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Bike Coalition Strategizes a Safer SoMa

SFBC’s South of Market committee strategizing how to make the neighborhood safer. That’s Remi Ray, Charles Deffarges, Katie Brenzo, and Moses Nakamura. Photo: Streetsblog

Yesterday evening, the South of Market Committee of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) met at their Market Street office to discuss advocacy tactics for making sure SFMTA follows through on Mayor Edwin Lee's Executive Directive on safety in their neighborhood. "They’re hoping to get this in the ground by May of 2017," said Charles Deffarges, community organizer with the Bicycle Coalition. He pointed to SFMTA designs, projected on a screen for the group, of 7th and 8th streets, with physically protected bike lanes. "This design is not all the way there, but it is a first phase," he said.

Streetsblog readers will recall that on the evening of June 22, Kate Slattery and Heather Miller were killed in separate incidents in San Francisco. Slattery died at the intersection of 7th and Howard streets. A month later, under intense pressure from the Bicycle Coalition, the mayor issued an "executive directive on safety." Part of the directive was specific to the area where Slattery was killed, instructing "SFMTA to deliver near­-term safety improvements on 7th and 8th Streets in the next nine months."

That process is now under way. Streetsblog covered an open house back in September, where SFMTA got feedback on designs for 7th and 8th. Now the Bicycle Coalition is focusing on longer-term planning for Folsom and Howard Streets. They want to keep up the pressure and make sure safety measures are put through before any more cyclists are hurt or killed. SFMTA is holding open houses on the designs on Thursday, December 8, and Saturday, December 10.

"My hope is we can figure out exactly what we want to achieve through this open house," said Deffarges. "Our overarching goal for Folsom and Howard is to have the best streets possible--how do we use these upcoming open houses to leverage that goal?"

Mission and 8th, as currently planned under the mayor's executive directive on safety. Image: SFMTA
Mission and 8th, as currently planned under the mayor's executive directive on safety. Image: SFMTA

"Has anyone thought of striping the bike lane through the intersections, so everyone knows where they're supposed to be?" asked Elias Zamaria, one of the advocates at the committee.

It was that kind of suggestion--not already on the renderings provided by SFMTA--that Deffarges said the Bicycle Coalition wants to see advocated for at the open house. "What kind of goals can we have to move the needle?" he said.

Janice Li, advocacy director for SFBC, said if engineers at the open houses hear consistent messages and suggestions repeated at the meetings, those improvements will become part of the designs. She also encouraged the group to, well, shoot for the stars. "Ask for the most beautiful, protected bike lane ever, with beautiful plants...or ask, 'Why can’t we just make that entire side of the street car-free?'" she said. "Get the meme out there. Because if you start with just, 'Can you fit a bike lane?' we'll get the worst bike lane ever."

Li and Deffarges took notes on the white board, consolidating suggestions to formulate some key "asks" for the open house. It wasn't just about bike lanes, however. "We need wider sidewalks on Folsom and Howard," said Raul Gupta, another advocate at the meeting. Yet another advocate asked for mid-block crossings, since SoMa is filled with long "super blocks," where the nearest corner can be quite a hike.

The committee members also brainstormed what they need to do before, at, and after the open house to make sure the messages of advocates are heard. One idea was to collect images of bicycle infrastructure from other cities and countries and put them in a pamphlet to show SFMTA engineers, so advocates can just point and say "we'd like that in San Francisco." For example, the SFMTA's initial diagrams all lacked any protection (and paint, for the most part) across the intersections, as Zamaria pointed out. Li said that SFMTA's nine-month implementation plan may make it difficult to roll out Dutch-style, fully protected intersections in an initial phase, since those require new traffic signals and concrete.

However, Streetsblog offered an image from Portland, Oregon. It shows a cheap way to add some initial protection at intersections with large planters. By strategically placing the planters, they force cars to make slower, wider turns, to reduce the chances of a cyclist getting "right hooked." Or, in the case of a one-way street as seen in the image below, "left hooked." It also means an inattentive motorist who is making a turn is likely to hit the planter before hitting a person. This seems like a much safer treatment than the standard painted lines and mixing-zones used in many SFMTA designs.

A simple "protected intersection" treatment in Portland, using a concrete planter. Photo: Streetsblog
A simple "protected intersection" treatment in Portland, using a concrete planter to keep cars from sweeping across the bike lane. Photo: Streetsblog

In addition, the committee discussed how to make sure lots of safe-streets advocates show up for the meeting. "How do we focus on turnout and make it feel like there are lots of bike people?" asked Moses Nakamura. In addition to social media, Deffarges recommended handing out flyers during rush hour at intersections in SoMa. "Put flyers in bike shops, like Mike’s Bikes and Performance," suggested another committee member.

And, of course, draft Streetsblog to promote the effort.

The next open house is the "Folsom-Howard Streetscape Project Session 1," Thursday, December 8, at 6:00 p.m., at the SoMa Recreation Center, 270 6th Street.

The bike coalition's SoMa committee. Photo: Streetsblog
The bike coalition's SoMa committee. Photo: Streetsblog

Interested in helping out? Look for updates/more info on SFBC's SoMa post.

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