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Posts from the "Bicycling" Category

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Tuesday: Support Needed for a Car-Free Bike/Ped Path on the Marina

Photo: SFDPW

One year after community planning meetings began, plans finally appear to be moving forward for removing the 51 parking spaces in the middle of a walking and biking path along the Marina — the only stretch of the 500-mile Bay Trail with cars on it. But Marina boat owners aren’t giving up, and car-free path supporters need to turn out to a community meeting next Tuesday to ensure progress on this no-brainer plan.

Some of the boat owners arguing to keep the often-empty parking spaces have apparently used their connections to delay the project for several months — the city’s final proposal for the path was originally due in March. If the plan is approved this fall, the parking spaces would be removed next spring, according to a September 30 presentation [PDF].

In a letter to SF Recreation and Parks [PDF], the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Janice Li pointed out that a permit issued to the city by the Bay Conservation Development Commission requires that the plan pursue “a design of a Bay Trail segment that provides a high quality bicycle, pedestrian, and general visitor experience.”

“The only way to properly meet the Bay Trail standards and provide that experience is by creating a car-free path,” wrote Li.

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Advocates: Ocean Ave Plans Come Up Short for Safer Bicycling at Balboa Park

Proposed designs for Ocean and Geneva Avenues include some pedestrian bulb-outs and a new plaza, but wouldn’t add much to the intermittent bike lane network. Ocean’s traffic lanes would remain mostly untouched. Images: Planning Department

A city proposal for Ocean and Geneva Avenues would do little to make bicycling safer and more comfortable between the Balboa Park BART and Muni station and destinations west of City College’s main campus, say bike advocates. While plans to add bulb-outs and tame the hairy Ocean and Geneva intersection would make the streets somewhat safer, overall, the car-centric status quo wouldn’t change significantly.

The proposal, presented at a community meeting last week by the Planning Department, SFMTA, and other city agencies, is intended to complement other plans to spruce up Ocean to the west of Phelan Avenue at City College. No roadway space on that stretch is set to be reallocated for biking, walking, or transit, save for a few planted bulb-outs with seating.

The eastern section that passes over Highway 280 and connects to Balboa Park station was addressed separately, planners say, because it’s more complex and they wanted to look at re-configuring the roadway there. The designs also take into account the future removal and re-configuration of freeway ramps in the Balboa Park area, which is currently being developed by the SF County Transportation Authority.

The Planning Department is asking people to weigh in via an online survey [PDF] until October 29 (extended from the 22nd, though the website hasn’t been updated yet).

These sections of Ocean and Geneva are currently some of the most stressful streets to bike on, despite serving as a vital connection for commuters biking from BART and neighborhoods to the east. Ocean has intermittent bike lanes that disappear at some of the hairiest spots, while Geneva has four traffic lanes and two parking lanes. Both streets have steep inclines in the westbound direction. Combined with heavy motor traffic, it’s no wonder planners counted very few people biking on them.

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It’s the Little Things: A Notably Positive SFPD Encounter on My Bike

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Last night, I was biking home on Irving Street in the Inner Sunset when I encountered an all-too-familiar sight: A double-parked car. I signaled and moved to the left to pass the car, in view of an SFPD cruiser behind.

At Irving Street near 10th Avenue, where drivers routinely double park, I had a refreshing encounter with an SFPD officer. (This photo was taken at a separate time.) Photo: Aaron Bialick

Normally, I’d expect the police to move along, doing nothing about this kind of situation. Other bicycle riders have reported far worse encounters with the SFPD.

But to my surprise, the driver of the police cruiser stopped behind the double parker and used their horn to buzz at them until they moved.

This might seem like a mundane encounter, but it left an impression since it’s so rare. I’m just not used to police actually caring about drivers who pose hazards to people biking or walking, or delaying Muni, even when the behavior is clearly illegal. Usually they just move along. When you get around by bike in SF for a while, it’s something you sadly can come to expect.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but if SF is fortunate, this officer’s little deed is not just a sign of a good apple, but rather of a larger shift in priorities at SFPD. Maybe it’s related to recent pushes from the top to pursue Vision Zero, or to crack down on double parking. Of course, citations might be more effective, but whoever the officer was — presumably from Taraval Station — thank you. The little things can speak volumes about SFPD’s attitudes.

