As SFMTA Adds Finishing Touches, JFK Bike Lanes Remain Awesome

Photos: Aaron Bialick

Three months after San Francisco’s first parking-protected bike lanes were striped on John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park, the street continues to thrive as a calmer, safer place all users. The flocks of people using the lanes this summer appear to include more families than ever, and by and large, drivers and pedestrians seem to have adapted well to the new configuration.

The SFMTA finally completed some finishing touches last week to improve the connections between the new lanes and the Panhandle, which had been delayed. An SFMTA staffer said there had been mix-ups in the street painting schedule.

The initial confusion and complaints among drivers using the new arrangement, which places parked cars to the left of the bike lane, seem to have dissipated. In May, the SFMTA stenciled “No Parking” markings in the buffer zones to deter drivers from parking where the road narrows and there is no room for parked cars. The measure appears to have been highly effective, and the remaining illegal parking seems mostly limited to the area around weekly evening events at the de Young Museum and Academy of Sciences.

This family appears relaxed riding rental bikes on JFK.
"No parking" zones where curbs are striped red now remain mostly open.

Complaints about the perceived difficulty for faster bicyclists to pass slower ones also seem to have quieted. Although some say the bike lanes could be wider, people can regularly be seen passing one another smoothly. Overall, the new lanes allow people of all ages to ride separated from motor vehicles and without fear of being doored — the type of street design that a growing number of American cities are using to increase bicycling rates after decades of documented success in countries like Denmark and the Netherlands. By moving the lanes to the curb, the design also provides people on bikes a view of the park.

“The new JFK Drive bikeway is evolving into an improvement that is serving a more diverse community than your standard painted by lanes because the JFK design particularly helps new riders and families feel more comfortable and confident bicycling, which is particularly important in a park,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “We look forward to hearing more feedback from the community about additional improvements as this new design continues to evolve.”

In the finishing touches connecting JFK to the Panhandle, the SFMTA striped an eastbound buffered bike lane striped along the center median on part of Kezar Drive, which had already been used unofficially for years.

The new eastbound buffered bike lane on Kezar connecting JFK to the Panhandle legitimizes the connection unofficially used by bicyclists for years.

The “Shrader Valve,” a bicycle traffic signal and short bike lane jaunt on the end of Fell Street, which connects westbound riders from the Panhandle at Shrader Street to JFK, was also enhanced with a new buffer zone on the bike lane and surface markings on the Panhandle path directing riders to use it (with poor visibility, many bicyclists previously skipped the turn and ended up traversing the crosswalks at Stanyan — it’s unclear if the markings are working yet). The SFMTA also added a bicycle traffic signal at Page and Stanyan Streets in a separate project in May, improving the connection between JFK and Page.

Green pavement markings may still be added to parts of the JFK bike lanes, though if and when are still unclear. Although the idea was initially dropped due to complaints that the color would detract from the appearance of the street, Recreation and Parks Manager Phil Ginsburg has since become a proponent of it as a way to clarify the bicycling right of way to visitors, if it’s still necessary. These days, instances of the lanes being blocked by oblivious drivers and pedestrians seem few and far between.

The SFMTA says it’s still taking ridership counts and soliciting feedback on the project. Other tweaks could help improve JFK’s design. One of my own ideas is to add left-turn boxes at the intersections along the bikeway. And many would prefer more permanent changes, like raised bike lanes or a ban on cars in the park altogether.

Got any other ideas? Let us know in the comments.

These new markings on the Panhandle include a right-turn arrow directing riders to use the "Shrader Valve."
On the other end of the "valve," the bike lane now has an added buffer.
  • anon

    Pedestrians don’t seem to understand that these are bike lanes. I think it would help to have more bikes stencils as well as for them to be painted green.

  • Not in SF. Could someone explain the “Shrader Valve”?

  • I bet pedestrians, like many motorists, underestimate the speed at which cyclists are traveling and think they have more time before the cyclists reaches them. For some reason our brains think smaller == slower.

