City Sets Out to Create Safer, Greener Streets on the Wiggle

Photo: Aaron Bialick

The Wiggle could be transformed into a greener, more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly route in the coming years thanks to a new planning effort launched by the SFMTA and the SF Public Utilities Commission.

At an open house community meeting yesterday, planners shopped potential treatments like traffic diverters, traffic circles, bulb-outs, and raised crosswalks that could be used to calm motor traffic while adding plants and surfacing treatments to absorb more storm runoff.

“We want to think about how we can make the streets for people,” said Luis Montoya, a planner at the SFMTA’s Livable Streets Subdivision. “We’ve been hearing for several years about several issues going on on the Wiggle, whether it be cut-through traffic, bikes and cars speeding and not yielding to pedestrians, and people wanting to see more green on their streets.”

Bicycle traffic has grown dramatically in recent years on the Wiggle, the flattest central route connecting the eastern and western neighborhoods by zig-zagging through the Lower Haight. During that time, the SFMTA has added green-backed sharrows and more visible crosswalks, and the agency plans to remove parking spaces at corners (a.k.a. daylighting) this summer to improve visibility at intersections.

Connections to the Wiggle have also seen major improvements recently, with the installation of the Fell and Oak protected bike lanes on the west end, and an overhaul of Duboce Avenue on the east end that included a new green bike channel.

The SFMTA is now able to embark on more intensive changes to the Wiggle’s streetscape thanks to a partnership with the PUC, which is looking to replace the sewers and add water-absorbing treatments (similar to the project under construction on western Cesar Chavez Street), planners said.

The PUC is providing $4.2 million in addition to $800,000 from the Prop B street improvement bond. By combining projects and funds, both agencies can save time and money, planners said. The project is currently scheduled to be completed in mid-2016.

Ambitious visions for the Wiggle have been sketched out by city planners and livable streets advocates. In 2011, bicycle planners from the SFMTA joined planners from the Netherlands in a workshop called ThinkBike, where they set out to re-design major SF bicycle routes for walking and biking first. The conceptual plans that came out of the workshop depicted on-street greenways with chicanes and traffic lane closures, as well as green-backed sharrows and bike channels like the ones which were later implemented. Last year the SF Bicycle Coalition created more detailed renderings of a Wiggle greenway based on those visions.

The SFBC's rendering of a Wiggle greenway.
Existing problems and opportunities on the Wiggle. Click to enlarge. Image: SFMTA

Montoya said the newly-launched project is “definitely an opportunity to have a public dialogue about” the ThinkBike concepts.

“We don’t want to jump a step and say we’re going to be implementing those things, but I think certainly there were a lot of good ideas that came out of that, and it’s built momentum for this project,” he said. “It really opened people’s minds to what was possible… it got people to say, ‘Wow, the streets could be very different from the way they are today.'”

Bike commuters are far from the first travelers to rely on the Wiggle for relief from San Francisco’s notorious hills. Before the valley was developed, it was used for thousands of years as a walking route by the native Ohlone people, and subsequently the Spaniards, as San Francisco natural historian Joel Pomerantz explained to Bay Nature. It also partially served as a waterway, which figures into the giant mural along the Duboce bikeway. (Pomerantz, who led the mural project, noted that the imagined vision of a streambed is “only partially correct.”)

One section of the Duboce bikeway mural featuring "a fantastical depiction of the the Wiggle's natural history." Image ## Bay Nature##

“All of this has been paved over by 90-degree angles, and bicyclists are now experiencing this at a kinetic level,” said Lawrence Li, a board member of the Lower Haight Merchants and Neighbors Association.

Li said he’s “delighted” to see city agencies approach sustainability on the Wiggle from both a traffic and ecological standpoint. “Slowing things down, and getting them to a more human pace, is beneficial to the neighborhood, but also improves the overall functioning of transportation throughout the city.”

