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Posts from the Bicycling Category

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Eyes on the Street: Polk’s Extended, Unprotected Bike Lane Blocked By Cars

Photo: Chet Anderson

This week the SFMTA extended the southbound bike lane on Polk Street from Post up to Union Street. The stripes are in, and the bike lane symbols are still being stenciled.

Two Streetsblog readers have written in about drivers double-parking in the bike lane and even cruising in it. You can chalk it up to the newness of the lane up to a point, but as with the prevailing design of most SF bike lanes, the Polk extension puts people on bikes in the door zone, unprotected between parked cars and moving cars and routinely blocked by double-parkers. Some double-parking enforcement will be needed for the bike lane to provide any meaningful safety improvement.

The southbound bike lane extension is the first in a package of interim bike and pedestrian safety measures coming to Polk in the next few months, after the SFMTA Board of Directors approved the watered-down redesign earlier this month. Other improvements in the works include protected bike signals at four intersections on the southbound bike lane south of Geary Street, as well as painted bulb-outs. The full redesign is set to begin construction next spring.

Polk, looking south toward Pine. Photo: Henry Pan

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SFPD Explains: Driver Won’t Be Charged for Killing Cyclist at 14th & Folsom

A ghost bike at the corner where Charles Vinson was killed. Photo: GhostBike.org/Twitter

Three witnesses told SFPD investigators that Charles Vinson, 66, biked through a red light when he was killed by a driver at 14th and Folsom Streets on March 2, according to police officials.

An SFPD spokesperson told Streetsblog earlier this week that Vinson had been found at fault, contrary to an initial witness cited in the press who said the driver ran a red. The spokesperson declined to provide details at the time, since “the case is still open and active, we do not discuss open and active investigation matters.”

SFPD Sergeant Eric Mahoney later explained the department’s investigation, telling Streetsblog that Vinson may have misjudged the traffic signal timing at the complicated intersection. SFPD Traffic Company Commander Ann Mannix shared the same details with the SF Examiner yesterday.

Mahoney said Vinson was traveling eastbound on 14th and was hit by a driver headed northbound on Folsom. According to three eyewitnesses, Vinson began to ride against a red light. However, given the signal timing at the intersection, it’s also possible the driver blew through a red light. Police have yet to determine if that is the case.

“We’re not 100 percent sure what the vehicle did, but we’re 100 percent sure what the bicycle did,” said Mahoney. “The bicyclist, I’m thinking, assumed that as long as nobody’s going to make a left turn in front of me, I can keep going straight.”

Mahoney said the driver can’t be charged since it was established that Vinson had a red light. “Not saying that what [the driver] did or didn’t do was unimportant, but once we’ve established a violation here, we know that, even if we can prove [the driver had] a red light, the DA is not gonna charge that person with a crime because there’s a contributory factor.”

So there you have it: If you make a mistake on a bike, the law will give a pass to a motorist who strikes and kills you, even if there’s conclusive evidence of reckless driving.

Read more…

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“Vie Bikes” Looks to Make Cargo Biking Accessible for SF Families

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Photo: Vie Bikes

More San Francisco parents are discovering that cargo bikes are the new family minivan. But while it’s increasingly common in SF to spot a parent pedaling their helmeted offspring around, cargo bikes and motorized bikes remain off the radar of most families looking for better ways to get around the city.

In leading bike-friendly cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, cargo bikes are no secret — they’re ubiquitous. Now, utilitarian biking in SF could get a leg up with the impending public launch of Vie Bikes, a company that will let families test out cargo bikes and bikes with electric motors.

Vie is currently testing out its services before the big public reveal next month, providing access to family-friendly bikes without the expense and hassle of having them shipped overseas. Vie staff will also offer consultation and maintenance services to customers.

“We’re trying to knock down barriers,” said Kit Hodge, one of Vie’s three co-founders, who was previously the SF Bicycle Coalition’s deputy director.

Vie will deliver bikes to the customer’s door and offer on-street consultation on how to use the bikes. The bikes can also be rented for trial periods, and the company will accept trade-ins for “when your life changes.”

Read more…

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Two Key Factors That Can Make or Break a Bike-Share Network

What if you could dramatically increase the usefulness of a bike-share system without adding any bicycles or docks? Researchers at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business have come up with a model that they say could help even the most successful bike-share systems in the world get more bang for the buck.

Researchers estimate that even Paris’s much-used Velib bike-share could attract 29 percent more riders by optimizing the location and size of stations. Photo: Wikipedia

The Booth School team focused on two factors: station accessibility (or how long it takes people to get to a station) and bike availability (or having at least one bike to check out at a station). After collecting minute-by-minute ridership data from 349 stations in Paris’s highly successful Velib system over a four-month period, they modeled the effect of these factors on ridership.

