Advocates: Ocean Ave Plans Come Up Short for Safer Bicycling at Balboa Park

Proposed designs for Ocean and Geneva Avenues include some pedestrian bulb-outs and a new plaza, but wouldn’t add much to the intermittent bike lane network. Ocean’s traffic lanes would remain mostly untouched. Images: Planning Department

A city proposal for Ocean and Geneva Avenues would do little to make bicycling safer and more comfortable between the Balboa Park BART and Muni station and destinations west of City College’s main campus, say bike advocates. While plans to add bulb-outs and tame the hairy Ocean and Geneva intersection would make the streets somewhat safer, overall, the car-centric status quo wouldn’t change significantly.

The proposal, presented at a community meeting last week by the Planning Department, SFMTA, and other city agencies, is intended to complement other plans to spruce up Ocean to the west of Phelan Avenue at City College. No roadway space on that stretch is set to be reallocated for biking, walking, or transit, save for a few planted bulb-outs with seating.

The eastern section that passes over Highway 280 and connects to Balboa Park station was addressed separately, planners say, because it’s more complex and they wanted to look at re-configuring the roadway there. The designs also take into account the future removal and re-configuration of freeway ramps in the Balboa Park area, which is currently being developed by the SF County Transportation Authority.

The Planning Department is asking people to weigh in via an online survey [PDF] until October 29 (extended from the 22nd, though the website hasn’t been updated yet).

These sections of Ocean and Geneva are currently some of the most stressful streets to bike on, despite serving as a vital connection for commuters biking from BART and neighborhoods to the east. Ocean has intermittent bike lanes that disappear at some of the hairiest spots, while Geneva has four traffic lanes and two parking lanes. Both streets have steep inclines in the westbound direction. Combined with heavy motor traffic, it’s no wonder planners counted very few people biking on them.

Ocean, looking east toward Balboa Park BART.

“As anyone who has been out there recently knows, it’s a high-stress place to bike or walk or drive, but it’s also in an area with a lot of students and families — people who want to bike,” said Tyler Frisbee, deputy director of the SF Bicycle Coalition.

The city has proposed curbside, unprotected bike lanes on Geneva, which has a steep hill and is less direct than Ocean. Once people on bikes reach the massive intersection of Ocean and Geneva, they would be thrown back into heavy motor traffic. Where there are no bikes lanes, the plan calls for nothing more robust than green-backed sharrows.

“As we know, people ride routes, not blocks, and especially in areas with lots of traffic, significant traffic calming measures and protected bikeways are what people need to feel safe,” said Frisbee. “To enable those residents to feel safe biking in their neighborhood, and help students, employees, and professors get from the BART station to CCSF and SF State, SFMTA should look at the bigger picture and take steps to address the entire corridor, not just a few blocks around the Ocean/Geneva intersection.”

“We look forward to supporting SFMTA and the neighborhood as they address these short-term projects, but hope that in the long-term, the city takes steps to address the entire corridor,” she added.

On Geneva, one of three options would replace curbside parking with striped bike lanes.

At a previous community meeting this summer, participants said they heavily value wider sidewalks, safer street crossings, and space for transit over space for cars. However, they were more evenly split on favoring space between bikes and cars.

Lily Langlois, project manager for the Planning Department, said she was “surprised that there wasn’t total opposition” at last week’s meeting to removing the parking on Geneva for bike lanes, though she noted there were only about 20 attendees and 10 survey respondents.

Langlois said no bike lane extensions are proposed on Ocean because “we realized that there just isn’t a lot of capacity on Ocean to accommodate taking away a travel lane.” Muni’s K-Ingleside trains and 49-Mission/Van Ness electric trolley buses can’t share the center transit lanes because of “technical challenges” posed by the separate overhead wire systems, she said. “That’s perhaps the biggest driver of the design.”

The light-rail boarding islands on Ocean at Geneva would be extended lengthwise with plantings, which Langlois said should help “visually narrow the roadway” and calm motor traffic.

Ocean, at Balboa Park BART and the 280 freeway.

Nicole Schneider, executive director of Walk SF, said she’s glad to “see some significant improvements to Geneva and Ocean, two high injury streets — the 6 percent of city streets that account for 60 percent of severe injuries and deaths.”