Planners will be looking at potential locations for street safety tools like traffic diverters, which discourage drivers from using the streets but allow bike traffic to filter through, said Montoya. “People have said this has worked great in Berkeley, Palo Alto, and other cities, so it seems like this would be a neighborhood to think really closely about doing it. Where, exactly — that’s what tonight’s meeting is about.”

Calming the Wiggle, he noted, is a key part of the larger vision for a next-gen route that runs continuously from the bay to the beach.

“It’s this route that we’ve been able to start connecting the pieces on,” said Montoya. “Because of improvements to Market Street, Oak and Fell, the Panhandle to JFK, we can really build out the network in order to allow people to get around town on facilities that are safe enough for people with a variety of abilities.”

The SFMTA is considering measures to reduce car traffic on Scott Street. Shown here is a conceptual sketch of Scott from the ThinkBike workshop with Dutch bike planners. Image: SFMTA
Image: SFMTA
  • Anonymous

    These plans are really exciting! I know Duboce & Market is only a far corner of the area in question, but I’m hoping at some point planners will focus on improving the transition from eastbound Duboce to eastbound Market St. Currently this requires cyclists becoming pedestrians to cross the street. Imagine a bike signal with its own slot in the traffic light cycle at that intersection!

  • Anonymous

    The best way to do this is to get cars completely off streets and into tunnels… and discourage auto transit by imposing road tolls to fund tunnel construction.

  • Marcie

    *slow clap*

    You have single-handed solved San Francisco’s transportation problems. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    There is a bicycle signal there already – just not programmed into the mix. Not sure what is taking so long to get it going. The physical signal has been there for something like six months or more.

  • keenplanner

    There were some nice drawings at the meeting, and who doesn’t love bioswales, but why not build a true Euro-style woonerf? There are so many reasons why they are great: community building, placemaking, traffic calming (car AND bike) permeability, flexibility, etc. The only reason to NOT build them is MTA’s unwillingness to play hardball with traffic danger issues.

    Dear MTA: You can facilitate the movement of cars OR you can improve safety in the bike/pedestrian space. One is inherently opposed to the other.

    Let’s stop settling for half-baked projects.

  • vcs

    Callout on the map:

    Neighbors … are interested in seeing traffic calming features along the Wiggle, especially on the inside corners were bicyclists turn.

    Steiner and Waller has become especially bad from a pedestrian standpoint. Perhaps a large bulb-out to create a ‘choke-point’ would help. Or speed bumps.

  • Lis

    I would love the Wiggle to be a car-free space that celebrates bicycling and walking (except for the 1 block of Haight street since I think it is necessary for buses to cut through). I hope the residents in this neighborhood will recognize that their quality of life and property value will increase if this happens.

    I like that the SFBC rendering has parklets and public seating. It will encourage people to sit and watch the bikes pass by.

    I wish SF could be the kind of place where a woonerf would work but I don’t think it will because american drivers go way too fast and our cars are much larger than European cars. I don’t trust our drivers to learn how to navigate a new design and so many drivers in SF aren’t local so it isn’t the type of thing they will simply get used to.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t thank me – I stood on the shoulders of giants in dozens of other cities more forward-thinking than ours, with much better bicycle and public transit infrastructure. We are stuck in a 1950’s mentality of bikes vs. cars and only wasting above-ground space, when in a dense city like SF, we should be leveraging the assets of the vertical dimension more fully.

  • Ryan Brady

    The sci-fi geek in me really wants to see that, but it would be prohibitively expensive to shunt all traffic underground, and I would be worried about the earthquake safety of it.

  • Bob Gunderson

    Some person complained that a bike didn’t stop for them and they felt scared so they need to “Fix Wiggle”. Get rid of it!!!

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, it reminds me of the modernist visions for new york that now seem pretty dystopian with all the cars underground in endless tunnels. I think people don’t always realize on a conscious level how depressing and difficult it is to spend much more than a few minutes below ground.

