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.
  • chetshome

    “just like” = here comes a false equivalency.

    You said you want to park in the bike lane for the same reason cars merge to turn right. I pointed out the difference, so will you do your double-parking in the car lane now?

  • chetshome

    So no one should obey any laws until all laws are obeyed… got it.

  • Jimbo

    85% of automobiles come to a complete stop. i agree theres needs to be more enforcement of the 15%.

  • hailfromsf

    Sorry, I don’t block traffic. If I do break a rule like rolling through a stop sign, it’s only when absolutely nobody else is affected. I think there’s where we differ—you don’t seem to mind affecting other people with your rule-breaking, and you even talk like you feel entitled to do so.

  • farazs

    You merge in to the bike lane for turning right because you are intending to cross over on to the far side of it. You are changing over two lane of travel, so you do it by increments, instead of straight across – its driving 101.

    So whenever you pull over to stop in the bike lane, are you planning to plough in to the side-walk and smash an few pedestrians, once your passengers are done [dis]embarking? Or did you really not have a clue up to now about why cars are supposed to merge in to the bike lane before turning right?

  • RichLL

    I was explaining to you why, if I am dropping people off on the right, that it is best to stop on the right. Surely you do not expect pedestrians to have to jaywalk across lanes of traffic?

  • RichLL

    No, what I said is that all road users break the law, and am not clear why you are cherry picking those to criticize.

  • RichLL

    No, but I am concerned that the only law-breaking that bothers you is the law breaking that you personally disapprove of.

  • chetshome

    No, you were explaining why your convenience is more important than other people’s convenience and safety.

  • RichLL

    I know plenty of people who are affected by cyclists not following the law. I do not feel any more entitled to break the law than you do.

    You are arguing that you get to decide which laws you must obey. That is entitlement

  • RichLL

    And when you blow through a stop on your bike, you are deciding that your convenience trumps that of others

  • kevin

    B.S.

  • chetshome

    You were asked why you choose to park in the bike lane instead of the “car” lane. You said it’s the same reason cars merge to turn right. Since you now know why cars merge to turn right, I’m asking if you’ll now park in the “car” lane instead.

  • RichLL

    Because my passengers would be committing the crime of jaywalking if they attempted to leave the vehicle.

  • chetshome

    YOU are the one arguing that! This is an article about cars illegally parking in the bike lane. You are arguing that drivers should decide when it’s okay to break that law.

  • farazs

    So now its not the same reason, eh?

    No, I don’t expect pedestrians to jaywalk across lanes of traffic, just as I don’t expect drivers to stop in lanes of travel. If there is no place for you to pull over, outside the lanes of travel, then it is the *wrong* place to pull over. It is wrong even if it is on the right!

  • RichLL

    No, I was pointing out that all road users make unilateral decisions to break the law. So a focus on others while ignoring your own transgressions makes you look like a hypocrite.

  • RichLL

    It’s “wrong” for you to blow through stop signs but you still do it. So yes, all road users use their discretion and judgement when deciding whether to technically infringe the law or not

  • farazs

    Who said I blow through stop signs? Even if I were stupid enough to do that, I am definitely not stupid enough to admit it to you. That level is exclusively your privilege 😀

  • RichLL

    OK, so you’re the only person in the world who never ever infringes the vehicle code? Yeah, sure, whatever. But can you tell you’re not convincing me?

  • PaleoBruce

    RichLL wrote: “It is how you deal with it that affects YOUR level of risk.”

    I am more concerned about the risk YOU inflict on others by selfishly blocking bicycle traffic. Blaming the bicyclist for taking risks is blaming the victim.

    And I assure you that while I am waiting a minute or two for you to move out of the way, that is a minute or two I’ll spend reporting you to the police.

  • hailfromsf

    I am not those cyclists. I am arguing that you should not block traffic. That is not entitlement.

  • RichLL

    A vehicle that is not moving poses no threat to you. It is your potential reckless attempts to pass it without due care that expose you to risk.

    Report me to the police? Knock yourself out. Should I start reporting cyclists to the police every time I see a cyclist blow through a stop sign? I’d have yo give up work because that would become a full-time job.

