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Posts from the "Bike Lanes" Category

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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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Bike to Work Day: Oakland to Demo Telegraph Protected Bike Lane, Parklet

A protected bike lane and parklet like this will temporarily transform the experience of traveling on Telegraph. Image courtesy City of Oakland, for illustrative purposes only.

A block of Telegraph Avenue in Oakland will get a protected bike lane and parklet for one day — Bike to Work Day, this Thursday. Bike East Bay and Walk Oakland Bike Oakland will set up the demo on the southbound side of Telegraph between 27th and Sycamore Streets, providing a taste of the transformation possible with the city’s plans to redesign the street.

The parklet will be one of many Bike to Work Day stations around the Bay Area where bike commuters can pick up goodie bags and fuel up on snacks and coffee. Visitors can also fill out a short survey about their experience riding the protected bike lane.

Whether protected bike lanes are made permanent in the Telegraph redesign will depend in large part on community feedback. You can weigh in on the project by checking out the proposed design options on the city’s website and downloading a comment card [PDF] to email to Jamie Parks of the Oakland Public Works Department by May 19.

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Polk Street Contra-Flow Bike Lane Opens to the Public

Cheryl Brinkman, Vice Chair of the SFMTA Board of Directors, rides the new Polk bikeway to City Hall for the first time. Photo: Stan Parkford.

City planners, politicians, and bicycle advocates gathered this morning for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony of the contra-flow bike lane on Polk Street, a two-block protected cycle track from Market to Grove Streets. Just in time for next week’s Bike to Work Day, the opening ceremony came after a decade of delays and a great deal of pressure from advocates like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, who were excited to see the critical connection opened to the public.

In attendance for the ceremony were District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, SFMTA’s Ed Reiskin and Cheryl Brinkman, Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum, and a large crowd of supporters. “The new Polk contraflow bikeway is a hallmark of complete streets that prioritizes comfort, connectivity and design,” Shahum said in a statement. “Though only a few blocks, this gorgeous bikeway offers a crucial connector between the business corridors of Market and Polk Streets, making it easier for people to get to work and shop at local businesses by bike.”

Shannon Dodge, who works in affordable housing development, echoed that this “small but mighty” project is a step toward San Francisco’s goal to design complete streets that are safe and convenient for the city’s most vulnerable street users.

The critical two-block connection comes with a wide planted median fully separating bicyclists from motor traffic, the first of its kind in San Francisco. The project also adds bulb-outs for pedestrians crossing Grove Street, green-painted bike lanes in front of City Hall and running south on Polk, bike signal lights at three intersections, and left-turn queue boxes on Market Street, directing bike traffic to and from the contra-flow lane.

The project, which was originally proposed a decade ago and was included in the SF Bike Plan, suffered various delays due to poor coordination and missed contract deadlines. Nuru of DPW, who oversaw the project, ensured that it was fast-tracked back in January, just in time for the twentieth anniversary of Bike to Work Day.

Excited advocates use the new left-turn queue boxes, which direct bicyclists to and from the Polk Street bike lanes. Photo: Stan Parkford.

Trying out the new left-turn queue boxes, which direct bicyclists to and from the Polk Street bike lanes. Photos: Stan Parkford.

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Standing Up to the Naysayers: Tales of Livable Streets Leadership From NYC

Re-shaping city streets almost always runs up against some level of opposition — it’s part and parcel of physically changing what people often see as their territory. Whether residents get to have safer streets, however, often comes down to the elected leaders who stand up to the naysayers.

When merchants fought a conversion of their block into a car-free plaza, New York City Council Member Danny Dromm won them over. Photo: Times Ledger

When merchants fought a conversion of their block into a car-free plaza, New York City Council Member Danny Dromm won them over. Photo: Times Ledger

In San Francisco lately, we’ve seen a lot of smart transportation projects get watered down or stopped without a supervisor or mayor willing to take a stand. In the absence of political leadership, city officials and agencies too often cave to the loudest complainers, who fight tooth and nail to preserve every parking space and traffic lane, dismissing the empirical lessons from other redesigns that worked out fine when all was said and done.

It’s not unusual for elected officials to be risk averse, but mustering the political courage to support safe streets and effective transit can and does pay off. Just look to the political leadership in New York City, where Streetsblog has covered several major stories involving City Council members (the equivalent of SF’s supervisors) who faced down the fearmongering and shepherded plazas and protected bike lanes to fruition.

These leaders suffered no ill effects as a result of their boldness. They were “easily re-elected” last year, said Ben Fried, Streetsblog’s NYC-based editor-in-chief. If anything, Fried says these politicians gained more support — not less — “because they had won over this very engaged constituency of livable streets supporters.”

In the battle over NYC’s Prospect Park West redesign, a group of very well-connected neighbors filed a lawsuit against the city for converting a traffic lane on the street into a two-way protected bikeway. City Council Member Brad Lander defended the project, which is now held up as one of NYC’s flagship street transformations.

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Friday: Opening Ceremony for Polk Contra-Flow Bike Lane

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The Polk Street contra-flow protected bike lane connecting Market Street to City Hall is set to be unveiled at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday at 11 a.m.

City officials will follow the event with a bike tour of recent streetscape projects, hitting various neighborhoods before returning to Civic Center. Get one of the few available spots while you can.

In addition to the contra-flow bike lane, the Department of Public Works has been painting the existing southbound bike lane green, as well as the northbound bike lane connection to McAllister Street in front of City Hall. The angled parking spaces along Civic Center plaza on that block were also converted to angled back-in parking. SFMTA staff said the agency couldn’t make that stretch of bike lane protected by placing it curbside (similar to the planned bike lane for two blocks of Bay Street) because electric car ports installed by former Mayor Gavin Newsom are in the way.

The ribbon-cutting will take place at Market and Polk Streets.