Neighborhood Outreach Continues for Fell and Oak Bikeways

One option for a bikeway on Fell Street presented to neighborhood associations by the SFMTA. See the rest ## this pdf##.

Fourteen years of community-driven efforts to improve conditions on Fell and Oak Streets around the Panhandle are finally paying off. The outreach continues on a vision for separated bikeways that would provide San Franciscans safe access to the flattest route connecting the western neighborhoods to areas east while making the neighborhood more livable for residents and businesses.

For some fifty years, the city has chosen to prioritize automobile storage and speed on Fell and Oak, which serve as one-way, multi-lane residential freeways with car parking lanes on either side. The street invites over 30,000 daily drivers [pdf] (in each direction) to motor through the neighborhood while imposing a dangerous three-block gap for bicycle commuters on the Wiggle route and the Divisadero commercial corridor.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC), which represents 12,000 members, has surveyed [pdf] nearly all of the businesses along the three blocks of Fell and Oak between Scott and Baker Streets to field initial opinions on a bikeway proposal. Of the three options presented, the survey found most merchants were unsure whether replacing a parking lane, a travel lane, or using a peak-hour tow-away lane would be the best option.

“Only one respondent was explicitly against the project, while most were not against it as long as attention was paid to the concerns, and some were even supportive of the project with no concerns,” the survey said.

In June, Mike Sallaberry of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Sustainable Streets Division said the bikeway would go in as a trial next summer and made it clear that the agency wants to do its community outreach “correctly and diligently.” This week, SFMTA staff held community meetings with the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA), the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association, and the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association.

“There was consensus that the process has to be as public and open as it can be,” said NOPNA President Jarie Bolander. “The SFMTA said, of course, that’s what they’re gonna do. In general, people were optimistic and hopeful that they could then get a safer area for both pedestrians and bicyclists and even cars.”

Bolander says there has long been a strong drive among the neighborhood and merchant groups along the Wiggle to make the streets safer and more inviting for people, and that a safe bikeway would be key to reaching those goals.

“For us, we don’t see this as car vs. bike or car vs. pedestrian, we see this as an opportunity to make these neighborhoods that are connected by the Wiggle have more of a destination feel,” said Bolander. “When people walk around and they feel safe, and it’s a destination to come to, they’re going to spend more money – neighbors, tourists, people from around the city.”

Remy Nelson, president of the Divisadero Merchants Association and owner of Mojo Bicycle Cafe, said that although he is in strong support of the bikeway, members of the group have yet to voice strong opinions about it either way.

“I think there’s something to be gained by people traveling more slowly in a commercial district,” said Nelson. “It makes them stop, it makes them come and visit things more easily.”

NOPNA’s spring newsletter this year [pdf] featured a front-page article written by Bolander lauding the proposal, which is a key part of the SFBC’s Connecting the City vision.

Here are some selected excerpts from Bolander’s piece:

San Francisco is without a doubt one of the most socially integrated cities in the United States, if not the world. A new plan, if implemented, may make it one of the most topographically integrated urban centers as well — with our own neighborhood playing a primary role.

For NOPNA, this plan could be an exciting development. Our collective vision of a revitalized Panhandle encompasses needed repairs, including better paths, more seating and improved playgrounds. A separate Oak-Fell bikeway would provide the needed incentives to make those repairs happen…

Finally, pedestrians play a vital role in road use planning. They are among the most vulnerable users of our roadway infrastructure. When a car swerves to avoid hitting someone, it frequently jeopardizes the safety of other vehicles that, in turn, swerve to avoid hitting it. This chain reaction can snarl roadways and endanger everyone. Safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure helps reduce this danger.

Looking beyond our own area, the prospect of improving safety on San Francisco’s streets and sidewalks and connecting them with bicycle routes coincides with NOPNA’s goal of making our own neighborhood more livable and sustainable.

Connecting the City is a bold plan that provides San Francisco with an opportunity to meet the transportation demands of the one million people who are expected to be living and/or working here in the coming decade. Introducing an integrated bicycle and pedestrian network will change how we get to work, shop and ultimately live in this great city.

