Brinkman Pushes SFMTA Staff To Install Fell Street Protected Bike Lane

Image: SFBC

The SFMTA Board of Directors today issued a directive to staff to move on installing a trial curbside protected bike lane on Fell Street between Scott and Baker Streets. SFMTA Director Cheryl Brinkman raised the issue at today’s board meeting, pointing out Mayor Ed Lee’s comments to Streetsblog last week that he would like to see a physically-separated bikeway on Fell Street happen “quickly.”

“We’ve now had two mayors in a row express their approval to fix this gap. Mayor Newsom, and now Mayor Lee, have said they really want to see this happen and that they want to see it fast-tracked,” Brinkman told directors.

She went on: “In the time of rising gas prices, I know we’ve got more people who want to move to bicycles. This can really help with our rush-hour transit crowding, because every person that we can remove from transit and not put in a private automobile would be fantastic for our health.”

Brinkman told Streetsblog that she would like to see the protected bike lane on those three blocks in place by the summer. As we wrote last week, that problematic stretch of Fell, which presents many dangers to bicyclists, links the popular Wiggle bike route with the multi-use Panhandle Park path for points farther west, as well as connections north and south.

In an interview with Streetsblog, SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director Bond Yee said installing a protected lane on the three block stretch of Fell “is doable,” but he would not commit to a date.

“Right now, I’m very cautious.  We’re looking at it from a sound level to see what’s exactly needed to get that done in terms of potential obstacles and resources, and we may require, you know, shuffling priorities around a little bit, but I’m pretty sure it’s doable,” he said.

Ultimately, bicycle advocates would like to see green physically-separated bike lanes from Scott to Stanyan on Fell and Oak, acting as a couplet for bike traffic.

Update: Leah Shahum, the SFBC Executive Director, issued the following statement after today’s SFMTA Board meeting:

“We applaud the City’s recognition of the pressing need to improve this important route that literally connects our city for a growing number of people bicycling. There really has been a significant boom in the number of people biking here — whether it’s people commuting between their homes in the western neighborhoods to their jobs downtown or families riding together to enjoy Golden Gate Park. There is strong community interest in making San Francisco a family-friendly place for bicycling, and this section of Fell and Oak Streets will go a long way toward welcoming more people of all ages onto their bicycles.”

  • This is great. But… seems to me the best configuration from scott to divis is for the bikeway is _not_ curbside, but out between the lanes going straight and those turning into the arco station or making a left on divis. Traffic coming down fell that wants to turn into the arco station or make a left at divis would have to get in the correct lane before crossing scott street.

  • Skip Pile

    While they are at it, the city should also look at the streth of Oak between Baker St. and Scott St. There are an increasing number of cyclist who are coming the other direction from the panhandle who could benefit from having a protected lane rather than trying to compete with the aggressive traffic around Divisadaro.

  • Mark Dreger


    Connecting the City does indeed suggest having a bikeway along Oak from Baker to Scott buffered by parked cars. Take a look, if you haven’t already:

  • taomom

    Thank you, Cheryl. You just sprouted Livable Streets Goddess fairy wings.


    p.s. But does this mean that the SFMTA would have done diddly-squat if you hadn’t been there bugging them to do it?

  • Nick

    Rather than discuss this yet again, is there anything practical we can do to show our support for this project?

  • Kevin

    Finally, some progress. Biking on Fell is terrifying during any time of the day, even with a bike lane.

  • Nick,

    If you’d like to get more involved in making these ideas a reality, you are welcome to come to the next WIgg Party Wiggle Transformers meeting happening March 7th at 7:30 pm at 1571 Fulton St. A couple reps from the SFBC will be there to dialogue with the Wigg Party about what the plan for Fell is, what other ideas we have for the Wiggle, and how do we make it happen. If you have any questions you can email me at

  • CBrinkman

    @Nick, to show your support it would probably be most helpful to send a polite supportive e-mail to your Supervisor and the MTA Board. I found the e-mails in support of the Market St right turns to be very powerful. When people explained why they biked, i.e. to work, to drop off at daycare, to take the kids to school, to run errands, it really made an impression on me and hit home the fact that cycling really is for anyone, given the correct engineering and encouragement. (2 of the five Es) And what a benefit more cyclists will bring in terms of health and environment and our ability to move people efficiently.

