What About Bike Safety During Paving and Construction Projects?

A cyclist trying to thread his way through the intersection of San Jose and Dolores. Photo: Dan Crosby
A cyclist trying to thread his way through the intersection of San Jose and Dolores. Photo: Dan Crosby

Streetsblog tipster Dan Crosby brought this to our attention: due to road work on San Jose, the intersections with Guerrero and Dolores are even more confusing and dangerous for people on bikes.

From Crosby’s email to Streetsblog:

There’s been some major (and much-needed) repaving work done recently on San Jose and Guerrero, between Cesar Chavez and Arlington. Overall it’s been communicated well but IMHO they’ve messed up one piece of it badly for biking: on southbound San Jose south of 30th, there’s a pretty clearly delineated (but not really marked as such) bike lane next to the curbside parking. But the bike lane is not otherwise painted, and at the island at San Jose and Dolores, it just continues into where there used to be a couple of parking spots next to the island. That area and lane are not marked at all, so of course people started parking in it the instant the lanes were reopened. The effect is a bike lane that disappears for three car lengths.

That kind of confusion can quickly turn deadly. “Today it almost got me hit by an SUV turning right from Dolores onto San Jose without looking,” continued Crosby. “I assume the driver just didn’t look left because there were parked cars there.”

Streetsblog explored the area several times last week. On one of the visits, a crew was putting down temporary striping for the bike lane. However, the safe-hit posts that once protected the bike lane on San Jose were gone and the crew had no idea when (or if) they would be replaced when the repaving was done. Streetsblog has reached out to SFMTA for more information and will update accordingly. Please comment below if you’ve been through that area this week and noticed any progress.

The good news is the repaving appears to be part of ongoing efforts to make San Jose Avenue safer. That is welcome, of course. However, Crosby’s brush with death forces us to ask why construction crews often do so little (or nothing at all) to maintain throughput and safety when it comes to bicycles.

Automobiles always get cones, signs and markings to help them navigate around construction. Even when it comes to sidewalks, construction crews in San Francisco and Oakland seem to do much better–they place physical barriers in the street, complete with temporary ramps for wheel chairs, so that people walking can still get where they need to go in relative safety. It’s not always pretty, but it seems basically safe, such as with this temporary sidewalk on Valencia near a construction site:

Temporary crash barriers protect people walking past a construction site on Valencia. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Temporary crash barriers protect people walking past a construction site on Valencia. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Streetsblog has also observed this kind of pedestrian detour treatment in Oakland on Broadway and in a few other locations and cities. As a partial aside, one does have to wonder, why didn’t they put the barrier a little to the left so cyclists could use it too (with some posts to segregate cyclists and pedestrians)? For that matter, why can’t cities use these same barriers to set up protected bike lanes quickly, while they look for more permanent solutions?

But here is what’s typical for how construction crews, throughout the Bay Area and elsewhere in California, treat bike lanes–this photo, along Lake Merritt in Oakland, was taken yesterday:

Why is this construction crew in Oakland treating a bike lane next to Lake Merritt as if it’s a sign lane? Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Ironically, this is part of the Lakeside Green Street/Snow Park project, which should make Lakeside safer for cyclists and pedestrians. So as with San Jose Avenue in San Francisco, it’s great that the work is getting done. It’s just odd that the construction crews don’t seem obligated to maintain some kind of temporary bicycle infrastructure or decent detour/way-finding for bikes in the meantime.

“Last year I worked with the new Oakland DOT …  to develop new construction staging standards to protect bike, walk, and transit access,” wrote Robert Prinz, Education Director for Bike East Bay, in an email to Streetsblog. “These standards are great, as they prioritize keeping sidewalks and bike lanes open ahead of extra travel lanes, especially in busier parts of town where the facilities are most needed. However, the standards are only useful if they’re implemented and enforced, and as you’ve noticed there has been a lack of both in some situations.” He added that sometimes construction crews can be equally blase about pedestrian safety. “As one example, the west sidewalk on Broadway south of Hawthorne Avenue has been closed for over a year despite being a very pedestrian heavy area and in the vicinity of a hospital and senior housing.”

