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Posts from the "Bicycling" Category

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SFMTA’s Draft List for the Next Generation of Bikeways

Image: SFBC

The SFMTA has released a draft list of the 68 street segments it’s looking to include in the next wave of improvements to the city’s bicycle network [PDF]. The SF Bicycle Coalition mapped out the list and is asking its members to weigh in on a survey about which streets should take top priority.

The SFMTA’s list ranks 150 miles of street segments with the highest demand, according to bike counts and focus groups. Tim Papandreou, the agency’s director of strategic planning and policy, said planners are also targeting hot spots that see frequent bicycle crashes.

Under the “Strategic Plan Scenario” of the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy – the middle ground of the three scenarios — the agency plans to “enhance” 50 miles of the existing bicycle network and add 12 new miles by 2018. The 150 miles in the current list will be narrowed down to those final 62 miles.

Here are the SFMTA’s top ten “highest demand” street segments in the existing bike network. The asterisks denote streets where projects are already being planned or constructed:

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Who’s Parking in the Fell Street Bike Lane Today? Oh, It’s SFPD

Photo: Aaron Bialick

You’d better have a pretty good reason to park a car in the heavily-used Fell Street bike lane during the evening rush hour, forcing commuters to squeeze by alongside three lanes of motor traffic. Police response to an emergency might qualify, but the two SFPD officers who returned to this cruiser from the adjacent Bank of America, carrying an envelope, didn’t appear to be in any particular rush.

On Tuesday, the day I spotted this cruiser, 1,707 people used the Fell bike lane, according to the SFMTA’s live counter feed. The next day, it was 1,845. By leaving a car in the lane during the peak hour, there’s hardly a more effective way to maximize the number of people you endanger and stress out on their way home. All for a lazy parking job.

While there’s some hope that the concrete planters planned for the Fell bike lane this year will go a long way toward ending the routine illegal parking, it’s pretty dismaying to see the very officers responsible for enforcing the violation committing it themselves.

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Eyes on the Street: Smoother Pavement on the Fell and Oak Bike Lanes

The Fell Street bike lane, between Broderick and Baker, was re-paved with smooth asphalt. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The bumpy concrete surface of the Fell and Oak bike lanes is being smoothed over. Over the holiday break, the Department of Public Works re-paved one block of the Fell bike lane, between Broderick and Baker Streets. The city expects to cover all six blocks with smooth asphalt by March, according to SFMTA Livable Streets spokesperson Ben Jose.

The concrete slabs, a more suitable surface for the bike lane’s former life as a car parking lane, at first weren’t expected to be a problem for bike commuters, but SFMTA staffers said they’ve received a substantial number of complaints about the bumpy surface since it was re-purposed for bicycling. On the sections where the concrete hasn’t been paved over, people on bikes can typically be found riding just off the concrete portion, on the narrow strip of asphalt that’s available. On the asphalt-covered stretch of the Fell lane, having the entire seven-foot width of smooth riding room is surprisingly relaxing, and makes for some comfortable, social, side-by-side travel (as shown above).

As all the pieces of a high-quality, protected bike lane gradually come into place, this is one more small step that makes the  commute experience more pleasant for Wiggle riders. Jose said the permanent bike lane markings should be re-installed within a few days.

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How to Measure the Economic Effect of Livable Streets

Retail sales on the section of Columbus Avenue with a protected bike lane (the green line) outperformed retail sales on a parallel stretch of Amsterdam Avenue and an adjacent part of Columbus with no bike lane (the pink line). Image: NYC DOT

When a street redesign to prioritize walking, biking, or transit is introduced, the headlines are predictable: A handful of business owners scream bloody murder. Anecdotes from grumpy merchants tend to dominate the news coverage, but what’s the real economic impact of projects like Select Bus Service, pedestrian plazas, road diets and protected bike lanes? How can it be measured?

A report released by NYC DOT last Friday [PDF] describes a new method to measure the economic effect of street redesigns, using sales tax receipts to compare retail activity before and after a project is implemented. DOT and consultants at Bennett Midland examined seven street redesigns — including road diets, plazas, protected bike lanes, and Select Bus Service routes — and compiled data on retail sales in the project areas as well as similar nearby streets where no design changes were implemented.

While the authors do not claim that all of the improvement in sales is directly caused by street redesigns (there are a lot of factors at work), they did conclude that a street’s “gain in retail sales can at least in part be attributed to changes stemming from the higher quality street environment.” The study also found that the impact becomes apparent relatively quickly: Retailers often see a change in sales within a year of a project being implemented.

While it makes intuitive sense that a better pedestrian environment and high-quality transit and bikeways will draw more foot traffic in a city environment than a car-dominated street, evidence that livable streets are good for business tends to be indirect. Customer intercept surveys have shown that most people in urban areas (including New York) walk, bike, or take transit to go shopping. While customers who drive spend more per trip, they also visit less often than shoppers who don’t drive. The net result: Car-free shoppers spend more than their driving counterparts and have a bigger impact on the bottom line of local businesses. Nevertheless, merchants tend to overestimate the percentage of customers arriving by car and insist on the primacy of car parking as means of access.

