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Posts from the "Bicycling" Category

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Market Street Has More Bike Traffic Than You Thought

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An unprecedented jump last month (on the right) reported by the Market Street bike counter appears to be explained by an improvement in the counter’s accuracy. Image: SFMTA/Eco Counter

The Market Street bicycle counter has been undercounting two-wheeled traffic — and not because of a computer glitch. Starting last month, the counter reported a huge jump in bike commuters. How come? All indications point to a recent tweak to the bike lane that guides more riders over the counter’s underground sensor.

On several days this year, the counter has tallied nearly 4,500 people cycling eastbound on Market at Ninth Street. On most weekdays, at least 3,700 riders have been counted. That’s about 1,000 more riders, on average, than were counted each day last January.

Last month may have been California’s driest January on record, but weather doesn’t explain the jump. Even in the warmest months last year, ridership typically ranged from 2,700 to 3,200. Prior to 2015, the record was 4,045, set on August 7 last year.

So what changed in the first week of January? The SFMTA installed plastic posts along the bike lane’s edge that guide bike riders to stay in the bike lane and roll over the bike sensor. Previously, many bike commuters passing by the counter rode outside the bike lane, instead using the adjacent traffic lane since it was closed to cars in 2009.

SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose said that based on the agency’s manual bike counts, the bike counter remains about 95 percent accurate, the same rate as before. It’s “plausible” the posts explain the recent jump in the bike count, he said. No other likely explanation has been put forth, though the SFMTA has yet to verify with the counter’s manufacturer that it does not need to be recalibrated.

Getting a better read on Market Street bike traffic is one more way the SFMTA is improving the understanding of how San Franciscans’ travel habits are changing. Earlier this month, the agency reported its new survey methodology has revealed that most trips in the city are made without a private automobile.

Hat tip to Joe Chojnacki for pointing out the data jump.

Today’s count as of about 6 p.m. Photo: Aaron Bialick

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Alameda’s Second Parking-Protected Bikeway Takes Shape on Shoreline Drive

Alameda’s Shoreline Drive was just striped with a new, 1.8-mile parking-protected bikeway. Image: Robert Prinz, Bike East Bay

The East Bay’s island city of Alameda has laid down its second parking-protected bikeway along Shoreline Drive.

The paint has barely dried on the 1.8-mile, two-way bikeway, but Alamedans are already using it. The city is adding finishing touches before a ribbon cutting set for March 7. Bike East Bay Education Coordinator Robert Prinz, a former Streetsblog intern, captured the below time lapse video showing a roll down the bikeway.

It’s one of only a handful of parking-protected bikeways in the Bay Area, and the first to be installed since SF’s John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park was striped in 2012.

“We really think of this as our first complete street,” said Lucy Gigli of Bike Walk Alameda. “There’s vehicle travel, there’s wonderful bike lanes now, and the path and sidewalk are so much more comfortable for people walking.”

Like other parking-protected bikeways in cities like New York, the Shoreline project uses paint and concrete islands, with a car parking lane between the bikeway and the motor traffic lanes. A buffer zone allows for room to safely open car doors. The curbside bikeway runs along Alameda’s beach and next to a major shopping center (surrounded, unfortunately, by a giant parking lot). 

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City College Property Could Make Room for Buffered Bike Lane on Ocean Ave

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Ocean Avenue could be widened in front of the City College campus, and a freeway ramp re-aligned, to make bicycling from Balboa Park Station much safer. Image: Planning Department

A proposed solution has surfaced for one of the most frightening gaps in the Ocean Avenue bike lane at Balboa Park Station, where the existing bike lane disappears and throws uphill bike commuters in front of a high-speed freeway off-ramp. City College of SF has proposed opening up the edge of its main campus property, currently occupied by a retaining wall and undeveloped land, to make room for the bike lane extension, sidewalk extensions, and landscaped medians.

With plans also in the works to remove the curved highway 280 off-ramp and replace it with a perpendicular, signalized ramp, that stretch of Ocean could become dramatically safer.

The fix was presented this week at the final open house meeting for planned streetscape improvements along Ocean and around Balboa Park Station. Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich, a member of the BART Board of Directors, said the plans for bike and pedestrian improvements are “so far, so good,” and have been anticipated since the city began developing plans for the area in the late 90′s.