This is something Streetsblog has looked at before. Unfortunately, while real progress is being made in getting more robust safety infrastructure in place, very little is evident when it comes to construction crews and their attitudes towards bicycling. It’s totally possible to keep cyclists riding happily and safely all throughout construction projects, as seen in the photo below from Vancouver, Canada or as an article on the Bicycle Dutch blog illustrates. In the Netherlands they even add bicycle detours to Google maps, explained Mark Sloothaak, a traffic planner from Amsterdam.

A street in Vancouver, Canada. Despite the construction, safe accommodations are maintained for cycling. Photo: Chris Bruntlett
A street in Vancouver, Canada. Despite the construction, safe accommodations are maintained for cycling. Photo: Chris Bruntlett
A Dutch bicycle construction detour sign even tells you how many calories the detour will burn...15Kcal in this case. Photo: Mark Sloothaak
A Dutch bicycle construction detour sign even tells you how many calories the detour will burn…15Kcal in this case. Photo: Mark Sloothaak

What is your experience cycling and walking around construction sites? Post your comments and pictures below.

  • Who are the real people, the serious people, the important people? Drivers. Who are the frivolous people, the childish people, the unimportant people? Bicyclists and pedestrians. That’s why, for example, when they close a section of JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park to cars on Sundays and holidays, they put up signs that say: “ROAD CLOSED. DO NOT ENTER.” Bicyclists and pedestrians understand exactly what that means: “DO NOT ENTER. [Except for all you nobodies, obviously. You don’t rate a sign.]”

  • thielges

    The biggest problems that construction projects create are:

    1 – complete closure of a trail or crucial walking/biking street. The highway 237 trail was closed for two years while Caltrans replaced the bridges over the Guadalupe River. The detour offered was in excess of a mile. With a little more cost the detour could have been minimized by putting in a temporary bridge over the river.
    2 – complete closure of sidewalk, requiring a detour to the other side of the street. Alternatively part of the roadway should be repurposed as a temporary sidewalk.
    3- elimination of bike lane or narrowing of wide curb lane. Sometimes this is caused simply by a temporary orange sign placed right in the bike lane. Somebody should design a temporary sign that requires less of a footprint. The standard model spreads out for about seven feet, covering an entire bike lane.

    On projects taking over a sidewalk: This is often necessary when the building’s footprint goes right up to the sidewalk, as on many urban streets. Construction crews need the clearance to work on the structure. But sometimes I see projects that are set back fairly far from the sidewalk and it looks like they’re using the sidewalk area simply as a place to stage materials. That should not be allowed. Or at least the permit to close a sidewalk should cost high enough so developers only close sidewalks when absolutely necessary.

    Temporary metal plates covering trenches used to be a problem in San Jose. Crews would drop the inch thick plates right on the pavement, creating a hard pinch flat causing bump for bicyclists who were not expecting the sharp edge of the plate. But the city successfully changed building codes to require builders to countersink the plates, reducing the bump greatly.

  • murphstahoe
  • Jeffrey Baker

    Sometimes Oakland gets this right. Oakland’s only-ever separated bike lane was installed on Park Ave during seismic work on a bridge.

  • Gene

    Construction companies don’t care because cities don’t care. It took months of complaining by cyclists to get one construction site on Folsom & 5th to implement a bike detour, and even then their contractors regularly parked their trucks in the bike lane. City DGAF.

  • Cyclist’s Rights

    Cities have standards in their code for traffic control at construction sites. Any contractor is required to follow these and in most cases obtain a traffic control permit from the city. If you see something that doesn’t seem right ask your city for their standards.
    Also encourage cities and contractors to require “Bikes May Use Full Lane” signs, not “Share the Road” signs. It’s much safer for a cyclist to use the full lane through these areas than to try to share the lane.


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