Just how the project would look will be determined through the SFMTA’s outreach, but replacing a car parking lane appears to have fewer obstacles than reclaiming a travel lane. While some car-owning neighbors have complained that there isn’t enough free parking to go around, the parking lot at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) on Baker between Fell and Oak recently opened its roughly 120 parking spots to the public after-hours. The two parking lanes on the three blocks of Fell and Oak in question store roughly 80 cars.

“There are other parking options that have come up,” said Nelson. “The times when parking is the biggest issue is at night, so freeing up the entire DMV lot makes a difference, we just need people to know about it.”

Bolander pointed out that a bikeway would help motorists as well.

“When traffic calming measures are in place, they will be much safer, bicyclists will be much safer, and pedestrians will be much safer,” he said.

An ## intern informs drivers## of changes to keep the bike lane clear last year. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Replacing a travel lane would likely trigger a longer environmental review process and seems to bring about fears among some critics that there would be unfettered car congestion. Even if the bikeway were to replace a travel lane, Bolander says the trade-offs outweigh any predicted delays and is optimistic they could be mitigated.

“With the plan that we’ve heard of from the MTA, they could mitigate some of the issues related to narrowing the lanes,” he said. “They could time the lights differently so that the flow of traffic during peak times can continue as it has been.”

Past cases have shown that reducing road capacity, particularly in favor of more travel options, usually results in a reduction in car travel demand.

Bolander also stressed that extending the bikeways along the Panhandle west of Baker Street would provide a cycling alternative to the crowded Panhandle path and calm motor traffic by replacing the excessive fourth travel lanes on that stretch of Fell and Oak.

“We’ve had some challenges with the sharing of bicycles and pedestrians,” he said. “With bicyclists having a dedicated lane on the street, it frees up the Panhandle for walkers and joggers and moms with their strollers to enjoy the park.”

"Seniors and people biking rally for a safer Fell Street." Photo: San Francisco Observer via SFBC

Community efforts to improve the three blocks of Oak and Fell between Scott and Baker are nothing new. On its website last week, the SFBC laid out the timeline of community-driven initiatives and talks with the SFMTA that date back to 1994. Here are some highlights:

  • February 1996: Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council holds public meeting to discuss proposals for traffic calming measures, including removal of a parking lane on Fell and Oak Streets between Scott and Baker to accommodate bike lanes.
  • December 1999: Members of the SF Bicycle Coalition, Walk SF, Alamo Square Neighborhood Association, Haight/Divisadero Neighbors and Merchants, Oak/Fillmore Neighborhood Association, Western Addition PAC, North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association, and Duboce Park Neighborhood Association begin public meetings to advocate for the neighborhoods’ livability. Goals include traffic calming, revitalization, and bike lanes along the Fell and Oak Street corridor.
  • September 25, 2001: Rally organized the Senior Action Network, Walk SF, and the SF Bicycle Coalition advocating for a safer Fell Street at Scott Street. Seniors, bicyclists, and pedestrians came together to rally for safety improvements including adding bike lanes on Fell between Scott and Baker to connect to The Wiggle.
  • August 2003: Bike lane striped on Fell between Scott and Baker for a six-month trial (followed by a 2004 hearing)
  • January 2005: Board of Supervisors unanimously support retaining bike lane on Fell Street.
  • November 19, 2009: SF Municipal Transportation Agency presents eight options for addressing the dangers on Fell at Divisadero at a North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association meeting.
  • April 30, 2010: SFMTA public hearing, where proposed modifications were presented to accommodate concerns from nearby residents. Four parking spots east of the Arco station would be tow-away zones 7am-7pm instead of 24 hours/day.
  • June 29, 2010: Bike lane re-striped on Fell at Divisadero with new left turn only lane configuration for cars turning into Arco gas station and onto Divisadero.
  • July 9, 2010: SF Municipal Transportation Agency distributes fliers on-site to people driving about the new configuration of left turn queue lane into the Arco gas station.
  • February 23, 2011: Mayor Lee comments that he would like to see a physically separated bike lane on Fell Street between Scott and Baker Street.

In the last few years, numerous neighborhood meetings with the SFMTA and even protests have aimed to protect bicycle riders from drivers on Fell.

“We all want to see safer streets,” said Bolander. “We all want to see a more vibrant Wiggle corridor.”

