Standing Up to Legal Appeal, SFMTA Moves Ahead With Fell Street Bike Lane

Opponents of the Fell and Oak Street bikeway and pedestrian improvements filed an appeal last week seeking to delay implementation of street safety measures on the critical three-block stretch linking the Panhandle to the Wiggle, but the legal gambit will not slow down construction of the bike lane on Fell currently underway, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency says.

Fell and Scott Streets, where curbside car parking has been removed and a bike lane is set to be striped this week. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The appeal [PDF] — filed by Mark Brennan, a developer; Howard Chabner, a disability rights advocate; and Ted Loewenberg, president of the Haight-Ashbury Improvement Association — demands that the SFMTA abandon the bikeway, claiming that it discriminates against the disabled and requires environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (which the project was exempted from).

Following the recent removal of a car parking lane on Fell, between Baker and Scott Streets, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the agency will begin striping the bike lane tomorrow, weather permitting. “We are confident in the environmental work that went into this project,” he said. It’s unclear whether the rest of the project is in jeopardy of being delayed.

The project, which will create physically separated bike lanes and pedestrian safety measures like curb extensions at intersections, has drawn overwhelming support at public hearings. It has the backing of neighborhood groups — including the North of Panhandle, Alamo Square, and Lower Haight neighborhood associations — as well as a number of merchants, D1 Supervisor Eric Mar, D5 Supervisor Christina Olague, and London Breed, who won election last week as the next D5 supervisor.

“The city led an extensive and admirable community outreach and planning process that also showed appropriate urgency to address a known dangerous area,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. “The strong public and political support for this improvement project speaks to the truth that when we make our streets calmer and safer, there are significant shared benefits for people bicycling, walking, and those with physical disabilities.”

A hearing on the appeal could be held by the Board of Supervisors on December 11, according to a city staffer, but it’s currently unclear who will decide whether it has any legal standing. The appeal centers on the claim that the removal of about 100 car parking spots on Fell and Oak (about 50 of which are being replaced on nearby streets) will cause negative impacts. It also claims the sidewalk extensions, which reduce crossing distances and improve visibility for pedestrians, will “impede traffic by making right turns difficult.”

In an email to the SFMTA Board of Directors last month, Chabner expressed his opposition to the project, asserting that people on bikes should detour to Hayes and Page Streets, which the vast majority already avoid because of steep terrain and longer distances. He asserted that repurposing free curbside parking would be a hardship on car owners and people with disabilities who need to load and unload, and that bike lanes would hinder visibility for drivers pulling out of garages more than parked cars do.

No street parking spaces within the immediate area are reserved for disabled placard holders, and SFMTA studies have indicated that the lack of parking permit restrictions actually made the spaces along the bikeway corridor a magnet for long-term car storage, not short-term loading and unloading. Paratransit vehicles and taxis will legally be able to stop in the bike lanes to load and unload disabled passengers.

The SFMTA’s public outreach included several community planning meetings that drew hundreds of attendees, as well as meetings with 18 groups, including the city’s Paratransit Coordinating Council and pedestrian and bicycle advisory committees, to field input. Shahum noted that the SFBC has also done extensive door-to-door outreach to residents and merchants and met with neighborhood groups.

Suzanne Holland, a Mission resident who is blind and rides around the city on a tandem bicycle with her partner, said the protected bike lanes will “make it easier, safer and calmer for me to get around town. I look forward to the Fell and Oak improvements moving forward, and to being able to pedal safely to and from Golden Gate Park.”

Other measures to calm traffic and improve pedestrian safety, like lowered synchronized traffic signal speeds, “ladder”-style crosswalks, and advanced stop lines for cars, will provide widespread benefits beyond enhancing a crucial link for one of the city’s most heavily-used bicycling routes, noted Shahum.

“There are strong, common goals among communities working for more accessible public space for people with disabilities and those working for safer walking and bicycling conditions,” she said, noting that the SFBC “looks forward to greater collaboration among our advocacy communities to help make our streets and communities safer.”

