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Posts from the "Bike Lanes" Category

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Protected Bike Lanes Grow in CA as Cities Face Down Old Concerns

A protected bike lane in Long Beach, California. Photo: Allan Crawford

More and more California cities are looking to bring protected bike lanes to their streets, and a growing body of research showing the benefits they provide are giving city leaders a stronger case in the face of opposition to change.

The demand to make streets better for walking and biking is clear: local jurisdictions in California applied for more than $1 billion in funds from the state’s Active Transportation Program to build bike and pedestrian projects, triple the amount of funding available for the program.

Protected bike lanes, also known as protected bikeways or “cycletracks,” are lanes set aside for people on bikes, separated from motor traffic by physical barriers such as curbs, planters, or parked cars.

A bill currently in the California legislature, A.B, 1193, would remove some state-imposed barriers to building protected bike lanes by requiring Caltrans to establish design guidelines for them, which currently don’t exist. But even without Caltrans guidance, several cities are already building protected lanes, including Long Beach, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and even smaller cities like Alameda and Temple City.

To earn approval from Caltrans, some of these projects have been legally categorized as “experiments,” built with easily-removable materials. This has also given planners some leeway when faced with objections from people who fear the street design changes.

A year after Long Beach installed protected bike lanes on the one-way couplet of Broadway and Third Streets, the city published a study [PDF] that found numerous benefits from the project. Crash rates decreased for all street users, bicycling and walking increased, and vehicle traffic slowed down. There was no increase in congestion, even with the removal of a traffic lane.

These findings are in line with a recent landmark study of protected bike lanes around the country, which provided new statistics showing that wherever they are implemented, they make nearly everyone on bikes and on foot feel safer and increase bicycling. In San Francisco, protected bike lanes on Market and Fell streets contributed to big jumps in bicycling; cyclist counts were up 43 percent and 50 percent on those streets, respectively, in the year after the lanes went in.

But since protected bikeways often remove a traffic lane and/or parking, cities still meet resistance from residents and merchants who fear that removing parking will hurt businesses, and that removing a traffic lane will worsen car congestion.

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Protected Bike Lanes Bill Passes CA Senate Transportation Committee

The “Protected Bikeways Act,” A.B. 1193, passed the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Thursday on a 10-0 vote, despite opposition from some quarters. The bill must still be approved by the full Senate and Governor Jerry Brown.

A protected bike lane in Temple City. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The proposed legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would compel Caltrans to create guidelines for protected bike lanes, a type of facility that is not currently allowed under California law.

A second measure in the bill would give local jurisdictions — cities and counties — the freedom to follow Caltrans standards for bicycle infrastructure or to choose some other guidance. Currently all bicycle infrastructure in California must adhere to Caltrans standards, whether it’s built on state highways or local streets. There are a few limited exceptions to this, generally through cumbersome experimental processes, but overall Caltrans’ antiquated standards have limited implementation of infrastructure that has proven safe in other states and other countries.

“This comes down to an issue of local control,” said Ting. “Cities have control over every aspect of their streets except when it comes to bikes.”

Supporters at the hearing included representatives from Napa County, the city of San Jose, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office.

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SFMTA to Add Bike Lane Buffer on Howard, Fix at Folsom On-Ramp

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Howard Street’s bike lane will be widened with a three-foot buffer zone this year. Photo: Frank Chan/Flickr

The SFMTA plans make upgrades to the Howard and Folsom Street bike lanes, a couplet of one-way bike routes that run through SoMa. A section of Howard will get a three-foot buffer zone added to its bike lane, as well as painted sidewalk bulb-outs. On Folsom, an intersection with the Bay Bridge on-ramp at Essex Street will be re-configured with a new bike traffic signal.

On Howard, the three-foot-wide bike lane buffer will come from narrowing the street’s three traffic lanes, one of which is about 15 feet wide, down to roughly 11 feet, SFMTA staff said at a community meeting yesterday. That differs from last year’s pilot project on parallel Folsom, in which one traffic lane was re-purposed to expand the skinny bike lane to 10 feet, including a buffer zone.

The Howard project can be implemented this year, much more quickly than most bike lane projects because the SFMTA won’t remove traffic lanes and thus incur a lengthy environmental review, said SFMTA Livable Streets Section Leader Darby Watson. The inner section of Howard east of Sixth Street, however, is narrower, and traffic lane removal would be necessary. Watson said that the SFMTA plans to look at improving that section next year.