  • EL

    I really don’t see how a cycle track could be put here without either eliminating one lane on Fell, or eliminating parking on one side of Fell. I thought Mirkarimi was unable to do either the last time. If parking were removed on the south side of Fell, the “protection” no longer exists. If parking were removed on the north side of Fell, I think a lot more residents would be upset.

    If one lane were removed, wouldn’t that negatively impact the #16X? Cheryl – Is that a trade-off you’re willing to support?

  • mushmouth

    Riding those three blocks of Fell (or down Oak from the panhandle to Scott) has never been “terrifying”, and I ride it almost every week day, and have for more than 12 years (Lower Haight to Presidio). Also according to the Bay Citizens bicycle crash map, this is not a “dangerous” section of road. My own data is that I have never seen a bicycle down in the time that I have ridden it, however there are other parts of the city where I have seen multiple bicycle accidents due to poor design. How much time and money has been spent on this area? Wouldn’t those resources be better spent on actually dangerous areas?

    As for all of you who are “terrified”, if you wait for the lights to turn at Scott the traffic on Fell has a read and isn’t moving and you will arrive at Divis about the time the light changes, the cars beside you will now move at less than 20 mph as that is what the lights are timed at. If you are still terrified, there is always Hayes Street, or maybe you can just stay at home to avoid all of those dangers that exist outside.

  • Seven

    If one lane were removed, it would certainly negatively impact the busy 16X work commute. The result would be very predictable: many 16X commuters would likely jump on the already overstuffed N-Judah at rush hour.

    A frank discussion about the impact on 16X and N-Judah commuters needs to occur before removing a lane on Fell.

  • I would like to challenge the notion that this section of the Wiggle isn’t dangerous. Just because there aren’t many recorded accidents here (two in the last year and a half by Bay Citizen’s count) doesn’t mean this section isn’t dangerous.

    This section not only includes all of the inherent dangers of a standard bike lane (most notably the prospect of dooring), but also includes the danger of unaware drivers turning into the ARCO station or, even worse, sitting directly in the bike lane. Next to all of this is a constant stream of high-speed automobiles whose drivers are still in highway mode. Wouldn’t you consider a stretch of the bike infrastructure where one can easily imagine a scenario resulting in death dangerous?

    When you consider that this is nearly the only option for anyone wishing to travel to the west side of town on a bicycle, I can hardly imagine another project that would be deemed more worthy of our attention.

  • Nick

    Fell won’t be considered a dangerous street until a cyclist dies there. Do we really have to wait for this to happen? Did the City learn nothing from Masonic?

  • taomom


    I agree, all these people asking for bicycle infrastructure on the most heavily bicycle-traveled stretch of road are completely unreasonable. What a bunch of pathetic whiners! Complaining about car exhaust and noise and SUVs brushing by their elbows–don’t know they know this stuff is fun?

    The best way to deal with these nervous nellies is to tell them it’s all in their heads–they’re not really unhappy riding this stretch! They’re imagining it! Besides, anyone who can’t ride 20mph with the cars doesn’t deserve to ride a bike! These wimpy neurotics should cocoon themselves in their SUV and get on with their job of intimidating pedestrians and the elderly.

    The last thing we want to do is add infrastructure that might encourage women or children or anyone else who might ride a bike if it weren’t for the stress and imminent danger they feel on our roads. Danger is exciting! Stress is good! And by gosh, it’s what keeps the newbies out! By forcing all bicyclists to be vehicular cyclists, we can winnow numbers down to a select few, (the proud, the nervy) and keep San Francisco’s bicycle traffic share in the low single digits. What an achievement this will be! Congestion, pollution, asthma, and oil dependency–they’re all ours for the asking, we just have to focus on the desires of strong young men and completely ignore the wishes and needs of the majority of the population.

    Lastly, we must never, ever reduce car capacity in order to make bicycling safer and more accessible. Other cities have tried this and it leads to people getting out of their cars and riding their bicycles, which in turn leads to less congestion for the buses and cars that do travel. Now, since car drivers and bus riders enjoy the congestion we have and want it to remain at current levels, this is clearly undesirable. Even worse, without all the money leaving the local economy from the cars and oil purchased,local businesses might prosper and our unemployment rate might lower,when so many people are clearly enjoying their time off work. We should definitely do everything we possibly can to keep our city gridlocked with cars. What this city needs is a good coating of superglue and a pair of blinders for everyone so that nothing ever, ever changes and we don’t have to notice that other places have come up with solutions that have made their streets calmer and more livable and their populace healthier, wealthier and happier.

