Bike Coalition Preps for Next Round of SoMa Fight

Folsom and Howard Streets Slated for Redesigns

The yellow lines mark Folsom and Howard, the streets slated for a resdesign. Image: SFMTA
The yellow lines mark Folsom and Howard, the streets slated for a resdesign. Image: SFMTA

There are now four design options for a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA)’s project to add parking-protected bike lanes, possible transit lanes, and wider sidewalks on Howard and Folsom Streets in the South of Market neighborhood (SoMa). Deciding what design concept is best–and which elements of each plan are good and bad–was the topic discussed by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s (SFBC) 15-member SoMa committee on Thursday evening at the Public Architecture firm on Folsom Street.

“All four of these designs are pretty darned good. All four have pretty good protected bike lanes; physically separated bike lanes and that was the top priority,” said Charles Deffarges, community organizer for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) and leader of the SoMa committee. “We can steer these in the direction we want to see for people who ride in SF.”

SFBC's SoMa committee strategizing how to get the city to make Folsom and Howard safer for all users. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
SFBC’s SoMa committee strategizing how to get the city to make Folsom and Howard safer for all users. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

As Streetsblog readers will recall, work has been underway for some time to make SoMa’s streets safer for all users. The SFMTA has had a series of meetings to get feedback on Folsom and Howard. SoMa also hosts San Francisco’s only protected intersection. And, of course, 7th, 8th and 13th recently got parking-protected bike lanes. The SoMa committee of the Bike Coalition has been instrumental in steering these projects by getting people out to SFMTA’s meetings and building consensus for certain design elements, such as protected bike lanes.

Deffarges chose the conference room of Public Architecture for this latest meeting, rather than SFBC’s Market Street office, because it allowed the members to walk to the windows and look down at the intersection of Folsom and 8th. Below, one could see the new parking-protected bike lane on 8th, and the older buffered bike lane on Folsom that is slated for a redesign.

He put posters on the walls of the conference room, representing the four proposed designs. The members of the committee discussed and scored elements of each one.

The alternatives are:

  1. The Wide Sidewalks Alternative. This one has a one-way bike lane on Folsom and a one-way bike lane on Howard
  2. The Bicycle Connectivity Alternative. This one has a two-way bike lane on one side of both Folsom and Howard
  3. The Transit Focused Alternative. It has a red-striped bus lane on Folsom and one-way bike lanes on both.
  4. The Two-Way Traffic Alternative. This design converts both streets to two-way traffic. It has bike lanes on both sides of Folsom but no bike lanes on Howard

Go to SFMTA’s PDF to see all the four conceptual alternatives for yourself. But here are the two that generated the most conversation among the SFBC’s SoMa committee, the #2 Bicycle Connectivity scheme, and #4 Two-Way Traffic Alternative:

Image: SFMTA
Image: SFMTA
A rendering of one of the designs. Image: SFMTA
A rendering of one of the designs. Image: SFMTA

“Howard will become a stepchild if you only do bike lanes on Folsom,” said Helen Block, who commutes by bike and transit through SoMa, of option #4. That said, many in the group favored this option because the conversion to two-way streets, they argued, will create a better sense of neighborhood, rather than the one-way streets acting as giant highways for bridge traffic. “If the goal is to create a better place and a better neighborhood, the two-way traffic alternative gets at that,” said Mark Sloothaak, a member of the committee who comes from Amsterdam.

Others said the Bicycle Connectivity option might be more feasible–and better for bikes, since cyclists could use either street in either direction. “I’m concerned about bridge access for cars if both are two way streets,” said another member of the committee.

Still others found fault in all the designs, and wanted to see them all improved. For Tom Schroeder, deciding on safe designs really hits home. Eight years ago he was right hooked by a car. “I have ten screws in my jaw,” he said. “The intersections are the most dangerous part–the bike lane should go all the way through the intersection.” Schroeder, who has relatives in Denmark, said in that country the bike lane always continues across the intersection.

Tom Schroeder, who broke his jaw in a right-hook crash a few years ago, wants the bike lanes extended across the intersections. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Tom Schroeder, who broke his jaw in a right-hook crash a few years ago, wants the bike lanes extended across the intersections. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

From Streetsblog perspective, creating a sense of community and making the streets safer are both paramount. That’s why the two-way traffic alternative seems best, but it should be amended to include bike lanes on both sides of Howard, not just Folsom (and yes, that means giving up street parking or a car-travel lane). If the city is to achieve Vision Zero, it’s not acceptable to leave Howard bereft of protected bike lanes. And Schroeder is right in saying that the bike lanes need to cross the intersections and, in fact, should be protected with phased signalling; the car-and-bike mixing zones depicted in the drawings have to go. Sloothaak and Moses Nakamura made the point that parking-protected bike lanes in themselves are insufficient, saying there must be a curb to physically prevent cars from entering the bike lane–that’s especially true if the parking lane has to be converted to a travel lane to make more room.

The intersection of Folsom and 8th, as seen from the conference room used by the SFBC SoMa committee. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The intersection of Folsom and 8th, as seen from the conference room used by the SFBC SoMa committee. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Meanwhile, Deffarges explained that there are two timelines for the project. One will look at fast fixes that can be made, such as those recently completed on 7th and 8th, as early as the end of this year. The other is much longer, and will involve the more comprehensive designs now under discussion. Those long-term changes won’t get fully designed until 2018-2019 and won’t be built until some time between 2020-2023.

Where do you stand on the SoMa options? Be sure to let us know in the comments section. And let your voice be heard by the city by answering SFMTA’s questionnaire on Folsom and Howard.

