SFMTA: Fell and Oak Bike Lanes Are Yielding Promising Safety Results

An SF Bicycle Coalition volunteer thanks commuters for "biking politely" on Oak at Scott Street. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfbike/9920295744/in/set-72157635851093455/##SFBC/Flickr##

The SFMTA has released some preliminary survey results showing that the three-block bike lanes on Fell and Oak Streets, along with other safety measures, have resulted in calmer motor traffic, an increased sense of safety among bicycle commuters, and a decrease in illegal bicycling behaviors.

On Fell and Oak, between Scott and Baker Streets — the connection from the Wiggle to the Panhandle — the SFMTA removed car parking lanes to install curbside bike lanes, separated by buffer space and plastic posts, along with bicycle traffic signals and more visible “continental” crosswalk stripes, while also lowering the synchronized traffic signal speeds from 25 to 20 MPH. The block of Baker between Fell and Oak was also put on a traffic-calming road diet with a buffered left-turn lane to make it easier for bike commuters to pass stopped cars and reach a new left-turn bike box. Parallel parking spots on the block were also converted to back-in angled parking spots.

Although not all of the planned bike and pedestrian improvements are in the ground yet, the SFMTA posted the following results on its website:

Since the bikeways were completed in May of 2013, SFMTA staff have been conducting observations and collecting data about the project’s effects on behavior and attitudes. So far, we have seen some promising trends:

  • A 3-5 mph reduction in motor vehicle speeds on Oak Street as a result of modest changes to traffic signal timing.
  • A reduction in sidewalk bicycle riding now that bicyclists have buffered bike lanes to seperate them from traffic.
  • An increase in bicyclists’ compliance with traffic signals as a result of improved bikeways and traffic signals.

Additionally, an intercept survey was conducted of people riding their bikes on Fell and Oak streets in August of 2013. Preliminary tallies of the results found that many of the project’s goals are already being achieved:

  • Because of the bikeways on Oak and Fell streets, 98% of riders surveyed said they feel that the safety of bicycling on Oak and Fell has increased, and 90% feel that drivers’ awareness of people biking on Oak and Fell has increased.
  • Around one in six respondents said they would have used a different route on their bikes before the bikeways were implemented; About 7% said they would have used a different mode all together (driving, walking etc)
  • Around one in five people said that because of the Oak and Fell bikeways, how often they ride a bike overall has increased. Among women only, it is closer to one in three.

Good stuff. I’ve also noticed, while riding in a car or bus down Fell and Oak, that the eye-catching bike lanes seem to act as a sort of billboard for bicycling. It’d be helpful to know how many commuters have been drawn to try out the Wiggle option since the bike lanes appeared.

The data feed from the in-ground Fell bicycle counter — where a skinny, door-zone bike lane already existed for about ten years before it was installed — hasn’t shown a noticeable increase in traffic quite yet. Here’s a comparison of bike trips recorded in the three months of August, September, and October this year and last year:

2012

  • August: 54,522
  • September: 52,054
  • October: 42, 393

2013

  • August: 49, 170
  • September: 51, 389
  • October: 52,281

The broader trends are nothing to scoff at, however. In 2009, the year the Fell counter was installed, bicycle traffic peaked at 41,017 in September. The record was since set at 55,872 in October 2011. For 2013, October (which ends tomorrow) has had the highest ridership so far at 52,281.

The Fell and Oak project still isn’t done — the SFMTA is expected to install concrete planters to separate the bike lanes from motor traffic, along with planted pedestrians bulb-outs. Those were originally expected to be installed this year, but the SFMTA now says construction on the bulb-outs will start in summer 2014.

The SFMTA is expected to provide us with an update tomorrow on when the concrete planters should be installed.

A reminder of what bicycling on Oak used to look like (taken from the same vantage point as the top photo). Photo: Aaron Bialick
  • mikesonn

    If nothing else, the street looks a million times better without all the parked cars. And who would’ve thought that better infra makes for better behaved cyclists? huh.

  • Anonymous

    It really is much less stressful to ride Oak and Fell now.

  • Matt

    I frequently (almost 50% of my trips) see cars parked in the bike lane on oak between Baker and Divis. I hope some of those big concrete barricades are going in on Oak.

  • Upright Biker

    I once heard it phrased wonderfully that “parked vehicles are of limited aesthetic value.”

    Your observation is spot on. Moving more parking to off-street facilities will make our city even more attractive. I think that’s one of the reasons suburban outdoor malls are so popular — it gives the illusion of being in a car-free city, even if the fact of the matter is exactly the opposite.

  • SFnative74

    I’ve taken my daughter on Oak St twice now, something I would have NEVER done on Oak St before, and both times it was great. Huge improvement!

  • bourbon

    I still feel unsafe on Oak. It needs to be buffered.

