SFSU Students Study How to Un-Suck Biking to BART

Professor Jason Henderson's "Bicycle Geographies" class explores how infrastructure could make cycling from BART to class safe and fun. Photo: ???TK
Professor Jason Henderson’s “Bicycle Geographies” class (seen with additional university staff in this photo) explores how infrastructure could make cycling from BART to class safe and fun. Photo: Nolen Brown

Professor Jason Henderson’s “Bicycle Geographies” class wants the ride from Daily City BART to San Francisco State University’s campus to be comfortable and fun.

And why shouldn’t it be?

After all, it’s only a 1.6 mile trip that should take even a novice cyclist about 15 minutes. Given the proximity to BART, this should be a no-brainer. But thanks to some harrowing intersections, high-speed traffic lanes, and oddly placed and timed “safety measures,” it’s anything but.

“That route probably felt quite calm in a big group with 40-plus people in a group ride,” said Joshua Handel, one of five students in the class, during a presentation to administrators at the school. Handel is referring to a Bike to Work Day ride done earlier this month with staff and students.

“But when one does it alone, there’s a lot of traffic stress,” he continued. 

The path down to Brotherhood Way. This is the route from Daly City BART to SF State. With some safety improvements this could be a major route for SF State commuters
The view down to Brotherhood Way. This is on the route from Daly City BART to SF State. With some safety improvements this could be a major route for SF State commuters. Photo: Nolen Brown

For Handel, the intersection at Alemany and St. Charles is one of the worst points, because there are “six lanes, uncontrolled, where the freeway ramps come,” he explained. “It’s very difficult and stressful.” The intersection has stop signs and cross walks but, as he pointed out, cars don’t always stop.

He recommended putting in flashing lights and signals to make cars stop more reliably. Another sore spot is the sharp grade to get down and back up from the crossing at Brotherhood Way, as seen in the photo above. The hill is a bit challenging to regular cyclists, and as Professor Henderson pointed out, if there are ever going to be bike share stations at Daly City BART and the university, they need to eliminate that grade.

“Bike share won’t work without a bridge,” he said of the durable–but heavy–bike-share-style bikes: “They don’t handle hills.”

To solve that, the students are suggesting a bridge, much like the Copenhagen “snake bridge,” seen two photos down. “They are lightweight and cheaper than the over-engineered bridges we build for interstate highways,” said Handel. “There’s significant elevation gain at Brotherhood Way; at least 30 percent of riders have to walk their bikes. A bridge would eliminate a massive amount of elevation and stress.”

Discussing why a bike bridge would make sense over 19th at Randolph. You could avoid a sketchy part of the ride and serve Park Merced and SF State
A cycle path and bridges could make it easy to bike between BART, Parkmerced, and the University. Photo: Nolen Brown
SFSU students point out that relative to many infrastructure projects, a simple bike and ped bridge would be inexpensive and make a bigger difference for transit commuters who need a safe and easy connection to campus. Image: Copenhagenize Design Company
SFSU students point out that relative to many infrastructure projects, a bike and ped bridge would be inexpensive and make a bigger difference for transit commuters who need a safe and easy connection to campus. Image: Copenhagenize Design Company

The students estimate, depending on the details, that the bridge would cost between $4.5 and $10.5 million. In one scenario they propose, it might turn into a path along Randolph and then cross Junipero Serra to Parkmerced. “We’re hoping to work with Parkmerced to advocate for this,” said Nick Kordesch, Sustainability Coordinator for the university.

Some will inevitably claim that  a bridge is too expensive. But the students argue that, compared to the money spent on automobile improvements, $10 million is almost a pittance–and would be well worth the improved connection between the campus, Parkmerced, and the BART station. In addition, SFMTA is currently studying putting the M-Ocean View into subway tunnels to increase speed, capacity, and, ostensibly, access to the same destinations. That will cost around $3 billion, for trains that have far less speed and capacity than BART.

The students looked at several bridge options at various price levels. This one would include Park Merced. Image: Joshua Handel
The students looked at several bridge options at various price levels. This one would include Parkmerced. Image: Joshua Handel

Of course, there are bus shuttles to BART, and the proposed bicycle infrastructure is also meant to reduce demand on those buses. And many of the proposed improvements suggested by the class are even simpler, such as good way-finding. Right now, there are sharrow markings that, in theory, are supposed to point student cyclists towards the BART station. But the meaning of the markings is unclear at best, especially the ones that point to and from a curb at the bottom of St. Charles Way.

Adding “BART this way” to the sharrows might help, as would a curb cut so cyclists don’t have to stop and dismount where St. Charles Avenue dead-ends at Brotherhood (there’s a short path that currently connects this dead end to the crosswalk at Brotherhood). “We might even be willing to pay for it,” said Kordesch.

It should be stressed, by the way, that this isn’t just a class assignment. As Henderson explained, the class is funded by a “Campus as a Living Lab” grant. That means the student presentation was attended by university administrators. The aim is to advocate, work with partners at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and SFMTA, and get improvements done both on campus and around it to increase bicycle mode share. The students even suggest the university hire a full-time Bicycle Coordinator to collaborate and plan with the city.