  • EL

    Seven wrote: “A frank discussion about the impact on 16X and N-Judah commuters needs to occur before removing a lane on Fell.”

    Absolutely. See this article on the Ocean Avenue bike lanes, which doesn’t even mention the mess the K-trains have to deal with now.

  • If the travel lanes are so important then remove the paking and keep the travel lane, or have it be a flex lane during the evening commute. But make the gas station folks que in the travel lane.

    I enjoy rubbing elbows with cars going 40 moh, but I don’t expect anyone else to. Toamom makes some great points (as always). If we want to increase accessibility and numbers then we need to create protected lanes.

    Still going back to that study on NYC streetsblog, cycling/ped/muni improvements have probably touched less then 2% of our road space. The earth will bot stop rotating if a lane of Fell is converted to biking, in fact it may be a bit more moderate in temp swings.

  • Will A

    Although I am normally for anything that makes an area more cycle friendly, I don’t understand why anyone in their right mind would want to ride on either Oak or Fell at anytime, on any day. As a cyclist, I find it much safer and enjoyable to ride one street over in either direction where the level of traffic is often less by a factor of 8 or more. As a driver using these streets for commuting, I am often frightened with how many close calls I see when people (usually more casual riders) whip into the existing bike lane on Fell, or attempt to take the right lane on Oak. Compounding this issue is the frustration which seems to build in many drivers when they have to pass a cyclist, which they often seem to do dangerously and offensively to try to get their point of anger across. It just seems like the smart and simple thing to do, would be to move the official bike routes one street over, to Hayes and Page respectively (but when have politicians ever made the simple logical choice *sigh*).

  • Sprague

    Will A:

    As has been pointed out numerous times on this blog, Fell Street provides the path of least resistance for the hundreds or thousands of cyclists who bike it daily. Just like a car driver opts for the most direct route, so, too, do cyclists (with some exceptions). And unlike automobile drivers, cyclists acutely notice grades and react accordingly. Our roads can accomodate cars and cyclists safely. They certainly are wide enough to allow safe travel for both modes of travel. In this compact city, it makes sense that those routes that follow the path of least resistance be used as bike routes and made as safe as possible, even if they happen to also be rather major motorways.

  • Katherine Roberts

    Sprague — I agree with this. The only way up to Page Street is via a pretty steep hill. I do take this route most of the time, but if I have heavy stuff in my pannier I just can’t make it. So I go the flat route through the Panhandle.

    The point is, we should all have these kinds of options in our everyday lives — that’s a hallmark of sanity in our existence. Being forced to make the same unsatisfactory choice over and over again because all other possible options are closed to you is not a healthy way to live. It also shows second-class citizen status. Why should we be treated as somehow less important than people who drive? The fact that Will A. even has to think like this shows some kind of inadequacy in basic city planning. All of our streets should be safe for all users, always. That’s the only democratic way to think about shared resources like street space.

  • EL

    mikesonn wrote: “If the travel lanes are so important then remove the paking and keep the travel lane, or have it be a flex lane during the evening commute. But make the gas station folks que in the travel lane.”

    History has shown that this area hates tow-aways – especially with the “traffic sewer” rhetoric. Weren’t all of the morning tow-aways removed on Oak? Putting 3 blocks of tow-aways on Fell would be a very hard sell for Cheryl, Mirkarimi, and the Mayor.

    So I ask a simple question: Is the 16X to be sacrificed?

  • El, what is the ridership of the 16X? What hours does it operate? Do you really care about the line or are you using to “guilt” transit advocates (which most, if not all, of us are) into leaving a mini-highway through the center of the city?

    Also, Masonic currently uses tow aways and Rob praises it as the best thing since sliced bread.

  • EL

    The outbound 16X leaves downtown between 4 and 6 pm on weekdays only. It replaced the 16AX and 16BX, which had their Sunset District destinations combined. And yes, I really do care about the line, since I ride it. And yes, the buses are packed (since everyone is trying to avoid the N-Judah). I don’t see any ridership numbers on the TEP site (since the line is new), but the outbound 16AX and outbound 16BX have a combined ridership of 700 passengers. Not bad for just 2 hours of service. Obviously, you don’t ride it since you don’t even know when it operates.

