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America Could Have Been Building Protected Bike Lanes for the Last 40 Years

intersectiondesigns

The latest in bikeway design? Nope, these intersection treatments are from early American bikeway planning documents. Sources: Fisher, 1972; City of Davis, 1972; Smith, Jr. 1974

Salt Lake City is on track to implement the nation’s first “protected intersection” — a Dutch-inspired design to minimize conflicts between cyclists and drivers at crossings. For American cities, this treatment feels like the cutting edge, but a look back at the history of bike planning in the United States reveals that even here, this idea is far from new. In fact, the protected intersection concept appeared in every foundational document for bike planning in the early 1970s. But no American city ever installed one until now — here’s why.

First, some background. The first modern on-street bike lanes in the United States were installed in Davis, California, in the fall of 1967. Of these three bike lanes, one was a parking-protected bikeway on Sycamore Drive. That’s right: The first on-street bike lane in the United States was a parking-protected bikeway.

davis_protected_lane

A woman rides on Sycamore Lane in Davis, CA.

As word of the Davis bike lanes spread across the country, cities all over the United States began improvising their own designs. In response, the Federal Highway Administration funded the publication of four key planning documents between 1972 and 1976 that provided diagrams and guidelines to help cities (and ultimately the FHWA) create a uniform design for bikeways. There are many similarities in all of these documents, but it is clear that with each subsequent report, the design of on-street bike lanes slowly drifted toward designs that treated the cyclist more like a motor vehicle than a human.

Just as the bikeways movement was gaining steam and formalization was taking shape, physically separated bikeways were challenged by a new movement of vehicular cycling advocates — many of whom still challenge bikeways today. Throughout the 1970s, these fit men who self-identified as “cyclists” attended meeting after meeting to decry the designs that engineers were supposedly building for them. Quibbles in the wording of laws or details of a design became arguments and headaches for city staff. Anyone who was not already riding a bicycle on busy car-dominated streets was drowned out by the vehicular cyclists who claimed to speak for all bicycle riders.

Of course, surveys of riders showed these individuals to be in the minority — with 72 percent of riders saying separated bikeways provided good protection and 59 percent saying “signed routes” offered poor protection:

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Safer Path Could Help Untangle the “Alemany Maze” Highway Interchange

Image: SFCTA via D10 Watch

Image: SFCTA via D10 Watch

The “Alemany Maze,” the deadly Highway 101 and 280 interchange in the southeast city, could get a safer crossing for walking and biking. Funding to study a walking path and bike lanes through the junction was approved this week by the SF County Transportation Authority Board of Directors, comprised of the Board of Supervisors.

The Alemany Maze. Photo: Chuck B. / my back 40 (feet)

The study, set to be completed by next June, will look at creating a “multi-modal pathway” where residents already cross the “nasty mess of ramps” to reach the Alemany Farmers Market, SFCTA planner Colin Dentel-Post told an SFCTA board committee this week.

“People currently use an informal pathway and dangerous, unsignalized crossings through the interchange,” he said. The maze “creates a barrier between the surrounding neighborhoods, including the Bernal, Portola, Bayview, and Silver Terrace neighborhoods.”

The $100,000 approved for the study was requested by D9 Supervisor David Campos. Campos was apparently swayed by the Portola Neighborhood Association to push for a safer crossing, according to a recent post by Chris Waddling at D10 Watch.

Waddling, chair of the SFCTA Citizens Advisory Committee representing District 10, lauded the advancement of the project:

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SFMTA Retracts Report of 651% Jump in Bike Traffic on San Jose Avenue

The SFMTA has retracted its report last week of a 651 percent jump in bicycling on northbound San Jose Avenue after a traffic lane was removed to widen the bike lane.

The actual increase in morning peak-hour bike counts was 14 percent, said SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose. In the evening peak hour, the reported 221 percent was actually 62 percent.

