Bikeway on Mission Instead of Market: Does Anybody Think It’s a Good Idea?

Bike traffic is already booming on Market Street, the city's main civic thoroughfare and most direct route to many major destinations. Does anybody really think ignoring this natural traffic pattern is a good idea? Photo: Mark Dreger, San Franciscoize/Flickr

Updated at 9 p.m. with street configuration diagram at bottom.

Two public meetings on Better Market Street will be held on July 17 and 20, and a webinar will be held on July 18.

The idea of building protected bike lanes on downtown Mission Street instead of Market Street, as proposed by the Department of Public Works and the SFMTA, doesn’t seem to have many adherents aside from the planners who proposed it.

The agencies framed the proposal as a simpler engineering task than protected bike lanes on Market — where the vast majority of people already ride, and are expected to continue to ride. But the idea was roundly criticized by advocates and city officials yesterday at the latest Board of Supervisors hearing on the Better Market Street project.

Although SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said the option is worth studying, he also said he “shares many of the concerns” about trying to divert bicycle traffic off the city’s main thoroughfare.

“If it’s not going to be a world-class bicycle facility that will be a better choice and naturally attract cyclists to Mission Street, and many bicyclists still end up on Market Street, then it won’t have achieved its goal of trying to de-conflict transit and cycling,” said Reiskin.

Paul Valdez, a bicycle commuter who spoke against the Mission option — as did every other speaker who commented on it — called it “absurd.”

“Scratch that option. Please re-focus your energies, time, and resources” on improving Market Street, he said.

A rendering of Market Street, between 1st and 2nd Streets, featuring a raised, protected bike lane. Image: Better Market Street

Planners at DPW and the SFMTA proposed the Mission alternative because they say road space constraints imposed by Market’s BART station entrances make it difficult to engineer protected bike lanes there, while Mission’s traffic signals could be synchronized with a 14 mph “green wave” for bikes. However, it would be more expensive than a bikeway on Market, require people on bikes to take indirect and counterintuitive detours, and would require major bike improvements on every SoMa block between Mission and Market to maintain a high standard of bicycling conditions.

People on bikes would be expected to take these detours off of Market to reach their destinations. Image: Better Market Street

Essentially, it would go against a primary principle of bike planning: improving the most direct routes, which people are naturally drawn to use.

“If the bike riders are voting with their wheels, so to speak, by riding down Market Street, then it would be foolish” to pursue the Mission option, said Nik Kaestner, director of sustainability for the SF Unified School District and a board member of the SF Bicycle Coalition.

Transit advocates have also voiced concern over the proposal in the Mission alternative to re-route Muni’s 14-Mission line and other buses on to Market, which, as the city’s main transit trunk, already struggles to provide enough capacity for the high number of existing bus and streetcar lines.

“Adding these are going to overload Market, and will degrade transit time on Market, even if you eliminate private cars,” said Rick Laubscher, president of the Market Street Railway, a nonprofit that advocates for the preservation of Market’s historic F-Line streetcars. “If we compromise [the goal of efficient movement] for other considerations, we will be saddled with higher Muni operating costs and less safe conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians for decades to come.”

Livable streets advocates and planners on the project have also noted that the vision of Better Market Street is to make the city’s main civic thoroughfare a safe, inviting place to be, and welcoming people on bikes is key to realizing that vision.

“We’ve always seen cyclists as a contributor to public life,” said Neil Hrushowy of the Planning Department’s City Design Group. “The more we can do to treat them as a pedestrian than as a hard object like a vehicle, I think the better off the system is.”

To make the case for the Mission alternative, Andrew Lee, the SFMTA’s lead planner on the project, presented [PDF] a recent survey showing that many current bicycle riders would be willing to detour a number of blocks to use a protected bike lane. (KTVU also introduced the idea to folks on the street yesterday, finding one bike messenger who favored the idea, and a few cabbies who seemed to be unfavorable toward adding any bike lanes.)

But the goal is to create a main boulevard where just about anyone, regardless of age, can easily hop on a bike. People who are brave enough to ride in the current conditions can’t speak for the needs of the broader population.

Survey results and bike usage data collected by the SFMTA.

A sample protected bike lane configuration for Market between First and Second Streets. It does show an unprotected section of lane next to one of the BART entrances. Image: Better Market Street