Researchers found that decreasing the distance to access stations by 10 percent boosts bike-share trips by about 7 percent, while a 10 percent improvement in bike availability can increase system usage about 12 percent.

Interestingly, given a fixed number of docks and bikes, improving the accessibility of a network can diminish its availability, since the system would have a larger number of stations spaced closer together, but each station would be smaller. The inverse is also true — designing for greater availability can reduce accessibility.

However, networks can be optimized taking both accessibility and availability into account. In the researchers’ model, simply rearranging existing Velib bike-share docks — adjusting the size and location of stations — could attract 29.4 percent more trips.

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Supervisors Want More Bicycling Classes in Their Districts at Less Expense

An SFBC Family Biking class on the John F. Kennedy Drive parking-protected bike lane in Golden Gate Park. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

Several supervisors say they’d like to see city-funded bike education classes distibuted more equally among their districts, and to attract more participants to reduce the per-person cost of the program.

Locations of bicycling classes in SF. Image: Google Maps via SFBC

At a recent committee meeting of the SF County Transportation Authority Board, which is comprised of supervisors, members raised their concerns when they approved a nine-month extension of their contract with the SF Bicycle Coalition and the YMCA YBike program, which taught bicycling skills to over 1,800 kids and adults last year.

Supervisors Mark Farrell and Norman Yee said their districts appear “underserved” among the several dozen class locations. “We have a ton of bicyclists in District 2,” said Farrell, including kids and tourists on rental bikes. “We have bicycle shops all over the place, we have people cycling down the waterfront, through the Preisidio… It’s really challenging to look at this and say this is a great thing when I look at two locations in the district.”

Matt Lasky of the SFMTA said the locations are chosen based on neighborhood density, but that they will look into re-distribution.

Read more…

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SFMTA to Install Three More Digital Bicycle Counters

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The Market Street bike counter. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA plans to install three more bicycle counters with digital displays on busy biking streets. They will be placed “at visible locations on high volume bicycle corridors,” though the exact spots haven’t been finalized, according to a city planning document. “Potential locations include Market Street, Valencia Street, and the Embarcadero.”

The SFMTA has already purchased the “bicycle barometers,” as the city calls them, with two in storage and one more expected to arrive. They are scheduled to be installed between this August and February 2017, according to a report from the SF County Transportation Authority [PDF].

SF’s first visible bike counter was activated on Bike to Work Day in May 2013, on the south side of Market Street between Ninth and 10th Streets. On an average weekday, it currently counts between 3,700 and 4,400 bike commuters in one direction. (It was discovered at the start of the year that the detector had been missing an estimated 1,000 daily riders, since many did not roll over the in-ground sensor.)

Visible bike counters, which have been installed in cities like Copenhagen, Portland, Seattle, and Montreal, are intended to encourage bicycling by displaying a number that ticks up every time someone rolls by, showing both the daily an annual total. The message to the public is that people on bikes count.

The SFMTA has also installed 24 invisible bike counters around the city, which use inductive loops installed in the pavement to detect bicycles but don’t have a display feature. The data helps the SFMTA measure demand for bicycling and the effectiveness of bike lane improvements. The data for the Market counter, and an invisible counter on Fell at Divisadero Street, are displayed online.

The three new digital bike counters will cost $187,000 total for purchase, planning, installation, and two years of maintenance, according to the SFCTA report. They will be funded by $89,580 in SFMTA operating funds and $97,500 in Prop K sales tax funds, which must still be approved by the SFCTA Board. The Market counter was partially funded by a $20,000 grant from a locally-based online gaming company, and it’s maintained by the Central Market Community Benefit District.

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SFPD Blames Victim for Biking Through Red Light But Won’t Cite Evidence

Contrary to initial reports, the SFPD says Charles Vinson, 66, ran a red light on his bike when he was hit and killed by a driver at 14th and Folsom Streets on March 2.

Immediately after the crash, the SF Examiner reported that a witness “saw the vehicle blow through a red light and strike the bicyclist as the bicyclist waited for the light to turn green.” But on March 17, SFPD spokesperson Grace Gatpandan said investigators had determined that Vinson ran a red.

Streetsblog asked how the SFPD arrived at that conclusion. “There are many different factors involved, such as examining skid marks, measurements, placement of evidence from the collision, etc,” said Gatpandan. “As the case is still open and active, we do not discuss open and active investigation matters.”

