Eyes on the Street: Bike Lanes on Cesar Chavez, Green Wave on 11th

Eleventh Street. Photo: Mark Dreger

Two bicycling upgrades were spotted in the eastern neighborhoods this past week: Preliminary striping for bike lanes on western Cesar Chavez Street and a “green wave” on 11th Street in west SoMa.

Cesar Chavez as seen last Wednesday. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/dfro78/status/382913490387628033/photo/1##@dfro78/Twitter##

The unprotected bike lanes being installed on Cesar Chavez are part of the ongoing rehab on the section west of Hampshire Street. A photo posted on Twitter last Wednesday shows temporary striping on fresh asphalt, and it’s unknown when permanent stripes will be laid down.

Construction on western Cesar Chavez was originally set to finish this summer, but the Department of Public Works website currently says it will be completed in the winter.

Meanwhile, the new green wave signal re-timing on 11th Street spotted by Mark Dreger comes as a bit of a pleasant surprise. The only other known green waves installed in SF so far are on Valencia and 14th Streets. The SF County Transportation Authority approved funds in April for green waves on five other streets, but 11th wasn’t on the list, and I couldn’t turn up anything on the project. The other five green waves are scheduled to be installed by next March, according to SFCTA documents [PDF]:

  • Arguello from Lake to Clement
  • North Point from Stockton to Polk
  • Folsom from 15th to 24th Streets
  • Fulton from Laguna to Steiner
  • Potrero from Alameda to 25th Street

We’ll keep you posted as we learn more about these projects.

  • Eric Fischer

    Very interesting that they added the green wave signage on 11th. I wonder if it is just acknowledging timing that was already in place: 15 mph on 650-foot blocks means a 30-second offset between intersections, which I think may have already been the case.

    Or maybe it presages timing changes for the lowered speed limits on Folsom and Harrison? If they go to 30-second offsets the whole way, that would give the 900-foot blocks a 20 mph green wave instead of the previous 30.

  • gb52

    As much as I applaud retiming signals on well traveled bike corridors, why haven’t we seen more done to both time signals better for transit and more importantly preempt and hold signals for transit. As part of SFgo I am surprised we have not reaped more of the benefits. Yes, there is work to be done with stop locations and traffic engineering, but there obvious cases where we would benefit from this quick and simple change.

    What is the current status of transit preemption, particularly in SF? Additionally, could signal preemption be tied in with nextmuni GPS tracking and other existing traffic and speed information in order to predict speeds and flows with even greater resolution to improve operations even further?

  • Anonymous

    Great to see the green wave on 11th St and that it’s set to 15 mph (Valencia’s 13 mph is too slow, I think).

    As for the bike lanes on Cesar Chavez, I’m not impressed. I cannot understand why the city didn’t forgo the wasted space that is the median and use it to create buffered bike lanes instead. Plus, nothing was done to address the *worst* part of riding on Cesar Chavez: crossing the hairball. That is just atrocious and I’m disappointed the city isn’t addressing this intersection. Cesar Chavez will never become an 8-to-80 bike lane without addressing the hairball and the way the current design treats pedestrians and cyclists as second-class citizens hardly worthy of any consideration.

  • Don’t most people just go one block on 11th (between Howard and Folsom?) Green wave isn’t much benefit for one block. (And having to cross three lanes of traffic on Howard midblock to get into the left bike turn lane onto 11th is a nasty piece of street design only for the strong of heart.)

    Right now the timing is again messed up on the Green Wave on 14th, either that or the speed is set to about 20 mph. I have consistently been getting caught Valencia or Mission when I used to make the whole set. I am okay with 15 mph when going down hill on 14th, but would appreciate 13 mph on the flat part. On Valencia Street, going downhill either direction towards 18th, 13 mph is okay but I have a hard time with 13mph uphill from 18th to 22nd. I do it, but it is not relaxed, I feel stressed, and I get sweaty. Great for exercise bicycling, but not good for transportation biking. And I am not the slowest one out there because I generally pass two or three other bicyclists in those four blocks in order to make the lights, and generally no more than one bicyclist passes me. So the question is, what kind of bicyclist should the Green Wave speed accommodate?

    Arguello light timing is terrible for bicycles, as is Polk. Polk is especially mean to any bicyclist going uphill.

