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Posts from the "Bicycle Commuting" Category

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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 sf.citi – 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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Some Bike-Friendly SF Neighborhoods Ahead of the Game, Data Shows

U.S. Census data shows that in some neighborhoods, more than 15 percent of San Franciscans regularly biked to work in 2010. The percent changes highlighted in some neighborhoods indicate the increase since 2000. Image: SFMTA

As the SFMTA figures out how to increase bicycling to 20 percent of all trips citywide, some neighborhoods are already approaching that milestone. A map that the SFMTA compiled from bike-to-work data in the 2010 U.S. Census shows that as of two years ago, some neighborhoods far exceeded the citywide rate of 3.5 percent.

In the Mission and Hayes Valley, more than 15 percent of work trips are made by bike, according to the map. A number of other neighborhoods, like NoPa, western SoMa, and the Inner Richmond have bike commute rates of at least 5 percent and saw jumps as high as 275 percent over the 10-year period.

“This map confirms what we are seeing every day: more people are biking than ever before, especially in those neighborhoods that have made it more comfortable to bike,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. ”This is strong evidence that if the city continues to increase its investment in better biking by connecting neighborhoods with safe, inviting bikeways, San Francisco can reach the goal of 20 percent of trips by bike by 2020.”

Why is bike commuting so popular in these neighborhoods? Some common characteristics jump out, like proximity to downtown and access to flatter routes with bike lanes. For instance, Valencia Street connects the areas around the Mission, and the Wiggle and the Panhandle connect NoPa, the Haight, and the Inner Sunset.

SF State University Geography Professor Jason Henderson thinks overcrowded Muni lines could also drive more residents to try bike commuting. “These are areas where Muni is filled to capacity,” he said. “For example, in Hayes Valley, by the time buses coming from west towards downtown pass through, they are overcrowded. Haight 6 and 71 are always full once crossing Fillmore eastbound.”

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The Left-Turn Bike Signal at Market and Valencia Is Open for Business

It’s officially rideable: The left-turn pocket and traffic signal connecting Market and Valencia Streets is finished as of today, the SFMTA announced on its Livable Streets Facebook page. Finally, the bicycling gates from Market to the Mission have been opened to people who don’t feel comfortable merging across three traffic lanes and a set of streetcar tracks to turn left with car traffic. A simple but incredibly useful upgrade.

The green-backed sharrow (not pictured) in the center of the street seems like a nice touch, but the concrete divider in the bike lane has drawn some skepticism from observers during construction. If you pass by it on your commute today, let us know in the comments how it works for you.

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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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Like Wind in Your Hair: A Chronicle Columnist’s Refreshing Bicycling Decree

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Move over, Nevius: The San Francisco Chronicle’s latest bicycle-friendly declaration from columnist Caille Millner is a breath of fresh air, giving voice to the need for safer streets and setting the record straight when it comes to anti-bike rants.

For readers weary of the Chronicle’s regular bicycling coverage — a space mainly filled by a victim-blaming former sports writer with an irrational fear of bike lanes – take a break and enjoy watching Millner hit the nail on the head:

My heart sings every time I see a new bicyclist in San Francisco.

The more, the better, I say. I want to see 10-year-olds riding to school. I want to see middle-aged women on wheels, wearing long coats and pedaling slowly so as not to disturb their full baskets on the way home from the market. I want to see old men, even if they’re a little wobbly, heading out to the senior center on old two-wheelers.

You should want this, too – it means a better city for all of us.

In writing this, I can close my eyes and picture the avalanche of hostile e-mail that will pour in. Nothing gets people around here more worked up than bicyclists, and they love to screech out their reasons for why the rise of bicycles in San Francisco represents a crumbling of civilization.

They write letters that are full of righteous indignation, presuming that bicyclists are the only uncouth people on our streets – as if they’ve never rolled through a stop sign (if they’re drivers) or (if they’re pedestrians) never waded into the street without looking, expecting the flow of traffic to magically cease in their presence.

There’s something unseemly about these letters, about the affront their writers feel at having to share the road with bicyclists. How dare they claim space that used to belong to me is the undertone of all of this sentiment. How dare they slow me down or force me to pay attention when I’m trying to get through traffic.

It’s tiresome, it’s whiny, and it’s wrong.

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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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BART Survey: Promising Findings for Lifting the Rush-Hour Bike Ban

BART released results Friday from its survey of riders’ attitudes toward the pilot program that lifted the rush-hour ban on bikes each Friday in August. Although BART and media reports have called the findings “split” and “varied,” the responses in some key areas look promising.

The vast majority of the more than 7,500 respondents felt that lifting the ban had little or no impact on their commute. As BART board member Robert Raburn put it to the Chronicle: “Many of the passengers just shrugged it off and said, ‘What’s the difference?’”

Here are the survey highlights, as summed up in a statement from BART:

Findings tending to support eliminating the blackouts included:

  • 90% of respondents aware of the pilot who rode during the commute reported they did not personally experience any problems related to it. (Of the 10% who did experience problems, the most commonly cited problems were bikes blocking aisles, doorways and seats; bikes entering crowded trains; and bikes running into or brushing up against people.)
  • When asked if lifting the blackout would impact their likelihood to ride BART, 25% said they would be more likely to ride. (10% would be less likely to ride and 66% would be equally as likely to ride.) “Interestingly, almost half the respondents skipped this question, which could mean that they were not sure of the answer (unable to anticipate if they would change their behavior or simply thought allowing bikes would have no impact on their likelihood to ride BART)” the survey states.