  • Anonymous

    Appreciate the explanation, I’ve always been one of the mugs waiting in the middle of Kezar Dr for a break in the traffic

  • Peter M

    “Green pavement markings may still be added to parts of the JFK bike
    lanes, though if and when are still unclear. Although the idea was
    initially dropped due to complaints that the color would detract from
    the appearance of the street”

    God forbid that we detract from the appearance of the street by putting something colored GREEN in a park

  • Anonymous

    I have to agree @faabfcaf353ca52e40534f2491390542:disqus: it is massive status quo bias that people think painting a street green is any worse than it being black/gray. People are just used to it being black, and they can get used to it being green. And as you pointed out, clearly there is green foliage everywhere else in the park, so if anything else, it should help make the road less intrusive into the natural environment of the park.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, if you pay attention to the timing of the lights on Fell while you’re heading westbound on the Panhandle path, it sometimes is better to cross at Stanyan. If I see the bike light at Schrader is green, I take “the valve”. But if it’s red, it’s quicker to continue on and cross at Stanyan.

  • mikesonn

    I think as more people use bikes, pedestrian will see cyclists better and judge their speed better. I, personally as someone who bikes, don’t have trouble spotting cyclists when I’m a pedestrian. All the more reason to get more people on bikes.

  • Anonymous

    Great article, and thanks for following-up on the status of the JFK lanes. I think they are a huge improvement and am glad to see the city work out the kinks of its “first” cycletrack (or at least the first one that has significant bicycle traffic to get attention) in the park rather than on a heavily-trafficked city street where the consequences of mistakes are more severe. Even though I was originally against rolling out a cycletrack in the park because I thought it would be better to do so on a street that really needs it (Valencia or Masonic, for example), I now think it was a good call on the city’s part. When they role out the next one on a city street, they will be much better at it, and more drivers will be much better prepared to deal with it.

    My suggestions for improvement are, of course, that we need to get rid of cars entirely from the park. And though I think that should remain the top priority, if we have to have cars, then I do think the cycletrack should be painted green. I also would like them to fix some of the drains/gutters/manholes and pavement that is still rough for cyclists in some sections. And they need to enforce the parked cars putting part of the car into the buffer zone. They seem to be slowly creeping nearer and nearer to the actually cycletrack.

  • Anonymous

     Oh, and I gotta echo @4fbe2396241ce2844980e60318e8f081:disqus ‘s comment below, that they need to stencil the standard bicycle symbol on the lane so that pedestrians are discouraged from using them. I’ve seen quite a number of joggers running down the bike lane when they have wide pedestrian paths (and the grass next to the paths) on both sides of the streets (which are usually quite empty except around the Conservatory of Flowers). It drives me nuts when joggers (or walkers) do that when they have plenty of already-designated space, and I think the city should add some signage to discourage that. You could even have parking control officers give these people a friendly reminder. I do think that, as cycletracks become more common and everybody understands better that they are meant for bicycles, it will be less and less of a problem.

  • I dislike it when people don’t use the valve. They end up blocking the crosswalk. Time your ride so you hit the valve on a green light.

  • mikesonn

    This is the first I’ve heard of the valve. The extra paint on the path will help a lot of people.

  • Sean Rea: I would have solved this a different way. Most likely with all green for bikes at Kezar and Stanyan. This would allow cyclists – most of whom are moving in between the ‘Park and the Panhandle – the most direct and safe route, possibly without stopping, though possibly slowing, from both directions. It could probably also include pedestrians (enough time to cross Oak, Kezar or Stanyan, and then the motorized vehicle signals would be exclusive) and optimised if it could permit a 12-13mph speed all the way from west of JFK and Kezar, or even from east of Masonic, though of course the main question about that detail is what speed are the lights timed for Oak and Kezar-Fell, or is this dynamic?)

