Collecting Data to Push for Safer Biking on Valencia

One of some 50 cars that blocked the bike lane on one side of Valencia between 16th and 17th at the peak hour Tuesday night. Photo: Streetsblog.
Altogether, some 50 cars took turns blocking the bike lane on the west side of Valencia between 16th and 17th at the peak hour Tuesday night. Photo: Streetsblog.

During yesterday evening’s rush hour, safe streets advocates, organized by Catherine Orland, District 9 representative to the Bicycle Advisory Committee and longtime member and volunteer with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, started collecting hard data about how often the bike lanes on Valencia Street are blocked by motorists. Take a wild guess what they found: the bike lanes are a de facto loading-and-drop-off zone for cars. 

Catherine Orland (green dress) gives instructions on what to look for when counting bike lane violations on Valencia. Photo: Streetsblog.
Catherine Orland (green dress) gives instructions on what to look for when counting bike lane violations on Valencia. Photo: Streetsblog.

Who are these folks exactly and what do they want? From their flyer:

We’re a small, committed group of folks who are concerned about public safety. Unfortunately, when cars are parked in bike lanes, this causes cyclists to enter into vehicle travel lanes. Cyclists are often forced to pedal in close proximity to cars that are traveling at much faster speeds. This endangers everyone!

Justin Balenzuela, from the Excelsior, studies urban planning at San Francisco State. He decided to volunteer for the count as a way to respond to the deaths of Kate Slattery and Heather Miller, two cyclists killed by speeding drivers late last month in separate incidents on the same evening. He says he is also looking out for his own neck, since he sees bike lanes blocked continually. “I ride every evening.”

Ziggy Tomcich, another volunteer, who works for the SF Opera, said “I just wanted to do whatever I can–every day I have to zigzag in and out of bike lanes, so [if cars are parking in them] what’s the point in having them?”

Justin Balenzvela (white) and Adam Long count bike lane violations on Valencia. Photo: Streetsblog.
Justin Balenzuela (white) and Adam Long count bike lane violations on Valencia. Photo: Streetsblog.

Balenzuela, Tomcich, and Adam Long, seen above in yellow, were eager to start counting. Orland assigned the volunteers to the stretch of Valencia from 16th to 17th and from 17th to 18th. One group took the east side of the street, others took the west.  They milled around the curbsides, clipboards in hand, and logged each time a car blocked the bike lane in two categories: less than ten minutes or more than ten minutes. They also counted the number of cyclists who had to divert from the bike lane, in addition to recording the overall cycling counts from SFMTA’s bike counter on Valencia. The data was split into three time periods: 4-5 p.m., 5-6 p.m., and 6-7 p.m.

In the first hour, violations were minimal. For example, on the west side of Valencia, between 16th and 17th St., there were only seven cyclists forced to divert by eight cars parked on the bike lane, all for less than ten minutes.

But things picked up–and got more dangerous–as the evening progressed. During the last hour, from 6-7 p.m. (Orland calls this the “death trap” hour) 205 bikes had to swerve into traffic on that same stretch of Valencia, thanks to 53 cars that blocked the bike lane–remember, that’s just one block of Valencia, and just one side of the street.

Although not officially counted, the volunteers reported most of the cars had Uber or Lyft symbols on them. It should be noted that Streetsblog observed several police cars passing by, and two cops passing by on foot, but (no surprise) no citations were issued. That said, some drivers of the illegally parked cars seemed wary of the attention–one BMW driver drove off, but not before gesturing unkindly at Maureen Persico, a Bernal Heights resident and one of the counters.

Orland cautioned that her intention is not to shame motorists. “We don’t want them to be more angry than they already are,” she said. “This is about more than just any one interaction on the street…we want systemwide regulation and enforcement.”