“A second analysis of the underlying raw data revealed a spreadsheet error overstating the bicycling increase,” Jose said in a statement. “We apologize for our error and will do our best to bring you accurate information going forward.”

The agency issued its correction statement late Friday. Streetsblog reported the 651 percent jump on Wednesday after receiving confirmation of the statistics from the SFMTA, following a blog post from the SF Bicycle Coalition highlighting the statistic last Monday.

The newly-released version of the SFMTA’s data spreadsheet [PDF] includes a note stating that there was “an equipment malfunction during the AM peak data collection period” on one of the post-implementation days when bikes were counted. The note says the data from that day was removed from the counts, which were averaged over 72-hour periods in January 2014 and January 2015.

The SFMTA says the bike counts were taken on the Monterey Boulevard ramp, just before it merges on to northbound San Jose.

All other data in the report remain accurate, including impacts on car traffic volumes and speeds, said Jose.

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Parking-Protected Bike Lanes, Ped Safety Upgrades Coming to Division at 9th

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The bike lanes on a block of Division, between 9th and 10th Streets, will get a parking-protected redesign this fall. Photo: Google Maps

The bike lanes on a block of Division, between 9th and 10th Streets, will get a parking-protected redesign this fall. Photo: Google Maps

Bike lanes on the block of Division Street between 9th and 10th Streets will get some much-needed protection this fall. Earlier this week the SFMTA Board of Directors approved a design that will put people on bikes between the curb and parked cars. The massive 9th and Division intersection will also get safety improvements like large painted curb extensions.

The upgrades would complement other bike and pedestrian safety improvements going in along Division, which becomes 13th Street as it runs beneath the Central Freeway.

SF’s first parking-protected bike lane on a city street was expected to be constructed this spring on westbound 13th, from Bryant to Folsom Street. SFMTA officials haven’t explained why that project has been delayed, though some of the other striping improvements included in the package have been implemented.

Altogether, the upgrades along Division and 13th, from the traffic circle at Eighth Street to Folsom, will create a continuous curbside westbound bike lane that could set a precedent for how low-cost redesigns can make dangerous SoMa streets safer.

“It’s turning out to be a really good cycling route,” Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich told the SFMTA board on Tuesday.

Plans for Division near Ninth and 10th include large painted bulb-outs and a installation of a missing sidewalk on Ninth. Image: SFMTA

Plans for Division near Ninth and 10th include large painted bulb-outs and a installation of a missing sidewalk on Ninth. Image: SFMTA

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[Corrected] San Jose Ave Bike Traffic Jumps; More Traffic Calming Goes In

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San Jose Avenue seen last June, just after bike lane upgrades and a road diet went in. Photo: Frank Chan/Flickr

Update 6/22: The SFMTA issued a statement retracting its report of a 651 percent increase in bike traffic on northbound San Jose Avenue in morning peak hours. We reported the statistic in an earlier version of this article.

Evening bike traffic increased by 62 percent on northbound San Jose Avenue after a traffic lane was removed and the bike lane was widened with a buffer zone a year ago, according to the SFMTA.

As part of the ongoing traffic-calming project, Caltrans last week also removed a highway off-ramp lane leading on to San Jose, a.k.a. the Bernal Cut.

The “incredible change” in bike counts reported by the SFMTA “shows the power of streets that make people feel safe,” SF Bicycle Coalition community organizer Chema Hernández Gil wrote in a blog post on Monday.

San Jose, which divides Glen Park and Bernal Heights, is the most direct route to downtown from southern neighborhoods like the Excelsior and Ingleside.

The SFMTA compared 72-hour bike counts on the Monterey Boulevard ramp, just before it merges on to northbound San Jose. The average bike counts were taken during morning peak hours in January 2014 and January 2015, according to SFMTA data [PDF]. [Update: The SFMTA said the bike counts included in that spreadsheet were not accurate. A new version is available in this PDF.]

The data was collected as part of a two-phase pilot project aimed at measuring how a road diet and better bike lane protection can help tame driving speeds and attract more people to commute by bike on San Jose north of Highway 280.

