A Problem We Can Solve: Commercial Vehicles Blocking Our Lanes

DHL truck parked on raised Market Street Bike Lane. Photo: Roger Rudick
DHL truck parked on raised Market Street Bike Lane. Photo: Roger Rudick

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for pedestrians and cyclists in the Bay Area. On Monday, we brought you the sad story of a woman in a wheel chair run over and killed on Market Street and a woman in Berkeley who barely survived getting hit by a car on Fulton Street. Yesterday word came down about another possible road-rage-hit-and-run on a cyclist, this one on Russian Hill. There were also hit-and-run deaths in San Jose.

A few weeks ago, Janice Li, advocacy director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, took Streetsblog on a tour of the Wiggle and Market Street bike infrastructure. It’s a work in progress for sure; SFMTA is using Market Street as a test bed for different treatments for protected and raised bike lanes.

The moment we started the tour, a DHL delivery truck overtook us and pulled right up onto a new section of raised bike lane. Anybody can ride in any American city and see delivery trucks, private cars, Ubers, Lyfts, and, even more maddeningly, police cars, parked on bike lanes. It says we need protected bike lanes, but even that isn’t a perfect solution: we’ve all seen cars that will use the openings left for driveways as parking spaces. As Supervisor Scott Wiener said in an interview with Streetsblog, it’s a frustrating cultural norm for people to double park. It’s so pervasive in fact, that “there is a misconception that commercial vehicles are indeed allowed to park in and block bike lanes when loading/unloading,” explained Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director of Bike East Bay. “The vehicle code section people are misreading is CVC 22502(b), which states that commercial vehicles can park further than 18 inches from the curb if necessary in order to load/unload safely. However, this does not permit double parking or blocking bike lanes, which is still illegal.”

What does this have to do with the latest spate of hit and runs? The “broken windows” theory of policing addresses this: If a society says it’s okay to break small rules, then it invites people to break larger ones. In other words, allowing cars to park on safety measures, such as bike lanes and crosswalks, sends a clear message that it’s acceptable for motorists to put cyclists and pedestrians in danger. But if parking dangerously is the start of a problem, maybe it’s also the start of a solution.

Scold an individual who parks on a bike lane, and you’re probably not going to accomplish much. Chastise a cop who does it and you’ll get nowhere. But if it’s a commercial vehicle, sometimes–just sometimes–it might make a difference.

I took photos of the DHL truck and emailed them to DHL corporate. Here was the response:

Thank you for sending the pictures with the date and time stamp. DHL takes the safety of our employees, and the general public, very seriously. Our employee’s disregard for the law and the bicyclists traveling on Market St. will not be tolerated. I provided the Station Manager the pictures you sent. He is an avid biker and immediately got to work researching which courier was on Market St on that day and time. He will take appropriate action with this employee and he will address at the courier meetings for all employees to be notified of the proper use of the bike lane. I apologize for this behavior and assure you we are working to make sure this does not happen again. Thank you for providing us with the information and pictures. Please feel free to contact me.

Thank you,

Marsten Tullius
Area 2 Safety Specialist

Let’s not be naive: DHL’s employee may not care at all about vulnerable road users, but that doesn’t matter. A business, large or small, has to care about its reputation, because that hits the bottom line. If every cyclist in the Bay Area got mad and refused to use DHL, they would have a problem.

Certainly, all advocates for safe streets must continue to lobby politicians, push for legislation and organize protest rides, marches and vigils. But maybe getting drivers of commercial vehicles to be safe is something we can all work on: one photo and one email at a time.

  • Gene

    It would be nice if there was a unified hashtag or some way of uniting these complaints. I’ve tried starting this a few times with the pictures I record every single day with my bike camera, but very few companies actually take notice.

    The most success I’ve had was pointing out an SFPD cruiser parked this way, but it’s really everyone – SFPD, SFMTA meter attendants, delivery trucks, taxis, ubers, private citizens, you name it. It’s not enforced and nobody cares.

