Mission Street Transit Lanes: What About the Bikes?

Right lane transitways on Mission leave no place for cyclists. Image: SFMTA
Right lane transitways on Mission leave no place for cyclists. Image: SFMTA

Earlier this week, the SFMTA sent out a release with a progress report on the “Red Lane” paint (actually, a thermoplastic adhesive) they are applying, clearly marking lanes for Muni Streetcars and buses (and taxis):

Early signs indicate success. Preliminary data shows transit-only lane violations dropping by more than 50 percent on some segments of 3rd Street. On Geary and O’Farrell streets, the red lanes have reduced Muni travel times by 4 percent despite traffic congestion increasing on the same segments by 15-18 percent.

But what about bikes?

In cases where SFMTA is putting the “red carpet” on streetcar tracks, bikes continue to ride to the right, on whatever infrastructure is available (and on most streets, that means not nearly enough). But in other cases, for example, on the recently red-treated Mission Street, SFMTA is putting the buses in the right-hand lanes. That puts Mission Street cyclists in a confusing and often harrowing predicament.

“We’ve been requesting clarity for years on whether people biking are permitted in lanes designated transit-only,” said Chris Cassidy, Communications Director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “The SFMTA’s reluctance to offer that clarification encourages unpredictable and ultimately unsafe behavior on streets like Mission and Market, which are both high-injury corridors.”

On the one hand, California law is pretty clear on this: bikes are not permitted to use transit lanes. “The SFMTA’s general policy is that bikes should not be in transit lanes, consistent with current CA law,” said Ben Jose, a spokesman for SFMTA. “Under CA law, bikes are legally allowed to take the lane to the left.”

The confusion comes because bikes are generally supposed to be on the right (conditions permitting) and transit/High Occupancy Vehicle lanes are generally on the left. But if they’re on the right, it’s anything but intuitive for cyclists to take the center lanes.

Remedies for this situation haven’t worked out. “On Sutter they had a sharrow put in the HOV lane, which seemed completely illogical,” said Bert Hill, chair of the Bicycle Advisory Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

According to sources close to SFMTA, it’s unofficially expected that cyclists will sometimes ride in the transit lane when it’s on the right. And, again unofficially, police are discouraged from citing cyclists for it. (Streetsblog would be curious to read if anyone has had a run-in with the police about this).

Of course, planners are forced to keep the red-striped transit lanes in the center of the street when it’s a tracked vehicle, as on Market Street or Church. But why not do the same for buses and add pedestrian refuges for boarding? In other words, why should bus lanes and stops be treated so differently from, for example, the J-Church below?

Buses could use LRV style boarding islands. Photo: Aaron Bialick.
Buses, running in transit-only lanes in the center, could use LRV-style boarding islands. Photo: Aaron Bialick.

“I would have preferred a center lane for buses on Mission, just because they generally work far better for transit, avoiding parking and curb friction,” said Peter Straus, with the San Francisco Transit Riders Union (SFTRU). “But I’ve agreed with SFMTA staff to try this and see how it works–it is mostly just paint at this point.”

But the fact that it’s just paint may be part of the problem. Or as Thea Selby, also of the SFTRU, put it, “Bicycles use the red carpet on Haight, which scares me to death because I’m afraid a bus or rogue car are going to sideswipe the bicycle and run them down.”

That concern has merit. Bus lane projects in Oakland are similarly configured, with the buses on the right. “There was a case here in Oakland several years ago of a bicyclist who was doored in a bike lane on MacArthur Blvd and then run over by a bus and killed, so we are very conscious of these issues,” said Robert Prinz, Education Director for Bike East Bay.

Prinz and other advocates hope future projects will start putting bus lanes in the middle. But for now they’re stuck with projects that were planned before the state and city started transitioning away from measurements that favor automobiles over every other mode of transportation. As one advocate put it, Mission doesn’t have a protected bike lane and transit doesn’t get the center lanes because “there isn’t enough room.” In other words, making Mission truly safe for bikes while also making bus services fast and dependable would take too much space from private cars and parking.