    A micro-Wiggle is not needed here. Or is there a problem since the Panhandle narrows at the western end and potential for cyclist-pedestrian problems? Sigh… what seems is really needed is a separated bike path on both Fell/Kezar and Oak,  but I know that has been discussed and is a big challenge…

  • Sebraleaves

    As some have pointed out the design does not meet the state design standards, as seen in the June 26, 2012 edition of the Highway Design Manual, 1003.2 Class II Bikeways (1) a, “Bike lanes shall not be placed between the parking area and the curb.
    Such facilities increase the conflict between bicyclists and opening
    car doors and reduce visibility at intersections. Also, they prevent
    bicyclists from leaving the bike lane to turn left and cannot be
    effectively maintained.”

  • @facebook-1803318026:disqus I agree that would be a superior solution.

    I wish they would simply make one of the panhandle paths bike-only, and the other one pedestrian-only. I don’t care which one, but I’ve seen more near-misses than I’m comfortable with as a result of increase bicycle traffic + clueless dog-walkers / joggers than necessary.

  • I thought there was some exemption granted for cities to try things out that may go against design standards? I can’t find it now but I seem to recall something about it.
    Anyway the left-turn problem is the main reason I’ve been ambivalent towards the new design. If it makes the majority feel more safe and increases the number of cycle trips then I’m considering it a net positive.

  • Thanks, but I think we all know the Highway Design Manuel isn’t exactly up with with the times.

  • Todd – the solution is to reduce a lane of traffic on Fell and have a giant separated bike lane the entire length of the panhandle on Fell.

  • Anonymous

    Legally they’re paths, not lanes, since they fail to comply with highway design manual guidelines.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure how the conditions which led to the design manual specifications have changed at all.  Cars are still driven much the same, bikes are still ridden much the same.  I’m not convinced a lower number of complaints isn’t simply due to experienced riders avoiding the whole mess.  But to be fair, I’ve only ridden it on weekends.

  • Anonymous

    That nasty, poison green that is used for the bike lanes is visual pollution no matter where it is used.  Maybe even more so in the park.

  • Anonymous

     Hah!  Now you know how we pedestrians feel when bicyclists ride on the sidewalks. 

  • mikesonn

    And yet you put up with cars painted all colors of the rainbow and ugly plain garage doors wherever you look.

    Your indignation of the bike lane paint is a symptom of your hatred of bikes.

  • Anonymous

    @pchazz:twitter First, you talk as if I’m somehow okay with bicyclists riding on the sidewalk and I am their representative just because I’m pro-bicycle. If some idiot rides their bike fast down a sidewalk loaded with pedestrians (e.g., on Valencia St), I’ll be the first to complain.

    Second, I am a pedestrian even more than I am a bicyclist (one thing you will find about bicyclists is that they almost always walk, drive, and/or use public transit as well), so I don’t need to be told what it feels like to be a pedestrian and have a bicyclist on the sidewalk. You act like I’m an alien who doesn’t understand what it’s like to walk down a street (contrast that to the majority of drivers have no idea what it’s like to ride a bicycle through the city). And about that, as a pedestrian, I rarely ever have to deal with bicyclists on the sidewalk because it happens quite rarely. And when it does happen, it’s almost always a bicyclist going slow because they are at the end or beginning of their trip and it’s no more of a threat to me than somebody pushing a baby stroller or a dolly loaded with supplies from a delivery truck. And finally, when a bicyclist does ride on a sidewalk and is riding slow and their are hardly any pedestrians around and he is on the sidewalk because there are no or dangerous bike lanes, I completely empathize and have no problem with that as long as they are riding carefully (my problem is with the city not providing safe bicycle infrastructure).

    Finally, the joggers in GGP that are running in the bike lane aren’t doing it because it’s safer (clearly the sidewalks are safer). They have designated space and choose not to use it, and it’s certainly not because the bike lane is safer. It’s just unawareness (to be honest, I really don’t understand why they feel the need to run on the street and/or bike lane). When you have designated space and choose not to use it, whether you are a bicycle or a pedestrian, you’re a societal jerk.

