The Fell Street Separated Bike Lane Has Arrived

Fell Street today. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The basic striping for a separated bike lane on Fell Street now links the Wiggle to the Panhandle, a milestone in the years-long campaign to make one of San Francisco’s most important bicycle routes more appealing to all. Crews from the SF Municipal Transportation Agency yesterday striped the 5-foot buffer separating the bike lane from motor traffic, the most significant sign of progress yet on this long-awaited street safety project.

“We are extremely excited to see the Fell Street separated bikeway underway,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. “This is a safety improvement project that is so crucial to the huge number of people who bike and walk along this corridor every day. The paint and buffer is a great step toward making this intimidating corridor safer, and we’re looking forward to the addition of the other pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements that are planned. We continue to applaud the SFMTA for taking biking, walking, and neighborhood safety seriously on Fell and Oak Streets.”

The SFMTA plans to add bicycle stencils, intersection treatments, green paint in some areas, and eventually concrete barriers to complete the bike lane. The rest of the project’s bicycle and pedestrian improvements will be added in the coming months, including a similar bike lane on the three parallel blocks of Oak Street, more visible crosswalks, and sidewalk extensions at 12 street corners. The sychronized traffic signal speed will also be lowered from 25 MPH to 20 MPH to calm car traffic, and dedicated bicycle signals will give bicyclists and pedestrians a head start to cross in front of turning vehicles.

Many bike commuters using the Fell lane so far have been seen riding close to, or even inside, the buffer zone. That may be due to the poor riding surface along the curb, which has for decades served as storage for cars, leaving the concrete bumpy in some areas. Or maybe it’s just habit for those who grew accustomed to braving the old bike lane, which has now become the buffer zone.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

“It seems like it’s wide enough that the fast people can go to the right of the slower people,” said SFMTA board member Cheryl Brinkman, who stopped to chat with Streetsblog as she made her way home along the Fell bike lane during yesterday’s evening commute. “That’s a great thing.”

Once completed, the protected bikeways on Fell and Oak will help show that the city is “serious” about implementing the kind of bicycle infrastructure that cities like Copenhagen have successfully deployed to make bicycling a mainstream travel option, Brinkman noted.

The old Fell bike lane, seen here with rush-hour bike traffic. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Installing protected bike lanes often involves politically contentious decisions like removing car parking or traffic lanes, and a few persistent opponents have filed a legal appeal against the Fell and Oak project, which the SFMTA says it expects will be denied. But as Andreas Røhl, Copenhagen’s bicycling program manager, put it at a recent forum in San Francisco: A city must provide continuous, safe bicycling conditions on every route — “From point A to point B, even where it hurts.”

For San Francisco to reach its official goal of 20 percent trips by bike by 2020, “We need this kind of infrastructure,” said Brinkman.

The improved quality of Fell’s bicycling facilities only reinforces the need to find a better solution to the queue of drivers who line up for fuel at the Arco gas station. In 2010 the SFMTA set aside space for drivers in the curb lane while directing cyclists around them. That configuration, which was put in place following protests from the group Fix Fell, improved the situation only slightly. For now, cars remain in a sanctioned queuing area, and often encroach on the sidewalk and a section of the bike lane dashed with green paint.

Photo: SFBC

But with the new 7’3″ curbside, separated bike lane from Scott to Baker Streets, “I really think we’re going to have a flood of cyclists on the Panhandle, and a flood of cyclists, not just on the Wiggle, but on Market Street,” said Brinkman, who added that the SFMTA should consider planning parking-protected bike lanes along the Panhandle to free up room on the existing path that’s shared with pedestrians. “It’s probably going to force us to step up our game in those areas to accommodate all those cyclists.”

“People are going to get used to [the protected lane], and once we start doing a few of these, this is going to be what people expect,” she added. “You whet their appetite for this kind of infrastructure.”

  • Sprague

    Another step forward for San Francisco!  Cheryl Brinkman’s comment regarding parking protected bike lanes alongside the Panhandle is the natural extension of this significant safety improvement.

  • Where do the barriers go? On the outside or the inside of the buffer?

    On Chavez the posts are in the middle of the buffer. Why not put them on the outside? Because people would ride to the outside and thus closer to the cars?

    If the Fell barriers go on the inside, we get protection but ride in the gutter, in a narrower lane where we can’t pass. The barriers should go towards the outside – as shown by where people prefer to ride.

    This is still picking at nits with the door zone removed – the massive win we already have. The gutter can be repaved.

  • Inside of the buffer, as seen here:

  • ubringliten

    Thank you Aaron for updating this!  I can’t wait for the finished product.

  • Mario Tanev

    Does anyone know if the gutter is going to be paved over? It looks like a very uneven terrain for bicyclists and it could cause slippage (similar to riding next to train tracks). It makes me wonder if that’s why the bicyclist in the photo is actually riding in the buffer instead.

  • Anonymous

    I rode this yesterday and already can’t wait for the new lane to be repaved (which is hopefully in the plans, yes?). It’s not just that the pavement is in poor repair in some places. The seam between concrete and asphalt is also dicey, and the concrete curves down toward the curb, which I found challenging to ride on. But no doubt I’m happy to have some space between me and the zooming cars on Fell.

  •  Wide planters instead of soft hit posts are worth riding on bumpy concrete. Cars run over soft hit posts. Cars run into concrete planters.

  • It’s the beginning of a new era.  In three months, we’ll be taking it completely for granted and demanding more. (A good thing.)  Am now longing for the bike lane on Oak.  Yes, inevitably, the mixed use lane on the Panhandle i going to be way too crowded, but there actually is room in the Panhandle for both walkers/joggers and bicyclists. There really is, it would just take some re-imagination and a bit of repaving.  But I will accept a separated bike lane along the road if that’s the best we can do.