  • jonobate

    Two-way Howard/Folsom is by far the best option. The one-way freeway-like road width is the very reason these streets are so dangerous, and any option that doesn’t address this will be fatally flawed.

    I’m also okay with no bike lanes on Howard if it gets the project done. Howard isn’t a great bike corridor as it doesn’t allow you to pass under the freeway, and even if it did it would lead onto high-stress Van Ness Ave. If I did need to cycle on Howard, I’d be far happier doing so in calmed two-way traffic without a bike lane than in the current freeway-like situation.

  • mx

    The model that the city seems to be moving toward, albeit often flawed and compromised to be sure, is triples of streets divided by user type: cars, transit, and bikes. For example: South Van Ness, Mission, and Valencia; or Gough/Franklin, Van Ness, and Polk.

    I don’t love that concept for a number of reasons, but it’s unclear to me why that model is being ignored in SoMa, especially as the groundwork has already been laid in some places. It seems like the streets are being redesigned piecemeal instead of being considered as part of a network. The city’s long-term plans are to push cars off Market and Mission in favor of transit and bikes. Great. So what’s the vision for Howard, Folsom, Harrison, and Bryant? How do the proposed roads, bike lanes, and transit lanes connect on either side to existing infrastructure? I see plenty of ideas about streetscapes, but basically no long-term thinking about actual transportation here.

    It’s also interesting to me that SFMTA omits soft-hit posts on the bike lanes even in their wildest rendering dreams.

  • RichardC

    I vote for the transit-focus option. There’s lots of growth coming to this area, and if we significantly road diet the streets without adding a bus-only lane, then transit will be stuck in the same freeway-bound gridlock as all the cars. That should be unacceptable in a transit-first city. And that two-way Howard idea looks bad – it’s the only option that would leave pedestrians crossing five lanes of motor vehicle traffic at intersections.

  • Easy

    I favor the Bicycle Connectivity options. I think the two-way bike lane will allow for easier passing in the commute direction.

    I cannot support the Two-way Traffic plan without bike lanes on Howard – I have destinations to safely reach on that street, and the blocks are too long to walk your bike on.

  • HappyHighwayman

    The current temporary setup on 8th and 7th are awful. At one point the bike lane goes from the right lane to the middle lane while the car lane goes from the middle to the right, without any indication of how they’re supposed to cross each other without dying. Trucks clog the bike lane every morning.

  • HappyHighwayman
  • Ziggy Tomcich

    The intersection designs are more important than the streets. Part of the huge design flaw in all of these bike lanes is that they’re on the wrong side of the street! Bike lanes should always be on the left side of one-way streets because it greatly reduces conflicts, both right-hooks and blocked bike lanes. In NYC all of their bike lanes are on the left side of one-way streets and it makes a huge difference in safety and efficiency. Why doesn’t anybody in the SFBC or SFMTA understand this? Hasn’t anybody biked in NYC?

  • John French

    Taking a closer look at the renderings for alternative #2, with the two-way bike lanes, I think they are on the left side of the street.

  • keenplanner

    The transit-priority lanes are important no matter which design is chosen. I think that if a one-way design is chosen, there must be some sort of traffic calming to keep cars at 25mph. The two-way designs usually slow cars down. The design elements are also key: bulb-outs to shorten crossing distances, bioswale barriers look so much nicer than concrete, and an abundance of large street trees will also calm traffic.
    If intersections continue to be a problem, consider bike-only phases similar to Fell/Masonic, especially if two-way bike lanes are chosen because they may confuse drivers who aren’t expecting cyclists from both directions.

  • keenplanner

    This speaks to the value of adding landscaped barriers and narrowing the openings to the bike lanes. The “free” right turn on to Clarendon is particularly dangerous and needs to be redesigned to stop facilitating high-speed car turns onto Clarendon. The four-lane part of Clarendon needs a road diet. Clarendon shouldn’t be an arterial as it’s a steep hill through a residential neighborhood.

    It also gets really hairy from Lawton St. to GG Park, where traffic is heavy and there is lots of turning. Narrowing the median would allow the building of protected bike lanes.

    If you look at an overhead of these streets it’s obvious that they are built for the rapid movement of cars, which are mostly cut-through traffic avoiding other arterials like Portola/Market.

  • Alex

    I agree that it sucks, but it’s still better than where there isn’t the temporary solution like south of howard. I hate 7th from howard to 16th. At least traffic is a bit slower in that area.

  • HappyHighwayman

    I even emailed the guy who designed it and he responds but just that “a lot of time and money was put into the study” which doesn’t really address my concerns.

  • Rick Laubscher

    The bike lanes appear to be on the left on both streets.

  • crazyvag

    They need to consider all SOMA arterials including Howard, Folsom, Harrison, Bryant, Brannan and Townsend. Not all of these need red bus lanes, so let’s decide which ones. Those that have bus lines, might need to remain 1-way, have smaller sidewalks, lose parking or have a single direction bike lane.

    Otherwise, suppose, we get a bike lane on Folsom, does that mean, we don’t get one on Harrison and Bryant?

  • mx

    Exactly. Not to mention Market and Mission. There isn’t nearly enough room for wide sidewalks, traffic lanes, bus lanes, two way bike lanes, and two-sided parking on every street. The obvious solution is to prioritize different things based on the needs of each street.

    It makes very little sense to have red bus lanes on Market, Mission, and Folsom: that’s bus lanes on three out of four blocks in a row. Create efficient transit corridors on some streets and then use the space on the other streets for other purposes.

  • citrate reiterator

    Ugh, yes, the bike lanes on 8th are completely bananapants.