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Eyes on the Street: Drivers Blatantly Park in the Oak Street Bike Lane

If the tow trucks stowed in the Fell Street bike lane weren’t enough a blatantly dangerous abuse of space for people on bikes, the situation on its Oak Street counterpart can be even more egregious. Patrick Traughber recently tweeted the above photo of five vehicles parked in Oak’s curbside, buffered bike lane, squeezing bike commuters alongside passing motor traffic in the door zone.

These drivers don’t even get to try the Ted and Al’s Towing excuse, i.e., limited space to store their trucks while they’re queued to pull into the garage.

Of course, we’re still awaiting a row of partial, protective planted islands that will separate the Fell and Oak bike lanes from motor traffic, which would send a stronger signal that the lanes are not to be parked in. The SFMTA is currently building bulb-outs and rain gardens in the area, also partially blocking the bike lanes in the process, as another part of the project. Maybe that’s a sign that the islands will be built in this decade.

The SFMTA initially installed temporary plastic posts to separate the Fell bike lane, but they were removed with a re-paving and never replaced. The Oak bike lane never got them at all.

Traugher’s suggestion for a short-term, seemingly no-brainer measure? “The curb needs to be painted red.” Some more enforcement from SFMTA and SFPD might also work, too.

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Conquering the Unbearable Whiteness of Bike Advocacy: An Equity How-To

In Los Angeles, Multicultural Communities for Mobility helped Latino residents learn both bike mechanics and bike advocacy. A PSA campaign heightened the visibility of cyclists of color within their own community. Photo: Multicultural Communities for Mobility

Many bicycle advocacy groups find themselves in a sticky position today: They’re increasingly aware that their membership doesn’t reflect the diversity of the broader population, but they’re not sure how to go about recruiting new members, or how to do it in a way that doesn’t amount to tokenism.

The League of American Bicyclists has been working hard to address equity in the bike movement, and their collaboration with a wide variety of local groups has led them to share some of the most successful practices in a new report, The New Movement: Bike Equity Today. Here are some how-tos, drawn from the report, for people who want to bring new voices into the movement.

Listen. How can bike advocates be sure that the infrastructure solutions and education programs they’re promoting work for everyone unless they ask everyone — or better yet, get everyone at the table in the first place when designing the advocacy program? “You can’t just go and say, ‘We need you to show up at a meeting,’” says Karen Overton of New York’s Recycle-a-Bicycle. “That’s not the way to do it. People may reach out to African American churches and say, they don’t call us back. But what if you actually go to church and then start talking?”

Elevate new leaders. Portland’s Community Cycling Center trained 12 members of the low-income, Latino housing developments they were working with to be bike educators “to cultivate and sustain [a] community-led bike culture.” The trainings were led in Spanish. “These projects also represent the promise that the best solution to barriers to bicycling are created by those experiencing the barriers,” said CCC Director Alison Hill Graves, “particularly when there are cultural, income, or age differences.” Local Spokes of New York City has a Youth Ambassadors program in which local teens explored the Lower East Side and Chinatown by bike, learning about urban planning, bicycle infrastructure, community organizing, public space, and gentrification along the way. They then created educational materials to share what they learned with local residents. “In the short term, youth became educators, stewards, and champions of this work,” says the League.

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SFMTA Proposes New Car Restrictions, Extended Bus Lanes on Lower Market

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The SFMTA has proposed prohibiting private auto drivers from turning on to mid-Market Street and extending its transit-only lanes. Image: SFMTA

Last week, the SFMTA presented its proposal to ban private auto drivers from turning onto Market Street, between Third and Eighth Streets. The move would be complemented with extended transit-only lanes, plus a new system of wayfinding signs aimed at keeping drivers off of Market.

The new plans, named “Safer Market Street,” would be implemented over nearly a year, beginning next spring, and would represent a major step towards a car-free lower Market – a longtime goal of many livable streets advocates, and some city officials.

“These improvements have been long desired by people traveling regularly on Market Street,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. “It’s clear that tens of thousands of people’s commutes, shopping trips, and any other kind of travel will be significantly improved when the most commonly used travel modes are actually prioritized on Market Street — walking, bicycling and taking transit. This will be a real example of SF leaders living up to their commitments, both to Transit First and Vision Zero.”