    Earthquakes are a problem, flooding from our outdated sewer system, potential flooding from sea level rise, crashes, dealing with the exhaust and parking, induced demand, cost, disruptions due to construction, etc. Most of America (including SF) has had endless trouble putting phone, internet, and electricity cables underground, how does anyone expect to put cars underground too?

  • gneiss

    If the Polk Street process is any guide, a vocal minority of residents will fight any changes in parking quantity with every tool at their disposal. I think the best approach will be instead focus on changes that make walking across the streets more pleasant and predictable first. This can be done with day lighting intersections, raising the grade of crosswalks to the sidewalks (this will slow both cyclists and motorists), and changing the signage to add ‘Cyclists Yield to Pedestrians’ at each intersection along the wiggle. Focusing on what residents in the in this neighborhood want, which is easier walking (at least at first) and more predictable cycling behavior will go a long way towards building acceptance for cycling infrastructure by later adding forced turns, less parking and wider sidewalks.

  • Ryan Brady

    The raised crosswalk design is an excellent idea.

  • Show me your dilithium crystals (i.e. an unlimited source of nearly free energy that is not toxic to humans or the environment ) and, sure, you can put everything you want underground. With the foreseeable energy constraints we have for the next two or three decades, however, most private cars are likely to go away and we’ll be hard-pressed to put more than just a few heavily used transit lines underground.

  • Anonymous

    Have you lived in NY, Tokyo, London, Berlin, Oslo, etc? They all have extensive subway and roadway tunnel systems. Japan has as much or more earthquake hazard as SF, yet they manage. Why would automobile tunnels be “scary”, but BART and Muni tunnels are fine, and you presumably have no problems going to the top of many uber-tall buildings in SF, or driving (in car or bus) on the many freeway bridgeways through the city? This makes absoutely zero logical sense.

    As far as the economics, it is easy. The combination of land value, plus road tolls (justified by increased transit efficiency, quality of life, road safety, etc) makes it 100% self-funded.

  • Anonymous

    If tunnel-roadways are designed to surface every 5 blocks (for connecting to major cross-streets), this mitigates any driver tunnel-fatigue, while still offering tremendous improvements in efficiency, quality of life, safety, and flexibility.

    I have driven the world’s longest tunnels (at >40km) and can attest that it does get tiring after about 25 km, but before that, it is much preferable to surface driving, due to the fact that there are far fewer/zero intersections.

  • Anonymous

    That’s awesome! I’ll look for it next time I’m there. Can’t wait til it gets activated.

  • Anonymous

    ohh, puhleeze!

  • Anonymous

    I second Karen, show me your dilithium crystals. All the cities you mentioned have extensive RAIL underground, but very little (and in Berlin virtually no) car traffic underground other than what’s comparable to our doyle drive or broadway and stockton tunnels. Maybe the best example of the tunnels that you want would be Paris? but we lost princess Diana in those so I think we can all agree that they’re both dangerous and not worth the cost of losing a princess. Plus most of central paris (which could swallow SF and then some) doesn’t have them.

    Underground train drivers DO often get depressed/suicidal. I work less than two miles from my home and do all my shopping locally so I don’t take transit underground regularly, but riding a train is very different from driving.

    In regards to earthquakes, I’m not saying it’s impossible to engineer, but it’s difficult and expensive and prone to trapping people underground. Look how long the central subway, the new bay bridge, and large buildings that are built to withstand earthquakes take to construct? The disturbance is too much to bear for something with such little benefit to the city as facilitating auto traffic within the city.

    I realize that this is just your pet idea that few people would agree is a feasible plan, but you still haven’t countered the point that a city that can’t put utilities under ground or even much of it’s transit could put cars there. Did you hear about the scandal of the Big Dig in Boston that still tarnishes all of that cities infrastructure projects?

