SFMTA Board Approves Fell and Oak Bikeways, Work to Begin This Month

Construction will begin this month on physically separated bike lanes and pedestrian safety improvements on three critical blocks of Fell and Oak Streets after the project was approved unanimously yesterday by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors.

Image: SFMTA

“This is such a game-changer,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. “I think when we make this small but critical gap more welcoming and bike-friendly, we really are going to see more people biking to work, to parks, to school.”

SFMTA crews plan to begin work in October on striping the Fell Street bike lane, re-striping parking spaces on nearby streets, and upgrading continental crosswalks, said SFMTA project manager Luis Montoya. Striping the Oak bike lane will require more work than the Fell lane, since the Oak lane will require a slight re-alignment of the three traffic lanes. The completion dates for each piece of the project will depend on the schedule of the agency’s paint shop, but agency staff hopes to have both bike lanes finished by winter on the three blocks between Scott and Baker Streets, he said.

Work on the 12 sidewalk corner bulb-outs and planted concrete bike lane barriers would be finished by next spring or summer. Although the SFMTA said earlier this month that the bike lanes may not be rideable during concrete construction, Montoya said crews would be sure to maintain temporary bike lane access. The project will also add bicycle traffic signals to give bicyclists and pedestrians a head start in the traffic cycle.

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe cheered the pedestrian upgrades included in the plan, which initially included only bike lanes. “The project will widen sidewalks at corners with 13 [originally proposed] bulb-outs, which is really quite a lot. I’d like to get to a point where it’s not a lot, but right now it’s a lot.”

As part of the project, the traffic signals on Oak and Fell would be adjusted to lower synchronized vehicle speeds from 25 MPH to 20 MPH, which will “help to start addressing the [traffic] speeds … that basically make it feel like we’ve got freeways running right through our city,” said Stampe. “For too long, Golden Gate Park and the Panhandle have been like islands in the middle of these freeway-like traffic conditions.”

Of the dozens of speakers at the board hearing, the vast majority came to support the project, citing the need to alleviate the stress of bicycling alongside heavy car traffic on the link between the Wiggle and the Panhandle, which are otherwise bike-friendly. Of the handful of opponents that spoke, most complained about the loss of car parking to make way for the bike lanes, asserting that people on bikes should climb the steep hill on Page Street or detour on Hayes Street rather than use the flat, direct connection via Fell and Oak. Proponents argued that few people are able or willing to do so.

“I refuse” to take Page, said 70-year-old Cathy Kora, who commutes around San Francisco by bike. While she is personally willing to tolerate riding on Fell and Oak, she said, “I’d like to see a lot more women my age go up Fell Street, but they won’t because they feel that they’re taking their life in their hands.”

“If we’re serious about getting people from the west side to commute to the east side, the most important route in that transportation corridor has to be amenable to bikers,” said Peter Lauterborn, an aide from D1 Supervisor Eric Mar’s office, who pointed out that although the bike lanes aren’t in District 1, they will serve commuters from areas like the Richmond.

“If we’re serious about having 20 percent of our commuters doing it by bike, we can’t do that by having only the fittest and most adventurous going up and down these big hills,” Lauterborn added. “We have to use the flatter route. There has to be road equity, where we’re using our resources in the most effective way for everyone.”

Some proponents pointed out that the perceived shortage of car parking in the area could be addressed by instituting a residential parking permit zone, given that an SFMTA study found that only 34 percent of cars parked in the area were registered in the local zip code. SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director Bond Yee said planners did reach out to neighbors to start a petition to create a new RPP zone, but the petition failed to pass the necessary threshold: 250 signatures or more than half of residents on 12 contiguous block faces.

In total, about 100 free parking spaces would be removed from Fell and Oak, with 45 of them replaced by new spaces on nearby streets. SFMTA Board Member Malcom Heinicke urged agency staff to pursue an RPP zone again in the future, pointing out that there may be more support for it after the parking spaces are removed. (One car-owning resident argued that parking in the area was already easy.)

Two minor changes were made to the original plan due to opposition from the owners of Falletti Foods, located at Oak and Broderick Streets. Montoya said a proposed traffic diverter that would have prevented drivers from turning right across the bike lane from Oak on to Broderick was removed, along with a bulb-out at the northwest corner of the intersection, which the owner complained would make left turns difficult for trucks headed to his store from Oak onto northbound Broderick.

While the years of advocacy for this project were followed by delays, now protected bike lanes on these critical streets are finally on the horizon. Shahum praised the relatively speedy construction timeline for the bike lanes. “It seems like they’re moving with the speed that’s needed to actually implement the improvements,” she said.

Read more on the hearing from Bay City News at the SF Appeal.

  • voltairesmistress

    I think this is a great compromise.  I am so glad they went with the totally separated bike lane and a slightly lower speed limit for safety reasons.  And that they will remove a lane of parking, rather than a travel lane, in order to do it.  All in all, a win for everybody.

