SFMTA Wants to Remove King Street Bike Lanes, Won’t Improve Alternative

The ghost bike at King and Third is for Diana Sullivan, who was killed on the stretch where the bike lane disappears. Photo: Google Maps

The SFMTA wants to remove bike lanes and sharrows on King Street in SoMa’s South Beach area to discourage bicycling on the truck-heavy street, Hoodline reports.

The agency wants to divert bike commuters to the parallel stretch of Townsend Street, but has no plans to improve the bike lanes there, which are unprotected and routinely blocked by drivers near the Caltrain Station.

The SFMTA originally proposed extending King’s striped bike lanes (one of its 24 Vision Zero projects). But the agency instead decided to remove all bike infrastructure on the street until concrete changes can be made.

The existing bike lanes are narrow and disappear suddenly, which “is not comfortable for people biking,” said SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose. “By directing people to bike on Townsend or the Embarcadero Promenade, we can improve safety for people biking and reduce confusion in the area.”

“In the long-term,” said Jose, the agency “will be examining how biking can be improved in the area through the larger-scale Embarcadero Enhancement Project,” which could bring protected bike lanes along the waterfront years down the road. In the meantime, the agency’s “goal is to encourage people biking in the area to use Townsend when appropriate.”

The SF Bicycle Coalition isn’t fighting the removal of King’s painted bike lanes. But Communications Director Chris Cassidy said it “highlights the importance of protected bike lanes on Townsend.”

“The ideal would be for every neighborhood in San Francisco to be connected with protected bike lanes,” said Cassidy. “The SFMTA needs to make Townsend safer for people biking to and from Caltrain. Protected bike lanes would go a long way towards protecting people who bike and demonstrating the SFMTA’s commitment to Vision Zero.”

King, which connects Highway 280 to the Embarcadero, has as many as nine traffic lanes at intersections where the road widens for multiple left-turn lanes. That count includes the pair of exclusive streetcar lanes in the median, which is protected by tree-lined strips of concrete.

King's westbound bike lane disappears between Second and Third Streets. Photo: I Love Biking SF
King’s westbound bike lane disappears between Second and Third Streets. Photo: I Love Biking SF

Mid-block between Second and Third, King’s westbound bike lane disappears as the median widens to accommodate a crosswalk waiting area and two left-turn lanes. People in the bike lane approaching Fourth Street are forced to merge into a heavily-used traffic lane with sharrows.

That’s where Diana Sullivan was killed in 2013. While stopped at a red light on her bike, witnesses said, a cement truck driver pulled forward and ran her over in front of a crowd of ballpark-goers.

The SFMTA hopes to prevent further injuries by simply discouraging people from biking on King until it can implement plans to change the street’s geometry. Years down the line, the northern spur of Highway 280 could also be torn down, which would significantly reduce motor traffic on King.

Extending King’s bike lanes west using only paint “would require reducing lane widths to below minimum standards,” said Jose. “This would decrease safety and comfort for all road users, since heavy vehicles would need to straddle lanes.”

But the SFMTA has no plans to enhance bike infrastructure on Townsend, one block away. Instead, Jose said the agency will install “near-term improvements” to guide people biking on the Embarcadero to turn on to Townsend rather than continue on to King. Those measures include a left turn bike box, green-backed sharrows, “better signage,” and continental crosswalks.

The SFMTA plans to hold a public engineering hearing on the bike lane removal. If approved by the SFMTA Board of Directors, Jose said it could happen by the end of the year.

  • hp2ena

    They better not be removing the eastbound bike lane as well. The eastbound bike lane is fine trafficwise (but obviously not 8-80 wise), whereas the westbound bike lane is not.

  • saimin

    If they remove the bike lanes on King Street, can you still bicycle to AT&T Park?

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    I’ve fallen into that trap before when I’m biking south along the Embarcadero and suddenly I’m merged into a traffic lane with trucks and cars gunning it to accelerate onto 280. It’s treacherous experience. The SFMTA should do everything it can to discourage people from biking along that dangerous section. They should make better signage funneling bikers from the bike lane right onto Townsend. Signage should include pointers to Caltrain station and AT&T park. That section of Soma is not easy to navigate on bike because of all of the piecemeal bicycle infrastructure.

