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Bicycle Infrastructure

Safety Vigilantes Strike Again on Valencia

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

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 protected bike lanes on all major thoroughfares.

Maureen Persico, one of the organizers of the protest, said she is doing this because it's so dangerous out there. She said she isn't impressed by politicians who get on their bikes for Bike to Work Day. "Yesterday, Mayor Lee engaged in his once-a-year bike ride...with police escort," she remarked. "Meanwhile, this city has failed to keep people safe on this high injury corridor...I have a 15 year old son, and he doesn't feel safe biking. It's not acceptable. We're going to act up for bike lanes until it gets the attention it deserves so people don't get hurt."

Maureen Persico helped organize this protest.
Maureen Persico helped organize this protest.

Streetsblog readers will recall that protesters and advocates have been fighting for protected bike lanes on Valencia for some time. Some of the people involved in Friday night's protest are also involved with SFMTrA, the guerrilla street safety group that put safe-hit posts here (the posts were promptly removed by the city). Many of these same advocates, including Persico, helped count the number of cars that were blocking the bike lanes, to give the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the city hard data about this continual problem. And it's not as if their immediate 'ask'--parking protected bike lanes on Valencia--is a bolt from the blue. SFMTA opened a parking protected bike lane on the southern end of Valencia, from Cesar Chavez to Duncan, in March. These protesters just want the rest of the street done.

Meanwhile, Matt, who declined to give his last name, handed out yellow t-shirts and gave instructions. He stressed that if a car is trying to park legally or is trying to get out of a parking space, the protesters should get out of the way--and even help them if possible. He said it would be better to have the cars park to the left of the bike lane, as with the new lanes in SoMa and on Telegraph in Oakland, and the northern end of Valencia itself. But the design is what it is, so, for now, the protesters"have to let people park in this bad design."

He handed out flyers which read:

    • Don't block lanes. Stand on the white line.
    • Have fun and share your passion for safe protected lanes.

It also answered the question, why they are doing it:

    • Families should be able to safely bike in San Francisco.
    • Unprotected lanes are violated by cars and put families next to fast moving cars.

The bulk of the protesters were in place by 5 p.m. They lined up, as planned, on the white line. There were enough of them, with arms stretched, to cover the entire southbound lane from 16th to 17th. When cars tried to get into or out of legitimate parking spots, they did as promised and helped them. The protest certainly seemed to make the street safer. Cars heading south were surprisingly cautious and drove more slowly--but it didn't seem to reduce overall throughput. That is to say, the cars stopped racing from red light to red light and instead drove at the speed limit.

Most people seemed to take the protest in stride. Cyclists high-fived the protesters, as seen in the lead photo. The protesters chanted "protected bike lanes!" and the cyclists shouted back with a warm "thank you" and at least one said "I like this!" Some drivers tapped their horns repeatedly in solidarity. Much to the surprise of many of the protesters, there really didn't seem to be any objections from motorists to what they were doing. Many stared out their windows at the protesters in what seemed like curiosity.

It was free sailing, at least for one block, on Friday night for cyclists.
It was free sailing, at least for one block, on Friday night for cyclists.

However, Streetsblog counted two cyclists who objected. One shouted "you're not helping" and cursed at the protesters. Another cyclist, heading northbound, looked back and shouted at the protesters to "go home" as he inexplicably swerved into the oncoming lane, and into the path of an oncoming truck. The truck, however, was driving slowly, probably because of the protest. He saw the truck in the nick of time and swerved out of the way, leaving the protesters confused and puzzled. "Oh well, there's always an outlier" quipped one of them.

And what about ride-hails? Soon after the protest started, the first Ubers and Lyfts showed up. Deprived of the bike lane for drop offs, they just stopped in the middle of the car lane. Passengers, perhaps mindful of the line of cars behind, got in and out very quickly. The process actually seemed to cause less automobile delay than when Ubers and Lyfts fight to pull over to the right, dwell for a while, pickup or discharge passengers, and then fight their way back into motor traffic. It was surprisingly orderly.

Ubers still discharged passengers, as seen here, but they did it quickly and efficiently, without slowing the progress of traffic, blocking the bike lane, or creating a hazard.
Ubers still discharged passengers, as seen here, but they did it quickly and efficiently, without slowing the progress of traffic.

From Streetsblog's perspective, the result of the protest were fascinating. The human chain effectively narrowed the lane and cars did what studies always seem to show--contrary to intuition, narrower lanes result in slower, calmer driving behavior and safer streets. It was also a bit disturbing to contemplate that when people stand in the streets, motorists slow down and drive cautiously. But when they're riding bikes--a situation in which a human being is just as vulnerable, perhaps more so--motorists don't seem to hesitate to drive dangerously fast and close with little thought to the consequences. Speaking of consequences, Anthony Trezos was handing out flyers for Wednesday's Ride of Silence to commemorate cyclists killed on our city's streets.

That said, some might think it's reckless to stage a protest by standing on a stripe in the middle of a street. But cyclists deal with this risk every time they ride. It didn't seem any more nerve racking to stand in the street as it does to ride in the street. Meanwhile, as with the previous protest on Turk, this was done in full view of the police; two police cruisers rolled right on by.

The protest attracted more attention, in fact, from people shopping and otherwise enjoying the Valencia corridor on foot. Steve Arkin was walking by and decided to join in. "My son bikes--I was just here to go to the movies, but I had to help!" he said. Glen Hardwich, who owns "Adventure in Food and Wine" on nearby 24th Street, stopped to watch. He whole-heartily approved of the protest and agreed that the bike lane should be to the right of the parked cars, not sandwiched between parked cars and moving traffic as in the current design. "This is ludicrous," he said of the current arrangement. "Anyone who bikes knows this is a problem."

Glenn Hardwich, who runs a nearby wine shop, was impressed with the demonstration.
Glenn Hardwich, who runs a nearby wine shop, was impressed with the demonstration.

For most people, it was about making the street safe for families. Brookeray Rivera came to protest with her infant daughter. "I want to take my daughter on my bike and I'm terrified of all the near misses all the time." "For a decade, this street has gotten worse and worse," said Chris Turitzin, another advocate at the protest. "We want better infrastructure!" said Jon Gaul.

Brookeray Rivera wants bike lanes that are safe enough for her to ride with her baby.
Brookeray Rivera wants bike lanes that are safe enough for her to ride with her baby.

Meanwhile, on the northbound side of Valencia, things were as they always are--cars driving too fast and the bike lane continually blocked by stopped cars. And as soon as the protest wrapped up at 7 p.m., both sides of Valencia were back to the usual--two parking lanes, two travel lanes, and a double parking lane that's supposed to be a bike lane.

Unfortunately, it was business as usual on the northbound side.
Unfortunately, it was business as usual on the northbound side.
An Uber on Valencia. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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