“We all benefit when vehicles move more slowly and calmly on our streets and when sidewalks are clear and accessible,” she said.

  • This project, called a “long term” project in the Bicycle Plan, hasn’t had any environmental review. And there’s a serious vehicle access problem for those in wheelchairs.

  • Wrong

  • mikesonn

    Murph is right that you are wrong. Exemptions have been made for bike lanes.

  • How am I wrong? The city exempted itself from having to do any environmental review, and, as Howard Chabner—who is wheelchair-bound—has testified, it presents problems for people like him.
    http://district5diary.blogspot.com/2012/10/oakfell-bike-lanes-discriminate-against.html

  • mikesonn

    A car dominated city does disabled persons much worse through expanded distances between points of interest and hindering better transit service.

  • Sprague

    The issue of disability access is very important.  This project’s benefits can not be ignored.  Shorter crossing distances thanks to sidewalk bulbouts at select intersections improves safety for all pedestrians, especially those with mobility impairments.  As a compromise with a local business (Faletti’s), one sidewalk bulbout was removed from the plan.  Enhanced crosswalk designs also enhance pedestrian safety for all who cross these busy streets.  In regards to worse access for vehicle wheelchair ramps, the parking removal on Fell Street may have no direct impact on this (perhaps they are in use in this country, but I am unfamiliar with left side wheelchair ramps – they usually are on the right side of accessible vans).  To mitigate the impact of a net loss of parallel parking spots, more such parking spots could be reserved for those with disabled placards (with accessible van designation).  Finally, all who use the sidewalks on the south side of Fell and Oak after this project is implemented will receive a small environmental benefit.  There will be less direct exposure to vehicle exhaust (from idling cars and parking cars) with the removal of parking and the resulting greater distance between pedestrians and motorized vehicles.  All of the other points of opposition to this long overdue improvement are tireless defenses of our unsustainable status quo.

  • Howard’s testimony – I watched his public comment – made no logical sense.

    He prefaced his entire comment by claiming – we’ll believe him for now – that he is in a wheelchair because he was hit by a cyclist on the sidewalk. He is clearly unhappy with his current condition – justifiably – but his blame of cyclists in general for his condition is illogical. It is that blame of cyclists in general that has led him to his scattered position that is entirely devoid of rational basis. 

    He doesn’t care whether or not this makes it worse for disabled people, otherwise he would have taken the time and effort to make a coherent argument. Instead he has produced a scattered collection of random words that he believes will achieve the end result that cyclists are denied something they want, which he values as one manner of him acquiring closure. His Don Quixote like quest for revenge will serve only to further disconnect himself from polite society when he loses his appeal, having wasted the time of many a brave soul.

  • @twitter-14678929:disqus  I saw that too — my thought was, “Providing quality bike lanes is a great way to get bicycle riders off the sidewalk.” 

  • I second the point about vehicle exhaust. I’m sick of being a 2nd-class citizen forced to inhale 2nd-hand exhaust fumes.

  • Gneiss

    Rob, the city identified Oak Street between Baker Street and Scott Street in the 2009 EIR as a long term improvement.  Since Fell already has a bike lane, you can easily argue that what is being proposed is simply an ‘improvement’ over existing conditions.  Look at Appendix A for information on the lane on Oak.  Here’s the relevant text:

    Long‐term improvement projects are either major improvements to segments of the existing bicycle route network or are potential future additions of new streets and pathways to the bicycle route network and may require additional environmental review in the future. Specific designs for these projects have not been developed as of publication of this document. These proposed long‐term improvements include a wide range of potential design features that would, in accordance with the goals of the Bicycle Plan, enhance the overall connectivity and safety of the bicycle route network for bicyclists and help increase bicycle use.

    The impacts of these future improvements are evaluated at a program level in this analysis with regard to the Proposed Project footprint (the affected street right‐of‐way and park land, as indicated in Figure 1) and may require further project‐level analysis that would consider the potential environmental impacts of these improvements in a separate environmental review process once specific project designs are developed.

