Fell/Oak Bikeways Go to SFMTA Board, Could Be Partially Done This Year

The plan for protected bike lanes on Fell and Oak Streets could be completed by the end of this year — at least partially.

Image: SFMTA

The project is scheduled to go up for final approval by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors on October 16, and if it passes, all but the concrete work — which includes sidewalk bulb-outs and planted concrete barriers — could be completed before January, according to agency spokesperson Paul Rose.

That may not necessarily mean the route will be rideable, however. “It remains to be determined whether or not [the bike lanes] can be used while the work on the concrete barrier is being done,” said Rose. The concrete work may not be finished until next summer.

Bike advocates and city officials, including D5 Supervisor Christina Olague, have urged the SFMTA to expedite the project, which would bring pedestrian safety upgrades and protected bike lanes to the three blocks of one-way Fell and Oak Streets, between Baker and Scott Streets, which serve as the flattest, most direct connection between the Panhandle and the Wiggle. A public hearing in May saw an overwhelmingly supportive turnout for the project.

By January, according to Rose, car parking lanes would be removed to make room for the bike lanes; the bike lanes would be striped; “continental” (a.k.a. “ladder“) crosswalk upgrades would be striped; and traffic signals would be re-timed to 20 MPH. New car parking spaces would also be created on nearby streets, accounting for about half of the spots removed.

The removal of car parking alone would significantly improve the level of comfort for bicyclists. Currently, people using the Fell Street bike lane, which is just a few feet wide, are wedged between parked cars on one side and heavy motor traffic passing inches away on the other. Oak Street lacks a bike lane at all, forcing riders to mix with motor traffic.

As Rose noted, it’s unclear exactly how bicyclists would be accommodated during concrete construction. However, the SFMTA’s Safe Paths of Travel (SPOT) program is responsible for enforcing regulations requiring the maintenance of safe and convenient passage for all street users at construction sites. For bicyclists, crews are typically required to either designate a temporary bike lane or provide signage and crew members reminding drivers to slow down and share traffic lanes.

  • mikesonn

    Take away the parking NOW. The rest is just window dressing.

    And during construction, take away a lane of parking from Oak and make a bidirectional bike lane.

  • Dave

    This project in general makes sense to me, as someone who drives this route (on a motorcycle) frequently. I live nearby and often have to deal with the results of slow traffic behind bikes on Oak. Just last week I saw a cyclist take a full lane at about 2mph on the flat / decline part. I guess he kept his hands free so he could point things out to curious motorists with a single finger.

    I buy the argument that biking halfway up Baker to get to the Page St bikeway doesn’t make sense. And there should be a clear path out of the Panhandle to Oak so I don’t have to guess what the cyclists are going to do. Sometimes they turn right onto Baker. Sometimes they ride against traffic on Baker so they can make a left against the light onto Oak more easily. Sometimes they barrel through the crosswalk as I’m making the left onto Baker from Fell. That happened a couple of weeks ago and the cyclist had to jam on his brakes and did a header. While I and another motorist stopped to make sure he was ok, none of the passing cyclists did.

    As a resident of Baker St though I’m bothered by the new perpendicular parking that will now be on both sides to partially make up for what’s been taken from Fell / Oak. It’s going to make the street more dangerous for pedestrians as both cyclists and drivers frequently go straight through the stop sign at Page, coming down the Baker St hill. It would be nice to see bulbs or at least parking setbacks at the corner to make that better. I think there’s a bulb planned for Baker and Oak already.

  • Retime the lights to 20 mph now!

  • If they would just put in a residential parking permit program in this neighborhood, half of all the cars on the street would go away and there wouldn’t need to be perpendicular parking on Baker. This neighborhood is currently a doughnut hole of free, long-term parking surrounded by residential permit areas. It is also the neighborhood closest to downtown without residential parking permits and well-served by Muni for anyone wanting free parking while they work. It’s not surprising that when the MTA did a survey last spring they found more than half the cars parked in the neighborhood were not registered in the neighborhood’s zipcode. 

    Dave, when I ride on Oak, I take the lane because I’ve had SUV’s squeeze past me on that stretch with about half an inch to spare. It’s true there’s probably room for me and a motorcycle, even me and a mini-cooper, if I move to the right, but the SUV thing is so unnerving I can’t take the chance. Of course, I don’t go 2 mph–I pedal for dear life, and then try to both brake and signal to make the turn onto Scott while avoiding the enormous and completely slick manhole cover right in my path. This is why I call this stretch The Three Blocks of Terror. I will be glad to call them someday The Three Happy Blocks Between the Panhandle and the Wiggle.