The SFMTA will hold a general community meeting on the proposed Fell and Oak bikeways on September 13, 6:30 – 8:00 pm at San Francisco Day School, located at 350 Masonic Avenue.

We’ve corrected the original version of this story to show that parking is not free in the DMV lot.
  • dislike.

  • Noah

    I still haven’t seen a drawing that tells us whether they are proposing getting rid of the curb cuts for the driveways on Fell between Scott and Divis.  While I *assume* that they are not, I would think that a “public and open” process would provide this information up front.  Please release a bird’s eye drawing of the current plan!

  • Noah

    I still haven’t seen a drawing that tells us whether they are proposing getting rid of the curb cuts for the driveways on Fell between Scott and Divis.  While I *assume* that they are not, I would think that a “public and open” process would provide this information up front.  Please release a bird’s eye drawing of the current plan!

  • I hope there will be outreach to residents south of the Panhandle, and an EIR. Regarding parking in the DMV lot, it isn’t free and it isn’t cheap and it isn’t available during business hours, so it isn’t really an alternative for longer term parking for residents.

  • John Smith

    I recommend that people download the pdf linked to in this story that the writer of this article claims is a survey of all the local businesses. 15 were surveyed. 1 person didn’t speak English.

    Okay, so then 14 were surveyed. Ah, but… some surveyed were random, nameless clerks who just happened to be working. Not the business owners. Not even the business managers.

    I like the woman who works the register at the 7-11 near me, but I wouldn’t consider a conversation with her as proof of anything that should impact public policy. She lives in Oakland!

    And if you read the transcript of what people allegedly said (assuming the bike coalition is truthful), many raised huge concerns about this.

    But you won’t read any of that on Streetsblog. There’s no other side to this story. None. Instead the writer lies about the DMV lot to say it’s free – as a rationale for eliminating street parking.

    Streetsblog, you’re going to kill this project by misrepresenting the facts. We won’t win by lying. We’re not Republicans.

  • Anonymous

    I think if you want a bird’s eye drawing of the current plan, you’d need to ask SFMTA, not Streetsblog, and that assumes there is a current plan. I think the article indicates there is not a current plan, because they are still debating options.

    I don’t work for SFMTA, but if I were a betting man, I’d wager my life’s savings that the curb cuts are not going away. And I’m a betting man.

  • Odm2

    How many more businesses are there “along the affected stretches of Fell and Oak”?

  • Noah

    I’ve asked MTA.  They ignore my communications.  What happened at the neighborhood presentations on Monday and Tuesday?  Didn’t they present a drawing of what they were planning on doing?  Can’t Streetsblog post that?  Can’t Streetsblog post the drawings mentioned in the Bike Coalition’s PDF?

  • Noah

    PS, I totally agree — I’d be SHOCKED if they get rid of the curb cuts.  But it’s a big enough deal to me that I want to know for certain.  If the SFMTA or Bike Coalition (also not responding to my emails) would provide that information, I think they’d have the support of a lot of the residents of that block of Fell.  As is, I cannot support this unless I know I won’t lose access to my driveway.  I like to bike AND drive my car.

  • Bagpuss

    Yes – I don’t understand how the separated lane works. How do existing residents who have garages get into their garages? It kinda implies the ‘plant barrier’ will have huge gaps in it …

  • Noah

    One more, sorry: I should say, Neal from the bike coalition DID respond to my email, but he did not have any drawings of the plan.

  • mikesonn

    So parking should be free/cheap? And parking’s highest demand for the neighborhood is not during business hours.

  • mikesonn

    I fail to see where Aaron said that the DMV lot is free.

  • Aaron did not lie about the DMV lot. It was an honest mistake and he’s corrected it.

    If we wanted to misrepresent the survey, why would we bother to post it online for all to see?

  • mikesonn

    That’s pretty much what will happen.

  • Masonic will be the death…

    And how many store fronts are there actually on Oak and Fell on these blocks? Zero.

    Any businesses that could be stated as on Fell or Oak are at the corners of streets far more accommodating for parking anyways. The only businesses on Fell and Oak between Scott and Baker are the half block long ARCO that shined a spotlight on the areas mess, and the Benjamin Moore paint store that has it’s own monitored lot.