Schneider praised the proposed design to “square off” the complex intersection of Ocean and Geneva. At that location, the beginning of Geneva’s two southbound lanes, which are currently angled for drivers to shoot quickly through the intersection, would be re-aligned at a 90-degree angle so drivers would have to stop before turning right. Land currently devoted to traffic lanes and a parking lot would be converted into a “plaza” with a “local access lane” running through it.

Schneider said that the plans do “miss some key opportunities to truly make Geneva a safe street.”

“The remaining four lanes of high-speed traffic combined with mid-block crossings without any flashing beacons or signals is a crash waiting to happen,” she said. “We hope to see future versions that focus on slowing down speeds and improving crossings.”

The design options for Geneva without bike lanes would include corner bulb-outs instead. All of the designs set aside street space for a planted center median, even though they deny space for a protective barrier to separate the bike lanes.

The plans do include bike improvements on a block of Howth, a residential street that runs between Ocean and Geneva and connects to a series of parking lots for the City College campus. The block would get a curbside contra-flow bike lane on the southbound side where car parking is already prohibited, and green-backed sharrows would run in the other direction. That won’t do much to improve connections in the east and west directions, however.

The Planning Department is accepting survey responses [PDF] until October 29.

The complex intersection of Ocean and Geneva as it is today. Image: Google Maps
Ocean and Geneva, as it’s proposed to be re-configured.
  • Gezellig

    Cool cars-first story, San Francisc-bro.

    San Fran-“still-planning-like-it’s-1959”-cisco:

    Meanwhile, over in New York:



    Notice how even some of the “Befores” in NYC are better than almost any “After” SF has come up with of late. Fun!

  • Burritoguru

    A PDF survey is not what people want to fill out. Get an online version, the results could be tabulated faster with more participants.

  • MS

    What overhead wire “technical challenges” prevent the trolley buses from using the center light rail lanes? How were those challenges overcome on 30th St where the J and 24 share one lane? Or on church St with the J and 22?

    Come on MTA you’ll have to do better than that!

  • 94103er

    Streetsblog, hire this guy already!

  • Boo

    i would love to see this Ocean/Geneva intersection replicated at Bayshore/Alemany. Would provide a much needed crosswalk so Portola residents can safely cross to the Alemany Farmers Market

  • Sprague

    Half-assed improvements result in half-assed usage. 20% bicycle mode share by 2020? The only way that can happen is when streets are redesigned to allow bicyclists to complete multiple block trips safely separated from fast moving motorized transport or if the number of cars on SF’s streets were to be vastly reduced.

  • 94103er

    Transit First! Vision Zero! As our old friend Mike Sonn used to say, Slogan-First City!

    It simply amazes me what a blind spot this city has for how long the jaw-droppingly unjust burden of car traffic has affected the southern neighborhoods. Fifty years of 280 and not even a goddamn soundwall for the residents of Oceanview, Outer Mission, Balboa Park, Sunnyside, Glen Park, Bernal Heights, University Mound, and Dogpatch. ‘Freeways’ branching off of freeways. A really hilly, challenging terrain that necessitates bike travel on the arterials. And yet, the city does little to nothing as usual and bike-haters get to gleefully point to usage statistics and blather on about how no one bikes in the city, especially not in those neighborhoods.


  • gneiss

    Another brain dead plan from our good friends at the DPW, who like nothing better than center medians and “green space” with vegetation that require water, feeding and tending too. What’s incredible to me, is how they can easily find the space in the roadway to separate cars traveling in different directions from each other, and transit from cars, but when you ask them to create buffered bicycle lanes, oopsie – no space for that!

    I mean, the massive island they are proposing along Ocean could easily have bicycle infrastructure along with a separate light cycle for bicycle crossing. And if your going to create a big, green bike lane, why not put the parked cars on the other side of it? What a miserable, lost opportunity to create something transformative.

  • 94110

    I’ve biked that section of Ocean exactly once. I don’t plan to do it again until there’s a bike lane west bound on Ocean between between Howth and Phelan.

    It’s a hill. It’s obvious it needs a bike lane. Probably worth making it buffered/protected/raised too.

    But won’t anyone think of the Level of Service! Fact is until there is a bike lane, I’m going to be behind the wheel, lowering your LOS score.

  • Andy Chow

    The challenge is the pedestrian overpass. The vehicles can share the
    lane but not the overhead lines. Because of the pedestrian overpass (the
    stairs are the columns for the structure), there’s no room for extra
    wires to allow the bus to use the LRT lane. With special wire works, there might be just enough room to share in one direction but not both. The ped crossing is valuable since it provides a relatively level path between Geneva and the City College (rather than going down the hill at Ocean and then go up again).