  • Mountain Viewer

    Don’t forget oversized tech commuter buses ….

  • Gene

    I’ve never had a tech commuter bus block a bike lane. And I’m grateful they’re taking hundreds of cars off the roads.

  • Mountain Viewer

    Glad they take cars of the road, would be much happier if they didn’t block bike lanes or even whole lanes or whole streets (Daily experience biking in Mountain View).

  • There is something that can be done about the private vehicles, cop cars, garbage cans etc.

    http://izquotes.com/quotes-pictures/quote-there-are-very-few-personal-problems-that-cannot-be-solved-through-a-suitable-application-of-high-scott-adams-1195.jpg

    Not that I would do that, any more. If I don’t get paid for blowing shit up I don’t blow the shit up.

  • RichLL

    Double parking is one of those things that everyone hates and yet every driver does it. Drivers do not do it because they want to do it, but rather because quite often there is simply is no other realistic choice, unless one abandons the trip and its purpose altogether.

    I am no different. I hate it when others do it but there are times when I quite simply have to do it. A true “broken windows” zero tolerance policy, such as you advocate, would make life very very difficult for a whole host of people and businesses who rely on this to make deliveries, pick up items, set down and pick up people, and so on. It’s called life and it has to go on.

    I have certain rules about it, however:

    1) Only do it if you have to. If there is a regular parking space, at or reasonably close to the target location, use it. How “reasonably close” it is depends on what I am going. If it is delivering a refrigerator, make that very close. Otherwise a couple of blocks can work.

    2) The longer my visit, the less likely I am to double park.

    3) A cop told me this. Have your hazards on.

    4) If possible, stay in the car with the engine running. Having someone else in the car to run errands is better. Or leave someone in the car who can move it, or circle around the block, if necessary.

    5) Better to block a driveway than double park. Leave your cell number in the windshield.

    6) Use common sense. If it is a major bus or truck route, be aware of the risk of serious congestion. It’s best done on quieter streets.

    7) Be aware and considerate. Keep an eye on the street in case of a problem.

    8) Have a genuine reason. Delivery trucks and construction trucks typically get a pass from the cops, because they often have no choice. If you’re just getting a coffee or dropping off dry cleaning, don’t do it.

  • yermom72

    “If a society says it’s okay to break small rules, then it invites people to break larger ones.”

    Uber issed a statement denying any liability.

  • Roger R.

    Here’s a type of enforcement that might work? 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-fWN0FmcIU

  • Gezellig

    I wish there were a better way to publicly shame companies, too. Contacting the companies involved in the infractions below has yielded little.

    FedEx and Heineken blocking the raised bikeway on Market at the same time:

    http://a.disquscdn.com/uploads/mediaembed/images/2788/4855/original.jpg

    http://a.disquscdn.com/uploads/mediaembed/images/2788/4854/original.jpg

    http://a.disquscdn.com/uploads/mediaembed/images/2788/4853/original.jpg

    http://a.disquscdn.com/uploads/mediaembed/images/2788/4852/original.jpg

    Google Shopping Express blocking Polk St. bike lane:

  • PaleoBruce

    Your idealized list of exceptions, “avoid blocking if you can”, would be nice. Though it doesn’t match the reality that I see. I commute the same 30 blocks every weekday on my bicycle and observe that on average I see 5-10 double parked motor vehicles in bike lanes, and 90 percent are simply too lazy to pull into space on the curb.

  • joechoj

    Well there’s this https://towit.io/ (which I believe I first learned of here). The idea is to centralize these complaints to this system. The people running it are trying to make inroads with cities’ enforcement offices. That said, I rarely use it myself. Until I hear it’s actually being monitored by local cities, I won’t be stopping my ride to take pics.

    This is a tough issue. It’s so maddening when it happens; but then I look at the numbers of cyclists actually using the lane, and it’s not many, compared to cars (where I ride). While it’s very vexing to a cyclist, it also does – I hate to admit – impact the fewest number of people. (Though of course it’s more dangerous to cyclists than drivers.) If and when the flow of bikes is stronger than the flow of cars on a given road, then it makes sense to divert double-parking to auto traffic lanes rather than bike lanes. But that won’t happen without infrastructure to force that change.