A handful of painted sidewalk bulb-outs, similar to those installed on Sixth Street, will also be added at corners on Howard at Sixth and Tenth Streets, to slow drivers’ turns. SFMTA staff noted that they won’t include fixtures within the painted bulb-outs, like the boulders and concrete planters that were placed in the painted bulb-outs along Sixth Street in November. In fact, those fixtures will be removed, since they’ve been trashed and are too costly to maintain.

The Howard improvements are branded as one of the 24 Vision Zero projects the SFMTA pledged to implement over 24 months. “These are targeted improvements to help safety where we know there are a lot of collisions,” said Neal Patel of SFMTA Livable Streets.
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CA Senate Committee to Consider Protected Bike Lanes Bill Tomorrow

A key hearing will be held in Sacramento tomorrow on legislation that would pave the way for more California cities to build protected bike lanes, also known as “cycle tracks.”

Legislation by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-SF) aims to make protected bike lanes, such as this one in Long Beach, more common throughout California. Photo: Gary Kavanagh

Currently the California Highway Design Manual does not allow protected bike lanes, and state law requires local jurisdictions to follow Caltrans specifications for bicycle facilities on all roads, not just state-controlled highways. No such requirement exists for any other type of street infrastucture — just bicycle facilities.

A.B. 1193, the “Safe Routes for Urban Cyclists,” from Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would require Caltrans to develop standards for bike lanes that are physically separated from motor traffic. At the same time, the bill would permit cities to opt out of using Caltrans specifications for bike facilities on local streets and roads.

The legislation follows the spirit of a recommendation from the recent State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) report on Caltrans that Caltrans “support, or propose if no bill is forthcoming, legislation to end the archaic practice of imposing state rules on local streets for bicycle facilities.”

Caltrans recently complied with another SSTI recommendation when it endorsed design guidelines for bicycle infrastructure from the National Association of City Transportation Officials. However, while that endorsement adds some tools to the toolkit for planners, the NACTO guidelines are not yet included of the California Highway Design Manual, which local jurisdictions are still bound to.

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Why Sharrows Don’t Cut it: Even SF Bike Safety Instructor Bert Hill Got Hit

When a driver rear-ended Bert Hill, he was using all of the safe bicycling techniques in the book — after all, he’s one of the most heavily-consulted bike safety instructors in San Francisco. Hill even had a major role in the SFMTA’s new video for Muni drivers on how to share the streets with people on bikes.

Nonetheless, a driver rammed Hill from behind on May 31 around noon as he was pedaling west on Bosworth Street in Glen Park, which has no bicycle infrastructure except for sharrow markings. Hill suspects that the driver was distracted — how else could a motorist unintentionally ram straight into a bicyclist from behind?

“There’s no reason why it could be anything else,” Hill told KTVU in a report this week. Hill says police also told him the driver didn’t have a license.

“I got out of it with a lump over my right eye, a sprained wrist, bruises, some road rash, sore shoulder and something going on inside my hip,” Hill, the chair of the SF Bicycle Advisory Committee, told Streetsblog. “I’m happy to say that I am very fortunate, and that other than a slight limp, am doing quite well. I can’t say as much for my trusty Univega” bike.

Hill’s crash flies in the face of assertions from vehicular cycling advocates that bicycling is perfectly safe on streets designed for cars first, and without any protected bike lanes, as long as people on bikes do their best to “drive” their bike like they would a car — and in particular, always riding in the center of a lane that’s too narrow to be shared. It’s a philosophy that could only make sense among the few people, mostly adult men, who are adamant bike riders and feel comfortable keeping pace and mixing it up with cars.

Meanwhile, a growing body of research shows that protected bike lanes in North American cities not only increase bicycling rates by an average of 75 percent in their first year alone, drawing from the many “interested but concerned” bicyclists. Protected lanes also reduce the risk of injury by up to 90 percent.

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Northbound San Jose Ave Goes on Road Diet, Gains Buffered Bike Lane

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Photo: SF Bicycle Coalition

The northbound side of speed-plagued San Jose Avenue north of 280, a.k.a. the Bernal Cut, is getting a road diet and buffered bike lane that matches the geometry of the street’s southbound side. SFMTA crews were out today, re-striping the road and installing plastic posts in the buffer zone.

Photo: Spencer Goodwine

The change is far overdue for neighbors who have pushed for traffic calming along the Bernal Cut for decades, particularly since Caltrans invited more speeders to the street by adding a 280 off-ramp lane over 20 years ago.

