Safety Vigilantes Strike Again on Valencia

Fed up With Lack of Enforcement, Advocates form Another Human-Protected Lane

A bike commuter high-fives an advocate for protecting him on the southbound Valencia bike lane. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick
A bike commuter high-fives an advocate for protecting him on the southbound Valencia bike lane. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick

Some 30 cycling advocates, wearing bright yellow t-shirts, stood along the southbound bike lane on Valencia Street between 16th and 17th streets and prevented Ubers, Lyfts and other cars from blocking this popular bike route during Friday evening’s rush. The protest, which emulated an earlier action on Golden Gate, was intended to ratchet up political pressure for protected bike lanes on all major thoroughfares.

Maureen Persico, one of the organizers of the protest, said she is doing this because it’s so dangerous out there. She said she isn’t impressed by politicians who get on their bikes for Bike to Work Day. “Yesterday, Mayor Lee engaged in his once-a-year bike ride…with police escort,” she remarked. “Meanwhile, this city has failed to keep people safe on this high injury corridor…I have a 15 year old son, and he doesn’t feel safe biking. It’s not acceptable. We’re going to act up for bike lanes until it gets the attention it deserves so people don’t get hurt.”

Maureen Persico helped organize this protest.
Maureen Persico helped organize this protest.

Streetsblog readers will recall that protesters and advocates have been fighting for protected bike lanes on Valencia for some time. Some of the people involved in Friday night’s protest are also involved with SFMTrA, the guerrilla street safety group that put safe-hit posts here (the posts were promptly removed by the city). Many of these same advocates, including Persico, helped count the number of cars that were blocking the bike lanes, to give the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the city hard data about this continual problem. And it’s not as if their immediate ‘ask’–parking protected bike lanes on Valencia–is a bolt from the blue. SFMTA opened a parking protected bike lane on the southern end of Valencia, from Cesar Chavez to Duncan, in March. These protesters just want the rest of the street done.

Meanwhile, Matt, who declined to give his last name, handed out yellow t-shirts and gave instructions. He stressed that if a car is trying to park legally or is trying to get out of a parking space, the protesters should get out of the way–and even help them if possible. He said it would be better to have the cars park to the left of the bike lane, as with the new lanes in SoMa and on Telegraph in Oakland, and the northern end of Valencia itself. But the design is what it is, so, for now, the protesters”have to let people park in this bad design.”

He handed out flyers which read:

  • Don’t block lanes. Stand on the white line.
  • Have fun and share your passion for safe protected lanes.

It also answered the question, why they are doing it:

  • Families should be able to safely bike in San Francisco.
  • Unprotected lanes are violated by cars and put families next to fast moving cars.

The bulk of the protesters were in place by 5 p.m. They lined up, as planned, on the white line. There were enough of them, with arms stretched, to cover the entire southbound lane from 16th to 17th. When cars tried to get into or out of legitimate parking spots, they did as promised and helped them. The protest certainly seemed to make the street safer. Cars heading south were surprisingly cautious and drove more slowly–but it didn’t seem to reduce overall throughput. That is to say, the cars stopped racing from red light to red light and instead drove at the speed limit.

Most people seemed to take the protest in stride. Cyclists high-fived the protesters, as seen in the lead photo. The protesters chanted “protected bike lanes!” and the cyclists shouted back with a warm “thank you” and at least one said “I like this!” Some drivers tapped their horns repeatedly in solidarity. Much to the surprise of many of the protesters, there really didn’t seem to be any objections from motorists to what they were doing. Many stared out their windows at the protesters in what seemed like curiosity.

It was free sailing, at least for one block, on Friday night for cyclists.
It was free sailing, at least for one block, on Friday night for cyclists.

However, Streetsblog counted two cyclists who objected. One shouted “you’re not helping” and cursed at the protesters. Another cyclist, heading northbound, looked back and shouted at the protesters to “go home” as he inexplicably swerved into the oncoming lane, and into the path of an oncoming truck. The truck, however, was driving slowly, probably because of the protest. He saw the truck in the nick of time and swerved out of the way, leaving the protesters confused and puzzled. “Oh well, there’s always an outlier” quipped one of them.

