Eyes on the Street: Valencia Protected Bike Lane

May we Have some More Please?

Dropping in some traffic cones helped stop motorists from parking on the Valencia protected bike lane. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Dropping in some traffic cones helped stop motorists from parking on the Valencia protected bike lane. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

As Streetsblog readers have no doubt seen in Hoodline, the SF Examiner, Curbed,  Bernalwood, or on various social media, the newly opened stretch of protected bike lane on Valencia Street, from Cesar Chavez to Mission, got off to a bad start, with confused motorists parking all over it. Fortunately, the protected bike lane was open for business today, thanks to better signs and some cones, as seen in the above photo.

Streetsblog had been observing the construction of this section of lane for some time, and was struck by the same thing that seems to have confused the drivers–why did SFMTA put the meters on the curb, instead of between the bike lane and the parking lane? There’s been some speculation that it was a cost issue, but it clearly wasn’t that, since–going by photos taken by Streetsblog when the lane was in late construction–all the meters are new.

As seen in this construction photo from a few months ago, SFMTA put in new meters to the right of the bike lane. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
As seen in this construction photo from a few months ago, SFMTA put in new meters to the right of the bike lane. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

So why didn’t they put the meters on the left of the bike lane, to help keep scofflaw or easily confused parkers off?

“The buffer area serves as a path of travel for people in wheelchairs entering/exiting cars. We can’t block it with parking meters or safe-hit posts per our accessibility guidelines,” said Ben Jose, a spokesman for SFMTA. “Otherwise wheelchair users would need to travel in the bike lane to access the nearest ramp up to the sidewalk.

Obviously, they kind of have to do that anyway, since the “buffer zone” is just a swath of paint.

Either way, maybe it’s time to review those guidelines. Surely, cyclists can manage to co-exist with the occasional wheel chair or mobility scooter for one block, as they do in places with mature bike infrastructure. Regardless, it’s disappointing that there’s still nothing physically stopping cars from parking on the lane.

Streetsblog also wants to nitpick driveway treatments. The driveway ramps are gradual and wide, as seen below, and can be mounted at high speeds, which invites collisions. Any time a driveway crosses a cycle lane there should be a narrow, steep driveway apron, a speed bump, or something equivalent to force a motorist to hesitate before crossing the path.

The driveways across the bike lane are smooth and level for cars, inviting conflicts. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The driveways across the bike lane are smooth and level for cars, inviting conflicts. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Streetsblog also isn’t a fan of the intersection treatments at Cesar Chavez. There should be a cut through for cyclists to get across the bulbouts, without being forced to merge left into right-turning traffic. SFTMA did it right at 9th and Division, with the city’s first protected intersection.

So why relapse to a mixing-zone treatment at Valencia and Cesar Chavez? Apparently, that came down to a lack of coordination between the protected bike lane and an earlier streetscape project. And the “SFMTA project budget did not include funding for a redesign of this bulbout or a redesign of the signalized intersection,” said Jose.

Thanks to lack of budget and coordination, cyclists are forced to mix with right-turning cars at the northern end of the protected bike lane. Photo: Streetsblog
Thanks to lack of budget and coordination, cyclists are forced to mix with right-turning cars at the northern end of the protected bike lane. Photo: Streetsblog

That said, it’s much more pleasant to ride than the rest of Valencia and it’s a major step in the right direction, albeit for a tenth of a mile. On the next block, unfortunately, it’s back to the world’s longest Uber/merchant loading zone.

So what are the prospects of extending the protected bike lane north? Does SFMTA have a plan in the works? “Not at this point in time,” said Jose.

Worlds longest loading zone: aka, the Valencia bike lane. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Worlds longest loading zone: aka, the Valencia bike lane. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
  • YohanSF

    The bike lane here should be part of the sidewalk. The sidewalk should be extended to where the cars park.

    This is how to do it: http://www.cambridgema.gov/~/media/Images/CDD/Transportation/Bike/VassaratStata.JPG

  • John French

    Is that Vassar St in Cambridge, MA? I rode a Hubway bike-share bike along it last weekend. Definitely an improvement, but that design does result in lots of pedestrians crossing the bike lane unexpectedly, or just outright walking down the middle of it.

    I’ll take slowing down, ringing my bell, and sometimes yielding to pedestrians over the Valencia Uber lanes any day though.

  • Corvus Corax

    This whole project is unacceptably lame, including the weird s-curve that we need to be prepared for so as not to crash while entering this lane. Did Ben Jose have any explanation for the reason they even bothered to put this lane here where it was never needed due to low volume of both cars and bicycles, if they have no plans to go north where it is really needed? I emailed these questions to the SFMTA, but have not heard back. (Big surprise there).

  • mx

    This is such a ridiculous design. It’s one thing to have motorists who are uncaring and willfully block bike lanes––we’ve got plenty of that around town, but this is yet another example of SFMTA producing overcomplicated and unintuitive designs that cause drivers to break the law simply because they’re confused. When it’s a handful of people who think they’re more entitled than anyone else, blame the drivers and step up enforcement. When it’s car after car, blame the designers and come up with something better. And here, we saw day after day of every car on the street parking in the bike lane. It’s hard to overstate how utterly incompetent the designers were to not foresee a result like https://twitter.com/adaman797/status/835019281284792320

    Most drivers aren’t Streetsblog readers and don’t spend much time thinking about parking protected bike lanes. They’re used to parking at the curb, next to the parking meters. If you want them to do something differently from how every other street works, you need to make it really blindingly obvious. I’m not talking about instructional signs belatedly tacked onto parking meters after days of drivers doing it wrong. And I’m sure as heck not talking about SFMTA “ambassadors” being dispatched to teach people how to use this hot mess. I’m talking about an actual street design that’s moderately intuitive enough for people to use it without full-time staff assistance. That shouldn’t be a high bar.

    Figure out some way to put the parking meters next to the parking spaces. Roll out the green thermoplastic so the bike lane looks like all the other bike lanes in the city. Paint the curbs red so they look like every other no parking zone in the city. Paint hashmarks in the parking spaces where drivers are supposed to park, so the parking zones don’t just look like another part of the street. Stop inventing random new pavement paint colors (khaki-colored pavement is not any kind of standardized treatment and most people have no clue what it means). Stop turning streets into a contest to use as many non-MUTCD features as possible; people might be able to figure out one novel thing at a time, but give them something familiar to look at too. Actually force the designers to stand there and watch real people try to figure out their creation for a little while.

    As an aside, the cones aren’t even an SFMTA thing. Burrito Justice dropped the cones as a quick fix to try to make up for the agency’s inactivity.

  • bobfuss

    Correction. That is “how to do it” if the voters, drivers and residents agree that they need absolutely no on-street parking at all. Your image shows no vehicles parked except in the far distance on the other side of the road, and no vehicles on the road at all – hardly the situation in SF typically.

    Is that your premise here?

    The obvious problem with your design on a busy street like Valencia is that people on the crowded sidewalks will spill over into the bike lane, rendering it impassable by bikes. Not to mention homeless people with shopping carts etc. Right now it is the parked cars that deter that.

  • Curtis Rogers

    Why are we installing new meters? Why not number the parking spaces and add one pay booth to serve all the spots on the block?

  • SF Guest

    With the exception of the Embarcadero which has a wide enough sidewalk this is way too close for comfort to have a bike lane embedded into the sidewalk and invites collisions with pedestrians.

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