“San Jose Avenue has long been a pseudo-freeway with huge negative impacts on the surrounding areas due to over-the-top speeding,” said a statement from Supervisor Scott Wiener, who pushed for the safety measures. “This pilot program is designed to reduce speeds, improve neighborhood quality of life, and allow for diverse uses of the road, including both drivers and cyclists. The pilot also allows cyclists to safely use the bike lane, and an increase in cycling on San Jose Avenue is a good thing. I look forward to the results of the pilot and to having a safer, multi-modal San Jose Avenue for all users.”

When the first phase was implemented last June, the SFMTA and Caltrans removed one of three traffic lanes on northbound San Jose to match the geometry of the street’s southbound side. The leftover space was used to upgrade the existing narrow bike lane with a buffer zone and plastic posts to separate it from motor traffic.

As part of the second phase, Caltrans removed the second Highway 280 off-ramp lane last week, and will measure its effectiveness in bringing down excessive traffic speeds, along with that of other measures in the coming months. Caltrans added the second ramp lane in 1992 after the Loma Prieta earthquake, as a supposedly temporary measure to accommodate traffic re-routed away from freeway repairs.

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SFMTA Says It’s Just Getting Started on Protected Bike Lanes

Mayor Lee rides with SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director Tom Maguire (behind) and SFBC Executive Director Noah Budnick (right) on Valencia Street this morning. Photo: Volker Neumann, SFBC

City officials gathered for another Bike to Work Day rally at City Hall today to cheer for bicycling, celebrating a 206 percent jump in ridership since 2006, according to a new annual bike count released by the SFMTA today. There was the usual citation of bike traffic on eastbound Market Street at Van Ness Avenue: 76 percent of all vehicles between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. were bikes.

So, was it another feel-good event in lieu of action? Maybe not…

After significant wins at the ballot box in November, these Bike to Work Day festivities felt a little different. There was legitimate cause to believe the city will accelerate its progress on bike infrastructure.

In 2015, the SFMTA expects to implement or start construction on an unprecedented 23 miles of bikeway upgrades, Sustainable Streets Director Tom Maguire told Streetsblog. Then the real boom in bike infrastructure is expected to start in 2016, when “we’re going to look back and say, that was nothing.”

“We’re definitely going to be seeing more, better, and faster,” said Maguire. “That’s where we want go with the Bike Strategy.” As someone who helped deliver improvements at a rapid clip in New York City, Maguire’s word carries weight.

At the rally, Mayor Ed Lee touted the planned ten-fold expansion of Bay Area Bike Share and noted the need for “more sustainable ways to get around” as development and population increase.

“We are making it easier and safer to bike around our city with improved bike infrastructure and bike-share opportunities,” Lee said in a statement. “Biking isn’t just fun, practical and healthy; it also helps cut down on congestion. Every person on a bike is one less person in your traffic jam or fighting for a parking spot.”

A fine speech, but one that the mayor has given before without making the necessary decisions to back it up. It was only two months ago that Lee refused to say that protected bike lanes, which encourage bicycling and save lives, are more important than car parking.

Here’s the roster of officials who biked to City Hall this year along with Mayor Lee: SFPD Chief Greg Suhr, Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, and Supervisors Eric Mar, Mark Farrell, Julie Christensen, Katy Tang, Jane Kim, and Malia Cohen. Absent were Supervisors Scott Wiener, David Campos, Norman Yee, John Avalos, and London Breed.

What’s different this year is that voters sent some clear signals at the polls. “Every neighborhood in San Francisco is asking for safer streets,” said Maguire. “What the design looks like on every block is going to be different, but there were victories for Prop A and Prop B, [voters] defeated Prop L — it was proven at the ballot box. That’s the kind of momentum we want to go by.” Proposition L, a cars-first advisory measure, was funded last year by Lee backer Sean Parker.