    As it stands there is one parking garage, and now the DMV lot which actually greatly expands the overnight parking situation in the neighborhood. Yep it is a pay lot (oh no). Welcome to the reality of living in a compact city. If you want to park expect to pay.

    Since when has Oak and Fell between Scott and Baker been a parkers paradise anyways. Everyone knows the parking spots are on the side streets of Broderick, Baker, Page and Hayes. I cannot remember the last time I, or my roommates actually found a spot on either of those two streets in the area being renovated.

    Let me guess Mr. Smith your solution is the status quo, right?

    Well thats fine enjoy having only two lanes on Fell anyways as more cyclists are getting wise to the need to simply take the left lane in an effort to protect themselves. Enjoy trying to navigate Oak with bikes lane splitting all three lanes, or simply taking the entire right lane as there isn’t room and drivers like you refuse to make any reasonable accommodation.

    You just don’t get it. A safe well established bike infrastructure helps everyone. Bikes are safe in their own lane separated from your ilk. And you can go on driving around like a crying and complaining spoilt 8 year old endangering, and aggravating your fellow driver without having to deal with bikes.

    It is folks like you that actually further these plans along as you make it patently clear you lack any and all self control, and cannot be relied upon to do the right thing which is drive safe and accommodate all legal road users as required by law.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Make Fell and Oak two-way.  That’s how to slow down traffic and make the neighborhood safer for everyone. 

  • HaroldKumar

    How could curb cuts go away? The City would have to pay millions in compensation to the property owners. If you had your garage taken away, wouldn’t you sue?

    And while there’s talk here of the businesses there, it’s mostly residential, and most of those buildings have garages. So vehicles emerging from those garages and waiting to join the flow of traffic will be temporarily blocking the bike lane.

  • HaroldKumar

    Mike, parking at DMV at night should be free if it’s being offered as a “quid pro quo” to the residents who will lose street parking as a result of the change. Assuming, of course, that that street parking is free now (I don’t know).

    Also, parking at the DMV lot is less convenient and you’d have to move your vehicle by the time it opens every morning, unlike on the street where you can usually leave a vehicle for up to a week.

    Virginia, do you know if any outreach was done to those residents? Or to the tens of thousands of drivers who use Fell/Oak each day?

  • Noah

    That seems to the be the plan, but, again, SFMTA does not seem to see fit to release a drawing that actually tells us what will happen with the curb cuts. It’s very frustrating.

  • mikesonn

    It isn’t being offered as a trade for any lost parking due to this plan. The DMV parking is available now, for the convenience of the neighborhood. If you need to park your car for a week at a time, maybe you don’t need a car as badly as you think you do. And if the reason for leaving it is a trip, then pay to park it somewhere or find a side street. Why does every argument about parking/driving always end up with the most extremely unlikely scenarios being used as examples of the norm?

  • mikesonn

    It isn’t being offered as a trade for any lost parking due to this plan. The DMV parking is available now, for the convenience of the neighborhood. If you need to park your car for a week at a time, maybe you don’t need a car as badly as you think you do. And if the reason for leaving it is a trip, then pay to park it somewhere or find a side street. Why does every argument about parking/driving always end up with the most extremely unlikely scenarios being used as examples of the norm?

  • Noah

    Harold, right, I think they would, but there are only about 6 residential buildings on the block.  I happen to live in one of them, but I don’t own my place, so I probably wouldn’t sue.  I assume my landlord would, though.

    Again, I’m pretty sure that they are not going to get rid of the curb cuts.  But it’s a big enough issue that I’d really like to know for sure.  And it does raise some concern that I can’t get an answer from SFMTA on this issue.  Why not?  If they aren’t getting rid of curb cuts, you’d think they’d be quick to give out the drawings, or a description of the plan that made it clear that that is not part of the plan.  So far, nothing from them.

  • Andy

    Whoa, Noah.  Chill out.  Nobody would advocate preventing vehicle access to residential garages.  Could you imagine the bad press a bicycle improvement would get if it blocked access to residential garages?  I don’t think you have everything to worry about.  Retaining curb cuts is in everybody’s best interest.  SFBC goes as far as to show a car turning into a curb cut on Fell St. in their connecting the city proposal:

  • Masonic will be the death…

    Here is my outreach as a neighborhood resident to a neighborhood resident. First, get real. But, that might be asking too much. So in lieu of that happening, here are my tips to park in the NOPA area:

    1, If long term parking is needed check the street sweeping schedules on each side street and find one that doesn’t have a day scheduled while you are gone.