So where are cyclists supposed to ride on Mission? The short answer is they’re not.

  • RichLL

    jd_x, do you have any evidence that the residents and businesses on Valencia Street support your idea of banning cars from that street?

  • RichLL

    If you are happy to ride on Mission as is, then why change it?

  • Hunter

    Exactly, or from Folsom.

  • Hunter

    All of this requires biking a few blocks past the destination, so I’ll just keep riding down Mission (from Howard). The highway / one-way streets also screw things up for us coming from central SoMa (Folsom is one way in the wrong direction). And again, to not have a single decent approach directly to a major transit station by bicycle is wack.

  • Hunter

    It’s clearly dangerous, and often backed up with traffic. I’m a pretty aggressive rider, but I know plenty who aren’t biking there because there’s no good lanes to ride in.

  • jd_x

    Most bike friendly street on the West Coast? Where did you get that from? It’s anything but, considering it’s really just a lane for double-parking.

  • jd_x

    Definitely harrowing. Having something as a large as a bus a few feet from bicyclists is absolutely insane. Don’t the physics here make sense to you?

  • jd_x

    But we can make it work for both transit and bicyclists: remove the parking and build a protected bike lane. But again, there is a double-standard: bicyclists can deal with inconveniences (hey, just walk a block or two) but not motorists who need to be expected drive and park on every single damn street (often at a deeply subsidized rate it nof for free).

  • jd_x

    Or, get rid of the parking on Mission St and create a protected bike lane in addition to the transit-only lane. Problem solved. Although it will be an inconvenience to motorists, but they can walk a block or two, right?

  • SQ

    Yeah, totally agree it’s not feasible to ban left turns in this circumstance. Just sucks. Hopefully this will just encourage more people to use the bus. FYI, only complaining as I drive a work vehicle in the city, otherwise I would be on board that bus!

  • PaleoBruce

    “According to sources close to SFMTA, it’s unofficially expected that cyclists will sometimes ride in the transit lane when it’s on the right. And, again unofficially, police are discouraged from citing cyclists for it. ”

    No problem.

  • Prinzrob

    I was thinking center running bus lanes with center median boarding islands. Not that there’s enough room for this on Mission, at least without taking out curbside parking, but this is how other center-running BRT systems are oriented, and merging out of the transit-only lane works fine when necessary.

  • jonobate

    If the trip is starting from Howard in central Soma, I would ride up 7th St and get on BART at Civic Center rather than head down to the Mission.

    Agree that the one way streets in Soma are a pain – I would love to see as many of them as possible reverted to two way operation.

  • RichLL

    I have no idea if Valencia Street is the most bike-friendly street on the west coast. But I do know that if you try and shoehorn a bike lane onto a street that is super busy with restaurants and all then, inevitably, people will use it to pull over, given the lack of regular parking there.

    In fact, the sidewalks are so crowded there at night that I often walk in the bike lane to avoid the crowds.

  • sebra leaves

    What about the merchants who need food deliveries on Mission Street several times a day? What about the fancy restaurants you want to enjoy? How do you suppose they prepare those healthy meals with local grown fresh produce? If you want no motor vehicles on Mission Street prepare to eat out of a vending machine because that is what you will be left with.

  • jd_x

    Agree that the sidewalks are over-crowded. This is clearly a street meant for people. But it is easy to fix and the solutions come not from the measily strip bicyclists get but from the incredible space taken up by cars:
    1) get rid of the useless middle lane which is nothing but a free double parking lane
    2) get rid of parking

    These two things free up a *ton* of space to increase the width of the sidewalk and still have protected bicycle lanes.

  • LJ

    What I’m getting from this article is the fact that cyclists don’t know what they’re expected to do when they encounter a red carpet, which is dangerous. It’s not just about Mission; it occurs elsewhere in the city as well. We either go in the red lane and risk getting run over by a bus/cited, or take the center lane and risk the wrath of drivers whose lane we’re “stealing”.

