‘Quick Fix’ Parking Protected Bike Lanes Coming to Folsom and Howard

SFMTA Hopes to Start Construction of Short Term Improvements by Winter

A map of SoMA with the project area in yellow. Image: SFMTA
A map of SoMA with the project area in yellow. Image: SFMTA

For some time now, advocates have called on SFMTA to work with more urgency to get safe-street fixes on the ground. And, it seems, this is starting to happen. “We’ll pour concrete on top of asphalt to make bus boarding islands,” explained Bradley Dunn, a spokesman at SFMTA, at last night’s “Folsom-Howard: Safer Streets Sooner Near-Term Open House #1,” held at the Gene Friend Recreation Center.

Pouring concrete on asphalt means the boarding islands–an integral part of installing protected bike lanes on a street with bus routes–won’t last as long, but they can be put in quickly, he explained. By combining this approach with paint and plastic bollards, SFMTA hopes to have parking-protected bike lanes installed on Folsom by this winter.

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Image: SFMTA

This approach is emulating what SFMTA did, under the Mayor’s Executive Directive, on 7th and 8th streets, where there are now parking-protected bike lanes and bus boarding islands, to add a strong degree of safety over regular bike lanes. The heavily traveled streets of SoMa, meanwhile, remain a hot spot of traffic collisions.

Not everyone is pleased with the coming safety changes. Lisa Wong, an architect with on office on Folsom near the corner of 8th Street, is concerned about losing the parking spot in front of her shop, which will be eliminated to make way for a right-turn pocket and ‘mixing zone.’ She finds the neighborhood too sketchy to carry pricey cameras and other equipment a longer distance to her car, so she doesn’t want to park around the corner. “My concern is for my safety,” said Wong. She’s also worried about trucks being able to load materials into her shop.

Lisa Wong will lose the parking spot and loading zone in front of her shop on Folsom. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Lisa Wong will lose the parking spot and loading zone in front of her shop on Folsom. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Paul Stanis, Project Manager for SFMTA, said the project will double the number of loading zones from 21 to 42 on Folsom, and that he would work with Wong on some kind of accommodation.

The project, as currently designed, uses ‘mixing zones’ instead of protected intersections. That means that as cyclists get to the intersection, if they want to go straight, they have to merge one lane to the left and cross paths with cars turning right.

A treatment that included protected intersections, similar to what SFMTA installed on 9th and Division, could potentially also maintain Wong’s parking spot, since the parking protection lane could extend another car length or two to include the area in front of her office (under SFMTA’s current plan, the parking row stops early to allow cars in the travel lane to transition to the right-turning pocket). Stanis said SFMTA may look at a protected intersection for the longer-term project (which will take a few more years) but for this short-term, interim fix they don’t want to do anything that’s overly complex or expensive.

Chart: SFMTA
Chart: SFMTA

Fair enough, but as readers can see in the above chart, intersections are where 89 percent of collisions occur. It hardly seems the place to scrimp. Even painted bike lanes stop abruptly just as cyclists spill into intersections where the paint is needed most to remind motorists to look out for cyclists. That’s not a cost issue, but a design issue.

Sothene Recht was also not too keen on the changes. “I’m concerned about cars trying to get to the bridge … I walk a lot, but America is made for cars … Eliminate a lane, and instead of taking one hour to get home it takes an hour and a half,” she said.

But aside from Recht, Wong, and a couple of others, most of the participants in the open house were bullish about the new bike lanes and some even wanted the protections extended well beyond central SoMa. “I’m happy about the changes,” said Eric Thorne, who commutes between SoMa and Glen Park by bike. He cautioned that the current configuration on Folsom is confusing and that “… the buffer is too wide. I have a car too and and have been confused by the wide buffer.” He said parking-protected bike lanes will solve the confusion and keep motorists out of the bike lane.

Eric Thorne commutes by bike--and sometimes car--between Glen Park and SoMa. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Eric Thorne commutes by bike–and sometimes car–between Glen Park and SoMa. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

While these changes are being discussed for Folsom street, the timeline for parking protected bike lanes along Howard is less certain. That’s because of a frustratingly familiar issue. “We’ve been meeting with the fire department,” said SFMTA’s Dunn. Howard has power lines for electric buses, so the fire department is pushing back against the proposed design, just as it did about bike infrastructure on Market and Turk. The concerns here are the same–that ladder trucks may not be able to maneuver around trolley-bus wires when fighting building fires.

SFMTA’s strategy for now, said the officials, is to focus on Folsom and get what they can on the ground as soon as possible, while they iron out the fire vs. wire issue separately.

Last nights Folsom/Howard quick fix meeting at the Gene Friend Recreation Center. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Last night’s Folsom/Howard quick fix meeting at the Gene Friend Recreation Center. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

For more information on the project, check out SFMTA’s project page.

  • Hunter

    Strange SFMTA couldn’t develop any creative safety improvements for Howard while waiting for SFFD approval. More soft hit posts / protected intersections? Paint the lane green? Create designated ridehail/taxi dropoff zones on the opposite side of the street? The fact that Folsom’s improvements don’t include safe links to 2nd Street or 11th are also pretty typical of the city’s failure to link major routes with improvements.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Wasn’t a total remodel of Folsom into a pedestrian-friendly 2-way boulevard part of both the Transbay and Western SoMA plans? This seems like some weak sauce compared to the promises.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    I love the new protected bike lane on 8th street, except for the stupid intersection design. It’s impossible for drivers to see what street they need to turn on at the crossover point prior to the intersection because there’s no street sign! Twice yesterday I’ve seen drivers dangerously right hooking from the center lane in the intersection after realizing at the last second that they needed to make a right turn. Committing to making a right turn 100′ prior to the intersection is confusing and non-instinctive to many drivers. The lack of signs or any 3-d objects makes this even more confusing because paint markers on the road are only visible during ideal conditions.