And what about ride-hails? Soon after the protest started, the first Ubers and Lyfts showed up. Deprived of the bike lane for drop offs, they just stopped in the middle of the car lane. Passengers, perhaps mindful of the line of cars behind, got in and out very quickly. The process actually seemed to cause less automobile delay than when Ubers and Lyfts fight to pull over to the right, dwell for a while, pickup or discharge passengers, and then fight their way back into motor traffic. It was surprisingly orderly.

Ubers still discharged passengers, as seen here, but they did it quickly and efficiently, without slowing the progress of traffic, blocking the bike lane, or creating a hazard.
Ubers still discharged passengers, as seen here, but they did it quickly and efficiently, without slowing the progress of traffic.

From Streetsblog’s perspective, the result of the protest were fascinating. The human chain effectively narrowed the lane and cars did what studies always seem to show–contrary to intuition, narrower lanes result in slower, calmer driving behavior and safer streets. It was also a bit disturbing to contemplate that when people stand in the streets, motorists slow down and drive cautiously. But when they’re riding bikes–a situation in which a human being is just as vulnerable, perhaps more so–motorists don’t seem to hesitate to drive dangerously fast and close with little thought to the consequences. Speaking of consequences, Anthony Trezos was handing out flyers for Wednesday’s Ride of Silence to commemorate cyclists killed on our city’s streets.

That said, some might think it’s reckless to stage a protest by standing on a stripe in the middle of a street. But cyclists deal with this risk every time they ride. It didn’t seem any more nerve racking to stand in the street as it does to ride in the street. Meanwhile, as with the previous protest on Turk, this was done in full view of the police; two police cruisers rolled right on by.

The protest attracted more attention, in fact, from people shopping and otherwise enjoying the Valencia corridor on foot. Steve Arkin was walking by and decided to join in. “My son bikes–I was just here to go to the movies, but I had to help!” he said. Glen Hardwich, who owns “Adventure in Food and Wine” on nearby 24th Street, stopped to watch. He whole-heartily approved of the protest and agreed that the bike lane should be to the right of the parked cars, not sandwiched between parked cars and moving traffic as in the current design. “This is ludicrous,” he said of the current arrangement. “Anyone who bikes knows this is a problem.”

Glenn Hardwich, who runs a nearby wine shop, was impressed with the demonstration.
Glenn Hardwich, who runs a nearby wine shop, was impressed with the demonstration.

For most people, it was about making the street safe for families. Brookeray Rivera came to protest with her infant daughter. “I want to take my daughter on my bike and I’m terrified of all the near misses all the time.” “For a decade, this street has gotten worse and worse,” said Chris Turitzin, another advocate at the protest. “We want better infrastructure!” said Jon Gaul.

Brookeray Rivera wants bike lanes that are safe enough for her to ride with her baby.
Brookeray Rivera wants bike lanes that are safe enough for her to ride with her baby.

Meanwhile, on the northbound side of Valencia, things were as they always are–cars driving too fast and the bike lane continually blocked by stopped cars. And as soon as the protest wrapped up at 7 p.m., both sides of Valencia were back to the usual–two parking lanes, two travel lanes, and a double parking lane that’s supposed to be a bike lane.

Unfortunately, it was business as usual on the northbound side.
Unfortunately, it was business as usual on the northbound side.
  • p_chazz

    Valencia from 24th to Mission is at the southern end of the street, not the northern end, as stated in the article.

  • basenjibrian

    The new bike lanes with parking placed to the left on Telegraph in Oakland merely provide another opportunity for illegal double parking. Not a real solution, sadly. Still comes down to enforcement.
    (Although there are other good aspects of this layout).

  • The biggest problem here are Lyft and Uber drivers who use the bike lane at will. These companies ought to pay to construct interspersed “pick-up points” at strategic points along heavily-trafficked and problematic thoroughfares (Valencia St.)

  • Stuart

    Lyft and Uber drivers routinely pull over only the minimum amount necessary to allow cars by them, blocking the bike lane right next to empty curb space. So adding more loading zones wouldn’t help very much without constant enforcement.