  • Anonymous

    @pchazzz:disqus “Hah!  Now you know how we pedestrians feel when bicyclists ride on the sidewalks.”
    You do realize that when you see a person on a bike, that doesn’t mean they are always on a bike, right? People who ride bikes also walk, drive cars, take the bus, ride camels, etc. Can we finally get out of this unconstructive “mode camp” ideology?

  • Anonymous

    I found your sense of indignation at encountering runners in a space dedicated to bicycles funny, considering how often bicyclists violate pedestrian space.

    My comment was directed at bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk. If you don’t do it no need to get offended. And I do encounter bicylists who ride at full speed down crowded sidewalks even when there is a clearly marked bike lane. When I have politely suggested that they use the bike lane that was thoughtfully provided for their use and enjoyment I received a torrent of abuse.

  • Anonymous

    It is the same ugly green as Shrek. How appropriate

  • @pchazzz:disqus what do you mean “we pedestrians”? I am a pedestrian as often as I am a cyclist; no need to draw battle lines here. You are being confrontational for the sake of it.

    Anyway I have similarly scolded sidewalk cyclists and the torrent of abuse is the typical response. I think a reminder that jerks choose all forms of transportation is in order.

  • The Greasybear

    pchazz, I find your sense of indignation at encountering bicycles in a space dedicated to pedestrians funny, considering how often motorists violate cyclists’ space.

    See how easy that is?

  • Guest

    Has the jfk lane actually somehow gotten better, or have people just stopped complaining about it because the sfbc people insist that it’s a great success and it’s not worth arguing with the them about it?

    As for the Shrader valve, more paint is good (it actually was somewhat marked before too but not well). As others note, light timing means it’s fastest to go either there, or cross at Kezar, or cross Stanyan–which ever is green first is fastest. And all of them are reasonably safe and can be done w/o blocking others.

    (Also: are there signs to the Sunset-bound GG park bike path anywhere other than 10′ after you’ve found the path at Stanyan and Kezar?)

  • This is a joke. On faster streets bikes need to be separated from motorized traffic, and on the inside of any parking. The solution for left turns and in part for visibility is some variant of dedicated signalling. This is what they do in the Netherlands.

    Paths get cleaned by narrow vehicles.

  • Cartier

    There are several things that always get forgotten in these discussions:
    1. There are a great number of visitors to GGPk from outside of SF who never get heard. They also may be clueless about what the striping is about. And that’s because it is both confusing and unclear, especially in the segment around the Conservatory. Further west it is  (perhaps) less problematic, since there is less traffic.

    2. The main reason that the above segment was problematic before was that there was no indication that the wide area between the center line and the curb was a de facto bike lane.  It could have been marked with those wonderful bike stencils at a fraction of the cost  – and confusion. It would also have emphasized that bikes had a right to be there – and watched out for.

    Cyclists have actually lost that nice wide lane for a claustrophobic lane where it is difficult to pass without going into the buffer zone, which now has people unloading from their cars.

    3. That buffer zone is very problematic for both cyclists and people who were passengers and are now pedestrians.It puts them into potential conflict. This is especially problematic for kids and disabled people in wheelchairs because they now have to unload and then cross a lane where there often  are high-speed cyclists.

    For those reasons, I often end up riding in the car traffic lane, which I consider a loss.

  • mikesonn

    Again, sounds like cars in the park is the problem. Best to rid the park of cars. QED.

  • Gneiss

    For out of towers who want to visit, there’s a fabulous underground parking garage just off Fulton and 10th that’s super easy to use and handicap accessible. Then you don’t even need to try and park between the lines on JFK if you don’t feel confident doing so.

  • Makayla Oxley

    There are numerous guests to GGPk from outside of SF who never get observed. They also may be confused about what the striping is about. And that’s because it is both complicated and uncertain, especially in the section around the Sunroom. Further western it is (perhaps) less challenging, since there is less visitors.



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