    How about a little tolerance and patience?

  • RichLL

    OK, so you are only cyclist on the planet who comes to a complete halt at every stop sign and light? Foot down and look both ways before carefully proceeding, right?

    Yeah, right. I’d respect you more if you simply admitted thay you want a double standard

  • farazs

    Yes I can, and it doesn’t bother me.

  • RichLL

    If it doesn’t bother you then why do you keep responding?

  • farazs

    As wise man said: “This is a public thread meaning that anyone can reply to anyone.”
    Well, may be not a wise man, but a wise comment nevertheless. But mostly its about exposing your nonsense for what it is, for the benefit of other readers.

  • RichLL

    That’s funny because I am debunking you for the benefit of other readers.

    I accept that other road users will do illegal and annoying things. You seem incapable of that.

  • farazs

    More than that, you routinely present illegal behaviour as legal and acceptable out of sheer ignorance. Luckily, I have very high tolerance for your kind of behaviour, so here we are.

  • RichLL

    Wrong on both. I never said that blocking a bike lane was either legal or acceptable. What I said is that it is inevitable and that it is not dangerous unless you make it so.

    And yes, you should show tolerance, not least because you probably expect tolerance from others when you break the law. Every time you encounter an illegal or inconvenient act on the roads you should welcome it as an opportunity to practice your acceptance of an imperfect world. Nobody promised you that life would be perfect.

  • farazs

    > Every time you encounter an illegal or inconvenient
    > act on the roads you should welcome it as an
    > opportunity to practice your acceptance of an
    > imperfect world.
    I do. Absolutely no stress issues or conflict out on the road. Doesn’t stop me from expecting or aspiring for better from myself, and from others around me. I can accept that it happens, but not that it must always be so.

  • Jame

    I’ll happily share a recent-ish experience. As I was biking along, as usual I am scanning ahead to see potential obstructions. Once I notice one, I start planning how I will leave the bike lane and merge safely into traffic. The when varies based on the street, the typical traffic level and the number of cars.

    This street in question is a two lane street where cars tend to go a bit too fast, but the street design changes, it gets more crowded and cars slow down. On this 3/4 mile stretch, the speed limit is 25, but at the beginning many cars go 30. By the end they slow down due to traffic lights, school zones and more things to be aware of. The bike lane ends in the area where traffic slows. It is downhill and the street is mostly residential with gradual curves.

    Anyway there was a moving van or other huge vehicle blocking the lane. I see it, and I want to leave myself with plenty of time, so I start to signal and keep glancing rearward to leave the lane, as it is approaching the place where it becomes sharrows. I planned to just stay in the lane the whole way. Many cars zoom by and ignore my obvious body language. As I am running out of room a car takes pity on me and notices it is congested just past me, so she just slows down earlier to let me in. As I am merging into the lane, I see/hear a car progressing speedily a ways back near one of the curves. The next thing I know is they try to make a quick move into the next lane and end up causing a collision. No one was hurt but there was significant car damage.

    Obviously I couldn’t go and check out the outcome and I continued on my way, but it was clearly an accident caused by an impatient driver.

    Which leads me to my point, on a bicycle, when your lane is obstructed, you don’t have much time to move over, particularly when the road is busy. It is actually worse if you need to come to a full stop and start again, because on a road with even 20mph traffic, you will be traveling much much slower if you are starting from a stop. If there are multiple obstructions, you risk merging into dangerous traffic several times. And if you are going “bike speed” you are at risk of an impatient person driving dangerously to pass you while you take the lane. The drivers selfish quest for convenience can lead to you getting seriously injured.

  • hailfromsf

    I’m not a cyclist. When I was, I would always stop and wait my turn at intersections.

    But that’s beside the point… Don’t be one of those assholes that block traffic, and don’t think that pointing out other assholes on the road justifies your behavior. That’s flawed, childish non-logic.

  • Hodor!

  • Hodor.

  • Not stopping where prohibited in the road is probably the most basic driving or cycling skill there is. If you cannot do that safely then I question whether you should be on the roads at all.