  • Bruce

    Yes, via the Embarcadero promenade or Townsend to 2nd.

  • Bruce

    Agreed. The eastbound bike lane is useful and not quite so scary as the westbound lane.

  • droolingsheep

    One problem with moving bikes from King to Townsend is that 3rd is one-way north of King, so if you’re going to or through Mission Bay, you have to go all the way to 4th & King where it feels like there’s no safe way across (cars changing lanes aggressively trying to get to 280). On King, you would merge to the left turn lane about where the bike lane disappeared, which, while it’s not the most safe-feeling thing, is not much worse than merging to a left turn lane anywhere else.

  • David Marcus

    It’s a dangerous precedent to purposefully make a street more dangerous to discourage cycling. I’ve seen other cities employ the same logic to avoid putting bike infrastructure anywhere. “Biking is too dangerous in our town. If we don’t put bike lanes in, hopefully we can discourage this dangerous activity.” All streets should be safe for cycling and no street should be made purposefully dangerous, not even with these good intentions.

  • Bruce

    They could easily afford convert one lane on that block of 3rd Street to southbound traffic. It would greatly improve circulation in the area, and improve access to the ballpark and China Basin for people on bikes.

  • BBnet3000

    This is exactly why they shouldn’t do this. King is a natural route from the Embarcadero and all the signage in the world isn’t going to change that.

  • BBnet3000

    If they are so interested in both moving traffic and keeping it safe for cycling, why not remove parking for cyclepaths?

  • tungwaiyip

    I agree. The current bike lane on King is a trap. I end up biking on the side walk after the bike lane disappeared to avoid biking on a heavily traffic road. This is the right thing to do. We should direct bikes to Townsend St.

  • tungwaiyip

    What I often do is turn left on 2nd St and continue on the AT&T park’s promenade.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Tearing down 280 would fix this right up, I reckon.

  • NoeValleyJim

    I wonder when Diane Sullivan’s killer will be charged with a traffic violation.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    It would be nice if they had signage that made this clear to the end user. It’s so frustrating to see a “Bike Lane End” sign with no clear idea on what we’re supposed to do. We need our bike infrastructure to connect to places and not just randomly appear and disappear every few blocks.

  • Andy Chow

    For that to happen a lot of things also need to happen, like extending Caltrain to Transbay and putting the Caltrain line in a tunnel. No one is sure which way how all of these would happen.

  • jonobate

    There’s no reason why tearing down I-280 has to wait for the Caltrain extension to be built.

  • theqin

    If they make King St car/truck only, they should make Townsend bike/muni only.

  • I love that the SFMTA will often question a bike lane, but would never question removing an entire street pathway for motor vehicles, ever.

  • Andy Chow

    Unless you want gridlock in Mission Bay, the Mission, and SOMA, the idea is for the freeway to be replaced by a surface boulevard like Octavia, which the alignment is currently occupied by Caltrain tracks on ground level.

    For that to go forward, Caltrain tracks would have to be relocated. Due to proximity, as well as to get more land for redevelopment, the Caltrain station and yard would have to be relocated as well, with Transbay being the new main terminal.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Caltrain’s Fourth and Towsend terminal could trivially be operated with 3 (not 12!!! as today) platform tracks today, and 4 for the indefinite future. The platforms themselves would need to be twice as wide as the existing stupid relic 19th century Olde Tyme Railroading nonsense “station”, but the result is less than half the width of the existing insanity.

    It’s not a useful of functional train station; it’s a stupid way to park trains out of service nearly all day, for no reason. American Passenger Railroading at is very worst.

    All this is regardless of the wisdom (NOT!) of the SF Planning Department’s Amateur Hour Caltrain redesign clown show. (The correct use of the existing station site is: first shrink the terminal to four platform tracks on the southern King Street half of the site; then construct a new four-track trenched (not underground, but open to the sky and bridged by Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Streets and pedestrian overpasses) station on the Townsend Street half; cut over service to the below-grade station; demolish the interim surface station and replace with urban development; done.)

  • tungwaiyip

    There is already no parking in most of the length of the road under concern.

  • tungwaiyip

    Neat. Hey while you are there, can you write up a plan to SFMTA to fix those damn Market stations?