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Santa Clara OKs Road Diet, Bike Lanes on “Ludicrously Overbuilt” Tasman Dr.

Even with two fewer auto traffic lanes, Santa Clara’s Tasman Drive could still carry more than twice the number of cars it handles during rush hour. Image: Google Maps

Santa Clara’s City Council unanimously approved a road diet last week on the city’s 1.5-mile section of Tasman Drive. Tasman, east of Great America Parkway, will have two of its six traffic lanes re-purposed for wide buffered bike lanes and permanent median fences to protect Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)’s light-rail tracks. West of Great American Parkway, where Tasman was has four lanes, only striped bike lanes would be added.

Tasman is “ludicrously overbuilt,” Cyclelicious author Richard Masoner wrote in a blog post the day before the vote. Masoner wrote at the time that the council seemed “reluctant” to approve the project at a meeting in late March. “There is literally no downside for this project no matter which mode of transportation you use, so what’s the problem?,” he wrote.

The council approved the project unanimously and without discussion last Tuesday.

At the March meeting, Council Member Patrick Kolstad asked if transportation planners would consider removing the Tasman bike lanes in 10 years if there are more cars to move. Council Member Lisa Gillmor claimed the road diet is “going to be a nightmare during traffic hour,” pointing to Pruneridge Avenue, where one of four traffic lanes was removed to add bike lanes in late 2011.

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Correction: Initial Upgrades on Polk Don’t Include Separate Bike Signals

Polk Street this week, where the SFMTA is striping interim bike lane improvements that don’t include separate bike signals. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Streetsblog erroneously reported last month that four Polk Street intersections would get signals to separate bike traffic from turning drivers by May. The signals are not in fact part of the first round of improvements on Polk.

I misinterpreted an announcement from the SFMTA that the initial upgrades would include “dedicated and separate space for southbound cyclists and right-turning vehicles.” I assumed this was a reference to intersection configurations in the final plan for Polk, which include separate bike signals. I apologize for the error.

Signals to separate curbside bike traffic and right-turning drivers are still part of the Polk plan, but the timetable calls for them to be installed during the construction phase beginning next year and wrapping up in 2017. The interim upgrades, which are being installed now, do not include the signals.

The short-term changes will stripe a bike lane between the through-traffic lane and a right-turn lane (like on 8th Street in SoMa). That will provide right-turning drivers a pocket to wait in instead of blocking the bike lane after merging across it. The striping is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

“The separated space on southbound Polk for right turning vehicles and through bicyclists is a measure the SFMTA was able to implement quickly to increase safety now,” said SFMTA Livable Streets spokesperson Ben Jose. “The improvement addresses the definitive and repeated right-hook crash patterns we see at southbound Polk and Turk, Eddy, Ellis and Geary.”

Installing the bike signals will “require complex technical work,” he said, which will be done in conjunction with sewer replacement. In total, pavement work on Polk is expected to take about a year.

“The final design will flip the vehicle right turn lane with the bike lane,” said Jose, “with a continuous bike lane running curbside at intersection approaches, where there will be a right turn signal phase for cars and a separated through phase for people biking.”

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Why Townsend Street Needs Protected Bike Lanes at 4th and King Station

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Anyone who uses Townsend Street’s eastbound bike lane to commute to Caltrain is sure to run into a litany of obstacles: Taxis, shuttles, private autos, and Muni buses obliterate the poor bike lane in the fight for curb space. (Much of the curb is reserved as a taxi stand.)

Sam McCandlish sent in this video, filmed by a friend of his, showing the chaotic scrum faced by bike-to-Caltrain commuters. The often-impassable conditions cause some people to resort to riding on the sidewalk. In 2011, the SFPD targeted sidewalk riders at the Fourth and King station while ignoring drivers blocking the bike lane.

In the video, a few Bay Area Bike Share users can be seen walking their bikes in the bike lane in the opposite direction to get through the mess. Fourth and King is the busiest bike-share hub in the city at peak commute hours.

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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