  • SFnative74

    When I was in Copenhagen, I noticed many streets in their center did not have parking, but there were “smart” guide signs telling drivers where the parking garages were and how many spaces were available. Seemed to be a good way to reduce the amount of driving by people in cars circling for parking. Having said that, I think managing the amount of and cost of parking is a better way to control traffic than any congestion charges.

  • Tara

    Hi all – if you ride a bicycle in SF, particularly on Oak and/or Fell, we want to hear from you! Please go to tinyurl.com/sfbikesurvey. If you want more information about our study, please check out http://otrec.us/research/page/neighborhood_street_study

    Thanks!

  • Jesse

    Same here. It’s better but still a little scary with cars flying past you. That towing company seems to frequently have has trucks on the bike lane, and the BofA occasionally has a vehicle plunked down so someone can use the ATM.

  • SFnative74

    Even with double parking, it’s usually pretty easy to get around vehicles without having to go in the car lane. Before you had to go into the car lane to get around double parkers.

  • Jeff

    Any data on how the changes have affected Muni? Oak/Fell is a vital Muni commuter corridor. Thanks.

  • 94103er

    I know what you mean. That one section where there’s a merge you’re just holding your breath to see if some idiot flying at high speed will suddenly turn right. See also: Fell at the Arco station (for a left turn in that case)

  • I’d love to see your falloff statistics for that survey.

  • Is the existing counter placed so everyone in the new bike lane configuration is counted?

  • gneiss

    Let’s not forget that the biggest argument against this project was how the bike lanes were going to make parking ‘impossible’ on the surrounding streets. We’ve not seen any evidence of that and there have been no stories in the media about increased parking problems. Just like with Highway removal, we’re seeing that much of the perceived demand simply melts away when the capacity no longer exists. I hope MTA does a parking survey to help bolster it’s arguments for parking removal in other parts of the city.

  • It’ll be nice to see how much it improves when they finish both streets.

  • jimmy

    vital? There is only two bus lines (16X and NX) that use Oak/Fell. There are a total of 32 scheduled inbound departures on weekdays.

  • 94103er

    I just realized (especially after taking the survey someone linked to here) that buffers really aren’t going to help us much in the ‘mixing zones,’ that is, the merge areas that come before the intersections.

    But maybe they actually will…? Part of the reason why separated bikeways, or just plain old curbs, are pretty effective at keeping slower traffic safe is just the visual break that’s provided. So a car can jump a curb anytime, sure, but the real problem right now with drivers and cyclists is that a bike lane doesn’t compute in their minds as anything but ‘the rest of the road’ where you go when you need to park. But you’re trained from day 1 of driving that you look for pedestrian cross traffic.

    So I dunno, maybe the concrete planters will help demarcate the traffic in a similar way that a curb does. This will provide the visual break that reminds drivers to look before merging. Seems to work pretty well in Europe, anyway. Bicycle signals help all this, too.

  • 94103er

    The one I saw on Fell (this was maybe 2 weeks ago) extended all the way across to the striped buffer thing. Didn’t see one on Oak.

  • mikesonn

    Any bike lane is going to take away access for private autos which in turn will severely impact THE MUNI. Why do we all hate THE MUNI so much??!!

  • Anonymous

    There is evidence parking is becoming difficult. NOPNA residents have filed for a RPP. That wasn’t necessary prior to the Fell, Oak St. removal of on street parking.

  • Anonymous

    There is evidence parking is becoming difficult. NOPNA residents have filed for a RPP. That wasn’t necessary prior to the Fell, Oak St. removal of on street parking.

  • gneiss

    As a veritable doughnut hole of non-RPP parking surrounded by RPP zones, it’s no surprise that the NOPNA area needs one. More than half of the cars that park in this zone are not registered in the 94117 zip code. Last I saw, though, only 300 people have signed the petition for the area bounded by Masonic, McAllister, Webster, and Page St. They’ll need far more signatures before MTA will consider moving forward with a plan.

  • Mario Tanev

    There needs to be separate signal timing for bicycles and then the mixing zones can be removed and any presence of cars in the bike lane at any time should be prohibited.

  • timsmith

    This project doesn’t affect auto capacity in any way (the number of lanes is not reduced), so I’m not sure how it could affect Muni. Perhaps it might speed up Muni at the margins by removing cyclists from the remaining lanes.

  • John Pettitt

    As somebody who drives oak every morning and makes the right onto divisadero I love the new bike lanes – they help both cars and bikes know where to go.

    However there is still a big issue with bikes a block up on Page running stops – as a pedestrian walking my dog I’ve had several near misses -with bikes that didn’t even slow at all for the stop at page/lyon.

  • Anonymous

    All the more reason to make Oak more safe 🙂

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