SFMTA Extends Howard Bike Lane to Embarcadero But Leaves a Gap

Howard looking east between Beale and Main. Sharrows are now in the left-most lane on this block, where the Bike Plan originally called for a continous bike lane. Photo: Google Maps

SoMa’s westbound bike lane on Howard Street was extended east to the Embarcadero last week, creating a link from the waterfront to 11th Street. However, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency apparently left a gap on the block between Main and Beale Streets, where Howard passes the temporary Transbay Terminal. According to tipster Hank Hodes, the SFMTA painted only sharrows there, forcing bike commuters to ride in a lane with motor traffic, even though a continuous bike lane was called for in the SF Bike Plan.

The Howard bike lane serves as half of SoMa’s east-west bike corridor, along with the eastbound bike lane on neighboring Folsom Street, and is “a route preferred by many riders over Market Street for its minimal transit and straight angled intersections,” noted Hodes. But commuters hoping for a continuous bike lane that doesn’t suddenly dump them in motor traffic are apparently out of luck.

Howard at Steuart Street. Photo: Hank Hodes

We have an inquiry in with the SFMTA as to why the change was made, but one possible explanation is that curbside bus parking for the temporary terminal ate up space that would have been allocated to the bike lane, and no alternative plan to allow for the bike lane was created. Under the SFMTA’s Bike Plan design [PDF], the space for the bike lane on that block would have been carved from a 12’6″ traffic lane (and part-time parking lane), but that lane doesn’t appear to exist today. The “existing configuration” shown in the Bike Plan design, it seems, was altered to create room for a wider bus stop lane on the opposite side of the street.

Since most of the real estate for the new bike lane (including the originally planned section between Main and Beale) comes from reallocating the excess width of existing traffic lanes, no car parking was removed. A one-block eastbound traffic lane was removed between Steuart and Spear, however, which should help calm car traffic.

Bicycling on Howard has increased dramatically since the SFMTA implemented the main stretch of the bike lane between 2001 and 2006. During that time, the number of bicyclists at Howard and 5th Streets climbed 300 percent, according to city data provided by the SF Bicycle Coalition. From 2006 to 2011, the number of bicyclists at Howard and 11th Streets increased by an additional 104 percent, according to the SFMTA’s 2011 Bicycle Count Report [PDF].

See more photos after the break.

The Bike Plan design for this project shows a 12'6" traffic lane (shared with part-time parking), which the bike lane would have been carved out of. That lane seems to have been removed since this plan was made. Click to enlarge.
The new bike lane on Howard, looking east from Main. Photo: Hank Hodes
Howard between Steuart and Spear, where an eastbound traffic lane was removed. Photo: Hank Hodes
  • Note the number of bikes on the lanes.

  • mikesonn

    First day of the lanes. Notice there aren’t many cars and the lanes have been that way since, what, the mid-50’s?

  • Ubringliten

    Although I am glad more lanes are being striped for bikes, but it is always half-ass planning.  Why can’t we for once get real separated bike lanes in areas where bike traffic is high from point A to point B?  And no, Cargo Way, Market Street nor GGP bike lanes meet that criteria.

  • Drunk Engineer

    Road engineers only care about the busiest 15 minutes of the busiest hour in the day. All other times don’t matter.

  • @facebook-100003129025948:disqus Sure, you could try to judge how effectively bike lanes promote bicycling by looking at a few photos of a four-block, primarily evening-commute bike lane taken the morning after it was striped, one which even has a remaining gap (which this article is about).

    But fortunately, the city counts of this sort of thing, and the SF Bike Coalition even made a handy graph of bicycling rates on Howard Street between 2001 and 2006, during which the two main phases of the bike lanes were striped (covering about 90 percent of Howard). During that time, the number of people bicycling on Howard increased by 300 percent.

    Since then, the SFMTA’s 2011 Bicycle Count Report [PDF] has found an additional 104 percent increase on Howard from 2006-2011.

    Take your pick.

  • Justin Ryan

    Every time I ride down Howard, I regret it. When the bike lane is not filled with cars and trucks (usually), it is too close to the parked cars. Drivers get angry and aggressive when you ride outside of the bike lane, even if it is clearly blocked. As @Urbringliten:disqus said, this is another example of half-assed, insincere planning, arguably worse than nothing (I rarely get harassed taking up a whole lane on streets that have no bike lane). Howard is either gridlock with drivers abruptly swerving between lanes and around corners, or a wide-open freeway with engines racing and tires squealing. There are FOUR lanes, more than most highways — can we not repurpose ONE of them on a bike network street to more responsible uses?

  • Anonymous

    So, since the change from a full bike lane to a shared lane was not studied properly with a full EIR report, I assume it’s fair game for a lawsuit?

  • Anonymous

    I am pretty sure the gap is temporary. Once the Transbay terminal is completed and the bus stop relocated it will free up space for reconfiguration. Meanwhile a big bike sharrow is painted in the middle of the right lane so bikes should feel free to take the whole lane. The traffic is fairly light on that stretch anyway.

    Great job for paint the bike lane on the other few blocks! I ride that stretch everyday and it feels far more organized now. What a difference a painted line makes!

  • Anonymous

    Where else would you go other than Howard when you head west? It works pretty well for me. Yes there are double parking. In that case I would take the whole lane and then pass the parked car on the left. I was never harassed in anyway. The double parked car cut off the lane to other cars anyway so they have no choice but to merge left. This essentially left a void for bike to maneuver around the parked car. Sure the traffic and the double parked cars are a hassle. But this high traffic area near downtown I think this is to be expected. All in all I find this a smooth route across SOMA.

    The only trouble spot is outside of W hotel on the 3rd St corner. There are a lot of right turning cars and a lot of chaos caused by taxi at curb. That’s a corner you need to be extra careful.

  • mike

    If Market St or JFK Dr do not meet that criteria, I’m guessing neither do Division, Cesar Chavez, Laguna Honda Blvd, San Jose Ave, or Alemany.

  • voltairesmistress

    Looking at these photos, it just occurred to me that perhaps Mission Street would make a good BRT route, right down the center of the street with boarding platforms, and a bike lane in each direction.  Why not rid it of car traffic, except for night delivery trucks?  Haven’t seen any mention of this amongst SPURites or from the SFMTA.  But it seems very few drivers use Mission compared to the other East-West multi-lane streets.  Wouldn’t re-designating Mission for busses, taxis, and bikes also provide cyclists with a safer, near-Market alternative?

  • Andy Chow

     Mission Street in downtown is a utilitarian corridor. It has access to many parking lots and garages, along with alleyways and blue collar businesses. I don’t think it is realistic to not allow autos and trucks on Mission especially we already discourage them on Market.