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After Three Years, SF Bike Injunction is Closer to Being Lifted

2410349521_dc1753df9a.jpgFlickr photo: dustinj

Three years after a judge prohibited any bicycle improvements in San Francisco, the MTA Board and the Planning Commission are expected to finally approve and adopt the EIR and the Bike Plan this week, and legislate at least 45 of the 56 projects, which could bring up to 34 miles of new bike lanes to the city, hopefully within the next fiscal year.

“This is a momentous time for bicycling in San Francisco, as the city is poised to nearly double the number of bike lanes on city streets,” said Leah Shahum, the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which is encouraging bicyclists to continue sending letters of support to the MTA Board, and to turn out at its special meeting Friday.

The SFBC has been working to ensure that all 56 projects move forward, with grassroots-style activism in each neighborhood, but at least 11 of the projects have been tabled for now. Several months ago, Streetsblog wrote about nine projects expected to be delayed, and two more were tacked on at a recent administrative hearing: Upper Market between 17th Street and Octavia Boulevard, and the Polk Street contra flow lane. 

Andy Thornley, the SFBC program director, is troubled that those two have been added to the list, which he claims is due mostly to NIMBY and merchant concerns over lost parking. The fuss on Upper Market is over the loss of 14 parking spaces. Thornley said the MTA is pretty confident it can find replacement parking at a garage north of Market Street, but has shelved the project for now until it's able to fully address the concerns.

"Market Street is such an important street for moving people on foot or on bike or on transit, that we really can’t afford to be storing cars in that space. So we’ll keep pushing on that, but the effect is that on June 26 the MTA Board of Directors won’t be deliberating whether to legislate parking conversion on that part of Market Street; we expect to see it come back to them in a second package very soon afterward."

In the case of Polk Street, many bicyclists have long wanted a safe, expedient way to connect to Polk Street from Market, but a project in the Bike Plan to create a contra flow lane that would run northbound on Polk against southbound automobile traffic is being delayed because of concerns from Bill Graham Auditorium officials, who are apparently worried that trucks hauling show equipment would no longer be able to stage and queue up on Polk. 

"Right now there is bike traffic that’s riding up north on Polk on the sidewalk, which is naughty and dangerous for pedestrians," said Thornley. "Or cyclists who are law obeying will overshoot and turn on Larkin and that’s quite an overshoot and then double back on Grove and then go north on Polk Street."

Wade Crowfoot, the Mayor's director of climate protection initiatives, said even though that project is not on the MTA Board's agenda Friday, he believes a solution can be worked out.

Thornley said although "the chickens won't be hatched" until Friday, he is generally pleased that the MTA staff is recommending approval of most of the projects, and felt particularly victorious that the 2nd Street bike lanes -- which represented an internal MTA battle over modes -- were approved at an administrative hearing.

He credits the work to grassroots organizing on the part of SFBC volunteers: "We’ve had hundreds of members talking to thousands of neighbors and merchants and walking around neighborhoods all over the city, not only doing classic old school organizing and canvassing, and very effectively, but some fairly nuanced and sophisticated planning work, if you will."

He added that the projects that are coming to the MTA board "have in many cases really been improved by the on-the-ground experience that we’ve brought with the outreach that our volunteers have done."

Although excitement is building for Thursday's Planning Commission meeting and Friday's MTA Board meeting, it is tempered by uncertainty over when implementation will begin. For starters, bicycle advocates are anticipating that someone will appeal the EIR to the Board of Supervisors, which will drag out the process even further. Judge Busch can't consider lifting the injunction until that issue plays out. 

But when it is lifted, Crowfoot -- who has been working with the MTA and DPW on the implementation schedule -- said the Mayor wants to get all of the projects "done as quickly as possible," at least in the next fiscal year. The MTA has said it could take up to three years to fully implement the Bike Plan.

"The challenge is that some of the funding for the 60 projects is in out year budgets -- TA capital budgets and operational budgets. And so we're exploring whether we can actually front money to do more of the work earlier on," said Crowfoot.

"We don't just want to do the smallest projects so that we can say we're getting like 14 or 15 out of the gate. We want to do meaningful ones," he added.

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