MTA Board Backs Plan to Eliminate Bike Lane at Market/Octavia

2328605113_579b1d1e77.jpgEastbound Market Street bike lane at Octavia

The Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors has unanimously endorsed its traffic engineer’s plan to remove the eastbound bike lane on Market Street at Octavia Boulevard despite pleas from cyclists and advocates who fear merging car and bicycle traffic will worsen conditions at the notoriously dangerous intersection.

"I just urge you not to do away with one of the few safety improvements for cyclists in San Francisco in the last two years," said Michael Borden, a 57-year-old bicycle commuter who was thrown ten feet off his bike when a driver in a van bolted into him while making an illegal right turn onto Highway 101. He suffered broken ribs and torn ligaments and it took him several months to recuperate.

"For me, this would be a huge step backwards. It feels like the safest part of my commute down Market Street now where you are walled off from the cars," Borden told the directors Tuesday. "It would really affect my decision to bicycle commute to work."

Since the touchdown ramps opened in 2005 on Octavia at Market, following the demolition of the Central Freeway, Borden and numerous cyclists have been hit by drivers making illegal right turns. It took several serious crashes, protests, media coverage and lobbying by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and Supervisor Bevan Dufty to get immediate physical improvements, which did not require court approval because it wasn’t part of the bike plan currently locked in an injunction.

The proposed change by MTA traffic engineer Jack Fleck must go before Judge Peter J. Busch, who rejected a similar request to modify the injunction last April and could do so again. This time, however, the MTA has provided more documentation in an attempt to back up its claim the change is needed.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed the latest request (download the PDF) in early December, to the surprise of bicycle advocates, citing 15 cyclist injuries and arguing immediate improvements were needed:

To most effectively prevent further automobile-bicycle injury collisions, city traffic engineers have recommended combining the currently separate automobile and bicycle lanes eastbound on Market Street approximately 120 feet before the Octavia Boulevard highway entrance. The new design, which is consistent with many intersections around the city, would designate a clearly marked shared lane for motorists and bicyclists so that they queue up in front of each other rather than side by side.

But SFBC Program Director Andy Thornley, who strongly opposes the plan, urged the Board to consider adopting a Planning Department blueprint that calls for a colored and raised bike lane at the intersection, which would slow cyclists and raise their visibility among drivers.

"MTA needs to be improving the right of way for bicyclists but it seems to be giving up before it’s done and I really hate to see this agency give up before they’ve done all the work that they could do or that they should do."

3178227458_49289438a0.jpgPlanning Department vision for Market/Octavia

 Directors, however, wouldn’t budge.

"Accidents are still happening," said Vice Chairman Tom Nolan. "It seems to be me this is a reasonable alternative to try."

"The issue here is has anything we tried worked? The answer is no," Director Bruce Oka said. "I’m reluctantly supporting this until we come up with a better solution and I don’t see any better solution."

SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum said she was shocked by the board’s action, especially considering there was no public or advocacy input.

"We’re not championing the status quo of that intersection by any means. We’re not saying what’s there is perfect or even great but what’s there is a start to great and what the Planning Department proposes after years, literally years, of public input and community discussion around this is enhancing the bicycle facility and adding on to the separate bike space, to the visibility for bicyclists."

Shahum wonders whether the city attorney’s request has to do with the city’s liability for the number of injuries at the intersection. Herrera’s office confirmed one lawsuit and at least one claim have been filed against the city by injured cyclists.

A hearing on the relief from the injunction before Judge Busch is scheduled for January 22nd.

Flickr Photo: Brian Brooks

  • Raised and painted bike lanes isn’t just the SFBC’s idea– the Planning Department unanimously approved the similar design in the Upper Market Design Plan in Oct. 2008. ( )

    See page 83 of their PDF for their proposals for their drawings including raised and painted bike lanes, large color-differentiated crosswalks, street plantings to reduce visibility of the freeway (and thus reduce likelihood of the illegal right turn), and cycle tracks for northbound Octavia bike traffic.

  • Greg

    Won’t this shared-lane design further encourage cars to make the illegal right turn? Now they don’t have to look out for bikes.

    What happened to Fiona Ma’s legislation for a camera to catch license plates of vehicles that make this turn? It seems that this approach, combined with the existing plastic bollards, would make the most sense.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Jack Fleck is an ignorant little man and the fact that he is able to propose and enact these types of changes is completely ridiculous. I’ll bet you $20 he’s never even been to that intersection at rush hour. His entire outlook on the city is predicated on studying books full of aerial photos dating from the 90s, as anyone who attends the Land Use and Planning subcommittee meetings can tell you.