Pursuant to that, Orland shared some initial number crunching with Streetsblog in an email this morning:

The West side of Valencia between 16th and 17th saw some of the most flagrant disregard for safe operation of motor vehicles between 6 and 7pm. During the 6pm hour, on the West side of Valencia between 16th and 17th, motorists double parked at least once every two minutes. Furthermore, according to the data we collected, over 61 percent of traffic in the 6 to 7pm hour is comprised of cyclists. 205 cyclists were forced to merge into the vehicle travel lane during this hour, compromising their safety and forcing them to squeeze into a narrow travel lane alongside faster moving vehicular traffic. On multiple occasions, we observed cyclists taking evasive action and being forced to quickly maneuver out of the bike lane to avoid collisions with motorists who pulled over or pulled out abruptly, without signaling. This compelling data paints a clear picture of the threat to public safety posed by cars double parking in bicycle lanes. I hope that city officials and SFPD will carefully study this data and take action to ramp up enforcement–and prevent inevitable tragedy on this high injury corridor–before it is too late.

The group will continue to collect information.

That said, one of the individual bike lane interactions seemed worth noting. Emin Tekin, the owner of “Valencia and Kebab,” watched as his employees rushed to unload a car illegally parked in the bike lane; the car had supplies for his shop. Tekin, who once lived in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, said Dutch bike lanes, which are typically to the right of the parked cars on busy streets, don’t generate conflicts between motorists, cyclists and local businesses. He added that it’s good for the health of the city because protected bike lanes encourage more cycling and walking. “Everybody is fit in Rotterdam. We can do better here,” he added, pointing at the street.

Emin Tekin (far left), owner Valencia & Kebab, would like to see the parking lane and bike lane flipped, so businesses can receive materials without blocking the bike lane. Photo: Streetsblog.
Emin Tekin (far left), owner of Valencia & Kebab, would like to see the parking lane and bike lane flipped, so businesses can receive materials without blocking the bike lane. Notice Randall Dietel, who happened to roll by. Photo: Streetsblog.

It should be noted that none of this work detracts from the efforts of the late-great bike advocate, Mary Brown, former Membership Director at the SF Bicycle Coalition. In 1999, she successfully campaigned for the striped lane on Valencia Street, one of the first bike lanes in the city. Local businesses and others fought that simple change. But bike counts increased 144 percent the following year from that breakthrough accomplishment.

But, as Orland’s data is showing, times have changed. “I have been here long enough to remember Valencia street when it was a dream to bike on,” said Persico. She recalled a time when the bike lane was mostly clear. “Now it’s one of the most hazardous corridors because the Uber and Lyft drivers pull in and out of it,” she said.

Volunteer advocates Natalie Angouleme and Maureen Persico take instructions from Catherine Orland before going out to count cars on bike lanes. Photo: Streetsblog.
Volunteer advocates Natalie Bouillon and Maureen Persico take instructions from Catherine Orland before going out to count cars on bike lanes. Photo: Streetsblog.

Enforcement of the current lanes and the eventual installation of protected lanes (and, it is hoped, protected intersections), however, require policy changes. And the first step towards that is hard information and lots of it, which is why Orland is doing the counts. “We’re getting good data. We’re counting lots of cyclists who were forced to go around stopped cars.”

Interested in helping out? The group is doing another count tomorrow, Thursday, from 4-7 pm, at 16th and Valencia.

Ian Williamson, a sales rep for Revel Wine, says there are ways to make deliveries without blocking bike lanes--like on a bike! Photo: Streetsblog.
Ian Williamson, a sales rep for Revel Wine who happened to be rolling by, says there are ways to make deliveries without blocking bike lanes–like on a bike! Photo: Streetsblog.
  • Jimbo

    ive done an observational study counting 100s of bicyclists over past 3 yrs. 95% of them do not come to a complete stop. 25% blow through at 10+mph

  • Jimbo

    valencia is the best cyclist street in US, yet all of you are still whining after tons of concessions are made for a small minority of the population.