    2, If you need parking during business hours see sign mentioned above as it will also inform you of whether or not you are in a 2 hour zone or not (or if street sweeping is scheduled for that day).

    3, If you regularly need to park your car without moving it for weeks at a time rent a spot(seriously they aren’t that expensive, and most are protected access which help to lower your insurance), as it is our neighborhood is chock full of cars that move once a week to dodge the sweepers (and thanks for contributing to that).

    4, If 1-3 are too difficult to understand or attempt, sell your car.

    Accounting for ownership of a car in the city should include each of these items in this order.

    1, Insurance
    2, Parking
    3, Maintenance
    4, Fuel

    If you can’t shoulder those expenses than you can’t afford a car in any major city plain and simple. Remember, your vehicle is a privilege that comes with responsibilities and costs. It is not a free right.

    Your insistence on an Environmental Impact Revue is laughable. I want an EIR on your car that is stored on public property, and all the chemicals its leaks, and purges onto our public spaces.

  • Dan

    The curb cuts are not going away.  The reason that more detailed drawings are not being shown is because the MTA wants more feedback from the public before designs become more detailed.  The MTA knows that showing up with complete drawings and telling everyone that the plan is complete is not the way to go about a public and open process.  Give them some credit and participate in the discussion.

  • Noah

    I’ve gotten a bit more info from the MTA.  It appears that there is not yet a detailed plan in place, and that’s why these wholly inadequate drawings are all they have released.  Apparently, part of the current outreach is to get input on what the plan is.

    I have now twice asked the MTA if getting rid of the curb cuts on Fell (and, impliedly, Oak) is on the table.  Thus far, I have not received a response.  While I think it is very unlikely that getting rid of the curb cuts is on the table, it will concern me until I get some confirmation on that point.

    I will note, as I have before, I’ve never seen a location where a bike lane is inside of a parking lane on a block where there are curb cuts.  That’s the main thing that concerns me.  There is certainly no reason why they can’t keep the curb cuts, although I do have to admit that if cyclist safety is the only thing we care about, it would be preferable to get rid of the cuts.  But I need access to my garage so, while I would prefer safer bike lanes (I also ride the wiggle on my bike), I’m not willing to make that sacrifice, and do not think I should have to.

  • Why so snarky, Masonic? Having lived along the Panhandle for 22+ years I’m pretty familiar with traffic and parking patterns in the neighborhood. There have never been parking restrictions in the neighborhood, so why should I have to pay? I don’t leave my car parked for “weeks on end,” you big silly! But I don’t drive much because I walk, bike and use transit too. See, I’m not all bad. And thanks for your concern, but I can afford my car. (Heck, I can even afford to live without roommates!)  If you think there should be parking restrictions why not advocate for permit parking? You obviously have time on your hands.

  • mikesonn

    Virginia, You aren’t one who would need to use the DMV lot. I’m having trouble figuring out your arguments since the DMV lot was never intended to be a “longer term parking” solution.

  • SG

    I think a group other than the Bike Coalition should be in charge of the surveys, they are obviously biased. Why not hire an independent group? Or, local residents should also survey the area. Additionally, residents should be included in these surveys and not just merchants. I see only merchants mentioned so far.

    And the statement above “Past cases have shown that reducing road capacity, particularly in favor of more travel options, usually results in a reduction in car travel demand.” does not sit well with me. I am sure overflow traffic to surrounding neighborhoods increases. It would be nice to have data to support or refute this. I have repeatedly asked the SFMTA for traffic counts from similar lane reduction projects, most notably Potrero Ave in the Summer of 2005, and although they say they have relevant counts of before and after lane reductions, they have failed to provide this data.

    We need unbiased, relevant data to make reasonable compromises and help keep our city running smoothly.

  • Eric Fischer

    I don’t know anything about Potrero in particular, but you can download a PDF of the traffic counts that the SFMTA has on file from past surveys from


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