    The anticipated long‐term improvements, which are encompassed by the present environmental review, may include, but are not limited to, the following design elements to improve bicycle travel: signage changes; pavement marking such as the installation of colored pavement materials and the installation of sharrows; modifications to bus zones and parking configurations such as changes to the location, configuration, and number of metered or unmetered parking spaces and loading zones; changes to the locations and configurations of curbs, sidewalks, and medians (including both planted and unplanted), including widening of roadways; reconfiguration of intersections to improve bicycle crossings, including installation of bicycle traffic signals; the installation of traffic calming devices, including designation of bicycle boulevards that prioritize bicycle travel over other transportation modes; installation of bicycle lanes, pathways or other bicycle facilities, including those created in conjunction with the narrowing of traffic lanes; and the designation of shared bicycle and transit lanes.

    In addition, long‐term improvements along the following rights‐of‐way are analyzed at a program level (and included in the list is Oak Street between Baker and Scott). 

    In the second paragraph, they do use the term ‘may require a review’, but that leaves it entirely up to the discretion of the board as to whether it is required or not.  And in this case, they have decided that review is not necessary.

  • jry

    “The city led an extensive and admirable community outreach and planning process that also showed appropriate urgency to address a known dangerous area,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum.
    Seriously? Delaying the project for years to placate people who think the city owes them free, plentiful car storage? Admirable would be actually carrying out the letter and spirit of the Transit-First policy CITYWIDE, not just half-assed on three blocks every few years. My SFBC membership just expired, and I’m not giving more money so they can “applaud” Cargo Way bike lanes and cheerlead for a mayor who couldn’t care less about people who don’t drive. 

  • I don’t believe the Cargo Way money was ‘general city bike improvement slush fund’ money, but Port money, so despite any problems you or I may have with the reality of the Planet of the Apes Bikeway/Frankenbikeway, it’s not like that could have been put into improving Market St.

    Though maybe it could have been put into paving over some of the Illinois tracks…

  • Anonymous

    So does this mean that the Oak St lane is going to be stalled? Any estimate of how long it will take to “unstall” it? I hope not anywhere near as long as it took to do the environmental review for the master bike plan a couple years ago. And if this really is true, how come the MTA still hasn’t learned from the experiences that Rob Anderson dragged us through with the bicycle master plan? I mean, couldn’t they have seen this coming and done all the paperwork up front? It’s all just really irritating that it’s so hard to move beyond the car, even in such a miniscule way as these lanes will advance us. I’m always amazed at how unprogressive SF is in so many ways ….

  • Anonymous

    When people are hit by cars and buses, they don’t end up disabled, they end up dead.  So the suit may indeed have a valid point.

  • Gneiss

    What I find most remarkable about this lawsuit is how blatantly politically motivated it
    is. Since this project is favored by the SFBC and their allies, it has received a lot of attention, but the impact to traffic patterns is arguably less than others the SFMTA have already instituted.  After all, the 8th Street bike improvements removed a travel lane.  On Hayes street, two blocks of a one way street were modified to be two way, taking away a car travel lane turning onto Gough. 

    Yet – *this* project, which removes parking to (gasp) install a bike lane and does nothing to modify travel lanes, is chosen rather than those other two to protest.  If they were really concerned about congestion on the streets and the potential for more pollution, they should have filed a lawsuit for those other two rather than this one.

  • mikesonn

    They should appeal to the BoS to impose RPP on the neighborhood. Parking problem solved!

  • No matter how much Rob protests that he is worried about the environment – saying that CEQA is the most important environmental law in the state – this all boils down to some people don’t like people riding bikes.

    Just like Voter ID laws are because we want to protect the sanctity of the vote – not because African-Americans are less likely to have ID.