  • mx

    53 cars blocked the bike lane in one block. If that’s what happens on the “best cyclist street,” it says an awful lot about how bad every other street is.

  • Donovan Lacy

    Rich,

    This article is focused on the public safety issues that are created by cars illegally double parking in the bicycle lane. With the exception of noting the speeding drivers that killed two cyclists recently the only other reference that I can find is by you. Double parking is an issue for everyone that uses our roads not just cyclists.

    You also just got through stating that Valencia is a mecca for night life and now you are arguing that there was business lost from cars not being able to access these businesses? I think you would need to furnish evidence and data for this given your previous statement that Valencia St. businesses are doing very well.

  • Donovan Lacy

    Jimbo,
    I am curious what you observed regarding automobiles and those same intersections, given that automobiles kill and maim pedestrians and cyclists on a daily basis.

  • Hunter

    I see the same behavior from motorists every day, and yet they are many times more likely to kill someone. Why isn’t that a bigger issue?

  • gneiss

    This is what happens to someone who has their path blocked as a pedestrian and is forced into the roadway: http://kron4.com/2015/06/09/teen-girl-struck-by-minivan-while-jogging-in-san-rafael-dies/

  • What about visiting the hospitals and counting all the ~nearly hit by a bicyclist~ victims?

  • PaleoBruce

    RichLL “…unless you decide to rush things”,

    Isn’t it also a decision to “rush things” when the motorist decides to illegally park in the bicycle lane instead of taking time and finding a legal place to park? Why is the illegal rushed behaviour by the motorist OK? I have to guess because it is your rush that matters most.

  • gneiss

    About 61% of traffic on Valencia during the 6 PM to 7 PM hour comprises people on bicycles. I’d hardly say that this is a “small minority” of users.

  • gneiss

    On this street it’s not 3% of users. As was indicated in the article, people on bicycles represent about 61% of the traffic during 6 PM to 7 PM, which coincides with the largest number of doubling parking incidents. As a result, don’t you think it makes sense for the SFPD to use a few resources to control double parking for the couple of hours when bicyclists outnumber drivers on this street?

  • farazs

    > bicyclists who deliberately ride in pace with a car in the vehicle’s
    > blind spot hoping that the driver will cause an incident

    Riding in pace with a car in the blind spot does not automatically cause an collision. It is incumbent on the driver by law, to head-check their blind-spot before changing lanes.

    Unless … wait … it couldn’t be … those damned cyclists must be wearing Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility. Its the same thing those slimy pedestrians use while walking within cross-walks – how could a poor driver possibly protect themselves against this magical level of subterfuge.

  • farazs

    RichLL would say that those pedestrians should stay at home, perhaps not even get out of bed. After all, there are far more important things than living your life.

  • farazs

    If you are so confident that is not a BFD, why not stop for a minute or less in a lane meant for cars instead? That should get you a fresh assessment of ‘danger’.

  • gneiss

    On this street, some 61% of users between 6 PM and 7 PM are cyclists. Coincidentally, this also happens to be the time when double parking is at it’s height. It’s not a mess. It simply a failure by SFPD and SFMTA to enforce the law during a period of time for highest risk of injury to people who are riding bicycles.

  • farazs

    No, he is right. It is incredibly dangerous to walk a block or two, with all those crazy/inconsiderate/inattentive motorists (including him) on the prowl.

  • murphstahoe

    What blocking a bike lane does do, without question, is inconvenience
    and delay cyclists, much like it delays and inconveniences other
    drivers.

    Wait – piss off. Double parking is the driver taking their own convenience instead of being inconvenienced by having to find real parking. Over the convenience of the cyclist. Difference being – the cyclist has that convenience because we built them a bike lane, and the motorist is operating illegally.

  • 7x7anon

    You think cyclists are TRYING to get hit by cars? You’re an idiot.