  • Eric Fischer

    Re: the choice of speeds:

    That’s the thing about green waves—it’s presented as a bike optimization, but it’s really just a function of the block length with very little possibility for variation.

    With 630-foot blocks, if the signal timing is coordinated at all, 14th Street will naturally be ~14 mph (630 ft / 30 sec * 3600 sec/hr / 5280 ft/mi). They could raise or lower it a tiny bit by choosing an offset that is slightly shorter or longer than 30 seconds, but if they do that, every other nearby street also has to raise or lower its speed proportionately, because you can’t just change one street’s timing, it all has to be part of a coordinated system to function.

    I’m guessing Polk pairs adjacent blocks’ signals together for ~16 mph, trading capacity for speed, since the alternative is a quite slow 8 mph, and long Richmond blocks like Arguello are also naturally 16 mph.

    I’m a 10 mph bicyclist myself, so I lose in just about any conceivable wave situation, but I’ll save my griping for pedestrian signal practices instead.

  • gneiss

    I use 11th from Division to Mission every weekday that I go onto Valencia to pick up my daughter from school. The approximate 15 mph light timing has existed for at least the few years since I started using this street in my route, so I get the sense that the new signs are primarily to help cyclists with route planning rather than any change in the way the street works.

    As with most green wave streets, I am continually amazed at how motorists race between the lights, as I catch up to them at each intersection. It just shows how messed up our priorities are that we think it is a-okay to accelerate to 25-30 mph between lights only to come to a complete stop and wait for 5-15 seconds at each intersection.

  • Sprague

    The fact that many motorists tend to accelerate and then brake from block to block (despite the presence of “green wave” traffic lights) seems to show that gas is priced too cheaply, encouraging people to use it inefficiently. The needless excess exhaust from adjacent cars zipping from red light to red light diminishes the joys and health benefits of cycling.

  • Sprague

    I, too, don’t understand SFMTA’s continuing failure to utilize this simple solution to speed up Muni and improve its reliability. Furthermore, it seems like transit signal preemption for Muni vehicles could be implemented quickly and without a lengthy public hearing and environmental review process.

  • Bruce Halperin

    North Point is already sweet going east (downhill), but it’s terrible going west (uphill) – I never get two greens in a row. As for Arguello – aren’t Lake and Clement like 2 blocks apart? What’s the point of such a short “green wave”? Did they mean Lake and Cabrillo?

  • Anonymous

    I think you overestimate how much thought it put into such things by the typical human being.

    I, being a complete geek, used to draft semi trucks when driving from Champaign to Chicago in order to save gas.

  • Anonymous

    I noticed that too. I actually think there are like 3-4 lights there because there is some weird offset block, and I do recall sitting at a red for all of them one morning when I was in a hurry….

  • timsmith

    Transit signal priority (where buses/trains sometimes get a slightly longer green light) exists all over the place and seems to have minimal impact. True transit signal preemption on the other hand (where transit vehicles ALWAYS get a green light, a la Caltrain and many American light rail systems) seems to be an entirely foreign concept in SF.

  • Eric Fischer

    Absolute preemption is basically not possible for street-running vehicles because you can’t arbitrarily cut the cross traffic’s signal phase short without still giving the necessary clearance interval. It works for trains only because they can be detected far enough back that the intersection can be cleared before the train gets there. They extend the green instead (where they do it) because you can do that without trapping anybody in the middle of the intersection.

  • And the Townsend track removal.

  • Gezellig

    Couldn’t agree more! Why waste all the effort for 2nd or 3rd-class solutions? Really? There is absolutely space on César Chavez for protected cycletracks (complete with Dutch-style cycletrack lefts).

    Sure, a Class II bike lane is better than nothing but all it will do is make people who already feel brave enough to bike to use it. That “improvement” is *no* 8-80 bike lane, nor is it likely to encourage that many new cyclists to use it.

    What a waste.

  • This Cesar Chavez design is a complete joke, and this will only be clear when better stuff is implemented elsewhere. I assume that various constituencies who like to drive to and from the 101 quickly made this happen and that SFMTA had no option but to agree it was “safe”. I also assume that the board of the Bike Coalition is still crying bloody murder about it, and the board of SPUR has laid down on the road in front of multiple “Google Buses” to protest?

    This is horrid. Ageist. We need to make it a civil rights issue. Government funding is being used for infrastructure that excludes people by its very design.

