Mission Street Transit Lanes: What About the Bikes?

Right lane transitways on Mission leave no place for cyclists. Image: SFMTA
Right lane transitways on Mission leave no place for cyclists. Image: SFMTA

Earlier this week, the SFMTA sent out a release with a progress report on the “Red Lane” paint (actually, a thermoplastic adhesive) they are applying, clearly marking lanes for Muni Streetcars and buses (and taxis):

Early signs indicate success. Preliminary data shows transit-only lane violations dropping by more than 50 percent on some segments of 3rd Street. On Geary and O’Farrell streets, the red lanes have reduced Muni travel times by 4 percent despite traffic congestion increasing on the same segments by 15-18 percent.

But what about bikes?

In cases where SFMTA is putting the “red carpet” on streetcar tracks, bikes continue to ride to the right, on whatever infrastructure is available (and on most streets, that means not nearly enough). But in other cases, for example, on the recently red-treated Mission Street, SFMTA is putting the buses in the right-hand lanes. That puts Mission Street cyclists in a confusing and often harrowing predicament.

“We’ve been requesting clarity for years on whether people biking are permitted in lanes designated transit-only,” said Chris Cassidy, Communications Director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “The SFMTA’s reluctance to offer that clarification encourages unpredictable and ultimately unsafe behavior on streets like Mission and Market, which are both high-injury corridors.”

On the one hand, California law is pretty clear on this: bikes are not permitted to use transit lanes. “The SFMTA’s general policy is that bikes should not be in transit lanes, consistent with current CA law,” said Ben Jose, a spokesman for SFMTA. “Under CA law, bikes are legally allowed to take the lane to the left.”

The confusion comes because bikes are generally supposed to be on the right (conditions permitting) and transit/High Occupancy Vehicle lanes are generally on the left. But if they’re on the right, it’s anything but intuitive for cyclists to take the center lanes.

Remedies for this situation haven’t worked out. “On Sutter they had a sharrow put in the HOV lane, which seemed completely illogical,” said Bert Hill, chair of the Bicycle Advisory Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

According to sources close to SFMTA, it’s unofficially expected that cyclists will sometimes ride in the transit lane when it’s on the right. And, again unofficially, police are discouraged from citing cyclists for it. (Streetsblog would be curious to read if anyone has had a run-in with the police about this).

Of course, planners are forced to keep the red-striped transit lanes in the center of the street when it’s a tracked vehicle, as on Market Street or Church. But why not do the same for buses and add pedestrian refuges for boarding? In other words, why should bus lanes and stops be treated so differently from, for example, the J-Church below?

Buses could use LRV style boarding islands. Photo: Aaron Bialick.
Buses, running in transit-only lanes in the center, could use LRV-style boarding islands. Photo: Aaron Bialick.

“I would have preferred a center lane for buses on Mission, just because they generally work far better for transit, avoiding parking and curb friction,” said Peter Straus, with the San Francisco Transit Riders Union (SFTRU). “But I’ve agreed with SFMTA staff to try this and see how it works–it is mostly just paint at this point.”

But the fact that it’s just paint may be part of the problem. Or as Thea Selby, also of the SFTRU, put it, “Bicycles use the red carpet on Haight, which scares me to death because I’m afraid a bus or rogue car are going to sideswipe the bicycle and run them down.”

That concern has merit. Bus lane projects in Oakland are similarly configured, with the buses on the right. “There was a case here in Oakland several years ago of a bicyclist who was doored in a bike lane on MacArthur Blvd and then run over by a bus and killed, so we are very conscious of these issues,” said Robert Prinz, Education Director for Bike East Bay.

Prinz and other advocates hope future projects will start putting bus lanes in the middle. But for now they’re stuck with projects that were planned before the state and city started transitioning away from measurements that favor automobiles over every other mode of transportation. As one advocate put it, Mission doesn’t have a protected bike lane and transit doesn’t get the center lanes because “there isn’t enough room.” In other words, making Mission truly safe for bikes while also making bus services fast and dependable would take too much space from private cars and parking.

So where are cyclists supposed to ride on Mission? The short answer is they’re not.

  • vcs

    I am routinely mystified as to what actual gear those kakipants dorks are in, but some how they manage.

  • calwatch

    You have them in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard, a bus lane that is explicitly signed for bicycles to use. You have bicyclists going up a hill sharing the lane with standing room only buses headed to Dodger Stadium on the Dodger shuttle. It’s not really pleasant for anyone and discourages all but the strong cyclist to use the lane. This is LA where nobody walks (well, at least in that section which is primarily fronted by auto repair shops) so many bicyclists take the sidewalk instead.

  • Rob

    that is not very convenient when you’re going to bernal or mission. i am not saying that mission needs to be ridable from the embarcadero to 82, but there are a number of blocks where it is really the only game in town. One of them is south of chavez.

  • @roymeo – You’re either awfully precocious for a 7yo, or a very young-looking 81yo.

  • Your claim is that ONLY NOW is this delivery truck double parking?

    On Mission Street?

  • Well, technically I’m in the 8-80, but I’m also in the crowd that can also Vehicular Cycle, a white (usually implied) MAMIL*. 8-80 is trying to broaden and widen the definition of cyclist beyond the VC crowd.

    * Crap, I’ve even grown a beard.

  • Juanboy

    the new Mission Street is a disaster…traffic has gone up in every street surrounding…SF is probably the only city that actively tries to make traffic worse

  • David Corby

    Cyclists are going to ignore the “No bikes in the transit lane.”

  • Mike Sicard

    San Francisco and in particular Mayor Ed Lee, have declared WAR on private vehicles. Eliminating parking and travel lanes wherever possible. Adding bike and bus lanes everywhere. BUT, there has been NOTHING done to enforce bicyclists obeying designated lanes and they often ride right in the middle of the traffic lane, ignoring the bike lanes. Muni buses often do the same thing. They rarely pull into bus stops, opting to stop in the bus lane, which causes buses behind to stop in the traffic lane. The right turn only on Mission Street has wreaked havoc on traffic throughout the Mission, as well as parking since cars cannot get to the meters on the northbound side. So they park elsewhere in the area, eliminating parking for residents and customers. Businesses are reporting as much as a 50% loss of revenue. The fact that pedestrian crossing lights have not been adjusted makes the problem worse and more dangerous. With all traffic having to turn right, while pedestrians attempt to cross in dangerous. There is no point at which pedestrians stop crossing to let traffic turn, so the end up slugging it out with the cars. Maybe when half the businesses on Mission Street close, the luxury apartments and condos they are building sit empty, and enough people get KILLED San Francisco will realize that using tactics similar to London and New York to FORCE people to give up cars with no substantial improvements to our OUTDATED, UNRELIABLE, FILTHY, and DANGEROUS public transportation ISN’T GOING TO WORK!

  • Mike Sicard

    Get rid of the tech sector and all of our problems will be SOLVED!

  • Mike Sicard

    TECHIES should be working from home anyway. They can have food delivered. THERE, TRAFFIC PROBLEM SOLVED!

  • mx

    Thanks. Saying we should get rid of people’s jobs is a great way to make a point.

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