  • Anonymous

    Does anybody know if the traffic light timing changes will apply to ALL of Oak/Fell?  The panhandle isn’t the only stretch of these roads that feels like it’s a freeway.  The traffic speeds at Laguna (at Fell) alone feel like 35-40 mph, especially as folks gun the yellow (or red) to get in on the timed flow.

  • My understanding is that it will apply to all of Oak/Fell.

  • Neighbor

    A win for everyone except those that live in the neighborhood and street park.  Parking has already become Northbeach-esque as the “Divis Corridor” or whatever people are now calling this neighborhood to differentiate it from Western Addition, sees an influx of people nightly coming to dine at the many new establishments along Divisadero.  Bike on Page when traveling east instead of Oak, bike in the dedicated bike lane on Fell for two blocks when traveling west.  no change needed.

  • SecretOfLife14

    This is fantastic.  One small question: shouldn’t the 2nd to the last paragraph say, “proposed traffic diverter that would have prevented drivers from turning *left* from Oak on to Broderick”? 

  • No, it would have prevented right turns from Oak across the bike lane on to southbound Broderick. See the image here: http://sf.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2012/04/oak-broderick.jpg

  • mikesonn

    You should sign the RPP.

    And parking in North Beach isn’t bad if you use garages.

  • It’s funny that you worry about street parking, and not the thousands upon thousands of cars driving up and down Oak/Fell every day making your neighborhood noisy and unpleasant.

  • SecretOfLife14

     Ah, that makes sense. Thanks for clarifying.

  •  (To the tune of the old Roto-Rooter jingle)

    “Implement an RPP and you will see
    That all your parking becomes trouble-free!”

    Seriously, this neighborhood is a doughnut hole of free parking completely surrounded by residential parking permit neighborhoods. Everyone who doesn’t want to pay for an RPP permit, everyone who wants to go on vacation for a week and leave their car somewhere free, everyone who wants to camp in San Francisco in an RV, everyone who wants to park for free and then take Muni downtown or to the Civic Center for work, basically nearly EVERYONE IN SAN FRANCISCO, SAN MATEO, AND MARIN WANTS TO PARK FOR FREE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD.  It is the best deal going!  This is proven by the fact that  two-third of the cars parked in your neighborhood don’t belong to you or your neighbors!  No wonder you all can’t find parking.  Sign the petition, get an RPP, and all will be well.

  • On balance, that’s a win for a lot more people than it is a loss. More bikes take Fell/Oak daily than there are parking spaces around there, and it was clearly shown that a lot of those parked cars are not people who live in the neighborhood. More pedestrians walk around that neighborhood than are parked there.

  • Hey man, thanks for your concern.  I’m sure you totally just want what’s best for bicyclists and know better than all of us as far as what street is ideal to travel on and whether we feel safe enough.

  • J

    Reducing the speed of cars on these streets is a huge win and will do much to improve safety. This should be done all over the city.

  • Phil

    murphstatoe: Nice to know that from now on changes will be held to the standard of how many people they impact. By that logic we should *not* implement the Masonic changes as there are far more drivers and Muni riders than cyclists impacted by them.

  • Phil

    Why don’t we reduce all speed to that of pedestrians while we’re at it? I bet that would be even safer. Even then people might run into each other, so we should keep it at 3mph or less. And require helmets. And pads.

  • mikesonn

    20 is plenty, Phil.

  • Phil – you presume that drivers and MUNI riders will be impacted in a negative manner. Lowering speeds on Masonic will reduce accidents = positive impact.

  • Phil

    Removing a traffic lane in each direction will result in fewer cars and riders being able to use it each day. The city’s own studies say so.

  • mikesonn

    Parking loss, not lane loss (except loss of peak hour parking-to-through-lane switch).

  • Phil

    That’s the loss I’m talking about. Rush hour goes from 3 lanes to 2. That will impact far more people negatively than the relatively tiny number of cyclists it will help.

  • The predicted delay on Masonic is a matter of seconds, and during peak hour only.

  • Bryanb

    Urban speed limits in the much more crowded streets of European cities is typically 30mph or 50kph. So 25mph is really quite slow for what remains one of the main traffic arteries in SF. I suspect a 20mph limit means 25mph anyway – going too slow canc ause accidents as well, due to frustration.

    It’s good to see that 45 new parking spaces are being created here, to at least partly defray the loss of 100 spaces elsewhere. This will help the residents of that area, whose opinions should count for more than those who merely pass through. but yes, a residential parking zone should be introduced, as a break to those residents. Easy to implement.

  • It should have been put on the ballot for all to decide not a cyclist activist supervisors.
    I thought the city was broke.

  • City supervisors are not descended from heaven, they are elected on the ballot. If the Supervisors are cyclist activists, and people don’t like that, then they would not win election. Every single supervisor voted for the Bike Plan. Every single supervisor that has been elected since then has been strongly supportive of cycling. Some candidates have made anti-cycling statements, every single one has been a non-factor, including Rob Anderson.

    You are concerned that the city is broke? It would cost the city more money to put a ballot measure for this bike lane, than to build the bike lane! And doing so would propagate the theory that instead of a board of supervisors we just have a weekly election where every little planning decision is done by popular acclaim.


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