As we’ve reported, city studies have shown that lower Market already sees relatively little car traffic, and most drivers only travel on the street for an average of two blocks. Many of them seem to be either searching for parking (which doesn’t exist on the street) or simply lost. Since the implementation of requirements for eastbound drivers to turn off of Market at Sixth and Tenth Streets, Muni speeds have increased, even if some drivers still ignore the signs.

Although SFMTA board member Malcolm Heinicke and other proponents have pushed for a full ban on cars on Market, rather than a step-by-step approach, the proposed turn restrictions would leave only a few places where drivers could turn onto Market east of Tenth. The street would still be open to taxis, commercial vehicles, and people walking, biking, and on transit. The restrictions are seen as a precursor to the Better Market Street makeover, which could make most of the thoroughfare car-free once it begins construction in 2017.

SFMTA officials have long held off on proposing additional car restrictions, citing traffic flow complications created by the construction of the Central Subway. The agency is apparently now ready to move forward.

Market Street, looking east at Seventh Street. Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

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U.S. DOT Releases New Guidance to Make Streets Safe for Cycling

Last month in Pittsburgh, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx unveiled a new federal initiative aimed at reducing pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Despite declining overall traffic fatalities, people walking and biking are being killed more often on American streets, a disturbing trend that U.S. DOT wants to reverse.

Protected bike lanes are in the toolkit that FHWA recommends to reduce cyclist fatalities. Photo: Carl Sundstrom via FHWA

Now we’re beginning to see what the feds have in mind. This week, U.S. DOT released a new guide for transportation professionals it calls Bikesafe. The online resource includes recommendations for state departments of transportation and local governments on how to make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Bikesafe contains a list of 46 “countermeasures,” including chicanes, protected bike lanes, roundabouts, and “visual narrowing” of the roadway. Under protected bike lanes (FHWA calls them “separated bike lanes“), for example, the guide advises planners to pay particular attention to driveways and intersections and to “make full use of signing and marking to improve awareness and guidance of the facility through these conflict zones.”

In addition, the guide includes a primer on how land use decisions affect bicycling safety, how complete streets serve to improve safety, and other big-picture elements of sound bike planning. Another component is supposed to help agencies identify the proper intervention for specific safety problems they encountered.

Caron Whitaker, vice president of government relations at the League of American Bicyclists, said national advocates are pleased that this initiative is focused on infrastructure solutions — like better bike lanes and traffic calming — rather than education alone. Whitaker also likes that the proposal laid out by Foxx calls for requiring state DOTs and FHWA field offices to study bike networks and establish strategies for improving safety.

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Schlepping By Bicycle: The Next Big Thing in Women’s Bike Advocacy?

Dutch bike infrastructure is light years ahead of America’s. But but how much does progressive social policy contribute to the country’s high rates of women biking? Photo: A View from the Cycle Path

Why don’t women bike as much as men? It’s a question that’s been getting a lot of press for the last three years or so since the explosion of Women Bike onto the national advocacy scene. Only about 24 percent of bikes on the street have women’s butts on them. What’s going on?

The conventional wisdom is that women are just more risk-averse. The need to get more women biking is often mentioned as one of many reasons for building safe, protected bike infrastructure for all ability levels. The Bike League’s Women on a Roll report named five C’s of women biking: comfort, convenience, consumer products, confidence, and community. But they forgot one: Chores.

An article in last Friday’s Guardian by UCLA academics Kelcie Ralph and Herbie Huff has been clanging around in my head since I read it. The reason women make up more than half of cyclists in the Netherlands and less than a quarter here isn’t simply due to skittishness about biking in traffic, Ralph and Huff argue. It’s about household inequality, plain and simple.

“In short, despite years of progress, American women’s lives are still disproportionately filled with driving children around, getting groceries, and doing other household chores,” they write — “housework that doesn’t lend itself easily to two-wheeled transportation.”