  • the_greasybear

    This has always been my response to apologists for illegal double-parking in bike lanes: if the motorist is so entitled, and/or if the inconvenience is so slight, then why aren’t they parking in their own lane? It’s just a couple minutes!

  • Taurussf

    Yes, you get right on that. When you break double digits, get back to us.

    While you’re at it, look up this number. 32,000. And San Francisco’s contribution, 35.

  • yermom72

    Uber issued a statement denying responsibility, and funded a study arguing that cities could save money by removing all bike lanes and giving money to Uber.

  • DocAmazing

    Jimbo don’t count too good.

  • mx

    I see drivers do this on Market St with some regularity, blocking the only traffic lane. Sometimes the cars behind them are so terrified of the red carpet enforcement they sit there like sheep and don’t even go around.

  • Taurussf

    > There are some exceptions of course (say, schools, where loading zones are vital and complex)
    Actually, this is one of the worst places. The most likely place for a child pedestrian to be hit is in front of their school, by the parent of another child.

    And given the lack of exercise kids these days (did I just say that?) get, maybe it’s important to make them walk a couple of blocks every morning.

    The percentage of kids who walk or bike to school has plummeted since the 60’s, and it shows.

  • Taurussf

    Bob-
    Er, oops. I just checked out your district 5 blog. I am so sarcasm impaired. Sorry.

  • mx

    Oh I agree, but kids being driven to school is a reality in San Francisco, and many will travel more than a couple of blocks because of the way school assignment works in SF (not to mention the volume of private schools).

    We do need to do a better job at providing more space for safe loading in front of schools to help prevent such accidents though.

  • PopeMary

    Or just ride your bicycle in the park. Why is that so hard to understand?

    Just keep encouraging the kiddies to ride on busy streets so the ambulance chasers get their share.

  • RichLL

    I already said that double parking was inconvenient for other road users. And of course it’s illegal as are many other things that all roads users do from time to time, including cyclists.

    The thought process of a car driver briefly stopping in a bike lane is similar to the thought process of a bike blowing a stop sign – in both cases a justification is made to break the law because the operator deems it preferable to the alternatives.

    My point was more that it doesn’t have to be dangerous as suggested. That’s all down to how you choose to respond to the obstruction.

  • RichLL

    Elsewhere in the thread I said that I sometimes walk out into the bike lane or road to escape the crowds on Valencia.

    But only when it is safe to do so, as my continued presence here indicates.

  • RichLL

    For the same reason that cars are supposed to merge into the bike lane when turning right.

  • RichLL

    I don’t do it very often and no more than, say, I suspect you blow through stop signs or ride on the side-walk.

  • RichLL

    Everyone behaves badly on the roads in this city. You think I don’t notice the behavior of other drivers, cab drivers, truck drivers, cyclists, everyone. This is a tough city to get around.

    But again, I dispute that this particular behavior is dangerous. Assuming you see the vehicle ahead you are free to stop, pass CAREFULLY or dismount. If you are impatient and choose to take a risk, that is on your head.

    I see that Trump has replaced Hitler in your personal instances of Godwin’s Law.

  • RichLL

    I never said that double parking is OK. It isn’t, in much the same way as pedestrians jaywalk and cyclists blow through stop signs. We all break the law sometimes, and presumably because we feel it is justified.

    And yes, impatience causes accidents whoever is doing it. But illegal acts and impatience are what we all have to deal with on a daily basis/ It is HOW you deal with it that affects your level of risk.

  • RichLL

    I never said it was not important. I said it was a technical detail. I believe the city has experts on this stuff. I’m talking big picture here, and about how to get the bikes to somewhere safer than Valencia.

  • RichLL

    I wasn’t aware that either of the recent cycling deaths were due to a double parked car. In fact I know for a fact that they were not.

  • Jame

    The problem is, when people double park in the bike lane, people in the bike lane need to swerve to miss the cars putting themselves (and everyone else at risk. Not like the cars slow down and let you in because they see your lane is obstructed. We are not quite at peak selfishness, but we are well on the way. No one wants to be inconvenienced but everyone is happy to inconvenience others if it makes there life easier.