At this point, some Streetsblog readers will no doubt wonder why the focus is on the Daly City BART station, instead of Balboa Park. The students said the routes on Ocean and Holloway would take far more investment to make safe, in large part because of the network of train tracks and freeway ramps approaching the station.

True enough. And given the quality of the classwork, it’s clear the city could learn a thing or two from these gifted students. Meanwhile, Professor Henderson, also known for his book Street Fight, will be spending the Fall semester on sabbatical studying cycle-infrastructure in Denmark. Anybody jealous?

Professor Jason Henderson discussing the ride with his class. Photo: TK???
Professor Jason Henderson discussing the ride with his class. Photo: Nolen Brown.
  • If SF State could push for these improvements to happen, it would be a great contribution to the city.

  • shotwellian

    To avoid the hill going back up from Brotherhood on St. Charles, you can head west on Brotherhood and reach SFSU via Chumasero and the other streets of Park Merced. The Brotherhood bike lanes end west of St. Charles, but the light to cross Brotherhood is long enough that you can typically reach Chumasero, just west of Junipero Serra, before the cars start moving again. This route also allows you to avoid waiting through the endless lights at Holloway / Junipero Serra and Holloway / 19th.

  • Josh Handel

    It was great meeting you Roger, I’m sure I’ll see more of you in the future!

  • Dave Campbell

    The bike ride from Daly City BART to SF State ranks somewhere between riding southbound shoulders of 580 on the Richmond side of the Richmond San Rafael Bridge, and taking a nap in the I-80 and hoping you wake up. Thanks for shining a light on this issue.

  • Roger R.

    Likewise. And thanks for your help!

  • AlanTobey

    Time for some wealthy donor or local corporation to pay for a bike bridge instead of another academic building. Yes, you can put your name on it!

  • p_chazz

    I have an idea: a tax on bikes and bike related paraphernalia, the proceeds of which are used on bike-related improvements!

  • 66 City

    Nah. Tax the things we need less of — solo drivers in personal automobiles.

  • murphstahoe

    In 20 years we’d have enough to fund a sharrow

  • murphstahoe

    We should tax non-smokers to build air filtration systems

  • RichLL

    Do a majority of voters agree that we need less drivers? Given that the majority are voters are drivers, even in San Francisco?

    Taxes should be for raising revenues, as broadly as possible, and not for manipulating behaviors. User fees can handle the rest.

  • Taurussf

    Sigh. Do your homework before popping off. Motorists are the ones getting the free ride.

    Most local infrastructure is funded by general taxes levied on everyone, including non-drivers. Cyclists and pedestrians have already paid for these improvements.

    Right now, cyclists’ taxes pay for automobile infrastructure. So the reality is the exact opposite of what you seem to think.

  • p_chazz

    True, though motorists do pay gas tax and highway use tax. This is about perception. Until bicyclists ante up, they will be seen as freeloaders.

  • farazs

    Nope, its about Math.

    For every dollar that goes in to the improving roads from gas and use tax, a dollar that goes in from the general taxes. For every dollar that is spent on road improvements, 2 cents is spent on exclusive bike-related infrastructure. May be another 15 cents of transit/walking and so on. So give me back my 83 cents, then cover your share of the spending on side-walks, which invariably you also use. I, in turn will kick-back 45 cents(very generous) to cover ancillary benefits I get from roads – like goods and services. I’d still have 40 cents (x 30 billion give or take) to cover bike-related infrastructure. Deal??

  • Taurussf

    I assume what you mean is, “until cyclists ARE PERCEIVED as anteing up, they will be seen as freeloaders.” As written, it sounds like you still think cyclists aren’t already getting screwed.

    Just to be clear, the vast majority of federal gas taxes and highway use taxes go for the freeway system, which cyclists are prohibited from using.

    The numbers have been done over and over again. Motorists get a free ride on the backs of non drivers. Public transit, walking, and cycling are unfairly underfunded. A fair distribution of costs would leave driving too expensive for any but the rich to do.

  • goodmaab

    Great Ideas, unfortunately they miss the point of getting the M-Line to Daly City BART as the priority. What was missing in the 19th Ave. Study was the link up front to Daly City BART vs. the dead-end in Parkmerced. Now we have Three major hurdles, the brotherhood way interchange, alemany fly-over and I-280. We designed and sketched a method of leaving the M-Line as an aireal platform or under-grounding traffic from Sloat over to I-280 entrance, and using 20th St. from Sloat to get it elevated on the western side of 19th Ave. using topography to free up the land at grade for a biking and walking new green-way. This was ignored as usual by the neighborhoods on the eastern side though it would have linked up the neighborhoods on the west and east side including SFSU-CSU and Stonestown to Mercy, and the Ingleside Terraces Areas down to METNA, and Daly City direct connectivity. The bike path is one solution, it should include a walkable route as well.

  • goodmaab

    SFSU-CSU ignored the “fair-share” contribution when they elevated their enrollment cap during the SFSU-Masterplan with Corrigan. They preferred building on prior tenant open space the Mashouf Center, and will continue their expansionism at the cost of all other important issues, housing, transit and traffic impacts, along with stealing land through side deals with prior parkmerced management…. (SFSU-CSU should be shrunk to scale…

  • jonobate

    Is the Jason Henderson mentioned in this article the same Jason Henderson who sometimes posts here on Streetsblog?

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