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Three-Foot Bike Passing Bill Passes CA Assembly, Needs Gov’s Signature

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A driver prepares to pass a bicycle rider on the Wiggle. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The California State Assembly passed a bill yesterday that would require motorists to provide three feet of space when passing bicyclists. SB 1464, which passed with a 50-16 vote, is expected to be signed by Governor Jerry Brown in September following a “largely procedural” approval by the State Senate, which already passed the bill in May, according to the California Bicycle Coalition.

Thousands of supporters wrote their Assembly members in recent weeks to urge a “yes” vote in a campaign spearheaded by TransForm and the CBC. The bill, according to the CBC, has “none of the organized opposition that fought SB 910,” the 3-foot passing bill that was vetoed by Brown last year. At the time, Brown said he was responding complaints from the California Highway Patrol and the American Automobile Association over a provision that would have required drivers to slow down to 15 MPH to pass if providing three feet was unfeasible. Instead, SB 1464 would require drivers in that situation to “slow down to a speed that is reasonable and prudent given traffic and roadway conditions and only pass when it’s safe to do so.”

The debate in the Assembly yesterday offered a glimpse of certain legislators’ views on cycling.

“This is a common sense approach to safety for bicyclists,” said Assembly Member Steven Bradford, a Democrat who represents the 51st District in Los Angeles. “Where it is unsafe to move over three feet, drivers have the discretion of just slowing down and passing a bicyclist.”

Three Assembly members spoke in opposition to the bill, all Republicans. Assembly Member Diane Harkey, representing the 73rd District in Orange County, eschewed the responsibilities of drivers to watch out for vulnerable street users and said more of the onus should be placed on bicyclists.

The bill, said Harkey, “Allows for lawsuits on motorists who are trying to do the right thing, but for some reason or another, a cyclist comes up behind, maybe in a blind corner, and the cyclist thinks he has the right-of-way and maybe is going full speed ahead, and knows that he’s got the law on his side, however, he may not have the poundage on his side.”

“Just because you have the right-of-way, doesn’t mean that you will survive or live,” added Harkey. “The cycling has gotten a little bit out of control. They are not cars.”

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Three-Foot Passing Bill Up for Vote at State Assembly Friday

Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

A state bill that would require drivers to give three feet of leeway when passing bicyclists in California is headed to the State Assembly for a vote this Friday.

TransForm and the California Bicycle Coalition are calling on supporters to email their Assembly members and urge them to vote “yes.” If approved by the Assembly, the bill could be signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September, bringing California in line with 21 other states and the District of Columbia, which have similar laws.

Support for the bill looks strong. The bill sailed through the State Senate in May, and by yesterday afternoon, supporters had sent at least 1,340 letters to their Assembly members, according to the CBC. The real question remaining is whether the bill will be signed by Governor Brown, who vetoed a previous version of the bill last year.

The new bill was modified to address Brown’s complaints about a provision which would have required drivers to slow down to 15 MPH if they are unable to safely provide three feet of room. Instead, the bill would require drivers in that situation to “slow down to a speed that is reasonable and prudent given traffic and roadway conditions and give the bicyclists as much clearance as feasible.”

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Two-Way Protected Bikeway on Cargo Way Nearly Complete

San Francisco’s first on-street, two-way protected bikeway is nearly complete, featuring bicycle traffic signals and green intersection bike markings. The bikeway, which is separated from motor vehicles by a fence and concrete median, provides a safer connection from Bayview and Hunter’s Point to Third Street and the north-south bike lanes on Illinois Street.

A bike traffic signal at Cargo Way and Mendell Street. Photo: Roy Crisman/Flickr

“It’s exciting to see this much-needed improvement in the southeastern part of San Francisco, where there is so much potential for great bicycling,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “We are hearing from a lot of people that this is making a real difference in improving their bike commutes. We look forward to a lot more improvements in the area, such as Bayshore Boulevard and the eastern half of Cesar Chavez.”

Construction of the bikeway, a project of the Port of SF and the SF Municipal Transportation Agency [PDF], began in March and was originally scheduled to be completed in May, though it’s unclear why it was delayed.  The fence was completed in May, and the striping was finished by July. The bike traffic signal at the Mendell Street intersection was activated last week, though an SFMTA staffer said there’s a delay with activating the signal at the three-way intersection of Cargo Way, Illinois and Amador Streets, at the bikeway’s west end. There, the bikeway splits into separate one-way painted bike lanes that end at Third Street.

The bike traffic signals create a dedicate phase for bike traffic to cross, separate from another signal phase for motor vehicles to turn across the path of the bikeway.

Green-backed sharrows were also installed to guide bicycle riders through the Illinois/Amador intersection, and in the coming weeks green paint will also be added to a waiting area for bicyclists crossing Cargo Way onto northbound Illinois. At the east end of the bikeway, the intersection of Cargo Way and Jennings Street was converted from a two-way stop sign intersection to a four-way stop.

One other notable touch added to the project is the visible wayfinding signage at the bikeway’s west entrance — certainly not a typical feature on bike routes in SF.

Check out more photos after the break.

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