  • Greg: Fiona Ma’s bill died in committee. Some folks took issue with creating a new use for traffic violation cameras beyond just red lights. Big Brother, yadda, yadda.

    I’d hope that we get it passed in the coming session, but this story just showed up on the internet and might prove tricky to prosecute camera violations in the future in light of this:

  • cbrinkman

    Very discouraging. The MTA board could have the dubious distinction of decreasing cycling on Market Street. Fewer cyclists = less safety. I hate shared lanes on Market St. This little stretch of buffered bike lane is the best part of my Mkt St commute, and now they want to get rid of it. Yikes, how many steps back do we have to take before we get some real leadership at the MTA?

  • kel

    I think the point about lawsuits is pretty valid.

    The city is looking at lawsuits because it can’t provide 100% protection against cars that are hitting people. In terms of bad faith, it seems pretty obvious. The city knows it’s current protection measures are inadequate…but is held back from providing more protection. Thus, I’m guessing the lawsuits against the city have a good chance of winning.

    What they are trying to do is create accidents a bit further back from the intersection — thus mitigating the chance the city gets sued. Instead, the driver/bicyclist sharing a lane will be much more of a traffic court matter than civil matter with the city.

  • This is completely lame.

  • jon

    Am I paranoid or is this the first step towards legalizing right turns onto the freeway? As Rachel Maddow would say, somebody talk me down please!


  • jim

    Ok…. So I’m a San Francisco native skater and cyclist and I pretty much think that anybody that blasts through that intersection is taking their life into their own hands. Don’t get me wrong…. I like risk as much as the next guy but it’s just stupid to think that someone else is responsible to watch out for my recklessness.

    I also don’t understand why they don’t just open up the right turn lane and be done with all the carnage. Then it’s like most other corners on Market where you have to merge in into the through lane to avoid the right turning cars. Anybody studied that? Compare 10th and Market fatalities with Octavia!

  • jon

    The problem with this plan and allowing right turns onto the freeway is that the environment becomes less inviting for the 50,000 San Franciscans who Pollster David Binder says would bike for transportation if they thought it was safe.

    More than anything else, there is safety in numbers. If only long-time bikers like you or me who are unafraid to take the lane feel safe the overall perception of danger increases for everyone else. And without everyone else on the road that perception is self fulfilling.

    Not to mention the other reasons we want more cyclists on the road….


  • Matt H

    Is there anywhere we can send our comments on this?

  • Usually Named

    Yet another idea by San Franciscans who know just enough (barely) to be dangerous shown to be worthless. California is the home of the right-turn-on-red, yet in a fit of stupidity, San Francisco is trying to make a right turn illegal where it makes the most sense.

    Unless you make *all right turns* illegal, you’re still going to have people want to make right turns at any intersection. Including this one.

    Gosh, this city is full of dumbass ideas. Bikers seem to be prone to have the most fanciful of them all.

  • Justin

    It’s true – people will make this right turn whether it’s legal or not. Making it legal only formalizes this action and makes it predictable, and we all know predictable = safer.

    Legal right turn or not, cyclists are going fast enough from the hill to be comfortable merging with traffic, especially if some signage encourages them to stay left of lane center until they enter the intersection. This is where they will be -most visible- to cars, whether those cars are turning right legally or not.

    The separate bike lanes give the illusion of safety; an illusion, since cyclists are still getting right-hooked at this intersection. If newer cyclists are discouraged from commuting because an ineffective safety measure is removed, then more outreach and education is the answer. Keeping this configuration in place or trying to buttress it further is stubborn and unsafe.

  • MikeF

    Remember when the freeway used to fly right over market street and merge right in to Fell? Then it was replaced at great cost for a slight improvement to Hayes Valley real estate. Also, I remember it being praised all around since we here in SF hate freeways so much that even a few hundred feet less makes us happy.

    The bicycle death trap is just the icing on and the cake and, just, God I don’t know what more to say.

  • One of the problem with blogs is they often become an arena for unsubstantiated speculation. Lots of people talk about how dangerous that intersection is but very little is said about the actual numbers. We know that there were lots of bicyclists getting hit when the MTA implemented their really poor original design (that the SFBC fought against). And then they improved the design a bit (thanks to the SFBC) and crashes decreased, and then after lots of foot dragging they finally improved the design to its current state (again, thanks to the SFBC). If you go to the intersection it is obvious that the problem is not nearly as serious as it was before. Yet the information that the MTA put out included statistics from the original horrible design.

    So who can provide some real numbers on the number of crashes for both before and after the latest configuration was put into place? Then perhaps we can have a more useful discussion on this issue.