  • Jakewegmann

    Cut the SFBC some slack. They have accomplished amazing things in the last few years in a city filled with people who are pathologically incapable of supporting real, concrete steps to live up to ideals that are loudly proclaimed from the rooftops and widely shared. They also operate in a context that includes CEQA, a law that now seems as though it was perfectly designed to give opponents of bike infrastructure, thoughtful infill development, affordable housing, etc maximum leverage to thwart the will of the vast majority of the public. 

  • BK

    Even Mitt Romney had a more graceful exit into irrelevancy than these three sore losers and their blogod, the almighty Rob Anderson.

  • Anonymous

    Take heart in the fact that it’s only 3 people. Sure, they may be able to stuff up the system and delay the project for the while (for it will eventually be completed), but my guess is that the silent majority are mostly ambivalent about it at worst, and support it at best. Gotta be careful not to let a few outspoken, irrational people represent everyone.

  • Otrannel

     For the record, I read the captioning transcript of the MTA Board meeting. It was not Howard Chabner who said he was disabled in a bike accident. In the transcript the name appears as “fred tra heeio.” Mr. Chabner spoke later in the meeting.

  • Chabner has written more on the topic. Here’s one point.

    For those with accessible minivans and vans with ramps or lifts on the side, all street parking spaces (except perpendicular and angled spaces, those on the driver’s side of a one-way street, and, sometimes, those with sidewalk obstructions such as garbage cans or trees in the exact location of the ramp or lift) are, in effect, accessible spaces even though they are not designated accessible spaces (in California, blue zones)

    The spaces being removed on Fell are on the driver’s side of a one way street and are thus not accessible by his definition.

  • SFwalkman

    Why aren’t they wearing helmets? 

  • I see that Anderson has crawled back under his rock after his counter-factual statements on the topic. Good.

  • Mom on a bike

    The SFBC can only do so much. I get a bit irritated with them from time to time because it’s not the bike lane mileage that’s important, it’s the safety of streets. (Which is why this particular development is extra cheer-worthy.)

    The problem isn’t really the mayor, either. It’s our broken system of local government that gives the mayor little power and instead gives disproportionate power to cranky old unelected white men who have nothing better to do but file lawsuits.

  • “cranky old unelected white men who have nothing better to do but file lawsuits”?

    Does this mean that CEQA, the most important environmental law in California, is only of concern to cranky old white men? Age, race, and gender are somehow linked to the notion that any project that even might have a negative impact on the environment should first conduct an environmental review? You don’t care that the city was deliberately violating this law? Why didn’t City Hall just do the legally required environmental study of the Bicycle Plan in the first place? Because they thought they could get away with not doing it. Developers, not surprisingly, also don’t like to do environmental studies of the potential impacts of their projects. Funny how people seem to think their projects are so special that they shouldn’t have to follow the same laws as everyone else.

  • jry

    I just now conducted the environmental review (no charge):

     – More bicycle infrastructure means more people bicycling.  – More people bicycling means fewer people driving — both because drivers are enticed to bicycle instead, and because drivers are discouraged from driving by the reduced number of parking spots and traffic lanes, which have been repurposed to bicycle [and transit, and pedestrian] uses. 
     – Fewer people driving means less air and noise pollution, less gridlock to slow transit and stifle economic activity, fewer people hurt and killed by drivers, less demand for environment-raping automobile infrastructure.
     – The above means a better environment. Simple, yes, but I challenge anyone to refute it. 

  • Gneiss

    But they did do an EIR on the bike plan so this point is moot.  The argument you are now making seems to now be focused on ADA requirements.  While the tune might have changed, your melody has not.  You still fear having more bicycles on our streets.

  • The legal point is not moot, since the Panhandle bike lane project has not had any environmental review. It was slipped in as a “long-term” project that would be studied later. When “later” came, the city made it exempt from review.

    jry: Why are some many of you folks anonymous? Your argument fails to deal with the specifics of this project. All this Bikes are Good and Cars are Bad stuff has already been said many times over the years. The reality is that cyclists are a small minority (3.5%) on the streets of SF, which means that the interests of other people (96.5%) must be considered.

