes back.

The bike lane on the block-long climb up Market is now free of parked cars -- legally parked ones, at least (is this sign supposed to be an excuse to park in the bike lane?) Photo: Aaron Bialick

At another construction site, half of the northbound bike lane on Valencia Street underneath the Central Freeway was recently occupied by a utility ditch, with the bike lane running along the pavement’s remaining edge. Parts of the parking lane are closed to drivers. This case is probably more subjective to the rider, but I actually felt better riding in a skinnier bike lane along the edge of a small cliff compared to riding in between cars (the space occupied by the ditch is normally the door zone, anyway).

It goes to show how a bike lane’s quality can vary widely based on something as simple as its alignment. Even without physical separation from motor traffic, I would hazard that a bike lane striped along a curb feels comfortable for a much broader demographic than one placed in the door-zone.

Take some recent examples of new bike lanes in San Francisco: the buffered bike lane on Eighth Street is about 11 feet wide, but because it’s subject to frequent incursions by cars (and runs on a street with heavy motor traffic), it certainly doesn’t feel like a dedicated space safe enough for anyone 8 to 80 years old. (There is a long-term plan to convert it to a parking-protected bike lane.)

Meanwhile, parts of the new bike lanes on 17th and 23rd Streets are curbside. Perhaps Streetsblog commenters who use them can attest: How does your bicycling experience change when you don’t ride next to the door zone?

The new bike lanes on either side of 23rd Street may be the same width, but they're not equally safe. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfbike/7544987556/##SFBC/Flickr##
  • Richard Mlynarik

    Harrowing!  It’s all just so harrowing.  Every time I ride out of the house, it’s harrow here and harrow there, harrow all the way, no buffering or protecting, just piles of pointy aggressive harrows everywhere.

  • I was riding on 8th the other day and had a cab pass me fully in the bike lane area with about a foot of room.  This was between Howard and Folsom, so there’s no right turn excuse.  Of course this cab driver wasn’t dropping anyone off, they just wanted to get to the gas station at Bryant and 8th faster.

    So very lame.

  • guest

    “Floating” car parking that buffers cyclists from moving traffic is the answer.  

    On-street parking is necessary to also buffer pedestrians from cars.

  • jjsmack

    Why are people in this city so obsessed with street parking? Let’s face it – cars are ugly, especially when there’s a whole line of them on the street. In some ways, I prefer the look of suburbs where people have garages and don’t leave their ugly cars on public roads. Also makes the streets feel safer. If the city is dense enough that most people don’t have garages, then most people also don’t need cars.

  • Sprague

    It’s less daunting to ride in a bike lane that is not sandwiched between parked cars and moving cars.  Then one is able to keep an eye out for glass shards and potholes as opposed to car doors that may suddenly open and people that may suddenly emerge from between parked cars, as well as cars accessing and leaving parking spots.  Of course, the width of bike lanes also makes a difference, as does the speed of passing cars.  The bike lanes on Valencia are comfortable to ride because the lanes are wide and cars tend to move at safe speeds.   The lanes on 17th Street are narrow but at least car traffic tends to also move not too fast, in my experience.  The bike lanes on Upper Market are wide enough but auto traffic tends to speed.  The bike lane markings are often faded and the intersections are very wide.  With its great width and rather large pedestrian presence, Upper Market is in need of traffic calming (and buffered bike lanes) – unlike 17th Street where changes wouldn’t be as easy to implement.  Once again, thanks for covering another subject important to San Francisco’s livability, Aaron.

  • Anonymous

    I’m so glad that your experience represents that of the entire 8 to 80 demographic for whom cycling infrastructure is supposed to be designed. I mean, imagine being able to experience the cycling challenges of a junior school kid and a senior at the same time! Truly you must be a gifted individual.

  • Greg

    There’s room enough for three bike lanes now, instead of a third of a bike lane.

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