“The community has been remarkably patient, and the devil will be in the details,” he said. Still, the currently poor conditions for walking and biking to the station set “a low bar.”

City planners had originally included no substantial improvements to make bicycling safer on Ocean between the Balboa Park BART/Muni Station and CCSF, insisting on retaining both westbound traffic lanes, which Muni buses use. City agencies are now “working with City College to design a terraced landscape to eliminate the blank retaining wall currently in place and create a more inviting entrance,” according to Planning Department presentation materials [PDF].

Today, people using the westbound bike lane on Ocean are thrown into a traffic lane in front of a freeway off-ramp. Image: Google Maps

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Senator Introduces Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Law in CA

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Senator Carol Liu’s S.B. 192 would require all bicycle riders to wear helmets, a move that would likely cut the number of people who ride bikes. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Yesterday, Senator Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) introduced a bill in the California legislature that would require all bicycle riders, including adults, to wear a helmet, and to wear reflective clothing at night.

Senator Liu has been an ally for active transportation and bicycling, including supporting the three-foot law that took so long to get passed, and she has promoted safe walking and bicycling during her long tenure in the legislature. But if, as Liu staffer Robert Oakes told Streetsblog, Liu’s “point of view is that we should do everything to encourage active transportation,” this bill will not achieve that.

Richard Masoner of Cyclelicious calls S.B. 192 the

“Remove Cyclists From California Roads Law of 2015″ or, alternatively, the “Harass Minorities On Bikes Law of 2015.”

Oakes said the Senator and her staff looked at youth bike helmet laws as a model. Seeing that more and more states have adopted them encouraged the staff to think that California could be the first state to impose a mandatory helmet law on adults. They say that the youth helmet laws heard similar arguments—that fewer people would ride bikes—before they were adopted.

“But no one in 21 years has proposed a bill to repeal the youth helmet law,” he said.

Streetsblog would like to suggest the Senator review the research on the effects of bike helmet laws on the number of kids who ride bikes, including this gem of a conclusion from one paper: “Thus, the observed reduction in bicycle-related head injuries may be due to reductions in bicycle riding induced by the laws.”

Another area of research might be in how this law might be applied inequitably to different types of bicycle riders; the Senator and her staff might want to start with this recent Streetsblog story. Or this one.

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One Year Into Vision Zero, Advocates Call for Bolder Action From City Hall

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SF agencies released a new two-year Vision Zero Strategy [PDF], and safe streets advocates say it needs to go farther.

A year after City Hall officials first pledged to embrace Vision Zero, safe streets advocates have released a report [PDF] reviewing the state of efforts to end traffic fatalities by 2024. City officials simultaneously released a “Vision Zero Strategy” [PDF] for the next two years. Both documents were released in conjunction with a new program requiring video training for city truck drivers on safe urban driving, announced at a press conference yesterday.

The progress report from the Vision Zero Coalition, a group of nearly 40 community organizations led by Walk SF and the SF Bicycle Coalition, says City Hall has “made important progress” with nine agencies endorsing the goal. Extensive research has also been done in recent years through the WalkFirst program to identify which streets see the highest rates of pedestrian injuries.

But to ensure that City Hall’s embrace of Vision Zero turns into life-saving action, advocates say efforts need to ramp up in 2015 to slow driving speeds and curb the most dangerous driving behaviors. Physical street design measures, data-driven traffic enforcement, and education campaigns are key to creating a safer driving culture.

Expectations this year “are definitely going to be high,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider.

“There’s huge public support for Vision Zero. Now Mayor Lee and his city team need to turn this into action,” said a statement from Noah Budnick, the new executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, who previously campaigned for Vision Zero in New York City. ”The SFMTA must get proven safety improvements onto our streets as fast as they can, and the SFPD must crack down on reckless drivers who put San Franciscans at risk. There’s no time to waste to save lives.”