    In the meantime, the only solution I can think of is converting more parking spaces to loading zones.

  • mx

    That’s the one that drives me nuts the most. If you’re next to a parking space or even just a driveway, pull into it (yes, I’m aware this isn’t always practical for trucks with liftgates). I have some sympathy for delivery drivers where there aren’t reasonable places to pull over, but people who can’t be bothered to pull to the crub are just lazy and inconsiderate.

  • david vartanoff

    of course I don’t encourage vigilantism…but the results of “Denver Boots” or tire deflation would be interesting.

  • Gezellig

    It’s so maddening when it happens; but then I look at the numbers of cyclists actually using the lane, and it’s not many, compared to cars (where I ride).

    Of course there’s kind of a chicken-egg circular-logic problem inherent in that reasoning, though.

    When situations such as the following are regular occurrences in our infrastructure, no wonder so few trips are made by bike:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/MS51DoubleParking.jpg

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-DYe7VF8hFaE/U9sU9CyLQ2I/AAAAAAAAAaQ/0QtCw7vQ-Nw/s1600/bank-3.jpg

    https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7349/13500888125_a0670c8c65.jpg

    The good news is there’s lots of good evidence that low-stress infrastructure encourages new trips by bike:

    http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/06/03/protected-bike-lanes-attract-riders-wherever-they-appear/

    However, a network is only as good as its weakest link. This is why fully comprehensive, low-stress biking networks are so important. To date, they largely do not exist in SF.

  • Jimbo

    if there were more parking garages as well as designated loading spaces, there would be less double parking.

  • joechoj

    Yep

  • murphstahoe

    Better to block a driveway than double park. Leave your cell number in the windshield.

    No way. Parking in a driveway inconveniences a driver. Parking in a bike lane only inconveniences some cyclist who ran a stop sign anyway.

    More accurately – if you park in a driveway, the owner might come out and call the DPT on you, and they will show up instantaneously, and will ticket or tow you. If you park in a bike lane there are zero consequences (to you, anyway).

  • murphstahoe

    “but rather because quite often there is simply is no other realistic choice” – and we know that skipping that AM coffee is just not realistic.

  • RichLL

    The difference is that blocking a driveway traps the driver who is trying to get in or out. Double parking doesn’t trap anyone. I would not block a driveway lightly and, as stated, I’d leave my cell number so I can move it if necessary.

    But that said, about 99% of the time it won’t be a problem as most people use their driveway maybe just once or twice a day. So it is my judgement that less harm overall is caused by blocking a garage than by blocking traffic.

    And the cops won’t ticket you unless they are called out, and that usually takes far longer than the amount of time I will be there.

    As for your coffee example, I already explained that is not a justification for double parking. But there are times when there is no reasonable alternative.

    I suspect that double parking will go away about the same time as nobody jaywalks and cyclists stop at every stop sign. What is more important is that the more egregious examples are controlled, and not every last example.

  • RichLL

    There is certainly a correlation between removing parking from a block and the amount of double parking that happens there.

    The irony is that sometimes parking is removed to create a bike lane, and then that bike lane gets blocked by the drivers who still have to stop there anyway.

    Meters help to some extent, and most of us would rather pay a quarter than block a traffic lane. But overall you are correct – we cannot keep on removing parking and expect that there is no cost to that.

  • murphstahoe

    You keep using this phrase “have to” – I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • RichLL

    There is a distinction between double parking out of laziness and double parking when there is no viable alternative.

    The problem will never go away but it could be significantly reduced if people took those alternatives when they can. I’ve outlined some rules I use but would welcome other practical ideas if you have them.

  • mx

    There is always an alternative to double parking, but the practicality of that alternative may be a problem, especially since delivery companies don’t pay drivers to go around in circles all day.