  • anon

    A fair number of bicyclists consider bike lanes to be *more* dangerous than shared traffic. How does the new proposed design go over with *that* group of bicyclists? (There are entire organized bicyclist campaigns against bike lanes. They support fully separate bike *paths*, but not lanes which cross roads at grade — those seem to cause car drivers to ignore the bikes and run into them.)

  • Hi,

    this is one of the most hilarious street design changes I have ever seen a completely moronic and strange “solution” to the problem that actually seems to have been improved by the recent design changes. the change now seems to have the rather odd goal of de-warning about the danger of the intersection. the black and white striped sign. this is a warning/hazard sign.

    they want to take it out?

    the rationale is even weirder they want to make the intersection more dangerous so if someone turns illegally there it will be less dangerous? by taking out the barriers and warning sign….?

    the city can definitely be held liable for failure to warn and here they will likely be held liable for intentionally un-warning….

  • If you read the motion, the first one, the mta’s literal rationale, no not making this up, is that they are making the intersection more dangerous so it will be less dangerous. they don’t say exactly that but that is the idea. they are taking out the warning signs and barriers to create a merge movement so if drivers do decide to break the law it will be less dangerous because they planned for it.

    this is fundamentally strange and absurd. to understand why just transpose this rationale onto cars. any whacked out bike design can usually be more readily understood in this way. when do they make car designs more dangerous so they will be less dangerous?

    when do traffic engineers say we know there will be illegal movements here so we will make it easier to make illegal movements so it will be safer….

    as far as liability, the city is making itself more liable, much, much more liable by taking out the warnings. now they have identified the danger and warned about it. if they take the warnings out they are ignoring themselves, kind of like bike advocates arguing against themselves.

    the city knows now, it is on notice of the danger caused by third party negligence at this intersection, and it has done the right thing by warning about this danger…..

    if the city goes through with this the design will not protect from liability in design immunity because the danger, third party negligence is independent of the design, and in this case they not only un-did their own warnings about it but designed to accomodate the dangerous movement without making the movement legal. this means big time liability, wide open for failure to warn of known danger independent of the design (immunity).

    this is public comment and i’m not an attorney but the main case on this is cameron where the county knew the curve was dangerous but the specifics of the curve were not in the design hence no immunity, just like the city knows there is third party liability (bad drivers) who turn here but has gone and taken out its own warning on some half-baked attempt to get design immunity to cover the intersection…

    the third party law breaking is not part of the design so no immunity. how could it be? …this would be giving immunity to people breaking the law and to a city that had the depth of thought to help people break the law so it would safer if they break the law…

    removing the warnings will expose the city to liability

    that’s what’s really fun about writing about this stuff is that it is just so nutty once you break it down within the context of the way such things are looked at…

    but in sf this is never really a problem or actually is really a problem because this never happens…it is time to have another rally release another press release and continue on an all political approach that pretty much ignore the other branches of govt. and speaks in sound-bites, grovelling, guilt and the like never really saying sure you can do this if you want city but you are really causing yourself a problem…

    the city attorney and the mta, want to do the right thing, they need help, its is a weird convuluted area at times look at the los debacle…very wellintentioned people left to navigate a very specialized area with no help

    if advocates want to help the city they should help themselves by speaking clearly in the vocabulary at hand or they could help people who do by at least moving such speech with their very impressive publishing apparatus. until then let’s hire another coordinator and hope the blog percolates through or wait until we are talking about so and so smashed in the intersection they made more dangerous so it would be less dangerous in order to protect the city from liability while actually making the city extremely liable.

    if people want to stop this, they should get the Supes to resolve no, tell the mta no…bad idea…or just a cited letter and then this is done,

    regarding prop e, whateva, we’ll see who has the final say, just because the prop was extremely poorly concieved in that regard and put such decisions in the hands of appointees v. representatives, does not mean that is the way it is…

    as far as the city attorney…

    I’m not sure why they are off on such a misguided freaky kick, because they often do very good work and are very well intended…

    this likely has something to do with the absolute disconnect between sf advocates and legal thought, which leads to epic mutant disaster after disaster…..the city attorney has been ready to listen for years but the advocates just bring them stickers and blinky lights and stuff when they are trying to play law

    Removing the warnings will expose the city to liablility

    Removing the warning will expose the city to liability from know third party negligence and illegal movements. in cameron the county was held liable for known danger if failed to warn of independent of the design….the car flipped because of the curve. the aspect of the curve that made the car flip was no in the design

    here the city removed its own warnings. the illegal movmement is not part of the design because its illegal. on x day so and so was hit….in aknown illegal turning movmement here the city failed to warn by undoing its own warnings….

    the city failed to warn….

    you just fill in the blank with who was hit there….




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