  • If the issue is law-breaking, why are you casting stones?

  • StrixNoctis .

    “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.”

    I disagree. Out of the way too many evenings I had to wait behind motor vehicles that were blocking the bike lane on Valencia Street, only ONCE did a motorists kindly allow me to merge left into the lane to pass. All of the other MANY times I was stuck behind bike lane blockers, the motorists didn’t give me a chance. Many of them squeeze almost bumper-to-bumper so I can’t merge. I often end up having to take the risk of squeezing through narrow spaces to lane split, and risk scratching vehicles. When the traffic is moving fast but not leaving openings for me to merge, I end up having to dismount my bicycle and walk it on the sidewalk, which sometimes leads to dealing with the other problem of selfish, Valencia Street pedestrians who loiter outside of businesses and block the sidewalks (on some nights) and refuse to allow others to pass.

    The ill-mannered, selfish crowd that frequents the Valencia Street business establishments these days is why I don’t like to visit the businesses on Valencia Street anymore after decades of frequenting some shops & cafes on that street.

    I’d avoid Valencia Street entirely if I knew of another flat-land route I could take to commute between my house on Bernal Hill to/from Market Street.

  • Probably your friend should work to get things changed or shut up.

  • Wait, why are you diving into specifics? How about just accept that its “a funkton”?

  • James Brown

    Check out this video for a pretty typical example of biking Valencia street at this time of night:

  • cultuurfreak

    If we turn all the streets into parks, where will those that are forced to used cars go? You know, the invalids, the morbidly obese, &c. &c. They are people too!

  • njudah

    it’s amazing how many dumb things uber and lyft drivers do because they don’t know and don’t care about traffic rules or basic decency. it’s a shame we don’t have some system to regulate people driving passengers around town, maybe have the local transit authority get involved and certify them as being actually competent and Not A Criminal before driv….oh….RIGHT..gotta suck up to Ed Lee’s patrons!

  • Frank Kotter

    Ah, so your law breaking you have justified to yourself but that of others is unacceptable. Thanks for the clarification.

  • RichLL

    And you justified your law breaking by claiming that it doesn’t inhibit the flow of traffic. So breaking the law is OK as long as you personally think so?

    The law is the law and we all break the law from time to time because we feel justified somehow. Dressing up your law-breaking as somehow being OK doesn’t cut it.

  • Frank Kotter

    Ah, fair enough. Well, except for the fact that this is exactly what you are doing. BTW. I do indeed follow the rules of the road when riding. So the hypocrisy in this specific conversation rest with you-.

  • Frank Kotter

    Also, ‘my’ rule breaking (as you lump anyone not in a car together for whatever reasons you may have) doesn’t endanger anyone but ‘myself’ whereas your lawbreaking directly endangers others.

  • RichLL

    Calling a law a “rule” doesn’t get you off the hook for breaking it. Ditto “regulation”

    And just because you conveniently and self-servingly decide that the laws you break aren’t important or don’t endanger anyone misses the point as well. We don’t get to pick and choose which laws apply to us. They all apply.

    We do however pick and choose which ones we will break – you have your reasons and I have mine. No difference.

    And, as already noted, a car that is not moving is not putting you in danger. It’s the ones that are moving that you need to worry about.

  • Frank Kotter

    Ok ‘law’. You are willfully breaking it by invading a bike lane and you are unapologetic about it. I break none as I ride my bike. When you park in the bike lane, you are forcing the users to engage traffic which will cause injury and death. That your justify your actions by placing any negative consequences of your illegal actions on anyone but yourself is sociopathic but not surprising.

  • RichLL

    Not at all, I am sorry when I do it. But sometimes my judgement tells me it’s a better choice than the alternatives, despite the drawbacks.

    And just to be clear, what you are saying is that when you ride your bike you never, ever fail to come to a complete stop at every stop sign and light, without exception?

    If so, you’re probably the only cyclist in SF who does that, and you should be sainted.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

A bike commuter high-fives an advocate for protecting him on the southbound Valencia bike lane during a May protest. Streetsblog/Rudick

Safety Vigilantes Strike Again on Valencia

|
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 […]