  • mikesonn

    RPP! AMEN!

  • Dave

    Karen: I totally agree about the RPP, but according to Luis Montoya at sfmta there wasn’t enough community support for it. I was serious about supporting the separate lane. Bikes legally use the lane and it’s not safe for anyone. It’s not just the first motorist who has to brake suddenly; it’s all of the ones behind that one, including ones behind trucks where they couldn’t hope to see the source (the bike). We should either disallow bikes on that street or give them a lane. You taking it for your safety makes sense. And I think the cyclists have argued reasonably that going up Baker for that short steep stretch just to go downhill at Page isn’t a good route. So allocating some street space to bikes for those 3 blocks in each direction seems like a reasonable tradeoff.
      Roy: As for reducing traffic speeds to 20mph I couldn’t disagree more. Getting across town quickly is valuable to many people. There should be a way to do it faster than a bike can go.

  • Anonymous

    Since I’m in agreement that one of the biggest problems is that there is no RPP in the neighborhood (by the way, why don’t we just make every single inch of the city have an RPP? Why should anybody be able to park for free when real estate is so precious and valuable in the city?), where did Luis Montoya get his info? Because I see a contradiction here: if the city did research that showed ~half of the vehicles in the neighborhood are from outside the neighborhood, why would anybody in their right mind want to sacrifice their own neighborhood parking for others outside the neighborhood, especially if the parking is so bad that the loss of 60 spaces can entirely shutdown an improvement project like this to make the area more livable and safer? I don’t think anybody would be against the RPPs if they understood what all was at stake and what was actually taking place in their neighborhood. I bet that, if you did a poll of the residents and armed them with these facts, I cannot possibly see how they would be against the RPP.

    However, at the end of the day, I don’t really understand why it’s up to the neighborhood. I feel like this should just be a city-wide ordinance that RPPs must be everywhere. Nobody should get free parking (and it’s still ridiculously cheap under the RPP).

  • Dave

    I asked Luis about how they determined the lack of interest. It mostly seems to come from a pretty archaic approach to surveys, much like having a community discussion at 1:00 on a weekday. From Luis:

    “For the RPP, we have a policy of collecting 200 signatures from supportive residents. I was able to collect less than 100. A few people helped me collect a couple of dozen signatures, but there was no groundswell of support. Even the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association was split on the issue. We may hold a community meeting to discuss the issue further.”

    I think few people on my block, one greatly impacted by the change, have any idea it’s coming. I asked him about this as well. He forwarded me a flyer that had been mailed to residents. I expect most people took if for junk mail, if they looked at it at all.

    As for parking being free or not, I’m not sure how you have 0 free parking spaces. People visit and need some way to park their car somewhere near where they’re going. I’m not saying that has to be free, but there has to be some mechanism to allow it. Maybe there’s a way to meter everything, with meters that allow long periods using credit cards but allow cars registered to residents to park there for free. Or maybe something with a fastrac type of device where you pay lower rates as a resident, or zero in your neighborhood after paying a yearly fee.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I’m of the opinion that the MTA doesn’t have a good handle on what the residents really want, and the evidence you’re presented from the Luis Montoya reinforces that. To be fair, it’s not entirely their fault, as I think most people in all neighborhoods aren’t very active in community matters and don’t bother to even try to stay informed even when the MTA goes out of their way to try and inform them. It’s kinda a problem with our society in general in that we all live physically very close yet are extremely distant in terms of having meaningful relationships with our neighbors and community … but that’s another issue.

    Good point about visitors. So okay, you can’t have zero free parking spaces, but clearly this neighborhood has way, way too many. That being said, visitors can park their car in RPP zones, they just have to move it every 2-4 hours during the day. And if that is a problem, then I think the real solution is that the city should require long-term visitors to get (and pay for) a temporary RPP permit (or else more metered spots … but residents are even fighting those).

    But to be honest, I don’t really think the city should be offering free parking to residents *or* visitors. After all, how can one argue that residents should have to pay yet those who don’t even live there and who are not invested in the community get to park for free? I think it should be well-known by everybody coming to visit to SF: don’t bring your car! That’s already the rule in a city like NYC where everybody knows you don’t bring your car into the city. I think people just need to learn to visit cities without a car. SF will still be a top tourist/visitor destination even if people can’t bring their car. In fact, the sooner we get to the point where visitors stop coming into the city with a car, the better for both residents and the visitors themselves.

