When Will One of the City’s Most Harrowing Turns for Cyclists Be Improved?

Gillian Gillett, an aide to Supervisor Scott Wiener, makes the turn onto Valencia Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Outbound bicycle commuters wanting to connect to Valencia from Market Street, two of the city’s busiest bicycling routes, are forced to navigate one of the most challenging turns found anywhere in the city. A project waiting to be implemented in the Bike Plan would change that, making the left turn easier with accommodations riders might expect to find only in a cycling utopia like Amsterdam.

“Since the bike lane is all the way to the right-hand side, trying to maneuver yourself to the left with only hand signals, you have to become really aggressive,” said bike commuter Natasha Opfell. “Cars get aggressive back, but sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and bolt.”

In a regular evening rush-hour, hundreds of cycling commuters can be seen employing their sharpest cycling skills to navigate the turn, which requires crossing over two car-clogged lanes and a set of streetcar tracks into a third left-turn lane. Riders must then make the turn sandwiched between motor vehicles.

Riders merge into the left turn lane through an opening in the car traffic. Photo: Aaron Bialick

“It’s probably fine for expert bikers, but I think it’s really difficult for your everyday commuter,” said Patrick Marks, a former bicycle messenger who owns Green Arcade books located on the north side of the intersection.

He pointed out that it’s just one problem at the messy intersection of Gough and Market. “It’s a very complicated corner, people are also constantly making illegal turns everywhere and block the intersection,” he said. “Anything that will help calm that is good.”

The turn pocket is at the top center of this illustration. "Bicycle signal heads" would be installed at points "C" and "E". Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA plan [pdf] would facilitate the turn by creating a left-turn pocket and a traffic signal for bikes. The space for the pocket would be allocated from a small chunk of the sidewalk (currently a seemingly unused curb cut) and some of the existing bicycle lane.

Left-turners in the bike lane would keep right and slow down on approach to the waiting area. They would then line up to wait for the left-turn signal while riders proceeding straight would pass on the left. On a protected green light, riders would proceed through the intersection, crossing the rail tracks at a safe angle.

“It would be really convenient,” said Opfell. “I think it would greatly improve the high traffic volume from Market moving onto another high bike traffic street.”

The SF Bicycle Coalition’s (SFBC) Connecting the City campaign envisions physically protected, connected bikeways along the length of Market and Valencia, which already serve two of the city’s most vital routes.

“This would be a critical connection between two of the most heavily used bikeways in the city,” said SFBC Deputy Director Kit Hodge. “Right now, the turn poses a definite safety hazard with the tracks there.”

The project hasn’t been scheduled yet on the SFMTA’s list of upcoming projects, but because it requires concrete work by the Department of Public Works, it could be an outlier in the Bike Plan’s timeline.

“My main problem is disconnected bike lanes throughout the city,” said Opfell. “It just seems intuitive to make them connected.”

An example of the treatment seen in Roskilde, Denmark. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/16nine/4594418397/sizes/z/in/photostream/##Mikael Colville-Andersen##, ##http://www.copenhagenize.com/2010/05/bicycle-infrastructure-creativity-and.html##Copenhagenize##
The left-turn pocket would cut into the sidewalk near the far end of the curb ramp. Photo: Aaron Bialick
Some riders choose to make the left turn in a similar way that they would with the turn pocket by waiting on the right for a clearing in the traffic to cross. Photo: Aaron Bialick
Riders complete the turn into the Valencia Street bike lane. Photo: Aaron Bialick