    The intersection is what needs to be fixed. Protected intersection designs help, but there are some simple changes that can help as well. In NYC they put bike lanes on the left side of one-way streets which makes them intrinsically safer. It’s much easier for drivers making a left to see and avoid a cyclist in a bike lane to their left. Also in NYC they mark the bike lanes throughout the intersection. The intersections along 8th street are still random mixing zones where it’s not instinctively obvious to people driving or biking exactly where they’re supposed to go.

    Fix the intersections by designing them so that any 5 year old knows exactly where they’re supposed to go. Intersections shouldn’t need special training or experience for people to figure them out!

  • bicycle640

    As a long time cyclist in sf, I think the new “improved” bike lanes on 7th and 8th streets TOTALLY SUCK. This is a stupid design that might seem like a good idea in theory, but in practice, gets a solid F-grade, imo. Have the people who are responsible for this ever actually ridden a bicycle? – not a VR bike, while sitting at your computer, but a real one? No? Fail.

  • I totally disagree. With the new protected bike lane, im now able to bike from job at the opera house to the streetfood park at 11th st safely in about 8 minutes, which was impossible previously.

    The intersections still need work. They need to install actual curbs, better signage and lane markings. But compared with what 8th street used to be? Absolutely no comparison.

    The 11th st street food park is a great place for cyclists since you can order food without having to leave your bike unattended, and there’s plenty of places to lock it close to a table so you can keep an eye on it. The food there is usually awesome and not ridiculously overpriced!

  • “Fair enough, but as readers can see in the above chart, intersections
    are where 89 percent of collisions occur. It hardly seems the place to
    scrimp. Even painted bike lanes stop abruptly just as cyclists spill
    into intersections where the paint is needed most to remind motorists to
    look out for cyclists. That’s not a cost issue, but a design issue.” They need realize that fix that issue…

  • Hunter

    Not sure, but there still is a long-term plan (in which they’re studying the two-way option). These are near term improvements, and the full redesign will take several more years…

  • ZA_SF

    As someone who commutes those routes daily with a bike, I remain wary of physically-separated additions that channel bike flow into points of greater danger.

    In particular, for Folsom:
    – the numerous auto repair businesses (and SFFD Station 1) with unusual turning and reversing needs all along Folsom between Juniper and at least 6th;
    – plus the spillover of intersecting cars on Columbia Square road adjacent to the Victoria Manalo Draves Park that blocks the bike lane on Folsom.
    – plus the rental car confusion and access near 3rd Street (Alamo and Enterprise)
    – the need for cyclists to split along Folsom between Hawthorne and 2nd to differentiate between left-turners onto 2nd, and those proceeding east on Folsom (who then have to deal with the Bay Bridge on-ramp vehicles).

    For Howard:
    – It’s all mess between 2nd Street and 5th Street. There is too much acceleration and red-light running as vehicles traverse New Montgomery onto Howard, and then again make all lanes turning lanes onto 3rd.
    – The Moscone Center’s renovation has forced an odd curve in Howard that I hope does not become permanent, as the many blind cars the travel into the cross-hatched area prove daily.
    – The Wall of Tour Buses that consume the entire right lane from Moscone West to the Intercontinental Hotel, creating a particularly blind crossing point for vehicles entering and leaving the Interconti’s garage. If I had a separated bike lane there, I would like skip it all to take a vehicle lane.

  • Stuart

    How would protecting the bike lane make any of those points more dangerous? Right now (for Folsom at least; I detour half a kilometer on the way home to avoid Howard) we deal with all of those things already. But on top of that list we also have Uber/Lyft drivers pulling into or across the bike lane without warning, huge trucks completely blocking it on a regular basis, and potential sudden right hooks from people turning into the various garages (which in a protected lane would instead have cars crossing at more like right angles, giving the drivers more opportunity to see cyclists and cyclists more warning about drivers turning without looking, as with a protected intersection).

  • ZA_SF

    My concern is channeling more bicycles into a narrower space, leading to dangerous collision points, and eliminating the chance for cycles to readily cross into a vehicle lane to get around the hazard.

    The delivery trucks, tour coaches, and unannounced Uber/Lyft lane takings won’t be stopped by fairly low physical barriers, and when they are respected, could lead to speedier right hooks into areas they perceive they can access.

    With the Howard and 3rd turn, funneling cycles into the right-most lane space, even with concrete barriers, means definitely losing to not just the immediate right-turning vehicle in the adjacent lane, but then proceeding in the blind for at least the next two vehicle lanes also turning onto 3rd. In that specific area, it’s a whole lot safer for bicycles to either have their own intersection crossing light that is respected, or to become a vehicular bicycle in a general purpose lane to avoid that meatgrinder.

    Similarly, at Folsom and Columbia Square, just two head-to-head approach cars (legal confrontation) on Columbia Square can create a back up of 2-3 cars that will block the bike lane on Folsom. Better to not have a physical barrier there, so that bicycles have the option to get around that inevitable mess. A lasting solution would be to remove a line of vehicle parking at that park, but that reduces some of the value of that park, and for nearby businesses.

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