The Vision Zero Coalition’s report calls for three goals to be met this year, including a city-led campaign already underway to change state law to allow enforcement through speed cameras. The Coalition also want SFPD to increase the share of “Focus on the Five” citations to 37 percent of all traffic citations in 2015 and to meet the department’s official 50 percent minimum by 2016. So far, all SFPD stations except one have yet to come close to that goal, and the new Traffic Company Commander, Ann Mannix, has not promised to meet it.

The report also calls on agencies like the SFMTA and Department of Public Works to expedite physical safety measures on 18 miles of high-injury corridors annually. The city’s two-year Vision Zero Strategy, which is an update to the Pedestrian Strategy and the WalkFirst plan, sets the annual bar at 13 miles.

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Fell and Oak Safety Features to Finally Be Installed By April

Bulb-outs, rain gardens, and planted traffic islands on three blocks of Fell and Oak Streets are now set to be completed two years late. Image: SFMTA

The final pieces of the protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety upgrades on three blocks of Fell and Oak Streets are now due to be finished by April, according to the Department of Public Works. Assuming this timetable holds up, construction of the project will conclude two years after the originally promised date in spring 2013.

Crews have been at work for months installing the sidewalk extensions and rain gardens on Fell and Oak between Baker and Scott Streets. There have been no signs yet of construction of the planted traffic islands that will separate the bike lanes from motor traffic (except in locations where there are driveways or turn lanes).

The buffered bike lanes on Fell and Oak have mostly remained the same since they were striped without physical protection in September 2012 and May 2013, respectively. One exception was the installation of short-lived plastic posts in April 2013, which were removed after the bike lanes were re-paved less than a year late and never replaced.

At some points during construction, the Fell and Oak bike lanes have been blocked. Photo: Jonathan G/Twitter

Without the traffic islands, the bike lanes remain unprotected, keeping riders exposed to three lanes of heavy motor traffic and discouraging risk-averse people from biking. Drivers often park in the lanes, though Supervisor London Breed has convinced the tow truck company on Fell to reduce that practice.

While most of the basic bike safety improvements are in place, the project delays have been numerous and, in most cases, baffling. During the planning process, the original construction date of spring 2012 was pushed back a year to create more parking on nearby streets to compensate for spaces removed for the bike lanes. In October 2013, the SFMTA and DPW said construction wouldn’t happen that year because the agencies wanted to tweak the designs of the bulb-outs and islands.

Until recently, a sign was posted at the site promising construction would be finished in January 2015. When asked why the project still isn’t finished, DPW staff didn’t answer the question, only providing the new date. 

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Will the SFMTA Board Demand Complete Protected Bike Lanes on Polk Street?

The watered-down re-design of Polk Street is expected to go up for approval by the SFMTA Board of Directors in March. But support seems stronger than ever for a bolder plan that includes protected bike lanes along the whole length of the corridor, as many residents and merchants call for safety to be a higher priority than car parking.

SFMTA board member Cheryl Brinkman said the board could vote to hold off on approval of the re-design until it includes an option for a full-length bike lane, which the board requested in December 2013, though it hasn’t been presented by SFMTA staff.

“If we accept the notion that we can prevent traffic deaths and serious injuries, then we have a moral obligation to make sure that this project is a Vision Zero project,” said Brinkman. “That’s not something I take lightly.”

“This is their chance to show what Vision Zero really means,” said Tyler Frisbee, policy director for the SF Bicycle Coalition. ”If the SFMTA Board is committed to Vision Zero, which they have been huge leaders on, we need to make sure that particularly when we’re [re-designing] high-injury corridors, that safety is our number-one priority.”

The current plan would create a protected bike lane only on a relatively small section of the street. Space would be reallocated by removing about 30 percent of the 320 parking spaces on Polk, or 2 percent of the 5,000 parking spaces within a block of the street. But even though 85 percent of people on Polk arrive without a car, and customers who drive spend the least per week, a vocal group of merchants and some residents demand that all spaces be retained for car storage.

At a 10 a.m. public hearing last Friday, about 45 speakers called for a safer plan, while 25 called for the preservation of the 110 parking spaces. According to the SF Bicycle Coalition, at least 220 letters calling for a safer plan have been sent to the SFMTA and other city officials, along with 320 petition signatures. And while some media reports have painted a simplistic picture pitting merchants against cyclists, at least 14 merchants have also sent in such letters.