    So, mikesonn, as a “transit advocate”, the issue still stands. Is it to be sacrificed, or do you maintain the “traffic sewer”?

    I asked the same question about Masonic regarding the #43, and again, no one wants to answer it.

  • I don’t ride, nor did I claim to. I live in the NE part of the city, I don’t have an iron in this fire.

    I was arguing that the line doesn’t have to be “sacrificed” (not that it would anyway, but let’s humor you) if there is a flex parking lane. From 4-7pm there is no parking and there would be 3 travel lanes.

  • EL

    Thank you for “entertaining” me. Since I ride the 16X, it’s not so easy to play the “guilt the transit advocate” line, is it?

    Cheryl, Mirkarimi, and Mayor Lee will ultimately have to support an evening tow-away to avoid this sacrifice, or sacrifice the 16X to avoid the parking restrictions. If there is no tow-away, you can easily predict a lot of cut-through traffic on Hayes, which also screws up the #21.

  • How do I know you actually ride it? I’ve never heard you bring that up before and you comment pretty often.

    Maybe that flex lane could be turned into transit only. Then you’d have the opportunity to fly down Fell and really stick it to those saps on the N.

  • Couldn’t this easily be tested by experiment? We have NextBus and know exactly how long it takes each run of each bus to get from one point to another. Why not (on either Oak or Masonic) close a lane for a week or two and see what happens? (Maybe this experiment has already been accidentally performed during sewer construction or something like that, but I don’t know whether there are good records of when lanes were closed in the past.)

  • That’s a great idea Eric. No need to guess and point fingers. Nothing would be permanent. The man with the data comes through!

  • EL

    There’s no need to experiment. The whole street went to hell during the Divisadero sewer/beautifcation work, and followed again by the Fell repaving. And when someone double parks (like a moving truck) or a tree branch falls, it goes to hell again. Again, as a rider, I already saw all of that.

    And for me not bringing it up earlier, why would I have? None of the improvements in the past actually wanted a lane to be removed. The best that Mirkarimi could do the last time was a part-time tow-away leading to the Arco. To accomplish it over a 3-block stretch would be quite an achievement, and could only be dealt with if everyone pushes hard enough. Now that Mayor Lee and Cheryl are backing it, there’s a better chance (although I remain skeptical). I really didn’t see Newsom pushing for it. Did you?

    And btw, nice to see that a “transit advocate” calling N-riders “saps”.

  • Oh EL, I’m not the one looking down my nose at the N-riders.

    And fair enough, you didn’t have to mention it in earlier posts, but on this thread you could of mentioned it when you started to harp on Cheryl.

    How does Masonic currently handle the flex lane? Do those residents push back? Or are the ones on Fell just more feisty? Is that another one of your hunches? You should get paid for those.

    And Newsom didn’t push for much, except against expanding parking meter hours, which would actually help businesses. I don’t take much stock in what Newsom did or didn’t do, he was pretty clueless and had his sights set out of the city long ago.

  • triple0

    @EL: Every time I’m around Fell Street around 5:15, between the Arco Station backups and Ted & Al’s Tow trucks lined up bringing towed cars (from Divis PM Tow Away) into their garage.

    This effectively creates, basically, the same thing as a two-lane Fell Street each and every weekday for at least 30 minutes, and the 16X seems pretty OK.

  • EL

    Harp on Cheryl? It’s a valid question, and not one I would want to answer. You have a choice between:

    a) Putting in a tow-away, maintaining a “traffic sewer”, and helping the 16X, or
    b) Not putting in a tow-away to avoid a “traffic sewer”, but sacrifice the 16X in the process.

    Either scenario can make a “transit advocate” feel “guilty” as you put it.

    Regarding parking on Fell, it isn’t a hunch. It’s a fact. If parking loss wasn’t a concern for those residents, it would already be a 24/7 tow.

    Regarding parking on Masonic, a lot of the parkers are USF students. So there really isn’t much for the residents to complain about, since they’re not using the spaces anyway.