“The San Jose pilot is the result of decades of community organizing around making the Bernal Cut safer for everyone,” said Kristin Smith, communications director for the SF Bicycle Coalition. She noted that the improvements “will make this critical part of our North-South Route safer,” contributing to the SFBC’s Connecting the City vision of a citywide bike route network safe enough for anyone age 8 to 80 to use. “We look forward to seeing following improvements in the area.”

The bike lane upgrade is the first part of a two-phase pilot project, which was originally supposed to start construction in March. By reallocating one of San Jose’s three northbound traffic lanes to a wider bike lane and buffer zone, the SFMTA hopes to bring the number of drivers traveling faster than 35 mph down to 15 percent or less. If traffic speeds don’t drop below the target, Caltrans will remove the off-ramp lane that it added in 1992, in order to accommodate traffic re-routed away from Loma Prieta earthquake freeway repairs.

Currently, San Jose has a speed limit of 45 mph, and 15 percent of drivers travel faster than 48 mph. On the off-ramp, that number is 57 mph.

Spencer Goodwine came across the street construction on his bike ride to work, finding the entire northbound side of San Jose closed to cars. “It was pretty awesome getting all three car lanes to my self,” he said.

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Fell Street Bike Lane Still Popular Among Bike Commuters, Parked Trucks

Ted and Al’s Towing trucks are routine sights in the Fell Street bike lane. Photo: Patrick Traughber/Twitter

The more than 1,800 people who use the buffered, curbside bike lane on Fell Street every weekday continue to be faced with a familiar hazard: parked trucks.

Photo: Gisela Schmoll

As we’ve reported, drivers, including SFPD officers, routinely park in the Fell bike lane with impunity. The vast majority of violators appear to be accessing three businesses on Fell between Divisadero and Broderick Streets: Ted and Al’s Towing, Bank of America, and Falletti’s Foods (which is actually around the corner and has a loading area). Drivers also line up along the curb in front of the Arco gas station at Divisadero, but the SFMTA made that queue legitimate by re-striping the section in 2010.

“It is so bad that frankly, there may as well be no bike lane as almost every time I ride or walk past here I see someone parking in it,” bike commuter Gisella Schmoll wrote in an email to D5 Supervisor London Breed.

Schmoll said the “worst offenders” are Ted and Al’s Towing trucks, whose drivers “are clearly not loading or unloading; often the driver is just sitting in their truck.” As a regular user of the Fell bike lane, I can also attest to that.

As reported in a nationwide study of protected bike lanes released this week by Portland State University, bike traffic on Fell increased 46 percent in the first year after the bike lane was upgraded from a skinny door-zone lane to a wide, curbside, buffered lane. All car parking along the south sides of Fell, and its one-way counterpart Oak Street, was removed for three blocks to make room for the bike lanes. The SFMTA tracks bike traffic on Fell with an in-ground sensor, and its data are posted online every day.

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Why SF Should Strive to Replicate the Polk Contra-Flow Protected Bike Lane

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A family rides the new Polk Street contra-flow bike lane to City Hall on Bike to Work Day. Photo: SFBC

On the two southernmost blocks of Polk Street, between Market Street and City Hall, the new contra-flow protected bike lane creates a unique street layout for San Francisco. For the first time on a downtown street, people on bikes are accommodated in a way that people in cars are not. Bike traffic goes both ways, while cars only go one.

It’s one of several ways in which this short stretch is more powerful than the sum of its two blocks. The Polk contra-flow lane is the best segment of bicycle infrastructure in San Francisco, acting as a real-world showcase of what’s possible for a citywide network of high-quality bicycle routes.

The Polk contra-flow lane is “a game changer, without a doubt,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “People can now see with their own two eyes and ride on what is a model for a great bike facility. We don’t have to theorize about what could be, or show pictures of European cities. We can literally look at what is a well-designed, inviting and safe bikeway that lives up to the ’8-to-80′ promise that city leaders have committed to.”

The new bike lane is the first to be separated from motor traffic with a concrete planted median, with parking spaces acting as an extra buffer at some spots. It features bicycle traffic signals, green paint for high visibility, and clear pavement markings at the Market Street intersection to guide bike commuters to the entrance.

Where the protected bike lane ends at Grove Street, and two-way motor traffic returns, riders aren’t totally thrown back into the fray, either. A green bike lane segment was added across the front of City Hall, and it was made safer with car parking re-configured to back-in angled parking. This treatment goes to McAllister Street, where the rest of Polk is being re-designed as a separate project.

“They’re now seeing those bread crumb trails, where they can get from point A to point B,” said Tim Papandreou, the SFMTA’s director of strategic planning and policy. Papandreou is overseeing the development of the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy, a guide for the city’s next generation of bicycle improvements.