  • Anonymous

    I thought we wouldn’t have surface streets for cars in your dystopian vision!!!! are you telling me this is just designed to make driving easier??!?! then what’s the point when we could spend all that money making transit, walking, and biking nice enough to not need to drive above OR below ground.

  • Ryan Brady

    I would like to see some tunneling for a few select streets. My Valencia solution would basically be
    – Widen the sidewalks to where the current bike lanes end.
    – Convert the remaining road into a bikeway.
    – Every 4 or so blocks, have an underpass for motor through traffic.
    – The underpasses would also have turnouts into underground parking.

    Biggest stumbling block is, I think, deliveries to stores, but I could see allowing delivery vehicles to access the street before 7am or something.

  • Where is your evidence that energy constraints won’t matter? Here is my evidence that energy constraints will essentially reshape American culture over the next two decades.

  • Anonymous

    Even with all the corruption, the Big Dig came out to a very economical price, given the benefits. I absolutely believe that undergrounding Van Ness, then shunting all surface North-South vehicle traffic off Franklin, Gough, Van Ness, Polk, Larking and Hyde would be a huge benefit to San Francisco residents, businesses, and taxpayers.

  • Per

    Lisa, most blocks can never be “car-free” because people have garages that require access. Plus you have to give access to emergency vehicles, vehicles transporting disabled people and so on.

    The city just about got away with it on one side of Duboce by Church because there were no garages on the northside. but the existence of just one garage on the south side prevented both sides of that short black being car-free.

  • Anonymous

    BRT first

  • Anonymous

    We could solve the 20% or more of the SF housing crisis with condos built on a converted Franklin Street, alone.

  • Anonymous

    Not if it costs a median greenbelt! … who is being automobile-centric here – the one proposing removing trees to built more roadway, or the one proposing removing all cars from many large SF streets?

  • Ryan Brady

    Pretty much any place can be through-traffic free though. If they converted that section into a car-only dead end by putting up some hard posts, then the only people to drive in would be the person with the garage or someone who’s lost.

  • Til then, I prefer to take Sanchez to 14th to Market rather than staying on Duboce. Though 14th to Market can also be challenging.

  • Per

    Yeah, maybe, but the one time i lived on a dead-end it became one huge parking lot. Neighbors would block each other oin and share the keys. Total night mare.

    Plus that only works on very short blocks. I can’t see how you could make several blocks a dead end.

  • Per


    Cars are here for probably 100 to 200 more years. Even if we start to run out of gas (and shale gas just deferred that for decades), there’s also electric cars and all the rest. You are naive if you think cars will vanish in the US.

    And the sad part about that is that, to the extent that you try and plan policy around the disappearance of cars, you are missing real life opportunities for consensus, co-operation and compromise.

    Realism, Karen, realism.

  • Ryan Brady

    I would just have a series of t’s. Basically you could get to the side streets from 10th, 12th, 14th, 16th, etc. but 11th, 13th, 15th, 17th, etc. would have the hard posts on either side.

    I think it would require there being no street parking allowed.

  • Anonymous

    Does anybody know why raised crosswalks are not yet the norm in the city’s parks at least? I have seen only two in the Presidio. Seems like raised crosswalks would reduce a lot of the commuting through Golden Gate Park — something that makes walking there during rush hours far less enjoyable than it should be.

  • Anonymous

    Nice. Or at the very least, eliminate all parking, bring sidewalks out to bike lanes, reduce traffic to one lane, 10mph zone. No Stopping zone 8am-1pm & 4pm-10pm

  • mikesonn

    I think we need to just start ignoring Sanfordia’s comments and not get sucked into the black hole (pun somewhat intended). Lets try to keep the discussion in the real world.

  • 94103er

    Sorry to see your comment got so many downvotes, Bob. Readers are so derailed by Sanfordia’s silly comments that their humor detectors were malfunctioning.

