SFMTA Drafting Design Standards to Streamline Innovative Bike Treatments

A sample diagram of parking-protected bike lane guidelines.

The SFMTA is developing a new engineering guide for bike infrastructure that should help bring street designs like protected bike lanes to more San Francisco streets. Known as the Innovative Bicycle Treatment Toolbox, the guide promises to accelerate the city’s adoption of high-quality bikeway design treatments.

Intersection guidance markings also known as "green-backed" or "super" sharrows.

“The Innovative Bicycle Treatment Toolbox creates standardized guidance for the city of San Francisco in the use of new bicycle treatments being implemented throughout the U.S.,” said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose.

The guide is based on proven designs for bike infrastructure that more American cities (including SF) are implementing to make bicycling safer and more accessible to a wider range of people. While these treatments are becoming more common in the U.S., they have yet to be established in “official traffic engineering regulations such as the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) or the Highway Design Manual,” said Rose.

The treatments included in the toolbox: protected and buffered bike lanes, door-zone bike lane treatments, green paint on bike lanes and intersection guide markingsbike boxes“safe-hit” posts (a.k.a. “traffic channelizers”), back-in angled parking, “green wave” signal timing for bike speeds, “two-stage left turn” markings, and “neighborhood greenways” (a.k.a. bike boulevards).

“These are smart, innovative designs that, once implemented in the right places, will make San Francisco’s streets safer and easier to bicycle on,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “We commend the SFMTA’s work in thinking out of the box and urge them to move forward with implementation on our many city streets that need improvement.”

Though the SFMTA has already implemented most of the treatments in the toolbox, they aren’t widespread. The most recent examples are the city’s first parking-protected bike lane in Golden Gate Park and the green-backed sharrow markings guiding riders through the Wiggle.

A two-stage left-turn treatment.

The SFMTA plans to use these treatments more frequently to reach its goal of 20 percent bike mode share by 2020. By establishing its own guidelines, the agency can “ensure consistency and predictability of these new treatments within our jurisdiction, while providing discussion of how these new treatments are addressed in existing regulations,” said Rose. “This toolbox will help planners and engineers decide whether an innovative treatment is appropriate at a given location that is slated for bicycle improvements. It will also make it faster and more efficient for engineers to design the innovative facilities.”

Streamlining this process is critical to the widespread adoption of cycling in the city. The current rate at which the SFMTA is rolling out improvements is widely seen as insufficient to meet its ambitious mode share goals.

The toolbox is largely informed by the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Bikeway Design Guide, a manual that leading bikeway engineers from cities around the country, including SF, contributed to. Although bike advocates are pushing for legislative changes at the state level to give cities more freedom to use treatments from the NACTO guide, their most recent effort was undermined, and local planners can face greater liability when using treatments not included in more established guidelines like the MUTCD. Creating this set of guidelines could provide planners a set of locally-approved, widely tested standards to rely on.

Rose said the guide “includes specific implementation details that are in line with California laws, while making style determinations to ensure consistency of application throughout San Francisco, even if there is more than one legal way to do so.”

The toolbox could also be looked to as an example for five other cities that will share expertise on innovative bike infrastructure in the Bikes Belong “Green Lane” project.

Agency staff said the toolbox is still in draft form and not ready to be widely published yet. Although the guidelines will “continue to be a living document,” Rose said, the agency will submit “a finalized version” to the SF County Transportation Authority by June 30.

Door-zone treatments to discourage bicyclists from riding in the door zone in conventional bike lanes.
Back-in angled parking.
Green bike lanes.
  • From looking at the diagrams, I don’t like the back-in angled parking.  I’m concerned people will make the left turn to take spaces to go head-in and risk hitting a bicyclist (let’s remember that not everyone reads signs).

  • LeeS.

     At least drivers will have a clear view of the bike lane when pulling out of a parking space.

  • Back-in angled parking already exists on a few streets in SF (Townsend and Sagamore, off the top of my head) and 8 other cities listed in the guide alone. It’s worked out well as far as I know, and again, that’s why it’s included in the guide.

  • Zack

    I agree about the potential, but I see people do that all the time with normal angled parking.  At least in this case they’ll be there as the odd one out if they’re parked wrong and can be given warnings about parking that way to try and change behavior.

  • Nearly everyone responds to tickets, and we all know that parking violations are the one thing we can count on to be enforced in SF!

  • Rudy

    Put a bump in the center divide to dissuade the scofflaws who boldly pull over the double yellow line.

  • Anonymous

    The Legislature, in Vehicle Code sections 21, 21100, 21207, 21400, and 21401, and Streets and Highways Code section 891, has required all California cities and counties to follow the uniform standards and requirements of the California Department of Transportation, expressed in certain portions of the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and the Caltrans Highway Design Manual.

    When the SFMTA fails to comply with these requirements—whether or not the design is shown or endorsed in some other set of standards or guidelines—the agency is breaking the law, jeopardizing its design immunity and the professional licenses of its engineers.