“There are plenty of merchants who realize that their best customers are not driving and don’t need parking,” said Frisbee. “What they need are safer ways to get around Polk Street.”

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Eyes on the Street: Embarcadero Bike Lane Gets Greater Priority at Battery

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The southbound Embarcadero bike lane was re-aligned and painted green this week to smooth out a tricky junction where people on bikes have to merge with right-turning drivers between Sansome and Battery Streets.

Previously, the bike lane disappeared on that block, and people biking were left to battle it out with fast-moving drivers. SFMTA Livable Streets staff wrote in a Facebook post that they “repurposed the third travel lane and shifted the location of the bike lane near the intersections of Sansome and Battery (southbound Embarcadero) so there is a continuous path of travel for people riding bikes.”

Before this project, there was a significant gap in the bike lane which created a merge that wasn’t very comfortable. Now, we’ve eliminated that gap so that vehicles, not people biking, must merge,” SFMTA staff wrote.

While the bike lane still won’t attract as many risk-averse riders as the proposed two-way protected bikeway, regular Embarcadero bike commuter Bruce Halperin said he had long pushed the SFMTA to at least make this fix. He launched an online petition on Change.org, which gained 58 signatures, and raised the issue to SFMTA planners at public meetings as well as through emails and phone calls.

Photo: Bruce Halperin

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How Smart Language Helped End Seattle’s Paralyzing Bikelash

Broadway, Seattle.

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Instead of “cyclists,” people biking. Instead of “accident,” collision. Instead of “cycle track,” protected bike lane.

It can come off as trivial word policing. But if you want proof that language shapes thoughts, look no further than Seattle — where one of the country’s biggest bikelashes has turned decisively around in the last four years.

For a while in 2010 and 2011, the three-word phrase “war on cars,” which had risen to prominence in Rob Ford’s Toronto and spread to Seattle in 2009, threatened to poison every conversation about improving bicycling in the city.

Eleven characters long and poetic in its simplicity, the phrase could pop easily into any headline or news spot about transportation changes.

“It’s one of those ideas that makes a lot of sense if you don’t think about it too hard,” says Tom Fucoloro, publisher of Seattle Bike Blog. “Like, Yeah, cars should get more lanes!

For several years, instead of arguing about whether biking, walking or riding transit should be improved, the city was arguing about whether driving should be made worse. A winning issue had become a losing one.

Things got so bad that The Stranger, an altweekly Seattle newspaper that supports biking investments, declared in a not-quite-joking cover story: “Okay, fine, it’s war.”

Today, the phrase seems to have receded from Seattle’s public life. And now the pro-bike, pro-transit policies championed by former Mayor Mike McGinn and continued by his successor Ed Murray are bearing fruit.

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New Data Shows Most Trips in SF Are Made Without a Private Automobile

Based on a new, more accurate travel survey, the SFMTA found that driving has made up the minority of trips for at least three years. Image: SFMTA

San Franciscans don’t drive nearly as much as previously thought, according to new SFMTA survey data. But the needle hasn’t moved much in recent years either.

More than 50 percent of trips in San Francisco are made without a private automobile — and it’s been that way for at least three years, according to travel survey results presented at an SFMTA Board meeting today [PDF, page 18]. Last year, 52 percent of trips in the city were made by transit, walking, biking, car-share, taxi, or ride hailing services like Lyft and Uber.

Solo driving accounted for only 27 percent of trips in 2014, the SFMTA found, with carpooling accounting for another 21 percent. Those two types of trips are what the agency counts as “private auto” trips.

The findings are a significant departure from previously released data on city travel patterns, which had estimated that 62 percent of trips in the city are made with private autos. But those numbers were based on a less accurate survey methodology, SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director Tom Maguire told the Board.

The old data ”probably didn’t tell us the whole picture,” said Maguire, who explained that the old numbers were based mostly on traffic planning forecasts and U.S. Census data that are at least five years old. The new data is based on a local, annual “Travel Decision Survey” conducted by the SFMTA which asked residents and commuters detailed questions about their travel behavior.

How San Franciscans traveled in 2014. Image: SFMTA

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