  • Bruce
  • jamiewhitaker

    A 2-way cycle track on the waterfront side of The Embarcadero/King would be helpful, I think. The Promenade may be okay for casual bicyclists, but speed racing bicyclists scare the hell out of seniors and people walking their leashed pooches or children by treating them as obstacles in a video game to whoosh by. SFMTA punting their bicycle problem at the penniless Port is not cool, IMHO.

  • jonobate

    There’s plenty of street capacity to handle the freeway traffic without having to underground the Caltrain line and build a boulevard on top. If you remove parking from 7th St it will have two travel lanes in each direction, same as Octavia – there’s your “boulevard” to move traffic into downtown. The underutilized Mission Bay street grid would also help dissipate traffic.

    The Caltrain line should be undergrounded to eliminate the 16th St and Mission Bay Dr grade crossings, but it can be trenched rather than tunnelled, and it can be done sometime after the freeway is removed. There’s certainly no reason to wait until the extension to Transbay is complete before removing the freeway.

    If you’re really concerned about the impacts of dropping freeway traffic at 16th St or Mariposa, the solution is to demolish more of the freeway and drop the traffic further away from downtown. I would like to see I-280 demolished all the way back to the interchange with US-101; doing so would result in downtown bound traffic using US-101 instead of taking surface streets. You would probably need to add an on ramp to US-101 at 17th & San Bruno, which combined with the existing off ramp at Mariposa & Vermont would serve drivers who are heading to Mission Bay/north Potrero Hill rather than downtown.

  • bourbon

    It’s currently impossible to bike along the Embarcadero on Giants games days, not sure why they would talk about diverting people there.

  • I rode home from Embarcadero BART to Dogpatch along the Embarcadero to 3rd St / Terry A Francois most of the past year…the only time I regretted that direction was when a game was just getting out, though I’d have to take market or something west of the freeway on-ramp to have any improvement/safety. Sure it is congested but it’s much faster than driving through it.
    I wasn’t going to beat my Strava results, but I’m not sure about “impossible”.

  • But, self, how long did it take you to be comfortable doing that? Well, OK, it did take a while, and is not fun dealing with the crazy auto traffic, ticket scalpers in the bike lane, pedicabs, people jumping out of cars, etc.
    Just because I eventually learned to navigate it doesn’t mean it is 8-80 friendly.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    We’re talking about 1/2 a block of King street between 3rd and 4th which is extremely dangerous and has taken the life of a cyclist. How do any of you think this 1/2 block can be made safe for bicycles in the short term? There’s no parking to remove. The only solution is to remove a southbound traffic lane, creating a huge bottleneck. It’s not even a bike lane they’re removing; it’s removing those useless bike sharrows. I’m all for protected bike lanes, and I’m all for a complete redesign of the Embarcadero that includes a two-way protected bike lane all along the waterfront. But in the short term, that 1/2 block shared bike/car/bus/cement truck lane is a dangerous bobbytrap that puts unsuspecting cyclists lives at risk. I’ve fallen into that bobby trap it is pretty terrifying. In this case I think the city is doing the right thing by removing the uttery useless sharrows and encouraging people bike on Townsend. I’d love to see signage directing bikes to Caltrain and AT&T park, and install a protected bike lane along Townsend that funnels directly from King Street making it clearly obvious where cyclists should go. All of SOMA is confusing for biking because of piecemeal infrastructure. The bike lane along the Embarcadero should continuously connect to Caltrain and AT&T park via Townsend without f^$King useless bike sharrows forcing bikes to play roulette with trucks gunning it to accelerate onto 280.

  • David Marcus

    Point well taken.

  • Andy Chow

    Then how would drivers go from 7th to King/Embarcadero? Should they go Townsend, Bryant, or Folsom?

    There’s also a problem with any new ramp at 16th Street, where the freeway sits on top of Caltrain. There also safety issue when increasing traffic at a grade crossing.

    101 is log jammed north of 280 because of Bay Bridge traffic. Without 280, a lot of these downtown traffic would be diverted to city streets to skip the Bay Bridge traffic. Bayshore Blvd, Potereo, San Jose Ave, South Van Ness, Guerrero would see more regional traffic and become the next 19th Ave or Lombard.