    Thank you for not looking down on N riders. I use it too (when I miss the 16X).

    triple0 – Yes, there are backups at Arco and the tow yard. But there’s a big difference between intermittent backups and having one in place full time.

  • “Regarding parking on Fell, it isn’t a hunch. It’s a fact. If parking loss wasn’t a concern for those residents, it would already be a 24/7 tow.”

    That’s quite the state, Masonic isn’t 24/7 tow…

    I think we should look up the dates of the Divis construction and see how the 16X did during that time frame.

    Also, I’m not saying that there should be a peak-hour tow-away. But if you feel so strongly about the 16X being negatively impacted, then that is something you should suggest.

  • EL

    “That’s quite the state, Masonic isn’t 24/7 tow…”

    And it’s going to become one. Thank you for proving my point.

    “Also, I’m not saying that there should be a peak-hour tow-away. But if you feel so strongly about the 16X being negatively impacted, then that is something you should suggest.”

    I will. Of course, you (conveniently) haven’t said there shouldn’t be a peak hour tow-away either.

  • EL,

    “Of course, you (conveniently) haven’t said there shouldn’t be a peak hour tow-away either.”

    How is the convenient? This isn’t me vs you. We are talking about options that may help mitigate any potential negative impacts on the 16X. I think Eric is onto something, let’s run a trial and use nextbus data to see the speeds prior to and during said trial. Then we’d have numbers that we can discuss instead of hunches and assumptions. The MTA has been very good about running trials.

    I don’t know how to do that myself, or I’d look up the time frame of the Divis reconstruction and see how the 16X faired.

    Is a flex parking lane even needed? Maybe the flex lane could be transit only for those two-three hours instead of reverting Fell back to 3 full lanes. However, as seen on Mission in SOMA on a daily basis, tranist lanes that are only during rush hour are rarely respected. Hell, look at 3rd from Townsend to Market and you’ll see a 24/7 transit lane that gets NO respect. But that is getting into SFPD and their lack of enforcement, another beast onto itself.

    I brought up using a flex parking lane because this project isn’t bikes vs the 16X (or on Masonic, it isn’t bikes vs the 43) and if your only opposition to this project is perceived impacts to the 16X, then let’s talk about some options that would address that.

  • Aaron Bialick

    I also think the impact of motor vehicle travel times would need to be studied, and whatever changes necessary to keep the 16x moving should be taken. I’m curious if congestion would be minimized with the timed-signal system keeping traffic moving at a steady pace. Perhaps two lanes would move nearly as smoothly (but more safely) with vehicle traffic re-arranging to fill in the gaps between the currently wider platoons into a longer line? And if not, let’s go for a (well-marked, well-enforced) peak-time bus lane.

  • Oak and Fell do have synchronized signals, with a cycle of six blocks for every 75 seconds, for approximately 25 mph.

  • EL

    “This isn’t me vs you.”

    What kind of reaction do you expect, when you:

    1) Doubted that I even rode the 16X, as if a failure to do so would automatically disqualify my comments and concerns.

    2) Questioned why I didn’t voice my concerns about the 16X sooner to your satisfaction.

    3) Suggested that I was trying to “guilt” transit advocates.

    4) Made sarcastic comments such as being paid for my “hunches” or “stick it to those saps on the N”.

  • Maybe you just need a hug.

  • Fitting Streetfilm on floating parking.

    I also think that PPW project for NYC is as close to Fell St for SF as you are going to get.

  • Here is the Streetfilm on the PPW bike lane.

  • Mutie

    I agree with this.  I think putting major bike thoroughfare and a major auto on the same street is a bad idea.  I don’t feel safe on a bike on Oak or Fell and avoid both.   Cars and bikes just don’t mix well.  The bike lanes ought to be on Hayes or Page.  It’s just safer for the cyclist.  And/or move the bike lanes into the park portion of panhandle itself.

  • If given the choice of this plan, or a Bicycle Boulevard on Hayes… I’d want Hayes.  Fell & Oak require far too much pig lipstick.  A true cyclist centered roadway would feel more comfortable, I feel, to the middle level rider (not the novice who’s riding once, not the 20 year veteran).

  •  A true bicycle boulevard like Bryant in Palo Alto would be dead end to cars every 3 blocks or so. I’d love it, but that would be an even heavier lift than doing whatever to Fell.


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