  • LJ

    Feel that way every time I see cyclists and buses “mingling” on Market. Crazy.

  • Andy Chow

    Cargo bikes (or I mean bike pickup) will do: http://www.bikeforest.com/unroad7103pickuptruckroad.jpg

  • Andy Chow

    Not a big fan of center bus platforms. Buses with more doors mean fewer seats. Of course the buses that Muni is getting don’t have doors on the left side.

  • sebra leaves

    Tell that to the farmer driving in from San Mateo to deliver produce on Mission Street. He probably has multiple deliveries each day to shops and restaurants all over the city. Now there are so many tow away signs next to the produce stands on Mission Street, the delivery vehicles are double parking in the traffic lane. That probably accounts for the slow down in traffic that thrills anti-car freaks so much. Get ready to pay more for your onions when they get ticketed.

  • jonobate

    The answer is to use the transit lane. Muni drivers are some of the best on the road, and you’re far safer there than in the general traffic lane.

    Your chances of getting cited for doing this are effectively zero. SFMTA can’t publicly say that bikes are allowed in transit lanes because that would contradict state law, but it’s clearly not an issue. (Ironically, I regularly see the the 19-Polk using the super wide bike lane on 8th St…)

  • murphstahoe

    doesn’t work if you are headed to bernal

  • murphstahoe


    Just the geeks with GPS who ride with it turned on and upload it to one website equal 12,500 trips up Cortland. and that’s probably 10% of the total trips. It’s a key route.

  • murphstahoe

    As RichLL would say – a law that isn’t enforced isn’t a law

  • murphstahoe

    Valencia isn’t even the most bike friendly street in the Mission.

  • murphstahoe

    San Mateo? So much for local produce.

  • murphstahoe

    “Tell that to the farmer driving in from San Mateo to deliver produce”

    Tell that farmer his area code is wrong.

  • vcs

    What I’m getting from this is Streetsblog should really rename itself Bikeblog, because fuck all road signs and fuck all plebs who take the bus. Can’t wait until I see some kakipants dork “taking the red lane” at like 3MPH with a Muni three-stack lined up behind him.

  • vcs

    As a well-compensated white tech worker, I look forward to the day that all of my fresh local produce is physically delivered from the Central Valley by undocumented immigrant coolies riding bicycles. Truly an environmental utopia is at hand.

  • Carter Sanders

    Valencia is a pretty bad bicycle route, particularly in the evening. In addition to double parking that the police almost never ticket, there are a lot of pedestrians who walk into the bike lane without looking. With good law enforcement, it *could* be a good route.

  • Alicia

    The Streetsblog websites are pretty supportive of public transportation. Maybe you should read more than one post before going off on rants like that.

  • RichLL

    That center “turning lane” was created when the bike lanes were put onto Valencia Street years ago. Before that Valencia Street had two lanes of traffic going both ways. It was a quid pro quo for the bike lanes.

    Parking on the turning lane does appear to be officially blessed given that tickets are not usually issued for it. It only happens in the evening and is analogous to the situation with the church parking sanction on Sundays.

    The problem with the knee-jerk “just take out the parking” response is that Valencia is much more than just a commercial or night-life street. It’s also residential and the people who live there rely on the on-street parking – many homes are rentals that don’t have garages.

    As it is they have to deal with meters, extra restrictions at certain times and of course all the congestion. Do you really want to upset all those residents just because a bike lane is sometimes blocked for a minute while revellers get out or in?

  • RichLL

    I think there is a distinction though.

    Some laws are not enforced by design. The city has decided, either officially or on the DL, that the public interest is not served by enforcement. Examples might include illegal parking outside churches on Sundays, parking in the Valencia St turning lane at night, and side-walk parking during street cleaning.

    What jonobate is talking about here, if I understand him correctly, is different. It’s the situation where there is quite simply no way that a rule can be enforced if it is wilfully disobeyed en masse. It’s purely a numbers game and those who break the law accept a tiny chance of a fine and consider it worth it.