    A much better solution is protected bike infrastructure that makes it hard/impossible for them to pull into the bike lane. That also has the advantage of making it safer in general, which reduces injury/death as well as getting more people biking–both of which are explicit city goals.

  • I feel like they’d just end up stopping in the middle of the road if that’s the case? (As described in one such example in the article).

    The bigger point here, is that these companies are making big bucks from their service, but not necessarily investing in improving the city’s infrastructure in which they operate (and are HQ’d in our case).

  • Stuart

    Yes, avoiding blocking the car lanes would still require loading zones. My point was that if the goal is to fix the problem of blocked bike lanes, just adding loading zones would not actually be enough.

    As for investment: loading zones don’t need to be constructed, generally, just painted. It’s not generally a question of money, but of political will to remove parking to make room for them.

  • yeah…I mean, I could also make a case for the ride-sharing companies being the only ones who’d have the money to invest in empty lots scattered around the way. The parking lot on the corner of Valencia and 18th comes to mind.

    Agreed on political will (damnit).

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    Actually, it is the lazy passengers that expect to be picked up in front of the building. They are the ones that will not walk the half block to the corner.

    The way Uber and Lyft are set up, the only way a rider can complain about the “Uber or Lyft Experience” is to rate the driver poorly. So what happens is this becomes a no-win situation for the driver. If Uber initiates a “Corner Pick-Up” policy and the riders don’t like it, the driver gets low ratings and becomes subject to deactivation. If you step up enforcement, then the Uber driver has to pay the ticket. Do you really want to subject a person barely making minimum wage after expenses to this?

    Also, what about FedEx/UPS/USPS or other delivery drivers? Or the person picking up their grandmother, or a garbage truck? At what point does the “Get out of my, er the bike lane?” nonsense end?

    Here is the simple solution if you see a car blocking the bike lane. About 1/2 block before the obstacle, raise your left arm and point to the left. At a break in traffic, move over to the left about eight feet. After you pass the obstacle, either raise your left arm and point your left forearm upward or raise your right arm. Mover back into the bike lane. Continue towards your destination.

    You see, that lane over to your left is a “General Traffic Lane”. A cyclist is considered “General Traffic”. Don’t be shy about using a part of the road that you are entitled to use.

  • Stuart

    If you step up enforcement, then the Uber driver has to pay the ticket. Do you really want to subject a person barely making minimum wage after expenses to this?

    Do you really want exploitative business practices to be the justification for tolerating illegal behavior that makes cycling more dangerous and thus works against the city’s transit policy?

    If I make a business that incentives people to drive and/or park on the sidewalk on a regular basis, is that also okay as long as I pay the people doing it minimum wage?

    At what point does the “Get out of my, er the bike lane?” nonsense end?

    Probably when there are no longer significant numbers of drivers who treat cyclists legally taking the lane to avoid an obstruction as an assault on their freedoms which must be punished with aggressive driving, like punishment passes or deliberately accelerating to block the merge.

    Or maybe when drivers stop treating bike lanes with a contempt they would never dream of for a lane they themselves use. How often do you see Lyft/Uber drivers just stop, randomly, completely blocking a traffic lane in the middle of the block, to sit there for several minutes messing with their phone–on a major street at rush hour? It’s common practice in many of the city’s major bike lanes.

    You see, that lane over to your left is a “General Traffic Lane”. A cyclist is considered “General Traffic”. Don’t be shy about using a part of the road that you are entitled to use.

    That lane is populated by people driving multi-ton vehicles, many of whom are either ignorant or disdainful of that fact. The fact that many people are reluctant to regularly move in and out of it has little to do with “shyness”, and much more to do with safety. Lots of studies have shown that many people will simply not bike at all if vehicular cycling is their only option.

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    If I make a business that incentivizes people to drive and/or park on the sidewalk on a regular basis, is that also okay as long as I pay the people doing it minimum wage?