  • Gneiss

    Read again what I said in my previous comment, and you’ll see that the city did in fact examine the Oak Street bike lane project.  Just because they did have specific plans at the time the EIR was submitted, does not mean it wasn’t considered in the overall review.  The language of Appendix A leaves it entirely up to the city’s discretion as to whether or not they need “further” review.  In fact, they outline all the various pieces of the changes that are suggested in the plan.  Once more, for posterity, here they are:

    “The anticipated long‐term improvements, which are encompassed by the present environmental review, may include, but are not limited to, the following design elements to improve bicycle travel: signage changes; pavement marking such as the installation of colored pavement materials and the installation of sharrows; modifications to bus zones and parking configurations such as changes to the location, configuration, and number of metered or unmetered parking spaces and loading zones; changes to the locations and configurations of curbs, sidewalks, and medians (including both planted and unplanted), including widening of roadways; reconfiguration of intersections to improve bicycle crossings, including installation of bicycle traffic signals; the installation of traffic calming devices, including designation of bicycle boulevards that prioritize bicycle travel over other transportation modes; installation of bicycle lanes, pathways or other bicycle facilities, including those created in conjunction with the narrowing of traffic lanes; and the designation of shared bicycle and transit lanes.”

    I think from this languague, they have made it clear what kinds of changes where anticipated, and how the need for an additional EIR is unneccesary for this segment of the bicycle plan.

  • Gneiss

    Sorry, I meant “not” have specific plans.

  • Gneiss

    One more thing I’d like to mention.  The lawsuit suggested that some 60,000 vehicles use the Oak-Fell daily.  The bike counter that SFMTA has installed on Fell has regular counts of 1,500+ bicycles per day. There are likely an equal number of bicycles also trying to move along this corridor on Oak (or using Page/Hayes) in the morning, suggest a total of 3,000+ are in this area daily.  That represents about 20% of the traffic on this corridor rather than the overall 3.5% of total city commuters that you use.

    Isn’t increasing safety for 20% of road users in that area worth something to you?

  • Justin Ryan

    Rob, point taken about anonymity. I’m not into the Bikes are Good argument as much as Cars are Bad — private car ownership in a dense city works directly against high functioning transit and safe places to walk. Really Transit and Walking are Best, because biking is not for everyone. And I’m sure even you agree that the alternative — providing the facilities for 96.5% of residents to drive and park in this city — would be a disaster. 
    But we all know that San Francisco is not going to get decent transit service any time soon. So even our pathetic government understands that getting people on bikes is an incredibly cheap and easy way to move people around. Even the mediocre improvements bicyclists have gotten in the last few years, yourself notwithstanding, has resulted in a doubling or more of the biking population, meaning less people clogging MUNI from inside and out. 

    I’d like to hear about “the specifics of this project” that I’m not addressing. As to your point about all this having been said over the years — http://spotsunknown.com/1962-save-the-bay-area-from-choking-to-death-with-bart/ — what was true 50 years ago is still true now. 

  • This means that you don’t give a shit about the environment. You give a shit about CEQA becuase for some reason you don’t like bikes or people that ride them. So you will use any avenue to pursue that agenda.
    If there were a group labeled “Support pedophiles and castigate cyclists” you would join it.

  • mike

    Gneiss, 3,000 out of 60,000 is 5%.Rob and all, 3.5% is the percentage of work trips on a given day that happen to be done by bike. This isn’t saying 3.5% of people use bicycles and 96.5% don’t.In fact, according to surveys completed in 2011, 17% of SF residents use a bicycle once a week, with 34% using it at least once a year.Lastly, 34% say they’d never ride a bike, meaning 66% are open to trying it:http://www.sfmta.com/cms/rbikes/documents/SFMTA-CyclingSurvey-01-11-RPT_FinalJAN.pdf

  • Mike:

    Actually, according to the city’s own reports, 3.5% is both the percentage of cyclists commuting and the percentage for all trips, according to a report by a consultant for the MTA last year. One would expect all trips to be a higher percentage, since many cyclists use bikes to go on errands, etc.
    http://www.sfmta.com/cms/rbikes/documents/SFMTA-ModeShareSurvey_FinalJULY.pdf

    The party line used to be that cyclists were 6% of all trips, but the report I linked above comes up with 3.4%, so the city is stuck with it.