  • Dave

    I like having visiters who come by car. So you’re asking *me*, a resident, (homeowner: property tax, work here: payroll tax, shop here: sales tax) to give something up. In the residential parts of NYC people visit and park their cars. SF is no different. I don’t mind some kind of innovative approach to doling out the spaces, but there should be spaces that visitors can use. And I don’t mind paying some kind of yearly fee if I have a car I need to park on the street as a resident.

  • Mario Tanev

    I actually think Oak now is much better than Fell is. The ride is downhill, and in traffic it’s no slower than cars, so drivers have no objection to me taking the lane. On Fell, I can’t take the lane (because drivers would be mad), but I feel unsafe in that narrow bike lane.

  • Sprague

    As a former resident and a current frequent visitor to the Alamo Square and NOPA neighborhoods, I know that parking is hard to obtain after about 6 pm every evening of the week.  Residents would certainly benefit from a parking permit program.  My understanding of RPP is that it takes a lot of community organization and widespread support to have it implemented.  If I may point out, matters like this are decided by elected officials in some other cities.  From my armchair vantage point, that’s a win-win arrangement.  Elected officials do the work and neighborhoods reap the benefit.

  • mikesonn

     But Dave, your free parking isn’t *free*. There are many externalized costs that the rest of us pay. And really, that homeowner as taxpayer argument doesn’t hold water.

  • Dave

    mikesonn, I didn’t insist the parking be free, either to me or to visitors. I just said it should be available. I don’t deny that there are externalized costs, although I might argue the particulars. As for paying for those costs, I don’t understand the statement about homeowners as taxpayers not holding water. Does my property tax not count for anything? Renters are taxpayers too, through the owners they rent from. According to the sf controller office 31% of General Fund (20% of All Funds) comes from property tax.

  • Gneiss

    Dave – sounds like you are advocating for meters in your neighborhood.  That’s the surest way to ensure that there will always be public parking available.  But wait – isn’t that just a revenue grab from city hall? :). 

  • mikesonn

    Dave, I took your homeowner comment incorrectly (as a jab against renters). My mistake.

  • Dave

    I’m fine with meters if there’s a way to pay yearly for the right to park there with the same restrictions we have now (up to 72 hours) and if there’s an easy way for visitors to pay for the same lengths using credit cards. I expect some would see it as a regressive tax on the poor however and fight it.

  • Dave

    I’m fine with meters if there’s a way to pay yearly for the right to park there with the same restrictions we have now (up to 72 hours) and if there’s an easy way for visitors to pay for the same lengths using credit cards. I expect some would see it as a regressive tax on the poor however and fight it.

  • Dave, what is interesting is that one could say that property tax on real estate is a regressive tax against the poor just the same. How is paying taxes for a place to store your body any different than a place to store your car?

    The argument is somewhat nuanced – renters do not pay property taxes. They aren’t “passed through” by landlords. As a landlord I charge as much as I possibly can, regardless of property taxes. We had our property reassessed and our property taxes went down by 33% but in the same year we increased the rent 20%.

    The poor are less likely to have a car or as many cars as people with more money, so in theory the tax has less impact on the poor, but that general statement doesn’t help the poor person who does have a car.

    But as a whole, the argument stands. Yet nobody is protesting that property taxes are regressive (anywhere – prop 13 makes California an even more nuanced case).

  • Dave

    murphstahoe: I wasn’t saying that renters paid taxes in any direct way. I was just saying that the owner pays taxes and charges rent, not based on the cost of the taxes (although they factor into whether renting a property out is worth it at all, given what the market will bear for rents, which in turn affects supply of rental property, which in turn affects rents).
    I can see the rest of your argument. I suppose both property tax and parking fees could be means tested somehow but it seems like it would open up a lot of room for corruption.

  • HoJo

    Dave, you’re correct that renters do pay property tax, albeit indirectly. Obviously rents have to cover all costs including property tax or the rental isn’t viable.

    Also, where parcel taxes are passed in elections, there is usually a passthru provision. The Rent board have a specific form for that, plus a more general passthru form for general expenses including taxes.

  • All I said was “do the thing that’s in the plan (20 mph timing) now instead of later”. If you’re arguing about the retiming ever happening, I’m not the one to talk to.
    Yeah, I agree that it’s convenient to have a high-speed route when driving–but no one wants to live on/near them; or bike on them.

  • HoJo – clearly you aren’t a landlord.

    Not all houses are rented for profit. Noe Valley is littered with houses that people bought, then decided to move away for a while and are renting the house out. The rental does not need to be profitable for it to make sense to keep the house and rent it out. 

