Open Thread: Is it Time to Pilot a Sidewalk Bike Lane on Market Street?

Call Them "Sidewalk-Height Raised and Curb-Protected Bike Lanes" Maybe?

On this stretch of upper Mid-Market, approaching the Wiggle, there's already a Berlin-style protected bike lane--but somebody put a bike corral in the middle of it. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
On this stretch of upper Mid-Market, approaching the Wiggle, there's already a Berlin-style protected bike lane--but somebody put a bike corral in the middle of it. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Yesterday, I took a ride on a Jump electric bike on Market Street. Ryan Rzepecki, the CEO of Jump, was riding alongside. When we stopped, we talked about how nerve racking it is to ride on Market. We also discussed how comfortable it is to ride in Berlin, where, in many places, rather than stripe a bike lane on the street (American-style, in the gutter, as on Market Street) they stripe it on the outer edge of the sidewalk.

A short time later, I noticed the brick treatment on Market near Duboce, seen in the lead image, and thought to myself: that looks just like a Berlin bike lane.

I fear some readers are already foaming at the mouth. In San Francisco, the mere intimation of putting a bike lane on a sidewalk causes heads to explode (maybe it’s better to call it adding a raised bike lane?)

But let’s face it, since fifteen percent of trips in Berlin are made by bike, maybe the Germans are on to something. And maybe it’s part of the answer we’re looking for to solve the mess that is Market Street.

A sidewalk bike lane in Berlin. Photo: Streetsblog NYC/Aaron Naparstek
A sidewalk bike lane in Berlin. Photo: Streetsblog NYC/Aaron Naparstek

As Streetsblog NYC explained a few years ago, with pictures to prove it, there are places where sidewalk bike lanes work just fine. And it’s not entirely without precedent in San Francisco–we have a few shared-use areas, such as the promenade  at the Embarcadero. But there, as with the shared-use path in the Panhandle, the division between pedestrian space and bicycle space is poorly defined–it’s nothing like the way dual-use sidewalks are done in Berlin and other cities.

It’s intriguing that some stretches of Market already have what any Berliner would identify as a sidewalk bike lane. Now, I’m sure some will object to taking any space from pedestrians–and Streetsblog, of course, sympathizes with that point of view. But the red brick portion of the “sidewalk” is already denied to pedestrians–look at the bike corral in the middle of it. If we can use it for bike parking, why can’t bikes ride on it instead? As much as we all appreciate someplace to lock up our bikes, isn’t it more important not to get crushed under a bus?

Here’s an older image, before that bike corral was put in:

There's already a protected bike lane on Upper Market. Were just not using our imagination. Image: Google Maps
There’s already a protected bike lane on Market. See the red bricks? We’re just not using our imagination. Image: Google Maps

It even solves the Uber/Lyft/delivery truck/double parking issue–the current bike space can continue to be used for drop offs and, unless someone is obnoxious enough to mount the curb with a truck, the bike lane should, finally, be kept clear (obviously, some kind of door buffer space would need to be defined, as seen in the picture of Berlin).

Of course, curb cuts/ramps would have to be created at intersections. And the intersections should have protections to make sure cars don’t right-hook cyclists and pedestrians. The Berlin-style treatment might also address Fire Department concerns about protected bike lanes.

I hope it’s obvious that I’m not suggesting this is the answer everywhere, or even in most places. But can we have the imagination, especially on Market Street on stretches with over-sized sidewalks and narrow traffic lanes, to tweak our thinking about how we define the relationships between sidewalk and bike-lane space?

San Francisco has its Better Market Street planning project under way. And the city is trying lots of pilots on Market, including a raised bike lane. Perhaps it’s time to take things one step further, and consider a sidewalk bike lane.

Let us know what you think below.

  • Mesozoic Polk

    I agree with the author’s characterization of Market Street sidewalks as “over-sized.” But this problem is best corrected by using the excess space for free on-street storage of private automobiles, just like we do on every other street and in Golden Gate Parking.

  • jonobate
  • mx

    I don’t think anyone was suggesting it works all the way down Market. But as a general planning point, the city generally treats massively wide sidewalks on Market St. as sacrosanct, having widened them in many places, no doubt to fulfill some sort of urban planner’s ambition to “contextualize” tall buildings or whatever, when we’re dying for enough space to accommodate various uses and some of that sidewalk space might be put to more productive use.

    Despite the dreams of planners, street designs that turn every street into a vehicular “no stopping” zone are impractical. I see it all the time on Market. People want to get in and out of their Ubers and Lyfts, businesses need to receive deliveries of goods at some point, police cars need to stop and do their thing, etc… There are blocks and blocks where there is no legal place to do that, so they stop somewhere, either in the traffic lane or in a bike lane, and pose a danger to everyone. Carving out some sidewalk space strategically to ensure room for bikes and loading/unloading (with actual enforcement to prevent it from becoming parking) is a way to handle all these needs.

  • jonobate

    Oh, I don’t disagree that we can and should be repurposing sidewalk space for bike lanes where the sidewalk is excessively wide. There are very few streets in the city where that could be done, but Market is one of them.

    What I don’t agree with is repurposing sidewalk space for a bike lane without creating a new curb that deliniates the bike space from the pedestrian space. This is actually what has been done in the Berlin example shown in the article.