    But you are right that we often wind up with street designs that encourage double parking due to lack of loading space. I recently saw a FedEx truck blocking the bike lane on WB Market between Polk and Van Ness. There are a couple businesses on that block like a candymaker and a law office. They do have to get deliveries somehow, and there aren’t a lot of options there.

    As for the DHL van here, there’s usually ample parking right around the corner down 12th where the driver could have stopped instead. But since package delivery drivers are generally tracked on their performance, getting them to do anything besides double park right in front is a hard sell. At least FedEx has couriers on foot in the Financial District.

  • mx

    Wait, so if a car is creating a hazard by blocking a bike lane, your solution is to disable it so it has to stay right where it is for even longer? That would indeed produce an interesting result, though not a very useful one.

  • farazs

    > 3) A cop told me this. Have your hazards on.
    That cop was obviously an idiot!
    http://codes.findlaw.com/ca/vehicle-code/veh-sect-25251.html

  • Just like shooting someone for trespassing…if you hit them, they’re going to continue to be on your property!

  • I have. They often park badly on the NB Embarcadero, from Telephone Company Park to the Ferry Building.

  • RichLL

    You didn’t understand the comment. The cop wasn’t saying that it is legal to double park as long as you have your hazards on.

    He was saying that it is a good idea to use your hazards when presenting an obstruction. And that a cop is therefore more likely to use his discretion to not cite you.

  • farazs

    I understood it perfectly. The cop was an idiot because CVC 25251 clearly makes his ‘good idea’ illegal. This makes it 2 violations – one for blocking a lane of traffic and another for unauthorized and incorrect use of flashing lights.

    Besides the law, this entire notion is ridiculous. First you create a hazard by double parking, then you try to warn people about the hazard that you have created … why exactly? Because you are trying to help them? Because you are worried about their safety? Because you are trying to be polite? All of those would be better accomplished by NOT creating the hazard in the first place. The only thing those hazard lights do is mitigate the obstruction in your head – making you feel that your behaviour is okay.

  • Definitely ought to enable the People Behaving Badly “Park Anywhere Lights” instead.

  • calwatch

    I’m sympathetic to the Uber/Lyft crowd because there is a reasonable expectation that the vehicle be waiting for the person who is getting the ride. The app should have an option for the driver to identify a location where it is safe to park, but then if someone complains they had to walk 400 feet to the nearest legal drop off spot, they will zero rate the driver for the walk and thus risk their deactivation.

  • david vartanoff

    sometimes I let my emotions override my judgement, hope no one else has this problem. Point is that the delivery co’s do fold tickets into their costs even though the IRS explicitly say parking tickets are NOT a deductible business expense.

  • murphstahoe

    Buying a coffee grinder and making your own coffee, for starters.

  • RichLL

    The cop was expressing what is presumably a common view among police that, regardless of any legality or otherwise, it is better to use your hazards than not, partly because it helps others see the potential obstruction and partly because a cop is less likely to ticket you.

    Obviously it is better not to double park where and when you can avoid it. I already clearly stated that.

  • Gezellig

    The truth is that while more and better enforcement is needed, we simply need better street designs that physically discourage illegal moves in the first place.

    One way *not* to do them is in the Copenhagen style, which also sees this problem:

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-CfjiBUNjpKo/VXQIsUm-ZDI/AAAAAAAAAW0/CLiM7fF0GHo/s1600/IMG_0329.JPG

    ^ Notice the same problem above with the delivery truck in the background easily parked over the raised bike lane above in Copenhagen (you may need to embiggen the pic to see it clearly).

    Too many raised bike lanes look like that in Denmark. They are not best-practice and shouldn’t be copied. Period.

    I almost never saw infrastructure like that while living in the Netherlands–the Dutch seem to employ almost any strategy to avoid the above, in rough order of priority:

    1) narrowing car lanes (the Copenhagen ones above could be narrowed–notice how wide the lane is compared to the truck in the background) to create the space for a small physical barrier between the car lane and raised bikeway.

