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SFMTA, Chiu Stand By Unprotected Bike Lane Proposal for Polk Street

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Updated 5:16 p.m. with corrections on the number of blocks.

The SFMTA is moving forward with a plan for Polk Street with a protected bike lane only in one direction of an 11-block stretch. SFMTA planners and Supervisor David Chiu maintain that the plan is sufficient to make the street safe enough to invite a broad range of San Franciscans to bike, though the design has been guided less by safety considerations than the desire to appease merchants who oppose the removal of any car parking.

On nine blocks of middle Polk, between Union and California Streets, the SFMTA's plan includes a bike lane only southbound. On the nortbhound side, curbside parking will be prohibited to make more room for bikes during morning commute hours only. Image: SFMTA

Under the “preferred” plan presented [PDF] to media and stakeholders today, nine of the 20 blocks in the project (between Union and California Streets) will have a conventional, green-colored bike lane in the southbound direction only, placed between parked cars and moving cars. Northbound, curbside parking will be banned to make room for bikes during morning commute hours only. At other times, the only provision for cycling will be green-backed sharrows in the traffic lane.

In the southbound direction from California to McAllister Street, Polk will have a raised, protected bike lane. The northbound direction will have a buffered, green bike lane that, depending on the block, will run either curbside (without parking) or next to the parking lane.

Altogether, the plan would remove an estimated 30 percent of parking on Polk, or 8 percent of parking within a block of the street. On the stretch of middle Polk between Union and California, where opposition to parking removal was strongest, those numbers are 10 percent and 5 percent. Many of the parking spaces would be removed for sidewalk bulb-outs and other non-bike lane improvements, planners said.

When Chiu was asked whether he thinks the plan would make Polk bike-friendly enough for a mother to feel safe riding with a child — a vision which he has promoted to pro-bike crowds, but hasn’t supported when it’s politically risky — he said yes.

“The solutions that the MTA is proposing really moves to the next level on both of these sections for the biking experience, whether it be for young people all the way to seniors,” Chiu said. “I do think that this moves forward the biking vision for the city.”

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SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy Could Make SF Top in the Nation — If It’s Funded

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The SF Municipal Transportation Agency has mapped out a course that could make San Francisco the most bike-friendly city in the nation. All it needs now, it seems, is the political leadership to step up and fund what SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin has called the “most cost-effective investment we can make in moving people.”

Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA’s Draft Bicycle Strategy [PDF], presented to the agency’s board yesterday, lays out three rough scenarios for improvements to the city’s bicycle infrastructure, based on the amount of funding the city provides. While it doesn’t lay out a specific plan for bike improvements, the strategy serves as a compass to guide implementation of a connected network of protected bike lanes, bike boulevards, bike parking, a robust bike-share system, and campaigns to promote bicycling as a regular means of transportation.

To reach the city’s official goal of 20 percent of trips by bike by 2020, the SFMTA estimates it would have to implement the most ambitious of its three proposed scenarios, called the “System Build-Out.” It calls for the construction of 35 miles of new bicycle facilities, upgrading 200 miles of the existing bike network to “premium bicycle facilities,” bike improvements at 200 intersections, 50,000 new bike parking spaces, and a bike-share program with more than 300 stations.

The cost of investment — an estimated $500 million for infrastructure, plus $14 million annually for other programs — would require a steep increase in bicycle funding compared to the dismal levels under the status quo. According to the SF Bicycle Coalition, the SFMTA currently only allocates 0.46 percent of its capital spending to bicycling, and under the “System Build-Out” scenario, that number would still be less than 8 percent.

“Even those levels are amazingly reasonable,” said SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum. “Funding has not kept pace with the tremendous growth of bicycling in San Francisco. This doesn’t sync up with the city’s ambitious and rightful goals to grow bicycling and make it a better transportation option for more people.”

Image: SFBC

“There has been an historic under-funding of bicycling in this city,” she added. “I think there’s clear political and public interest to increase those levels.”

There is significant backing for an aggressive increase in funding for bicycling improvements. In a press release, the SFBC shared statements of support from — the SF Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovation, a tech industry group — and SF Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Michael Theriault, who said he’s “convinced that the bicycle should become a common everyday way for San Franciscans and visitors to move around the city, as jobs and housing opportunities grow, and I support a comprehensive strategy to create more and better bicycling options.”

Several members of the Board of Supervisors also voiced support for significant increases funding to realize the goals in the Bicycle Strategy. “It is time to step up to commit to becoming a great bicycling city,” said Board President David Chiu. “San Francisco has already proven that a large and growing number of people want to bike for transportation. Looking ahead, we need to invest appropriately to support these and far more trips by bike because it is a smart investment in a healthier, greener, more accessible city.”