  • alberto rossi

    I was one of maybe five non-staff, non-activist, actual neighbors who showed up to this meeting. The rest of the neighbors don’t come anymore because we’ve been burned too many times. For decades, the planners have been coming out with their pretty pictures of tree-lined boulevards. But nothing ever comes of it and the neighborhood just keeps getting worse and worse. Forget the trees: at this point I’d be happy if the city just enforced the laws against parking on the sidewalks and in the crosswalks and in the paved over yards. But even that has become too much to ask for.

  • hp2ena

    Both buses and LRVs can share the overhead. The electrical systems are both 600 volts. The spacing between the + and – wires would have to be widened to provide room for the pantograph. If the wires are too close and the pantograph touches both wires, it would ground the train.

  • hp2ena

    The Geneva frontage road and that gas station (if it were eminent-domained) would create a great separated bike path that would better connect this area to the Holloway bikeway. You could even do a plaza in the process! The pocket street as it looks designed appears as if it’s serving as a bypass for drivers who don’t want to wait at the intersection.

  • 94103er

    I think one of the elements being studied is a renovation of the pedestrian overpass or removing it entirely.

  • Andy Chow

    Considering the costs along with all-or-nothing ADA enhancements, it is better off to keep it as is. I don’t see removing it will make it better overall even if it meant room for the uphill bike lane.

  • coolbabybookworm

    Thank goodness you speak for the whole community!

    At the meetings I attended for this project, one of the biggest complaints were the stairs. Although few students attended, the neighbors there felt like they were unsafe and an eyesore and wanted them removed at best, or possibly improved.

  • Gezellig

    I have *long* thought the *exact same thing* about that frontage road. It could totally get the small plaza treatment and really revolutionize that area.

    When I lived in the area I’d often take Holloway east to Harold then cut through the gas station and that weird frontage road to avoid having to take Ocean at that point.

    What a wasted opportunity.

  • 94103er

    Don’t lose hope. It’s a matter of opinion whether this is ‘good news,’ but homes are selling for unprecedented prices in the Mission Terrace area and Balboa Park/Ingelside/Outer Mission are not far behind.

  • 94103er

    I just wrote to Lily Langois at the Planning Department to tell her that very thing. Blast this survey link to everyone you know and get your voices heard!

  • Gezellig

    Haha, aw, shucks, me? 😀

    I’m already quite busy every day with my day job (that has nothing to do with urban planning, incidentally), but am more than happy to add the odd memeified comment here and there when I can 😉

  • Jim

    What is worse is that there’s no good accommodation for bikes leaving Balboa Park Station via the Ocean exit. It’s much more enticing for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk or contraflow on the eastbound bike lane than it is to figure out a safe way to ride westbound.

    Would be great if a two-way bike lane could replace car parking on Ocean from Mission to Plymouth; awesome if all the way to 19th. One can dream.

  • The city really should enforce laws against parking on sidewalks; you can call the SFPD after midnight if the PCOs refuse to respond. The city should also really enforce laws against paved front lawns, though the planners can’t do much about that.

    Keep pushing for the street trees, they’ll at least block sidewalk-parking in lieu of enforcement. If we actually let them grow, they’ll also calm traffic.

  • SF Guest

    They do enforce parking on sidewalks if you call SFMTA, but their arrival times vary. I haven’t heard of PCO’s refusing to respond.

  • alberto rossi

    In District 11, you can call all you want to make reports, but no ticket will ever be issued for sidewalk parking; anyway that’s my personal experience. PCO’s do issue tickets for streetcleaning and meters and they’ll respond instantly to a request for a 72 Hour parking notice from people who think all the parking on their block is their personal possession. As for police, the only time you’ll ever see them around is when they’re responding to an emergency at the corner store. The emergency: snacks that urgently need to be bought. Usually this emergency requires parking in a red zone. As to trees, there are fewer trees here than 25 years ago. Friends of the Urban Forest have planted a few from time to time, but most have died or were removed for parking access to yards.


Ocean Ave to Get Spruced Up, But Real Transformation Will Have to Wait

City planners are shaping up plans for Ocean Avenue, following public workshops that will help develop a vision for both near-term and long-term improvements. The near-term plans, for the commercial stretch of Ocean west of Phelan Avenue and the City College campus, are far along in their development. Meanwhile, a long-term plan for the remainder […]