    2) reducing car lanes (even if this means it’s only a 1-way 1-lane road for cars that remains) to create the space for physical bike lane barriers.

    3) if absolutely none of these options are possible (rare), going with an on-road bike lane for a stretch until there’s space again.

    Compare the Copenhagen road earlier to one of comparable or even narrower width in the Netherlands below:

    http://www.maartenbrante.com/data/uploads/article/1398757031-MB_140429_Van_Hallstraat.jpg

    ^ the Dutch bike lane above is striped as dotted which means at that point it’s optional (bikes may move into the car lane if necessary. Then again, it’s a sufficiently narrow and traffic-calmed car lane in the first place). And as soon as there’s space again it returns to a protected, separated lane.

    Also whenever possible, the Netherlands provides for a visual difference (pavement type and color) in addition to the physical barrier:

    Yet more factors that help?

    –> more loading zones in commercial areas

    –> restrictions on times during the day when loading zones may be used for deliveries

    –> actual, serious enforcement compared to SF

    In the end, human nature is pretty much the same everywhere. In rare Dutch streets which are subpar, drivers do subpar things, too:

    ^ in the video above at 8:22 notice the minivan parked right over the conventional bike lane just as the protected bike lane ends for the intersection (a protected lane all of a sudden turning into a conventional lane at an intersection is an archaic design no longer built in the NL).

  • twinpeaks_sf

    See, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?

  • farazs

    Yes, we all know that the police commonly hold views “regardless of any legality”. Its what we call systemic bias! 🙂

    I’ll let you in on a secret: Everyone can already see the obstruction and there is nothing potential or ambiguous about it. You are parked in the middle of the road for **** sake. Its not like your car is covered by Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility. This is coming from someone being obstructed: the blinkers DO NOT HELP!! And they are illegal.

    Of course the police will not ticket you when you do this, because they too indulge in the same insensitive and stupid behaviour all the time. I hope you can appreciate that the rest of us don’t give a damn about how likely you are to get a ticket. We just want you to get out of the way. As far as we’re concerned, the blinkers are just your way of sticking your head in the sand.

  • PaleoBruce

    Paragraph (3) makes exception for warning of a road hazard, and double parking in a bike lane is a road hazard. 🙂

  • farazs

    Serious comprehension issues!
    ===
    turn signal lamps may be flashed as warning lights while
    the vehicle is approaching, overtaking, or passing
    the accident or hazard on the roadway
    ===
    Unless the double parked vehicle is approaching, overtaking or passing *ITSELF* while simultaneously being stationary in the middle of the roadway and hence constituting the hazard, you can’t use that section. Is your vehicle having an out-of-body experience?

  • RichLL

    I would argue that hazards help be seen, as do any lights. Volvos have had daylight lights for decades now, on that principle. A fortiori, at night. The vehicles I most see not using lights at all are bikes, ironically.

    Look, I never said double parking is legal. Nor is jaywalking but all pedestrians do it. Nor is running a stop sign or light on a bike, but all cyclists do it. Let’s lose the puritan high horse here and start from the premise that we all act illegally and selfishly from time to time on the roads.

    I doubt that anyone here is 100% innocent of that. We can still have a reasonable discussion about when it is better and when it is worse, and how to do it in a way that mitigates risk and harm, and that is what I outlined.

    Perfection isn’t an option but reasonableness might be.

  • farazs

    It pays to be conspicuous where visibility is a problem. Day time lights on vehicles reduce certain types of collisions, while having no bearing on others. For example, when someone rear ends your vehicle because they were following too closely, you day lights are not at all pertinent. The problem with a double parked car is not visibility but obstruction. We are not blind and your car is not invisible. Your hazard lights do not alleviate the problem.