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Supes Reject Legal Appeal Against Fell/Oak Bikeways and Ped Upgrades

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A legal appeal filed against protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety upgrades on three blocks of Fell and Oak Streets was rejected unanimously by the Board of Supervisors yesterday. Construction on the project, currently underway the SF Municipal Transportation Agency beginning with the Fell Street protected bike lane, will not be halted by the appeal.

Photo: SFBC

Supervisors dismissed the opponents’ claims that the project required an environmental impact report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act, which could have added a year or more to the project. In a statement, the SF Bicycle Coalition hailed the board “for voting to uphold the city’s thorough work, and against creating a precedent that curb extensions and bikeways require an unprecedented and unreasonable amount of environmental review.”

The appeal [PDF], largely seen as a gambit to slow the project, was filed by Mark Brennan, a developer who owns a building on Oak and Divisadero Street; Howard Chabner, a disability rights advocate; and Ted Loewenberg, president of the Haight-Ashbury Improvement Association. Another appeal could be filed at the state level, though it’s unclear if the opponents plan to do so.

At issue was the Planning Department’s determination that the project didn’t require an EIR under CEQA because it only includes “minor alterations” to existing streets and won’t remove traffic lanes, except for a part-time turning lane on Oak.

The project will re-purpose about 100 on-street car parking spaces from Fell and Oak to create protected bike lanes separated from motor traffic by concrete planters (while replacing about half of those spaces on nearby streets). Much of the striping work on Fell is already done.

Although CEQA doesn’t require an EIR for any of the changes in the project, since they’re considered “minor alterations” to the street, Chabner argued that they go beyond that definition when taken altogether, and that the impacts of a separate plan to overhaul nearby Masonic Boulevard should be considered as well.

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SFMTA Report: JFK Protected Bike Lanes Have Calmed Park Traffic

Speeds have dropped by two to three miles per hour for cars and bikes, according to a new SFMTA report.

John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park is a bit calmer since it was reconfigured for San Francisco’s first parking-protected bike lane — and a majority of people like the change, according to a preliminary report [PDF] recently released by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency.

Since JFK was redesigned, average speeds are down by two to three MPH for both bikes and cars, the report says. The perception of safety for bicycling and driving went up significantly, though for walking, it went down a few percentage points.

“It’s having a calming effect in Golden Gate Park overall,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “Given the environment of a park, that’s a good thing to see.”

The bike lanes are the first in the city to be placed between the curb and parked cars, separated by a buffer zone — a configuration that other cities have employed to help more people feel safe riding bikes. Although traffic counts won’t be reported until the release of the SFMTA’s final report early next year, they’re expected to show a significant jump in bicycle ridership. Shahum said the SFBC has heard strong anecdotal evidence that the lanes are attracting new riders who didn’t feel comfortable riding between parked cars and moving cars under the old configuration.

“If anything, Golden Gate Park should be the ideal location for people who are new to bicycling or who want to build up their comfort level,” said Shahum. “I think it’s really great to see that the JFK Drive bikeway is having that positive, intended impact.”

When the redesign was first implemented, it saw its share of complaints, especially as drivers adjusted to the novelty of parking away from the curb. In the SFMTA’s survey, conducted through interviews in the park and online submissions, 87 percent of respondents now say they understood the configuration.

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The Fell Street Separated Bike Lane Has Arrived

Fell Street today. Photo: Aaron Bialick

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 motor traffic, the most significant sign of progress yet on this long-awaited street safety project.

“We are extremely excited to see the Fell Street separated bikeway underway,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. “This is a safety improvement project that is so crucial to the huge number of people who bike and walk along this corridor every day. The paint and buffer is a great step toward making this intimidating corridor safer, and we’re looking forward to the addition of the other pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements that are planned. We continue to applaud the SFMTA for taking biking, walking, and neighborhood safety seriously on Fell and Oak Streets.”

The SFMTA plans to add bicycle stencils, intersection treatments, green paint in some areas, and eventually concrete barriers to complete the bike lane. The rest of the project’s bicycle and pedestrian improvements will be added in the coming months, including a similar bike lane on the three parallel blocks of Oak Street, more visible crosswalks, and sidewalk extensions at 12 street corners. The sychronized traffic signal speed will also be lowered from 25 MPH to 20 MPH to calm car traffic, and dedicated bicycle signals will give bicyclists and pedestrians a head start to cross in front of turning vehicles.