  • J

    This has been the standard in NYC for many years now, and it works quite well. I see no real reason why not to do it. It’s massively safer (driver is near the street, facing forward, pulling out in the direction of traffic, instead on driver near the curb and backing out against traffic), more convenient (the trunk is at the curb), and not difficult at all to enforce (parked cars aren’t exactly moving targets). This is a no-brainer. It’s exactly like regular parallel parking, only slightly easier.

  • Urbanwalker

     Let’s make sure they add some VERY big signs: “Bicyclists SHALL stop at all stop signs, and traffic lights, per the law.

    Thank you.

  • Urbanwalker

     I agree. Back in parking may exist in other cities, but it is very hard to back in backwards. It’s a challenging maneuver,at best.

  • I would argue parallel parking is (at least) equally challenging.

    But how dare we require drivers to actually focus their full attention on a maneuver. Might even have to turn the music down. *gasp*

  • peternatural

    When you have a broken, useless law that is widely ignored by just about everyone, including police, it’s better to fix the law than to put up big signs repeating what the law is. We already know what the law is. Fix the law, solve the problem.

  • What is important is that bicyclists yield to pedestrians and other traffic that have the right of way. It is far better to focus on this behavior (with stings, tickets, etc.) than on a law that makes no sense for bicyclists. The current laws were written for cars, not bicycles. Why do we require cars to come to a full stop at stop signs?  Because they have blind spots, because their mass is huge, because they have incredible ability to accelerate.  (Even so, many, many cars roll through stop signs, especially if there are no other cars around.)

    In contrast, bicyclists have no blind spots, they have difficulty with fast acceleration, they have small mass. The real danger is speed.  If a bicyclist approaches an intersection slowly, is ready to slow down even further (or stop if warranted) for any pedestrian or traffic that has the right of way, then coming to an absolute stop is unnecessary for safety and just serves to make bicycling needlessly more difficult. 

    I am by turns a pedestrian, bicyclist and car driver.  I really do want both car drivers and bicyclists not to run over pedestrians. But as a bicyclist I realize that a focus on yielding rather than stopping is much more likely to gain acceptance by bicyclists and result in the behavior change that will ensure pedestrian safety. 

  • peternatural

    The rules of the road, as practiced by just about everyone, are simple:

    1. Take your turn.
    2. Don’t run over the pedestrians.

    I don’t see anything in there about stopping at stop signs.

  •  is backing in backwards harder than backing out backwards? No.

  • Tortoise

    Karen, you and I are required to obey all laws regardless of whether they “make sense” to us. Society could not function if everyone only needed to obey the laws that they like.

    Remember, it might not “make sense” to some drivers to give way to bikes.

  •  Tortoise,

    Most laws in our society make sense. That is why I follow them. But laws that prohibit certain types of behavior–behavior that does not harm others–where there is a widespread desire to perform that behavior create widespread law-breaking on the parts of otherwise law-abiding citizens. (For example, prohibition of alcohol in the 30s or prohibition of marijuana now.) Far better for the laws to be changed than to make a large portion of society into lawbreakers for no good reason and no social value obtained. (Please don’t see this as an endorsement on my part of consuming either alcohol or marijuana. Both have health risks, whereas coasting on a bicycle through a four-way stop completely devoid of cars or human beings has no adverse health risks at all.)

    At a very practical level, if we want to improve pedestrian safety, we should focus on bicyclists yielding to pedestrians. If we want to senselessly harass bicyclists so that the rate of bicycling decreases (and pollution, congestion and poor health in our city increases) while doing nothing to promote pedestrian safety, then rigidly enforcing absolute stops by bicycles is a good way to do it.

  • While I try as much as possible not to intervene in comment discussions, we generally like to keep them on-topic and not continue beating issues like stop signs to death, as it can deter other, more fruitful conversations.

  • It seems a bit premature to call all of these treatments “proven designs” at this point. While some of them have seen widespread use and proven quite successful in SF, others have barely been implemented, and have yet to be evaluated. For example, the parking-protected cycle track which has seen only a few months of existence on JFK drive, seems to have garnered more criticism than support. 

    I admire the SFMTA’s desire to create innovative solutions, but they need to bring the process full circle. That means an unbiased framework for evaluating these treatments, as well as a legitimate process to gather user feedback. Before suggesting these “smart, innovative designs” to other municipalities, we need to make sure that they are actually smart, not just different. 

  • I hope that currently, June 4th, pending State legislation, AB 819, will encourage if not require Caltrans to implement processes for SF and all Calif. cities and counties to try out/experiment new but currently “non-standard” ideas in a manner that will bring better standards into official guidelines – Highway Design Manual and the Calif. Manual of Trafrfic Control Devices.
    Both CABO and CBC are working to make this happen.

  • Thomas

    .People can laugh and say what they want,but we had better start looking at ways to get people to start thinking about alternative transportation for commuting.We can not keep doing things the way were doing them,the big SUV’s and trucks are great for family and work,but they don’t belong on the morning and afternoon commutes with one person onboard..Detroit is asleep at the wheel,they seem more concerned about profit margins then building sensible vehicles for the changing world.We need the vehicles,and the programs to educate people how to start to turn the clock back and make driving sensible again.This and anything that promotes alternate transportation is a great start.



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