  • RichLL

    What do you mean by “61% of traffic”? Do you mean 61% of vehicles? That counts a bike as the same as, say, a shuttle bus with 40 passengers?

    Does “traffic” include pedestrians, as I suspect that is the main form of moving about on Valencia?

    And of course there are no Muni buses on Valencia any more. So are you omitting from the count all the buses that run parallel to Valencia a block away, of necessity?

    Oh, and how do you measure all the vehicular traffic that is displaced to Guerrero or South Van Ness because of congestion on Valencia caused partly by all those bikes?

  • RichLL

    But you don’t have to “swerve”. That implies that you don’t really stop and look before pulling out, but rather impatiently and unreasonably expect to continue your journey without any delay. That is what I am saying causes the danger.

    The double-parked car should not be there, but the reality is that it is and always will be. Pedestrians are going to jaywalk, cyclists are going to blow through stops and drivers are going to double park.

    That’s life, so deal with life SAFELY. Don’t swerve. Stop, look and pull out only when safe. And if you cannot do that safely then maybe you should not be on the road at all – passing obstructions is a fundamental road skill.

  • hailfromsf

    It’s hard to blow through stop signs while riding muni.

  • Gary van der Merwe

    I would if the park stretches from where I am to where I want to go, but 99.99% of the time, it does not.

  • Taurussf

    The reality can be changed when it’s detrimental. And there is a pretty strong parents’ movement in SF to get kids walking and biking again. They’ve organized “walking busses” and bike groups to to do that.

    When my kids were in SFUSD schools, there was a rule that kids weren’t allowed to posses bikes on school property. That’s been changed because of those parents and more can be done.

    The physical reality is that an entire school’s worth of kids can’t be dropped off all at the same time in the same place. An immediate solution is for parents who haven’t moved away from cars to park a block or two away and walk with their kids to the door rather than triple parking and having their kids run across traffic.

    Having a safe place at schools to store trailers, bike seats, and children’s bicycles is another good step.

    You’ve probably also been noticing more parents carting their kids around on cargo bikes, often with electric assist. These bikes, usually with stretched back racks to carry several kids, or large buckets in front, give parents the tool they need to avoid purchasing that first car and getting trapped in theeconomically destructive trap of car ownership.

    We’re in the midst of a sea change in how Americans live in cities and car ownership is going away. An important step is to give parents the tools they need to get their kids around without one.

  • Frank Kotter

    which inhibits the flow of traffic how?

  • RichLL

    The issue was law breaking. If you don’t like the laws then get them changed.

  • chetshome

    The law is don’t park in the bike lane — will you stop doing that?

  • chetshome

    Cars merging into the bike lane to turn right is safer than them turning across the bike lane.

    Cars parking in the bike lane is illegal and less safe — will you stop doing that?

  • RichLL

    Illegal? Yes, just like bikes not stopping at stop signs and pedestrians who jaywalk.

    Less safe? A stopped car cannot harm you. It’s what you do about it that can.

  • RichLL

    Just as soon as you obey all the laws.

  • hailfromsf

    Wow, how juvenile are you?

  • hailfromsf

    So you apparently think that seeing other drivers pull stupid shit entitles you to do the same? GTFO

  • RichLL

    No, I think that every road user breaks the law from time to time when they feel justified. You and I don’t do it because everyone else does it but rather because we all sometimes feel justified in breaking the law for our own reasons.

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Some 30 cycling advocates, wearing bright yellow t-shirts, stood along the southbound bike lane on Valencia Street between 16th and 17th streets and prevented Ubers, Lyfts and other cars from blocking this popular bike route during Friday evening’s rush. The protest, which emulated an earlier action on Golden Gate, was intended to ratchet up political pressure for […]