    I didn’t say I supported Uber or Lyft’s business practices. I simply stated that the drivers have no control over it. All it takes is a couple of pissed off riders that did not like having to walk 1/2 block to the car, rate the driver 1-star and submit a “Professionalism” or “Navigation” complaint and the driver gets deactivated. How about a driver that drops off an entitled passenger, gets a ticket that wipes out the $150.00 that took 12 hours to earn. You don’t demand that a busboy or dishwasher get fired or pay for your meal if you do not like the quality of the food.

    The fact that many people are reluctant to regularly move in and out of it has little to do with “shyness”, and much more to do with safety. Lots of studies have shown that many people will simply not bike at all if vehicular cycling is their only option.

    I agree, weaving in and out of a bike lane is not a safe thing to do. That is why I prefaced it with signalling 1/2 half block before the obstacle. Frankly, if the block(s) is riddle with obstacles, the cyclist should just simply stay in the general travel lane. (It’s a lot safer than that door-zone bike lane pictured.) Finally, there is not a single “Study” that links infrastructure to bike use. Most people do not commute to work by bicycle because of distance, secure place to store their bake at the office, showers, and a lockers to keep changes of clothes.

  • p_chazz

    These companies are not making big bucks. Uber lost $3 billion in 2016. Lyft lost $300 million.

  • Stuart

    I simply stated that the drivers have no control over it.

    But they do. They are choosing to break the law and block the bike lanes for their own benefit. Sure, Uber and Lyft create economic incentive to do it, and lack of enforcement eliminates the economic counter-incentive, but lots of people choose to follow laws even when breaking them is in their economic interest and they think they won’t get punished.

    I don’t actually think that enough enforcement to change the economic analysis is viable, which is why I think we need to build protected infrastructure, but that doesn’t mean that drivers share no responsibility for choosing to ignore the law and the safety of other road users in their calculus.

    You don’t demand that a busboy or dishwasher get fired or pay for your meal if you do not like the quality of the food.

    Since the busboy didn’t make the food, nor did they do anything illegal, this has absolutely nothing in common with an Uber driver deliberately breaking the law in performing their job.

    If a restaurant contracted out to lowest-bidder chefs, and some chefs won the bids by lowering costs by using a lot of cheap, non-food-safe additives that made people sick, I would condemn the restaurant for creating the incentive structure without any oversight, but also expect fines or legal action against the cook.

    Finally, there is not a single “Study” that links infrastructure to bike use.

    http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1122&context=usp_fac

    http://www.peopleforbikes.org/statistics/category/protected-bike-lane-statistics#if-you-build-it-people-will-ride

    https://outdoorindustry.org/press-release/new-study-measures-impact-of-protected-bike-lanes/

    https://nacto.org/2016/07/20/high-quality-bike-facilities-increase-ridership-make-biking-safer/

    That was from a couple of minutes of looking.

  • disqdude

    Yes, but this is because lazy city staffers wanted the bike lane to be easily accessible to street sweepers. As if they sweep streets in Oakland! Anyway, it’s nothing a few soft-hit posts and red (instead of brown) paint couldn’t fix.

  • The best solution I’ve seen yet is “parking-protected bike lanes” which reverse the position of the bike lane and the parking lane. You can currently see one such example over on Telegraph St near downtown Oakland: http://cal.streetsblog.org/2017/01/30/telegraph-avenue-parking-protected-bike-lanes-show-stunning-results/

  • HappyHighwayman

    The new bike lanes on 7th and 8th are awful and dangerous. One goes along a hotel, and they use the bike path to load the cars. People literally step off the sidewalk into the bike path without looking. I’ve seen cyclists themselves cycles the wrong way down the street because no fucks were given. On 7th street there is an intersection where the car, before in the middle, must now go right to to make a right turn and the right turn cycle lane now must go left. WTF. In SOMA I see my path blocked 4-5 times solely from Market to Caltrain. Most of the times it delivery or construction trucks but the Mercedes Benz store blocks the bike path 3x a week for car deliveries.

  • HappyHighwayman

    You’re an idiot who clearly doesn’t commute on a bike and experience near death from the entire bike lane being randomly blocked by people who feel their convenience is more important than people’s safety. Fuck off

  • HappyHighwayman

    What do you fellow cyclists do when a car almost hits you or is blocking the lane? A lady almost hit me and I TAPPED on her window to inform her, her response was “OK. And YOU DON’T NEED TO BREAK MY WINDOW” (tapping on a window is breaking it?)