Many bike commuters using the Fell lane so far have been seen riding close to, or even inside, the buffer zone. That may be due to the poor riding surface along the curb, which has for decades served as storage for cars, leaving the concrete bumpy in some areas. Or maybe it’s just habit for those who grew accustomed to braving the old bike lane, which has now become the buffer zone.

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Eyes on the Street: First Fell Street Bike Lane Markings on the Ground

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Crews laid down the first preliminary stripes of the three-block separated bike lane on Fell Street this morning. The SF Municipal Transportation Agency is moving ahead with the safer connection between the Wiggle and the Panhandle, confident that a legal appeal filed against the project will be denied.

As of this afternoon, a few short stretches had preliminary markings, and temporary striping tape spelled out the words “Bike Lane” on each block. Since the SFMTA removed the car parking lane and began grinding off the old street markings two weeks ago, the space had been open for bicyclists but left mostly unmarked.

When complete, the bike lane will be 7’3″ wide, with a five-foot buffer zone separating it from motor traffic. The SFMTA’s designs show that the bike lane will include a green bike box at Fell and Divisadero, and green markings will highlight merging zones at intersections. Some intersections will feature “mixing zones” where bike and car traffic merges, like those seen on the JFK Drive parking-protected bike lanes in Golden Gate Park.

The SFMTA says that by next summer, a similar lane will be installed on Oak Street, and concrete planters will be built in the buffer zone (which will still allow drivers to cross the bike lane to enter driveways). In addition, the sidewalk will be extended at 12 street corners, the synchronized traffic signal speed will be lowered from 25 MPH to 20 MPH to calm motor traffic, and special signals will be installed at intersections to give bicyclists and pedestrians a head start to cross in front of turning vehicles.

The queuing space for cars waiting to enter the Arco gas station, which drivers must cross the bike lane to reach, will not be removed under new bike lane design. The current design for that section, which directs bicyclists around the queue into a dashed green-painted merging zone, will remain.

One more picture after the jump…

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Standing Up to Legal Appeal, SFMTA Moves Ahead With Fell Street Bike Lane

Opponents of the Fell and Oak Street bikeway and pedestrian improvements filed an appeal last week seeking to delay implementation of street safety measures on the critical three-block stretch linking the Panhandle to the Wiggle, but the legal gambit will not slow down construction of the bike lane on Fell currently underway, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency says.

Fell and Scott Streets, where curbside car parking has been removed and a bike lane is set to be striped this week. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The appeal [PDF] — filed by Mark Brennan, a developer; Howard Chabner, a disability rights advocate; and Ted Loewenberg, president of the Haight-Ashbury Improvement Association — demands that the SFMTA abandon the bikeway, claiming that it discriminates against the disabled and requires environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (which the project was exempted from).

Following the recent removal of a car parking lane on Fell, between Baker and Scott Streets, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the agency will begin striping the bike lane tomorrow, weather permitting. “We are confident in the environmental work that went into this project,” he said. It’s unclear whether the rest of the project is in jeopardy of being delayed.

The project, which will create physically separated bike lanes and pedestrian safety measures like curb extensions at intersections, has drawn overwhelming support at public hearings. It has the backing of neighborhood groups — including the North of Panhandle, Alamo Square, and Lower Haight neighborhood associations — as well as a number of merchants, D1 Supervisor Eric Mar, D5 Supervisor Christina Olague, and London Breed, who won election last week as the next D5 supervisor.

“The city led an extensive and admirable community outreach and planning process that also showed appropriate urgency to address a known dangerous area,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. “The strong public and political support for this improvement project speaks to the truth that when we make our streets calmer and safer, there are significant shared benefits for people bicycling, walking, and those with physical disabilities.”

A hearing on the appeal could be held by the Board of Supervisors on December 11, according to a city staffer, but it’s currently unclear who will decide whether it has any legal standing. The appeal centers on the claim that the removal of about 100 car parking spots on Fell and Oak (about 50 of which are being replaced on nearby streets) will cause negative impacts. It also claims the sidewalk extensions, which reduce crossing distances and improve visibility for pedestrians, will “impede traffic by making right turns difficult.”

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To Become a Great Biking City, SF Needs to Stop Crawling and Start Running

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Our Streetfilm from 2010 documented the experience of North American transportation officials and advocates in Copenhagen during the latest Velo-City conference.

San Francisco doesn’t have to “reinvent the wheel” to become a bike-friendly place — the city need look no further than peers like Copenhagen, widely considered one of the world’s best cycling cities.

So said David Chiu, president of the SF Board of Supervisors, at a forum yesterday evening with the chief of Copenhagen’s Bicycle Program, Andreas Røhl. “We know what needs to get done,” said Chiu. “The answers are there — from segregated cycle tracks, to bike signaling, to more bike parking, to more bike safety, to bike anti-theft measures, to more bike education — these are the pillars of what have worked in other cities.”