  • Anonymous

    Google Maps shows stoplights at Clement, Euclid, [4-way stop at Cornwall], California, Sacramento, and Lake. The extra intersections are because of how the two street grids come together along Arguello (Laurel and Presidio Heights’, which extend from downtown, and the Richmond’s.) It’s a quarter-mile stretch.

  • SFnative74

    I think Cesar Chavez will see a huge improvement. The project addresses a number of issues and was always intended to be more than a pure bike project (ped safety/crossings, bus stops, stormwater management, efficient lighting, and yes, traffic/truck accommodation). If you hate the bike lanes, you can use 26th St one block over which is very slow and has much less traffic, then cut over to Cesar Chavez at Bryant where a buffered, parking-free bikeway will connect you to the hairball. See how it works when it is done, then throw a tantrum if you like.

  • Straw man argument: I was not advocating a “pure bike project”, and you forgot “static automobile accommodation” and how it is obviously deemed to be more important than travel by bicycle.

    Separating bike routes from motor vehicle routes can be useful, so will 26th St. have a “green wave”? A safer route that is slow is a bad option and a fast street with bike lanes only and no provision for safe left turns is still a joke. With some imagination we can see how the latter violates at least the spirit of age discrimination laws.

  • SFnative74

    Static automobile accommodation? This is the biggest road diet the city has ever done, other than tearing down a freeway. Not sure what you are talking about here. Or maybe you think think 2 lanes of traffic would be ok instead of 6.

  • Anonymous

    Todd – be careful not to fall into the same trap as all the New Yorker’s opining on Google buses.

    26th Street won’t have a “green wave” because there is only one traffic light on it from Mission to Bryant. It’s an awesome road – passes by a park with children playing, has next to no auto traffic, and I’m pretty sure you can score some good weed if that’s your prediliction. Even with Chavez in place, I’ll probably take 26th. But there are plenty of reasons for the lanes to be there on Chavez.

  • Murph – OK, thanks, I also use 26th now. I meant that no stops will be required at all. Don’t all the unsignalled intersections on this route have 4-way stops?

  • This is a typical problem of USA-style cheerleading about infrastructure improvements: The relative differences are considered just as important as the real ones, and from aggressive people these are enhanced with repeated straw man arguments.

  • SFnative74

    This is typical of snide Euro-style superiority, dismissing someone’s response to a rant as being “USA-style cheerleading.” You admit in your original post that you are assuming what happened, and that is clearly true as you don’t know what happened. To accuse this project of being ageist and horrid strikes me as ill-informed sensationalism.

  • “Horrid” is obvious hyperbole. It is definitely ageist and a joke for such a major street. I think that 26th St. is not a bad alternative for people who want a more tranquil experience, but Cesar Chavez still does not have what a fast street needs. Period. The blocks are very long, so even if e.g. someone takes 26th most of the way they still have to travel a considerable distance on Cesar Chavez to access a destination on that street.

    I was out of town in Euro-style land when the street was re-designed. I think it is fine to say that this is an improvement but only if you also admit that it is far from what is necessary. The compromise was a result of automobilist domination. Personally, I do everything I can to stop killing children.

  • Luke

    What kind of bicyclist should the green wave accommodate? I’d say the one who would otherwise drive, to maximize environmental, safety, and health benefits.

    Anyway, I love Arguello. Almost never have to stop.

    My other thought is that if a green wave is timed too fast, it’s not really the end of the world – the slower bicyclist will make several lights in a row, and then miss one, thus getting back on the front end of the wave (and gradually falling behind again). But if it is timed too slowly, then a faster bicyclist will NEVER be able to go any faster than the green wave speed. This seems to be a much worse outcome.

  • Anonymous

    “I’d say the one who would otherwise drive”

    How does that translate to how fast someone rides a bike?

  • Luke

    A faster bike is a more similar mode to driving. A slower bike is more similar to transit, just based on the amount of time it takes to get somewhere. Do you have any comment on the rest of my post?

  • Anonymous

    You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

  • Anonymous

    Are they adding parking where the tracks were?

  • mikesonn

    It was parking before, right?

  • All the meters are still there and cars are parking there. I’m not sure about the loading zone in front of Adobe. Maybe they should put some paid-for corporate-shuttle zone in there.


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