With this study, DOT used a third-party data source to see how well sales are actually doing in two large categories: retail outlets like grocery stores, clothing stores and florists, and hospitality services like bars, restaurants, and hotels. The study uses state sales tax receipts because they are available on a quarterly basis can be categorized by business type, allowing for an up-to-date and detailed understanding of how retailers are faring on a particular street. Results can be examined before and after a street design change, and compared with sales trends both borough-wide and and on “control streets” nearby that did not receive street design changes.

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Biking in SF Nearly Doubled Since 2006; Funding Push Gains Traction

Commute traffic on the Wiggle at Steiner Street and Duboce Avenue. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Despite the slow roll-out of safer streets for bicycling compared to cities like New York and Chicago, San Franciscans are making nearly twice as many trips by bike today as they did in 2006, according to a new count released by the SFMTA. Still, city leaders must significantly increase the paltry amount of transportation funds devoted to bicycle infrastructure in order to reach the SFMTA Bicycle Strategy‘s goal of 20 percent of trips by bike by 2020, according to the City Budget Analyst.

“We’ve been getting lucky for a long time,” said Amandeep Jawa, president of the League of Conservation Voters, at a Board of Supervisors hearing last week. “We’ve been spending less than 1 percent of our transportation budget on bicycling, but we’re already at 4 percent of trips. The opportunity before us is about funding the [bike] network… the more connected a network is, the better it does. If we really get serious about funding the full build-out, the improvements will be much more dramatic.”

As we’ve reported, bicycling has skyrocketed in the most bike-friendly neighborhoods like the Mission and Hayes Valley, where over 15 percent of commuters already get to work by bike, according to the 2010 census. As of 2012, bicycling comprised 3.8 percent of commute trips citywide, according to the SFMTA. Commute trips are only a fraction of overall trips and may not represent overall bike mode share.

Between 2011 and 2013, bicycling increased an average of 14 percent at 40 observed intersections, according to the SFMTA’s new report. At 21 intersections where the agency started counting bikes in 2006, the number has increased 96 percent within the full seven-year period.

Within the last two years, the corridors which saw the highest jumps in bike traffic, each around 35 percent, were Townsend, Second, and Polk Streets, according to the report. At specific points where recent bike improvements were made, the increases were even more dramatic:

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3 Years After Fatal Crash, San Mateo County Adds Bike Lanes to Interchange

SVBC Deputy Director Colin Heyne checks for merging vehicles approaching from behind at the Alpine/280 interchange. Photo: Andrew Boone

SVBC Deputy Director Colin Heyne checks for merging vehicles while cycling north on Alpine Road towards Highway 280. Photo: Andrew Boone

Nearly three years after 47-year-old Los Altos Hills resident Lauren Ward was killed by a truck driver while cycling on Alpine Road at Highway 280 in southern San Mateo County, eye-catching green and buffered bike lanes, the first for a freeway crossing in California, were finally installed there in mid-October.

Local residents and street safety advocates organized and persistently lobbied county officials to install bike lanes at the interchange, failing twice to secure grants from the San Mateo County Transportation Authority in 2011 and 2012. Under increasing pressure from residents and county leaders, public works staff cobbled together funds from three different sources in late 2012 and re-designed the interchange to include bike lanes. Traffic lanes were narrowed to 11 feet and wide green and buffered bike lanes were incorporated into the design using input from the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

An alternative design favored by bike advocates would have reduced the number of merge zones (where motorists need to cross the path of bicyclists to enter the highway) from three to two was also proposed. Caltrans rejected that option, saying it might cause delays for motorists. Nevertheless, the chosen design is still considered an enormous improvement over the previous complete lack of striping.

“Our goal is to create an environment on the road where people of all ages and skill levels feel comfortable riding a bike,” said SVBC Executive Director Corinne Winter. “Smart, visible infrastructure like this removes the ambiguity that plagued this intersection previously, and allows for all users in the road to feel confident while sharing the road.”

The buffers disappear and the bike lanes are dashed in sections where motorists need to merge across the bike lanes to enter Highway 280, making it obvious to everyone where the merging should take place. “If you ride south on Alpine Road, you’ll see the huge improvement,” said San Mateo County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee Chair Steve Schmidt. “It seems like a more relaxed situation because it’s clear where everyone should be.”

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Mayor’s Task Force Proposes Solid First Steps to Fund SF’s Transport Needs

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The funding measures recommended by the Mayor’s Transportation 2030 Task Force are a promising step toward building out the safe, reliable networks for transit, walking, and biking that San Franciscans need. Only a portion of the $10.1 billion needed for improvements identified by the task force would be funded by the measures, but if approved by voters on the November 2014 ballot, they could build traction to help city agencies obtain the rest.

“It is encouraging to see the city beginning to address the capital investments needed to keep our transportation system running,” said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City. “State and federal funding for transportation continue to decline, so regions and cities are increasingly on their own, and need to make smarter choices about what we fund and how.”