Since Copenhagen’s political leadership began implementing measures like physically protected bike lanes and traffic-calmed streets in the 1970s, the amount of bicycling has steadily increased, and today it accounts for 36 percent of work trips in the metro area (and 50 percent within the city proper). Bicycling to virtually any destination is now so safe and convenient, the average citizen does it without thinking twice.

To reach that point, Copenhagen’s leaders overcame many of the same barriers that San Francisco currently faces. Most importantly, they mustered the political will to remove traffic lanes and car parking to make way for safe bike lanes, and they made bike infrastructure a funding priority.

To make bicycling easy and comfortable enough for everyone, said Røhl, a city must provide continuous, safe bicycling conditions on every route — “From point A to point B, even where it hurts.”

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SFMTA Begins Work on Fell Street Protected Bike Lane

Fell at Scott Streets, where the outgoing bike lane has been partially ground off, and "No Stopping" signs have been posted along the curb all the way to Baker Street. Photos: Aaron Bialick

Note: I returned last night from an East Coast vacation and Streetsblog meet-up, and was fortunate enough to avoid the worst of Hurricane Sandy. Best wishes to all of those who are recovering from the storm and the devastation left in its wake. Check out the coverage from my office-exiled colleagues in NYC about how New Yorkers are handling the transportation crisis.

On a more positive note, I was so excited to come home to the following news that I chose to get back on the beat a day early to report it. Thanks again to Robert Prinz, Bryan Goebel, and my editor-in-chief Ben Fried for keeping the blog up and running in my absence.

The first signs of change on Fell Street to make way for a physically separated bike lane have appeared between Baker and Scott Streets. Crews from the SF Municipal Transporation Agency began the work yesterday, grinding off street markings and installing “No Stopping” signs so they can remove all of the parking spaces along the three blocks.

Although a few parked vehicles remain on the curb, along with the regular queue of drivers at the Arco gas station (which the new bike lane won’t remove), the absence of curbside parking gave bike commuters and tourists a taste of what it’s like to have more breathing room on the crucial westbound link from the Wiggle to the Panhandle.

Tanya Milosevich, who bike commutes from the Mission to her job at Arizmendi Bakery in the Inner Sunset, was unaware of the plan to improve the bike lane, but called it “amazing” when told about it. “It’s always a little dicey there,” she said.

As we’ve reported, striping for the protected bike lanes on both Fell and Oak Streets is expected to be complete by this winter, with concrete barriers and sidewalk bulb-outs to be built by next summer. We’re waiting for word from the SFMTA on when the striping on the Fell lane should be finished.

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SFMTA Board Approves Fell and Oak Bikeways, Work to Begin This Month

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Construction will begin this month on physically separated bike lanes and pedestrian safety improvements on three critical blocks of Fell and Oak Streets after the project was approved unanimously yesterday by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors.

Image: SFMTA

“This is such a game-changer,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. “I think when we make this small but critical gap more welcoming and bike-friendly, we really are going to see more people biking to work, to parks, to school.”

SFMTA crews plan to begin work in October on striping the Fell Street bike lane, re-striping parking spaces on nearby streets, and upgrading continental crosswalks, said SFMTA project manager Luis Montoya. Striping the Oak bike lane will require more work than the Fell lane, since the Oak lane will require a slight re-alignment of the three traffic lanes. The completion dates for each piece of the project will depend on the schedule of the agency’s paint shop, but agency staff hopes to have both bike lanes finished by winter on the three blocks between Scott and Baker Streets, he said.

Work on the 12 sidewalk corner bulb-outs and planted concrete bike lane barriers would be finished by next spring or summer. Although the SFMTA said earlier this month that the bike lanes may not be rideable during concrete construction, Montoya said crews would be sure to maintain temporary bike lane access. The project will also add bicycle traffic signals to give bicyclists and pedestrians a head start in the traffic cycle.

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe cheered the pedestrian upgrades included in the plan, which initially included only bike lanes. “The project will widen sidewalks at corners with 13 [originally proposed] bulb-outs, which is really quite a lot. I’d like to get to a point where it’s not a lot, but right now it’s a lot.”

As part of the project, the traffic signals on Oak and Fell would be adjusted to lower synchronized vehicle speeds from 25 MPH to 20 MPH, which will “help to start addressing the [traffic] speeds … that basically make it feel like we’ve got freeways running right through our city,” said Stampe. “For too long, Golden Gate Park and the Panhandle have been like islands in the middle of these freeway-like traffic conditions.”

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