Transportation research in the United States focuses disproportionately on the “journey to work” because that’s the only trip we have Census data on. But the journey to work makes up only about 16 percent of all trips. According to a recent study by Ralph and her colleagues at UCLA and Rutgers, “travel for other, more domestic purposes — shopping (21 percent), family errands (22 percent), and school/church (10 percent) — collectively (53 percent) make up a much, much larger share of all personal travel.” And women make the lion’s share of those trips.

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NACTO Street Design Guides Now Official Policy in SF

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The Board of Supervisors yesterday voted unanimously to establish the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street and Urban Bikeway Design Guides as official policy for all city agencies, as proposed by Supervisor Scott Wiener.

The NACTO guides, which provide designs standards for parking-protected bike lanes like this one in New York City, are now official guidelines for all SF agencies to follow. Photo: Utility Cycling

“Safe and livable streets start with smart street design reflecting the needs of all users,” Wiener said in a statement. “Safe streets and livable neighborhoods require the three ‘e’s — education, enforcement and engineering. Importing NACTO’s urban design policy will guide us to deliver on that third e — engineering — by ensuring we design streets for all users, including not just cars but also pedestrians, transit riders, and cyclists. For San Francisco to have a more sustainable future, we need an environment that encourages and allows people to safely and enjoyably walk, bike, and use transit, in addition to driving.”

“Engineering is the most important because it naturally educates every user of the street,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, applauding the adoption at a hearing on Monday.

At yesterday’s board meeting, Wiener said adopting the guides is “what we should’ve done a long time ago.” The SFMTA already adopted the NACTO guides in January, but other city agencies that play a role in street design will now be able to rely on the latest American engineering standards for city planners to use in building people-friendly streets.

The NACTO guides “give us the toolbox and the tactics to make streets safer, more livable, and more economically vibrant,” said Darby Watson, section leader for the SFMTA’s Livable Streets subdivision, at Monday’s hearing. ”Both guides have been fully vetted through a peer-to-peer working group of city engineers and planners sharing and developing these guidelines specific to urban places.”

A press release from Wiener’s office noted that “one of the NACTO guidelines adopted includes the policy that individual lane widths on most streets not exceed 10 feet.” As walkable urban design luminary Jeff Speck wrote on CityLab this week, wider lanes encourage drivers to speed and make streets more dangerous.

“While most existing lanes in San Francisco are 10 feet or less,” Wiener’s press release said, “certain departments recently attempted to require that streets approved for the Candlestick and Hunters Point Shipyard be widened to include travel lanes that were 13 feet wide.” The leading “certain department” pushing wider streets in that development area has been the SF Fire Department.

In two weeks, the NACTO Designing Cities Conference will be hosted in San Francisco, from October 22 to 25. SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin is currently the president of NACTO.

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The (Not-So) Odd Reasons Why SFPD Parks Cars All Around Park Station

This path outside SFPD’s Park Station is blocked by an SUV — for an unusual reason. Photo: Aaron Bialick

A few years ago, SFPD’s Park Station in Golden Gate Park started storing police trucks and vans on a short section of pathway adjacent to the station’s fence. I first noticed this while biking on Kezar Drive several years ago, and since then I’ve never seen the path without a police vehicle and/or barricade in the way. The section is at a fork between a pedestrian-only path and a shared ped/bike path, so people can still walk around the barricade to take the fork.

The explanation for the SUV storage, however, was unusual — stay with me and we’ll get to it below.

Around the same time, I also noticed stencils on the clear part of the bike/ped path, warning pedestrians and bicyclists to watch out for drivers entering and exiting the station — putting the onus on the vulnerable users going straight through, rather than the trained police officers making a turn. This absurdity wasn’t too surprising, given former Park Station Captain Greg Corrales’ reputed low regard for people on bikes. He was known, for instance, to order his limited enforcement staff to conduct stings of bike commuters rolling stop signs on the Wiggle. The “watch out” stencils on the path have mostly worn off by now.

But there’s another, more blatantly egregious use of park land nearby. Private automobiles, apparently owned by police officers, have long been parked on a patch of dirt (would-be grass), next to the footpath outside the station. Police cruisers also routinely drive down the path to get to the Stanyan and Waller Street intersection — circumventing the closure of Waller Street to all other motor vehicles years ago, when it was disconnected from Kezar inside the park.

Officers’ private cars are stored on park land. Photo: Aaron Bialick

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