    It’s the prevailing mindset that causes cyclists to run stops, drivers to run stops, cyclists to ride on a side-walk, drivers to park illegally, pedestrians to jaywalk and drivers to exceed the speed limit.

    Laws do not prevent bad behaviors. They merely seek to deter the worst excesses of them.

  • jonobate

    No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that SFMTA has made a decision not to enforce the law that does not allow bikes to use transit lanes. There was a long newspaper article on this subject at while back in which an SFMTA spokesman said as much.

    Hopefully SFPD got the memo a well. It will be interesting to see if there are my citation for cyclists riding in the lanes on Mission.

  • ARRO

    The very same double standard already used for forcing cars off Market Street and for the removal of various transit stops throughout the city…
    In this case, if they want to make this a hellish sloppy corridor that will primarily be for transit, I think bicyclists can accept the same standard that has been applied to both transit users and cars, use the next block over and walk the block to your destination, or, maybe all of this is simply being overthought/poorly planned and needs to be taken back to the drawing board.

  • RichLL

    jonobate, SFMTA may well have stated that it’s not an enforcement priority but they do not set enforcement priorities. At best, they are merely offering an opinion that it should not be prioritized for enforcement.

    Many of our traffic laws are state laws, meaning that SFMTA can’t readily change them anyway. Like the bike yield laws.

    That said, I think that it can be a waste of road band-width if a bus lane is designated when one only goes by every 10 minutes or so. It makes sense on Market Street downtown with its constant flow of buses. But I am less convinced about a bus lane on Mission St. I believe only the 14 and the 49 use it, and they are far more delayed by the constant crush of passengers getting on and off than by other vehicles.

    So if you are correct and the cops turn a blind eye to general use of a bus lane when there is no bus around, then that is fine with me.

    Which raises another thought. Can tech and airport shuttles use the bus lane?

  • RichLL

    Any form of boarding “island” takes out even more critical street width than merely designating one of the two traffic lanes as a bus lane.

    I agree with you on this.

  • RichLL

    ARRO, agreed and with the added factor that very few people live on Market Street downtown, or close to it. Whereas many people live on or just off Valencia Street.

    It’s not just about “deliveries and emergency vehicles” as jd_x claims. It’s also about residents’ access to their homes and garages, vehicular access for the sick, old and disabled, contractors working on buildings, cabs and shuttles, and so on.

  • jonobate

    I don’t really care what your opinion is. I just wanted to make sure you didn’t misrepresent my opinion by incorrectly paraphrasing my comment.

  • RichLL

    You should care what I think because I guarantee you I am a lot closer to what the average city voter and resident thinks than you are. Cars have 75% saturation and bikes have about 3% saturation.

    And not caring about that might appear to some like you have a biased agenda. But let me remind me of your own words:

    “Your chances of getting cited for doing this are effectively zero.”

    I agree that is true. But you could make the much statement, and for the same reasons, for a variety of other traffic infringements including many that you do not like. For instance it is pretty much what every double-parker and bike lane blocker says to himself. Not to mention every cyclists who blows a stop and every pedestrian who jaywalks.

    Be careful what you wish for when you propose wilful law-breaking based on the laws of large numbers and probability.

  • jonobate

    Let me break this down for you:

    I don’t believe that your opinions represent “the voice of the people” or “the silent majority” or whatever. Just citing mode share doesn’t win that argument, as there are plenty of people who drive who would rather not have to. Explicit statements of pro-car policy, such as Prop L, rarely gain majority support from SF voters.

    Even if your opinions did represent majority opinions, I still wouldn’t care what you think, because majority does not equal truth. The opinions held by myself and others on this blog are often minority opinions, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong.

    This blog exists as a space to discuss those opinions with like minded people. We often disagree with each other, but we’re all starting from the same basic belief that cycling, transit, and walking should be promoted over private vehicle travel. You clearly don’t share that belief, which is your right, but it means you have little of value to contribute to the discussion.