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    For somebody who goes by “HappyHighwayman”, you sure have lots of pent up anger. Personally, I would not call somebody with 40+ years and over 200,000 miles of urban bicycling experience an idiot.

    As for me, I avoid roads with bike lanes. Most of the time they are poorly designed and create more conflicts than they resolve. Now there is one door-zone monstrosity that is on my commute. The only savings grace is that it carves out a path for me in what is normally bumper-to-bumper congestion. So as I hold my breath and grit my teeth as I ride just inside the left stripe, watching for turning tires and faces in the mirrors with my right eye and possible right hooks with my left, I balance it out with the fact that I just passed 300 motorists.

    That said, I never had a “Near-death experience” merging out of a bike lane into the general travel lane. I have had a couple of honks from motorists, I have had to wait for a gap in traffic, but no near-death experiences. So tell me HappyHighwayman, what am I doing wrong? Am I supposed to have near-death experiences when I exit a bike lane?

  • HappyHighwayman

    If you were a real cyclist you’d be more empathetic to our issues instead of defending all of those that are responsible for injuries and deaths such as delivery drivers. I didn’t ask them to be a delivery driver, and I didn’t make the laws, but I do expect them to follow them. Is their rational for wanting to illegally park more important than my desire to slash their tires? They’re both illegal.

  • I just scream at them at the top of my voice… Great for releasing anger and frustration and really freaks them out.

  • HappyHighwayman

    I tried but not loud enough. Today a moving truck was blocking the entire bicycle lane in a very unsafe manner. I bet if their tires were slashed every time they did that they’d stop doing it.

  • Stuart

    https://www.amazon.com/Hornit-dB140-Cycle-Remote-Trigger/dp/B006TDEV20

    One setting sounds like a sci-fi ray gun, which I assume would just confuse people, but the other is a satisfyingly loud sound that’s similar to a car horn.

  • HappyHighwayman

    I got one, took it off after the rain made it buzz constantly, and it’s still not quite loud enough.

    Also there’s no way a moving truck being unloaded is going to move just because I sit there honking.

    In the end, I am not trying to be an internet tough guy, but in the name of justice, not the law, what is someone to do?

  • Stuart

    If you want something really loud, an air horn is probably your only option. I’ve not had any trouble with drivers hearing the horn setting of the Hornit myself though.

    Nothing will help with a moving truck (except continuing to push for protected bike lanes). You can call parking enforcement, but the last time I moved in SF the movers said that occasional parking tickets are just the cost of doing business.

  • HappyHighwayman

    Thank you I shall buy the Hornet.

    I tend to over-react to people blocking the lanes.

  • uniblab_2.0

    Good for them. The City is bullshit and pays lip service to all things wonderful all the while the Lee administration is an arm of UberLyft and simply doesn’t care about safety. It’s a pity the Bike Coalition endorsed him but that’s their cross to bear, not mine!

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

The Fell Street Separated Bike Lane Has Arrived

|
The basic striping for a separated bike lane on Fell Street now links the Wiggle to the Panhandle, a milestone in the years-long campaign to make one of San Francisco’s most important bicycle routes more appealing to all. Crews from the SF Municipal Transportation Agency yesterday striped the 5-foot buffer separating the bike lane from […]

Safety Guerrillas Hit Valencia Street

|
Streetsblog was up before dawn this morning, an invited guest of SFMTrA–the guerrilla group that’s given up waiting for the city to make our streets safer–for a quick infrastructure upgrade to Valencia Street’s bike lanes. This time three members of the group, who go by the handles Copenhagen, Dragon (who came with a furry dragon […]

Bike to School Day is Every Day for Aidan and Maureen

|
The following story is being republished from the blog of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Join parents and thousands of kids across San Francisco for the third annual Bike to School Day Celebration, Thursday, April 7. For more information, to find out which schools are participating or to volunteer go to sfbiketoschoolday.org. On a bicycle, San […]