    Also, the section of Market that shown in the article is the exception rather than the rule; it exists for literally the length of one building, because that section of sidewalk was reconstructed by the developer of 1998 Market St. Almost everywhere else there is a row of trees and/or parking meters right at the edge of the sidewalk. And there’s fact that there are obstacles such as BART portals that simply can’t be moved or removed. And the fact that bricks are terrible to ride on.

    Do a proper job and build a raised bike lane that is clearly delineated from both the pedestrian space and the general traffic lanes, and which has a surface appropriate for cycling on.

  • SF_Abe

    Is “Better Market Street” even still happening?

  • angermuller

    Sadly, it’s still 5 years out from construction:

  • curiousKulak

    I’m a bit doubtful that these will prove positive on Market. Seems to me like they’d just be taken over by street people and campers – like the area around 8th – 5th are now. Thus – bike will just be forced out into oncoming buses and trucks.

    If you think I’m exaggerating, try to navigate the new “protected” bike lane on Division near Potrero. Not only do the tents take all the sidewalk (which was narrowed about a year ago – due to campers), but their ‘business activity’ (chop-shop) spills out onto the bike lane.

    The “protected” bike lane confines a rider. At least this proposal seems like it gives a rider an out.

    “Protected’ bike lanes of the future should take note: lose the chain link fencing (Cargo Way), lose the concrete blocks spaced 12” apart (Division) and leave enuf space for a rider to weave back out onto the roadway to avoid ‘road hazards’.

  • Do Something Nice

    Even though I don’t bicycle in San Francisco, as a resident I am 100% supportive of dedicated, protected bicycle lanes throughout the city, including on Market Street and also supportive or raising my taxes to pay for them.

    But I’m 100% AGAINST this idea. Bicyclists and pedestrians do not mix, even with the best behaved bicyclists. And we all know that there are enough jerks in bikes to ruin it for everyone else. We can’t legalize biking on the sidewalk because it will be a shitshow of injuries, anger and probably major fights.

    And saying the sidewalks are ‘oversized’ is ridiculous. Every major grand city on earth strives for sidewalks like these. And we only have a few in SF. Leave them be.

  • Vooch

    it’s insane as these video example from Munich show;

  • Vooch

    correct – the war on cars is very real as these video example show –

  • Stan Parkford

    I could get behind this, if designed correctly of course. I’ve ridden in Berlin on the sidewalk bike lanes, and they work very well. People biking in the US do exhibit different behavior though – love my fellow bicyclists but frankly a lot them treat it like an extreme sport. I would be supportive of an iteration of the sidewalk lane that had very distinct separation from pedestrians; something more like a raised cycletrack.

  • Joe Brant

    These designs are quite common in Taipei, as well as many Japanese cities. There’s a portion of sidewalk striped for cyclists in both directions, although pedestrians are officially given priority. There is plenty of space for people on foot and on bike. I do not understand why Americans insist on putting cyclists as close to heavy traffic as possible, on the grounds that a heavy truck should be treated the same as a person on a bicycle.

  • Stuart

    It seems like this needlessly conflates how bicycle lanes are designed with where the space comes from. We could move to having bike lanes that are “on” the sidewalk while still creating the space for them by narrowing roads to expand the sidewalk+bike lane. With something 25% of the surface area of the city devoted almost exclusively to cars, there’s still plenty of opportunity to rebalance things without taking away sidewalk space.

    And on the flip side, if the sidewalks are really too wide on Market, we could convert space to bike lanes without adding a new kind of bike lane to the mix in SF. There are advantages to that style of bike lane, but there’s also something to be said for consistency. We’re still trying to get people used to the new types of bike lanes that are already being built out; will adding yet another type at the same time actually help? And if it’s a better design, why do it only on Market, and not everywhere that we are planning new protected bike lanes?

    These are very different questions, and combining them just seems like it muddies the waters.

  • Had to watch a couple more of those just to make sure…

  • Andy Chow

    Upper-Mid Market bike traffic is generally longer distance traffic to further west, so bikes tend to go faster. Some faster cyclists will want to pass slower ones, especially in uphill direction. When you make the lane “protected,” you will create conflict between fast and slow cyclists. The fast one would either prefer not use it, or find some way to ask the slower rider to yield, and slower cyclist feeling pressured by faster cyclists behind.

  • But you already have this in the green areas for bikes going west; slower cyclists generally keep to the right; faster cyclists generally pass to the left and will usually announce their presence with a bell or spoken word. Unless the sidewalk lane is too thin, this shouldn’t be a problem.

  • Andy Chow

    With regular green lane, bikes can slightly deviate off the lane to pass the slow cyclist, just as cars to pass cyclist on shared streets. Something like on Polk Street is too narrow and it is not easy to pass someone (couldn’t get off the lane and not wide enough to have two cyclist side by side).

    You will need to have something as wide as a regular traffic lane, with consideration of overall street width and other issues.

  • Vooch

    those bizarre European experiements are never going to work long term. I bet by next summer, they come to their senses and widen their streets, create more free parking, and tax bicyclists

    A tragic video of a riverfront wasteland in the middle of downtown

  • Cyclist’s Rights

    I thought even the protected facilities crowd understood the hazards of cycling on sidewalks but I guess not. A “sidewalk bike lane” is no different.
    The more often you call things that aren’t bike lanes by the name bike lanes the more misunderstood people will be since California is a mandatory bike lane law state. Bike lanes are a very particular kind of infrastructure legally. Don’t mix them up with “protected” facilities, “cycletracks” or “sidewalks”


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