    I do care about what people outside of the sustainable transportation echo chamber think about those issues, because knowing this allows us to present more effective arguments to convince people to support our cause. However, the people we need to convince are the moderates who could potentially be won over to supporting things like bike lanes and transit lanes, not petrolheads such as yourself who will never support sustainable transportation and only exist to waste our time.

    The sustainable transportation nerds plus enough of the moderates equals a majority, and that’s how pro-transit propositions are won, and how pro-car propositions are defeated. Trying to change the minds of the minority of hardcore petrolheads is a waste of time, and unecessary, as in a democracy the majority vote wins the day.

    That is why I don’t care what you think. Nor am I interested in listening to moralizing about how I should be careful what I wish for when I say that cyclists should ride in transit lanes if they feel safest doing so. It’s not equivelent to drivers running stop signs or double parking because it doesn’t endanger anyone, except (arguably) the cyclist himself. Not all laws are equal.

  • RichLL

    When you claim to not care what the majority think because you think you are right (and who doesn’t think they are right?) then you reveal something rather zealous and prejudicial.

    “Minority of hardcore petrolheads”? That tells me two things. One, ironically, is that you are British and watch “Top Gear” which is the only place I have ever heard the term “Petrolhead” (and it’s meant in a good way there).

    Second, and more important, is that you know that drivers are a majority and yet you prefer to call them a minority because it suits your agenda. And that shows a callous disregard for the truth.

    I am a moderate Obama-supporting Democrat, a user of transit, and usually walk everywhere in the city. I have a car but I maybe use it 3/4 times a week, and not even 2,000 miles a year. I love trains, ships and planes. I am exactly the kind of person you need to reach out to and yet if I disagree with anything you say I immediately become the anti-Christ.

    If you think I am the enemy you are in far more trouble than you know. I called you out on advocating wide-spread law-breaking not because it is not common logic that we all use but because you saw it as some kind of impossibly noble civil obedience.

    Break the law if you want. But don’t try and come over all precious and sanctimonious about it.

  • bike_engineer

    Email the Livable Streets Dept at the SFMTA

  • gneiss

    There are two ways that this issue is addressed in other cities. The first is to restrict loading and unloading to late at night when there isn’t any transit traffic and very low car volumes. The other way is to restrict parking for personal vehicles and create more loading zones.

  • gneiss

    I love how so many northern Californians who self identify as “liberal” hold views that are no different from a southern “keep those people in their place” conservative when it comes to changes in street design, how people get around, housing and traffic law. It’s quite clear from your writing that you don’t want anything to change with our streets. And that you think the city building out infrastructure to allow bicycles to be used for transportation is nothing but an amusing waste of time and money for an “elite” minority. And that the laws governing traffic were brought down the Mount by Moses, so they can’t be changed or broken. Except of course for double parking on Sundays. We get that. And you are right there are quite a few people in the city how also hold that view.

    As such, you aren’t offering much to the conversation except a fundamental lack of vision of the future. One that people here see many more walking, taking transit, and cycling, and fewer driving personal vehicles. If you took the view that we should build more highways in the city, widen our roads, get rid of the bike lanes, and build more parking free municipal garages to address increases in population in outlying areas then at least we would know that you had a vision for where new people moving to the bay area and those growing up would be doing. But instead, you argue we shouldn’t be changing anything and that everything is just getting worse because of the changes. That’s certainly your right, but you won’t get much out of a discussion here.

    Let me also point out your victim complex where you think we view you as an “enemy” is fundamentally flawed. We simply view your comments as a convenient foil against which we can hone our arguments to help others see a future with fewer personal automobiles and more options.

  • murphstahoe

    As someone who takes the bug, I’m am similarly baffled by many drivers resistance to just taking the bus

  • murphstahoe

    We’ve done it to other commenters who try to run the conversation in circles, time to simply ignore RichLL. Take the pledge.

  • murphstahoe

    I’m not sure I could even balance a bike upright going only 3 MPH

  • Not a lot of mode share for solo drivers, actually: 27%.

    Also note: those figures are for the city overall. In some neighborhoods (like the Mission) driving is even less popular.



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