So, while police are comfortable releasing their determination that the victim was at fault in this crash, they say it’s too soon to disclose any supporting evidence.

Is there video of the crash? Is there witness testimony? If so, does it come from bystanders, the driver who struck Vinson, or both? We don’t know, and SFPD isn’t saying.

Gatpandan said the driver won’t receive a citation. We’ll request the police report to get more details on the investigation.

A ghost bike was placed at the corner where Vinson died. Photo: GhostBike.org/Twitter

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LA Times Opposes CA Helmet Law, But Gets One Point Wrong

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times wrote a mostly thoughtful editorial against Senate Bill 192, Carol Liu’s proposed mandatory helmet law for bicyclists. In the Times’ opinion, there isn’t enough evidence to show that helmets make bicycle riders safer to justify changing the law.

Hear, hear.

One thing the editorial board didn’t get right: saying that “many of the objections raised by bicycling enthusiasts are laughable — such as the idea that mandatory helmets would make bicycling appear more dangerous and thus discourage people from trying it.”

All chuckling aside, there is actual data showing that mandatory bicycle helmet laws have reduced the number of people bicycling—compared to the uncertain evidence of such laws’ safety impacts, which the Times focuses on. In “Do enforced bicycle helmet laws improve public health?” Australian researcher Dorothy Robertson showed dramatic reductions in both youth (29%) and adult (42%) cycling after a mandatory helmet law was passed. In Irvine, a study found that the number of children riding bicycles decreased between four and five percent after a child’s helmet law was passed there.

Thus, the biggest argument against S.B.192 is that it would have a negative impact on the number of people bicycling in California—in direct conflict with state climate and air quality goals. Read more…

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Four Protected Bike Signals Coming to Polk Street By May

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The SFMTA has promised signals to separate southbound bike traffic from right-turning drivers at four intersections along Polk Street by May. Image: SFMTA

Today the SFMTA announced details about the first package of safety upgrades coming to Polk Street in the next few months. They include signals at four intersections that will give southbound bike traffic a separate phase from drivers turning right, making Polk the second street in SF to get the configuration.

By May, the SFMTA said it would install the bike signals at all four intersections in the Polk plan: Geary Boulevard, Ellis Street, Eddy Street, and Turk Street. The signals “will be implemented to address existing right-hook crash patterns,” the SFMTA said in an email announcing the upgrades.

The prevailing design of SF current bike lanes calls for people on bikes to merge with right-turning cars, putting them at risk of drivers who turn without looking. At the four Polk intersections, right-turning drivers will have a separate lane and signal phase. The configuration is widely used in cities like Amsterdam, and is planned for protected bike lanes on streets like Second.

The only street in SF that already has the configuration is Cargo Way in Bayview, where a two-way protected bikeway separated by a fence was installed in 2012. A similar configuration exists at Fell Street and Masonic Avenue, where a left-turn signal was installed to protect people in a crosswalk along the Panhandle’s mixed bike and pedestrian path.

As part of the first batch of improvements on Polk, the SFMTA said the conventional southbound bike lane will be extended from Union to Post Street by April. That space will apparently be created by narrowing traffic lanes.

When construction of the rest of the Polk project starts next spring, the southern segment of the bike lane will get green paint and a buffer zone. Many sections will run curbside, eliminating the risk of dooring.

The northbound Polk bike upgrades will also come next spring, with the construction of a raised bike lane from McAllister to Pine Street, which won’t include separate signal phases at intersections.

Pedestrian safety improvements are on the way this spring, include zebra crosswalks at 25 intersections and painted bulb-outs at five intersections. By summer, the SFMTA said it will install leading pedestrian intervals, which “allow pedestrians a few seconds of a ‘WALK’ signal before vehicles receive a green light at certain intersections.” By that time, daylighting will also be in place at “various intersections,” along with “new and relocated” loading zones to reduce double parking.

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Eyes on the Street: Idiots Continue to Park in the Oak Street Bike Lane

Looks like some tickets are in order.

Even with planted protective barriers alongside the Oak Street bike lane, some drivers haven’t got the message and continue to park or stop in it. It’s not clear if the violations are happening less often, and it’s still early in the learning curve, but the hope had been that the planters would send a stronger message to drivers to stay out.

The design leaves large gaps in the physical protection around curb cuts and the approaches to intersections, where turning drivers merge into the bike lane. There are no plans to expand the protective islands.

For now, San Franciscans have to rely on the SFMTA and SFPD to provide consistent enforcement against violators. That’s another work in progress.

Photo: Al Sharff

Photo: Al Sharff