The SFMTA created a metric called “Level of Traffic Stress” to measure the quality of bike route segments. It is based on how easy and comfortable a bike route feels for the average person. The Polk contra-flow lane is a prime example of “LTS 1,” the lowest level of stress, meaning the street is considered to be accessible by San Franciscans of all riding abilities, says Papandreou.

“When we point now to Level of Traffic Stress 1, comfortable cycling for everybody, that’s exactly what we’re talking about,” he said. ”With the will of the leadership, and funding, we can do more of that.”

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Oakland’s Telegraph Gets “Pop-up” Protected Bike Lane on Bike to Work Day

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan rode on the “pop-up” bikeway, looking very happy. Photo: Dave Campbell, Bike East Bay

Yesterday, on the Bay Area’s 20th Bike to Work Day, Bike East Bay and Walk Oaklad Bike Oakland demonstrated what a block of Telegraph Avenue would look and feel like with a parking-protected bike lane. Without help from the city’s Public Works Department (but with city approval), the two advocacy groups created temporary bike infrastructure by painting green lanes and bike stencils, putting down planters, and turning the adjacent traffic lane into a parking lane.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was joined by City Council Members Rebecca Kaplan, Dan Kalb, and Lynette McElhaney, as well as several city planners and engineers on a test run of the lanes, all of whom generally gave it a big thumbs up. One city engineer, after riding the lane, said, “I want this, right now!”

Mayor Quan said “this demo is very helpful to see what Telegraph Avenue could look like with a protected bikeway,” according to a press release from Bike East Bay. “I’m very interested in seeing how the project develops.”

Quan rode from MacArthur BART station on a borrowed bike from Bay Area Bike Share to celebrate the system’s expansion into the East Bay expected next spring. “Oakland is regularly ranked in the top 10 U.S. cities for the percentage of our commuters who cycle, and we’re committed to maintaining that leadership role and building on our successes,” she said in a statement, noting that she lobbied for the BABS expansion.

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Bike to Work Day at City Hall: Who Really Gets the Need for Safer Streets?

Another year, another Bike to Work Day press conference at City Hall. As city officials ride to the podium, the event serves as a bellwether of the city’s political commitment to making city streets safe enough for everyone to bicycle, regardless of age or experience.

Supervisor Scott Wiener led in calling for safer streets for bicycling at City Hall today. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

The mayor, most of the supervisors, and the heads of SFMTA, SFPD, and the Department of Public Works generally stuck to the usual pro-bike rallying calls, endorsements of Vision Zero, and talking up the importance of the transportation funding measures headed to the ballot. But Supervisors Scott Wiener and Jane Kim stood out with some more concrete and thoughtful remarks on the state of cycling.

Wiener gave the most frank assessment of the sorry state of many San Francisco streets, city officials’ role in fixing them, and the press conference ritual itself:

We gather here once a year, all of us elected officials and department heads, we get up here and we talk about what’s gonna happen and how we need to make this city safer, the streets safer, better for biking and walking and uses by everyone. But you know, it’s not about the words everyone says. It’s about the actions. And the actions are really, really hard sometimes. And it’s up to you, the residents of this city, to hold all of us elected leaders and our departments accountable to make sure that we’re not just saying things at press conferences, but actually doing the hard things.

D6 Supervisor Kim elicited applause when she called for protected bike lanes on dangerous street in her district: the length of Polk, Second, Sixth, Folsom, Howard, and Turk Streets, and Golden Gate Avenue. Kim said she wants to see them within the next ten years.

Supervisor Jane Kim riding to City Hall with an SFBC staffer on Howard Street in SoMa today. Photo: Jane Kim/Twitter

“Folks like me are not gonna get on their bike unless they know they’re going to be able to do that safely,” Kim said, recounting her recent experience of learning to bike in her district. “As we think about what urban planning means, as we think about what it means to grow smart-growth neighborhoods, we have to figure out how to get people out of their cars and onto their bike. For me, that is my commitment to my city and my district, to be one less vehicle on the road.”

Compared to 20 years ago, when Bike to Work Day started, bike advocates have come a long way in winning political support. Last week, city officials unveiled the new contra-flow protected bike lane on two blocks of Polk Street, connecting Market Street to City Hall — arguably the highest-quality piece of bike infrastructure in the city, despite its short length. As the Bay Guardian’s Steve Jones wrote this week, “Building high-profile, separated cycletracks to the steps of City Hall seems to symbolically mark the arrival of cyclists into the political mainstream.”

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