    Where society does acquisce to certain forms of law-breaking, it is always under the premise that your behaviour doesn’t affect any one else. For example, some people consider it okay to jaywalk when there is no car approaching, or roll a stop sign on a bike when there are no pedestrains or vehicles at an intersection. It may be illegal, but there is nothing remotely selfish about such behaviour. Held to the same standard, double parking would be okay if there were no vehicle approaching in that direction of travel. But even in that case your hazard lights are irrelevant — if there is no one approaching, then whom are you warning??

    If any mitigation of risk and harm is happening, it is in your mind, not out in the real world where the rest of us have to live. For that reason alone, this stupid notion of using hazard lights needs to be discouraged. It only serves to make you feel better about your selfish behaviour. The better you feel, the more likely you are to do it and to persist at it for longer periods.

    Screw perfection. There is nothing reasonable about stopping in the middle of the road and expecting others to navigate around you, at their peril.

  • RichLL

    There are apparently quite a lot of people and pedestrians who don’t like it when cyclists do not stop at stop signs. The fact that you do not perceive that as “affecting others” doesn’t mean that is true. It is a rationalization. just like a driver who rationalizes double parking. Same for jaywalking.

    Similarly the concept of “reasonableness” should be seen from both perspectives. Is it “reasonable” that I drive around for 20 minutes, or park 20 minutes walk away, when my errand takes 30 seconds (setting down a passenger, for instance)? Isn’t it more reasonable that you are delayed by a couple of seconds or have to go ever so slightly out of your way?

    The point is give and take. Nobody gets everything they want all the time. I often do not double park when I would like to, and I use my hazards when I have to.

  • farazs

    Not liking something is not the same as being affected by it. Behaviour that negatively impacts others is not deemed acceptable whether on foot, bike or in car. Behaviour that doesn’t, is open to perception.

    You seem to be arguing that some kinds of behaviour should be more accepted simply because more people do it. The opposite is true – it is a bigger problem because most people do it. The fact that we all do it from time to time is an important factor. If this were a rare one-off incidence, we wouldn’t be discussing it at all.

    Given that it is an actual problem (meaning beyond just “not liking it”) and that it is widespread, discussing solutions entails finding ways to reduce its occurrence. It does not include finding ways to make the offender feel comfortable about it or to reduce their probability of getting tickets. Those are talking points for a driving forum.

    I have no problem with waiting behind you for 30 seconds or having to go out of my way to get around you, but my reasonability does not take away from the unreasonability of your double parking in the first place. On the up side, you’ve at least put down a hard limit of 30 seconds!

    > I often do not double park when I would like to
    Believe me: the rest of us are ever so grateful to you!

  • RichLL

    I don’t like double parking either. And in fact it is more dangerous to other cars than to bikes, because a bike can usually pass without crossing the center divide but a car often cannot.

    A good 80% of the double parking I see in egregious, meaning that there is a parking space, loading zone or driveway very close which would be less intrusive. And those 80% spoil it for the 20% of times when it really is necessary to double park.

    Again, the topic here was commercial vehicles and I think most of us realise that it would be near impossible for FedEx etc. to do its job without the option of double parking. Annoying? Yes? End of the world diabolical? No. Just wait or go around when it is safe to do so.

  • chetshome

    “And in fact it is more dangerous to other cars than to bikes…”

    That’s more of a laughable postulate than a fact.

  • RichLL

    I gave a reason for that judgement.

    Can you give a reason for finding it to be “laughable”?

  • gneiss

    Easy – You have to move left into faster moving car traffic to get around double parked vehicles. In addition, left opening doors on cars pose a particularly acute threat which reduces your perceived “pass without cross the center divider” distance by about 3-5 feet. Since people on bicycles don’t have the protection of 2,000 of metal around them, they are at significantly more risk than those in cars.

  • chetshome

    The funniest aspect is that you called it a fact, even though you just made it up. You just seem desperate to justify dismissing cyclists’ safety in favor of drivers’ convenience. And you don’t seem to understand the actual risks that cyclists face (as gneiss partially explains).

  • Emma Fujii

    let me know when you think of a way to make this more productive…:(

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