A lack of dedicated funding is currently a major hurdle to building out the SFMTA’s Pedestrian Strategy, the Bicycle Strategy, and the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project, not to mention filling a $3.1 billion backlog of Muni vehicle and infrastructure maintenance. The Mayor’s Task Force proposals, which were developed in meetings over the past year, would be a start towards realizing those visions, as the SF Chronicle explained:

The Municipal Transportation Agency expects to receive $3.8 billion in revenue over the next 15 years to pay for transportation needs, but that leaves the city $6.3 billion short. To close the gap, city leaders should ask voters to take three actions that would raise almost $3 billion and help attract federal, state and regional funds to pay the rest, [said Monique Zmuda, deputy city controller and co-chair of the task force].

The task force will recommend that the Board of Supervisors put before the voters three ballot measures that would each raise roughly $1 billion:

– Two $500 million general obligation bonds — one in November 2014 and another in November 2024.

– A measure to raise the vehicle license fee from 0.65 percent to 2 percent — in November 2014. State law allows San Francisco voters to restore the fee, which was cut by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

– A proposition that would increase the sales tax by half a cent — in November 2016. That would raise the city sales tax from 8.75 percent to 9.25 percent.

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A Thousand Cyclists Hold “Die-in” to Demand Safer Streets in London

One thousand cyclists held a "die-in" in front of London's transportation offices on Friday to dramatize the dangers faced by the city's cyclists. Image: ##https://twitter.com/MeredithFrost/status/407286714835955712/photo/1## Meredith Frost/ABC##

One thousand cyclists held a “die-in” in front of London’s transportation offices on Friday to protest dangerous streets. Image: Meredith Frost/ABC

In a potent demonstration for safer streets, 1,000 Londoners staged a “die-in” with their bikes in front of the city’s transportation offices Friday. ABC producer Meredith Frost snapped the above image, which has been going viral on the Internet. The protest lasted a brief 15 minutes.

Demands for safer streets have gained urgency in London following the death of six cyclists in a two-week period. Organizers are demanding 10 percent of the city’s transportation funds for safe bike infrastructure.

“We want a real budget, at the moment we’re getting crumbs,” organizer Donnachadh McCarthy told the BBC. “We want an integrated cycling network in London within five years and we want a say at the top table.”

The die-in tactic has some detractors, who think it will scare people from cycling and obscure evidence that cycling has recently become safer in London. But the BBC points out that similarly blunt and aggressive protests were key to the success of the 1970s-era safe streets movement in the Netherlands. They have also been used, with some success, to demand better infrastructure in American cities such as San Diego.

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Eyes on the Street: Why Agencies Need to Warn Bike Riders of Construction

When street pavement gets torn up during construction, people on bicycles need fair warning, or else they’ll be in danger.

Daniel Erat sent in the above video he filmed on his bike commute on Golden Gate Avenue. At the Steiner Street intersection, he and another rider hit a patch of roadway where the asphalt had been removed for a construction project, busting his wheel and knocking the woman off her bike:

My front tube popped as soon as I hit the spot where the asphalt resumed, and while pulling over, I heard a noise behind me and saw that another cyclist had fallen in the road at the same spot (I think she was uninjured but pretty shaken up; she walked away)…

There’s a sudden 1″ lip where the asphalt begins at the east side of the intersection, and the spot is at the bottom of a hill where cyclists are likely to be moving quickly and to have most of their weight on their front wheels. I’m concerned that the spot has a high potential for damaging more bikes (my front hub is loose now and my handlebars got misaligned) and for injuring cyclists — it’s a popular commuting route to get downtown.

Had a driver been behind the woman when she fell, the situation could have led to serious injuries or worse.

It’s unclear who’s managing this construction — most commonly, it seems to be done by the Department of Public Works, the SF Public Utilities Commission, PG&E, or a contracting company. Erat said he phoned the problem in to 311, but the staff “apparently sees this as less urgent of an issue than I do.”

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In SF, Bay Area Bike Share’s Bikes Get Almost Three Trips Per Day

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Image: SFMTA. Click to enlarge.

Following an underwhelming start, Bay Area Bike Share now sees an average of at least 2.5 trips per bike per day within San Francisco, according to the SFMTA. Since September 10, the average rate in SF has held mostly steady at about 2.7, and goes as high as 3.7.

For the entire five-city system, the average is about 1.9 trips per bike per day, up from the rate of 0.92 during the first 12 days after the August 29 launch. At two months in, Bay Area Bike Share’s usage exceeds that of DC’s Capital Bikeshare at the same point in time, according to SFMTA Bike-Share Program Manager Heath Maddox, who told supervisors Monday that the usage rate is “gratifying to see.”

Altogether, Bay Area Bike Share has about 2,000 members, and users have ridden 128,161 miles, or “almost five times around the Earth,” said Maddox. The 350 bikes within SF — half the system’s fleet — are used 900 to 1,000 times per day, he said.

The new numbers may not break any records, but Maddox said it’s “a healthy rate” and “a number we’re happy with.”

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