    The simplest argument is that if you can get a house in a market with rising housing values, you can run an operating loss yet DEDUCT the value of the house – which is an APPRECIATING assett – against your taxes, lowering your present tax burden despite you actually making money from the value of the house rising. Even if the house is positive on a cash flow basis, you can declare a tax loss by depreciating the house. Then you move back in, sell the house 2 years later and take your cap gains exemption to never repay the taxes on the phantom losses.

  • How the buses going to feel about slowing to 20 miles an hour. If you want a slow street, pick a slow street for the bike lanes. Oak and Fell were designed to move vehicle across town fast. It is cheaper and easier to put in a bike path on a slow, less-traveld street. Many have pointed this out.

  • Anonymous

    Nobody disagrees that Fell and Oak were designed to move vehicles across town fast. But if you read around this website a bit, you’ll see that a lot of people believe this is not the best way to design our cities. Instead of using inefficient, dangerous, loud, and polluting cars, we should be trying to move people quickly across the city using better methods, like public transit and bicycling. We can choose to move people via cars or by other healthier, more efficient, and more livable ways. What many people are now saying is that the latter is the better choice.

    Also, how fast do you think buses travel on average right now because they are stuck in car congestion? 20 mph would be amazing.

  • HoJo

    murphstahoe,

    You’re correct that I am not currently a SF landlord although I used to be and, back then, any increases in property tax could be passed thru via a couple of different Rent Board petitions – one for parcel taxes and another more general one for any increased operating expenses. So, for instance, if a rental building is sold, and so a new Prop 13 basis is set, the difference would be an increase in expenses (along with probably an increased mortgage) and a petition can be made to the SF Rent Board to add that to the rent.

    Obviously if a property isn’t rent controlled, then that’s moot, since the landlord can set the rent to anything he wants anyway.

    I agree with your comments on income tax, depreciation and CGT, although I don’t believe those were the taxes Dave was talking about because they are not local.

    I also understand that some landlords might be OK with renting at cost or at a loss, and will therefore eat any tax hikes. But more generally, a business has to pay it’s way, meaning revenues must exceed costs and leave enough for a profit to compensate for the capital put at risk. So ultimately prop taxes have to be passed onto and paid by tenants.

    In fact, more generally, all taxes applied at the business level fall to the consumer i.e. we the people. Things don’t pay taxes; people do.

    To Dave’s other point, couldn’t it be possible to combine residents’ permits with meters? So that payment would vary depending on whether you are a resident of that one or not? That would impose only short-term parking on visitors, ensuring availablility (at a cheaper price) for those who live there.

    Nobody wants to run out of their home at 7am to feed a meter.

  • As if MUNI makes it through that corridor at 20 MPH

  • Andy Chow

     Fell and Oak are traffic sewers because there’s no freeway alternative. As much as I think that people should drive less in general, we still need to make accommodations for motor vehicle traffic that includes trucks, carpools, taxis, and buses.

    I support the bike lanes but I think re-timing signal is a bad idea. As it is it can be faster sometimes driving on parallel streets even with stop signs on every block. If traffic becomes worse on those traffic sewers, then the parallel streets will see a larger impact. The benefits for the cyclists will not be much.

  • HoJo

    I was in Europe a few weeks ago, and saw two ideas that seemed to work well. What struck me was that they weren’t complicated, expensive, controversial or invasive. Nor did they pitch classes of people and road users against each other:

    1) Signs specifically for cyclists directing them to the best routes i.e. away from heavy traffic and onto quiet, leafy streets. I’ve looked at the SFBC map but it really doesn’t achieve that. If anything, it funnels cyclists inot deathpits.

    2) Bikes lanes alternate between being on the road and being on the sidewalk. Where there is high speed, high density traffic, the bike lane takes clearly marked 50% of the sidewalk, shielding cyclists from the traffic.

    Too sensible for SF?

  • mikesonn

    I think you took away what you wanted from your trip.

  • HoJo

    Mike, I don’t know what you mean by that. What specifically did you not like about the ideas cited? Obviously they are not a total solution, but they are practical (and cheap and easy) “wins”. I suppose I could have suggested that all cars be banned from everywhere, and that would have gotten your support. But I made the radical assumption that we should put most of our energy into achievable goals rather than empty hypebole and rhetoric. No?

  • murphstahoe

    You live around there? You like living near a “death pit”?

    In Amsterdam or Copenhagen cyclists aren’t funneled anywhere. They take the most direct route – which “quelle horror!” is safe. Just like Fell can be.

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