    Am counting down for when the Gas Station from Hell goes out of business. 3000 days?  1000? Peak Oil approaches.

  • Anonymous

    Hm, a 20 mph green wave, eh? Is that a challenge?

  • I love San Francisco.

    I moved here from Los Angeles last year — because I wanted more of a cyclist lifestyle. San Francisco is already a great city to ride in, and it’s getting better everyday : }

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    The City should grind and pave new bike lanes as they are developed to eliminate bumpy, uneven surfaces, as they do for cars.  A bumpy street near my house was recently redone, and now its as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

  • Anonymous

    When I used to live at Fell and Oak, I used to call that collection of 3 gas stations + a car wash “Autograd.” So many cars in one place.

  • Michael Morris

    I also ride the new path on monday, I agree the curved sidewalk felt a little weird, and I still had a feeling some right turner would vere into the lane, but overall a good experience compared to riding on fell a few years ago. Aside from weather I have no reason not to bike to work everyday now.

  • It’s not a lane, it’s a ditch. They should repave as soon as possible.

  • DJ

    The advantages of a separated bike lane are partially negated by having to now ride in a concrete gutter.

  • Davecuriel

    I ride this everyday. -thank you thank you thank you- 

  • The Green Wave isn’t for anyone wearing spandex, it’s for the 8-80 crowd.

  • william

    what we need for the panhandle is signage directing pedestrians to the southern path.. there are two paths! one should be for cyclists and the other for peds. this is how minneapolis does it.. look at the sign on the left of this pic..

  • There is signage on either end, though it only restricts bikes to the northern path.

    Maybe we should slow down on the Panhandle and perhaps even yield to pedestrians trying to cross the northern path on one of the crosspaths?

  • Anonymous

    Rode the new Fell St. bike lane, so glad to see these things done, keep them coming.

    One question, as I was riding in the lane, couple blocks past DMV, all of a sudden the lane stopped, leaving one wondering what to do next, kind of dangerous. Is the lane unfinished? or will there be signs what to do from there?

  • mikesonn

    A traffic lane of Fell should be removed since there are choke points on either end and a protected lane added. No reason Fell should expand to 4 lanes through there.

    Problem solved. Slower bikes can stay on path but many many more will use the protected lane on the street.

  • mikesonn

    20 mph green wave isn’t for 8-80. It is to slow car traffic.

    Rob is right, 20 mph is a challenge for an everyday rider or commuter in work clothes.

  • Anonymous

    For the record, I was mostly joking, and I do understand that the 20 mph green wave is intended to slow auto traffic, not to encourage cyclists to speed up. Although it would be interesting to try to keep up and make the lights while biking, I hope nobody goes for it in a bike lane full of people.

    Over time I have made a more concerted effort to bike slower, especially in situations where I feel compelled to “keep up” with traffic. I find I make safer decisions and enjoy my ride more after taking it down a notch. It’s good to be able to drop the hammer when safety dictates, but the rest of the time I try to remind myself that it’s a road, not a racetrack.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, this is one of my pet peeves with the new buffered bike lanes coming in: the lane that was previously for parking was designed for parking, so it’s surface is absolute crap. They dd the same thing with eastern Cesar Chavez bike lane, which is also pretty crappy. I would love to see the MTA get the Fell St bike lane repaved. It’s a little frustrating how hard it is to get people to understand how to make a bike lane properly, but at least we’re making progress.

  • The timing is already set at 25 MPH – that number marks the maximum speed, not the minimum. The current minimum is already doable for bike riders who keep up a brisk pace, and, it seems, would only get easier as the speed window is lowered.

  • Prinzrob

    Not to nitpick, Aaron, but it is such a popular misconception that I would like to point out that there are no minimum speed requirements on local streets and roads, only on freeways. The only requirement is to pull over at a safe location if one is holding up a line of traffic behind oneself, which wouldn’t apply on any multi-lane street or any other situation where there is an opportunity to pass (i.e. everywhere in the city).

  • Not sure if this was what Aaron meant but…

    If the lights are timed for 25 MPH, that means if you are at the front of the queue, and the light turns green, and you go 25 MPH, you will hit all greens, but if you go 26 MPH, you will get a red.

    However, if you go 20 MPH, you might still hit all greens. You will be hitting the lights later in the green cycle, but there is a minimum speed that if you maintain, you will make it through the entire green wave with green lights.

    Go to Valencia sometime with a speedometer, start at 24th, and head towards 16th at 10 MPH instead of the 13 MPH green wave speed….

  • @Prinzrob:disqus As @twitter-14678929:disqus described, I was referring to the signal timing speed, or the minimum/maximum threshold which travelers must stay within to make each green light without stopping.

  • Prinzrob

    Thanks for the clarification Aaron, as it can get confusing talking signal timing vs. speed limits. Seems like a wasted opportunity to lower one without the other, though.

  • Don

    Fine, just keep the bikes off the sidewalks, and we’ll be happy and safe.

  • Jason94117

    Nice shot of the guy running the light on the wiggle.

  • Gneiss

    Not true.  The light is red on pole adjacent to Scott and on Divisidero, indicating that he turned on the green.

  • JayW

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re talking about, but I’m guessing that’s at baker where the Panhandle starts.  You can go up on the path there in the Panhandle.

  • mikesonn

    It would be nice if the city removed a lane of travel (Fell goes from 3 lanes to 4 when it crosses Baker) and provided a parking protected bike lane on the road. That way we wouldn’t have so much conflict on the north path of the panhandle.


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