  • There isn’t enough electricity to run even a fraction of our current fleet of cars if replaced by electric ones. If we burn coal to do it, we’ll destroy the planet. Already our electric situation will be strained just by trying to air condition the hot areas of the state (and the country) as climate change increases temperature volatility and decreases electricity available from hydroelectricity in both California and the Pacific NW. Already nationally VMT and VMT per capita is dropping. Very, very few electric cars have been sold. Already car ownership per capita is dropping. Already San Francisco is becoming appreciably more dense in the NE quadrant to the point cars will become impractical for any trip within the NE quadrant. There simply isn’t enough space. If San Francisco continues to marginalize pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users to accommodate a shrinking percentage of drivers, all we get is congestion, pollution and deaths of vulnerable road users. Now it’s true that the shrinking percentage of car drivers will be rich and powerful, but still I think external factors will drive both density increases and car ownership decreases to the point we will see rapid change in car use in San Francisco.

    Worldwide, oil available for export is dropping. The US still imports over half its oil. Fracking requires a lot of energy and a lot of water. Energy returned on energy invested in all new oil is dropping, leaving less available for society. In addition, a large part of the what we count as “oil” from US oil production is actually not oil but natural gas liquids that has much lower energy content and mostly cannot be used to make gasoline or diesel fuel. You will notice that even with our supposed “revolution”in oil production, oil prices remain quite high. If they get too high, it crashes demand, pulling them back down. But if they’re not high enough, all the hard to produce (and expensive) oil stays in the ground. The US economy is between and a rock and hard place on oil, and it’s only going to get worse.

    If climate disasters hit hard the next few years and developed countries actually get motivated to seriously put a price on carbon emissions, the change will happen even faster.

    By the end of 2015, we will see a transportation metamorphosis in cities that already have some density because people will be so much better off economically living where it’s possible to live well without a car. A small electric car fleet will appear in rich suburban areas but these will likely be accompanied by private solar panels to provide the electricity. Probably the top 5% of US households will always have cars. Another 20% may be able to afford one electric car plus the necessary electricity. As cities grow denser, people who really, really want a car-based way of life (and can afford it) will give up on cities and move to car-based suburbs.

    Will Americans like this transformation of their way of life? I expect not. I expect many will hold onto to their cars even though it impoverishes them rather than adjust their way of life. Cities and individuals that adapt, however, will flourish. One thing San Francisco has always done well is change with the times.

  • Even if we start to run out of gas (and shale gas just deferred that
    for decades), there’s also electric cars and all the rest. You are naive
    if you think cars will vanish in the US.

    I hear this over and over and always hear “I was promised flying cars!”

    Asphalt – oil
    Paving – electric backhoes? graders?

    Tires – oil
    Container ships – not running on electric, and needed to ship cars/parts
    Lubricants – oil
    Electricity – doesn’t come from fairy dust

  • Mr Rogers

    I think you mean the voice of the majority will fight the vocal minority of cyclists who see cars (and pedestrians) as the enemy rather than looking for ways to coexist. Very happy to see the success they’ve had with that on Polk.

  • Mr Rogers

    Yep, exactly; bikes want the Wiggle all to themselves, and it shows every day in the way they behave.

  • Mr Rogers

    The main danger to pedestrians on the Wiggle now *is* from bikes, not cars–and every measure put in place to increase bike traffic along the Wiggle has only increased that danger.

    It’s good to see cyclists openly declaring war on cars, though, rather than being coy about it.

  • Archie Leach

    Since that guy killed the ped at Market and Castro, the SFPD has upped it’s enforcement on cyclists violating basic laws like the failing to stop at a controlled intersection and the such and they’ve been concentrating their efforts in high bicyclists areas like the Wiggle and Harrison and Valencia street. I haven’t been nailed but it has caused me to seriously up my “obeyance” of traffic laws, but more so I’ve changed my routes to travel those roads that are lightly used by bicyclists as I’m still not exactly the best citizen when it involves obeying ALL the traffic laws when riding my bike.


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