  • mike

    I guess my point wasn’t clear. You state that “the interests of other people (96.5%) must be considered.” I’m pointing out that bicyclists are not 3.5% of the populace, since 17% of San Franciscans use a bicycle at least once a week. 34% have used a bicycle in the past year. You are attempting to marginalize bicycling.

  • Anonymous

    @ea1809617b00430091318d0e92a6ef00:disqus wrote: “The reality is that cyclists are a small minority (3.5%) on the streets
    of SF, which means that the interests of other people (96.5%) must be
    considered.”

    First, the needs of other people are already being considered: the whole damn city is designed around their interests and has been for several generations. That’s like saying the needs of white men need to be considered when talking politics. Bicycles have been the neglected stepchild or urban design for far too long. We are all well aware of the needs of the motorists.

    Second, policy isn’t decided by a popularity contest. Think about it: all new ideas by their very definition start out only being supported by a small minority. That’s just the nature of change. If everything had to be supported by a majority, especially when it is new, we would never get anything done. That’s why popular opinion is only used to elect leaders, and then otherwise the leaders do what they have to without consulting the public (excepting ballot measures … which is why I despise ballot measures since it’s just our public leaders shirking their own duties to the masses who don’t have the time to do the proper research to make an informed, rational decision).

    Instead, we decide policy by the merit of the argument at hand. We don’t say the merits of cycling are irrelevant because, for example, only 3.5% of trips are via bike. That would be like saying, 110 years ago, since 5% (or whatever) of trips were by car, there was no reason to accommodate them in urban design. Now look how cars dominate. Instead, we ask ourselves: what are the healthiest, safest, most efficient ways to move people around our cities while also creating livable neighborhoods? And to form good policy, the search for the answer to that question should have nothing to do with how people *currently* get around. Otherwise, change and progress are impossible.

    Also note that, by your logic, we shouldn’t have infrastructure for the handicapped everywhere since, after all, they are very small minority of the populace.

  • Only in some deluded fantasyland is this project detrimental to pedestrians. It is a big improvement for pedestrians. That’s a big ass chunk of your 96.5%

  • “Big-ass chunk”? That sounds like a lot, but I’d like to see some specifics on pedestrian safety—not to mention safety for you bike folks—that is actual evidence that the status quo is unsafe for anyone. The safety issue is a bogus issue, since there’s no evidence that this area is unsafe.

  • Rob already stated that one injury accident every couple months at one intersection is no big deal. (That’s the rate of injury accidents at Fell and Masonic). So when he says something is “safe”, he means bones being crushed, blood spilled, ambulances called, that sort of thing. No big deal!

  • Developer + “disability rights advocate” = payoff

  • keenplanner

    I wish someone would do something similar on Fell.  Although there is a bike lane, it’s narrow and terrifying b/c of the speeding traffic.  Fell needs to be traffic-calmed to 25mph, max. The idea that timed signals regulate any but a few cars to the speed limit is nuts.
    Parking on Fell should be removed between Scott and the Panhandle.  I propose that the left parking lane along the panhandle be made into a bike “express” lane, and travel lanes reduced from 4 to 3, like the rest of Fell. 
    This will work as an interim fix until we can return Oak and Fell to 2-way normal city streets.  The traffic sewer configuration is dangerous and very bad for Western Addition connectivity.

  • gorgar

    Rob Anderson advised me to take the bus to work instead of riding my bike. I guess he wants us to abandon our cars and bikes and just start taking public transportation. I’m sure muni can handle it. Probably really would be pretty great with no cars. Now we just have to convince 60,000 people a day not to drive and to hop on the bus. Rob Anderson saving the planet.

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