    The other purpose of Caltrain extension is to provide new transit option to compensate for reduced auto capacity. It is not just getting people closer to downtown but make cross region trips faster with direct transfer to/from Caltrain in downtown SF.

  • ClaireB

    What is the SFMTA doing to reduce trucks on King Street? What is the SFMTA doing to reduce truck drivers who don’t pay attention to what’s in front of them on King Street?

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    They’re not removing a bike lane. They’re removing bicycle sharrows, which are completely useless in protecting us. Every single near-miss I’ve encountered has been within a few feet of a bicycle sharrow. Getting rid of those useless bike sharrows along that 1/2 block section from King Street and directing bike traffic onto Townsend is the best short term solution to make biking safer in that area.

  • jonobate

    Drivers could use Townsend, Bryant, or Folsom (or Brannan or Bryant or Harrison) to get to King/Embarcadero. That’s the beauty of a street grid. Alternatively, they could use US-101 and take the last exit before the bridge.

    As a ‘phase 1’ for the freeway touchdown, the best approach would probably be to touch the freeway down at Mariposa in the space just to the east of the Caltrain line, where the northbound I-280 roadway and Mariposa St exit ramp are currently located. Then, extend a surface road directly north to meet 16th St, opposite Owens St. At that intersection, drivers could access downtown by turning left then right onto 7th St, or right then left onto 4th St, or right then left onto 3rd St. Or, they could continue onto Owens to access Mission Bay itself.

    Once Caltrain is put underground, a boulevard could be constructed feeding the Mariposa/I-280 touchdown directly into 7th St. This would help with driver navigation, but is not required before the freeway is removed, as the existing street grid has enough spare capacity to absorb the traffic. The multiple routes to downtown make up for the fact that none of them are very high capacity.

    Any additional congestion on US-101 should be dealt with by converting one or two lanes to express lanes, so that you can pay a toll to bypass congestion. If additional traffic on surface streets becomes a problem, it can be likewise be dealt with by implementing congestion pricing for central SF to discourage driving trips to downtown.

    Additionally, some of the excessive number of entrance/exit ramps through downtown should be removed to keep traffic flowing. The Central Freeway should be removed, as should the 4th/5th St interchange – the eastbound merge slows everything down, and the interchange takes up far more valuable city center land than is necessary.

  • p_chazz

    But wouldn’t that vastly increase the traffic on SOMA streets, which are already congested and just set the stage for more accidents?

  • jonobate

    Not if you also implement congestion pricing.

    In any case, congestion is not directly related to traffic accidents. There have been multiple studies on this issue, and none have established a clear causation between congestion and accident rates. However, there is a clear relationship between roadway design and accident rates, so this is where accident reduction efforts should be focused.

  • Easy

    Townsend needs a westbound bike lane on the first block leaving the Embarcadero – I keep getting buzzed by cars passing on the slight uphill when I’m riding on the sharrows.

    The signal lights need adjusting too. It’s difficult to start biking from 3rd St when the light changes, and not get stuck at Lusk. Because of this, and because Lusk is just a glorified driveway, there’s a lot of non-compliance with that traffic light.

  • Frobish

    So your simple solution for preserving a bike lane is to tear down a freeway, underground CalTrain and introduce congestion pricing?

  • murphstahoe

    I heard a very interesting idea – bollards at the end of Townsend, eliminating through motor vehicle traffic embarcadero/Townsend.

  • jd_x

    There most definitely is parking:
    https://goo.gl/maps/LcJEE

    Further, between the over-sized medium and the wasted sidewalk space with the very rough brick which is essentially unused, this could be leveraged to create a protected bike path.

  • tungwaiyip

    Turn around your google view and look at segments of street where there is no parking to remove. It does not help to have short segment of bike lane but have to go in and out of heavy traffic.

  • jonobate

    No, that’s my solution to fix the entire eastern side of the city.

    I’m actually fine with temporarily losing the bike lane, providing that SFMTA does a decent job on the Embarcadero cycle track project.

  • jd_x

    Yes, and like I said, between the parking *and* the over-sized medium *and* wasted edge of the sidewalk, there should be sufficient space to create a complete protected cycle path the entire length of the block.

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