What’s going on with SFMTA’s 16th Street Transit Improvement Project?

Launched in 2015, there's still little to show for it--except the creation of a dangerous 'bike corridor' on 17th to get bikes off 16th

In an effort to speed up  buses between the Mission and Mission Bay, plans are in place to make 16th street a transit-priority street--but so far, there's little to show for the effort. Photo: SFMTA
In an effort to speed up buses between the Mission and Mission Bay, plans are in place to make 16th street a transit-priority street--but so far, there's little to show for the effort. Photo: SFMTA

The $67.5 million 16th Street improvement project, part of SFMTA’s ‘Muni Forward’ plan to improve bus reliability and run times, is supposedly on schedule and on budget. But there’s decidedly little to see on the street.

“My understanding is they were supposed to stripe the transit-only lanes east of Potrero in November,” wrote Rachel Hyden, Executive Director of the San Francisco Transit Riders. “I actually rode the 55 out to our [three weeks ago] holiday party and didn’t notice them, so that’s unfortunate.”

There’s a reason she didn’t notice them (Streetsblog did a survey of the street late last week)–it’s because they’re not there.

Streetsblog reached out to SFMTA communications nearly a week ago to find out what’s going on with the project and still has received no reply. However, through a source at SFMTA who spoke on condition of anonymity, it’s clear that the transit lane should have been stripped this Fall, as Hyden believes.

On 16th street itself there is nothing to see except some flyers attached to utility poles announcing the project and a couple of easily missed transit-only signs buried in the visual noise, such as the one photographed below:

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Motorists could be forgiven for not noticing this sign, absent any other markings to indicate the right lanes are for public transit only. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

According to the project web page at SFMTA, the plan is to improve the “22 Fillmore route along 2.3 miles of 16th Street, including transit-only lanes, transit bulbs, new traffic and pedestrian signals, as well as new streetscape amenities.”

SFMTA's website still lists the project as "on time," when the early implementation phase is supposed to be finished--and clearly is not. Image: SFMTA
SFMTA’s website still lists the project as “on time,” when the early implementation phase is supposed to be finished–and clearly is not. Image: SFMTA

The project also shifts bicycle traffic to 17th street, to make way for the bus-only lanes. That has been done, but cyclists are pretty universally scornful of the new bike lanes. There are a few short segments of a plastic-bollard-protected bike lane, but only in the uphill direction for the four blocks between Potrero and Kansas. The protection drops in and out abruptly and oddly and, as seen in the photo below, spills cyclists back into a door-zone lane. It’s hardly the kind of physically protected bike lane that qualifies as for “all ages and abilities.”

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This type of dangerous, door-zone stripe that wedges cyclists between parked cars and moving traffic shouldn’t even be in SFMTA’s toolbox anymore, but that’s how most of 17th’s ‘bike corridor’ is ‘designed.’ Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
One of the short segments of plastic-bollard protected bike lane on one side of 17th. All protection abruptly disappears after four short blocks.
One of the short segments of plastic-bollard protected bike lane on 17th. Not bad, but protection drops in and out and then abruptly disappears completely after only four blocks. And it’s only on one side of the street. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

“The bike lanes were actually striped like a year ago. When I worked at MTA I heard a lot of complaints about the quality, or lack thereof,” confirmed Hyden.

And cycling advocate Adam Long, who regularly commutes on 17th, is one of the people complaining…with little effect so far.

Last July, in fact, Long witnessed (and caught on his bike cam) a collision near the intersection of Texas and 17th, when a parked car pulled out of a parking spot, crossed the bike lane without looking, and rammed into a passing car. “Good thing there was no cyclist in that unprotected bike lane because they would be in the hospital right now,” wrote Long in a tweet about the incident.

“Whether you’re talking about 16th and 17th, Illinois or the bridges from the north, the bike connections into Mission Bay are just not that great. It’s a relatively flat area with a level of development that warrants better planning for how people access the UCSF campus, the coming Warriors stadium and the neighborhood generally,” wrote Chris Cassidy, spokesman for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Under the late Mayor Lee’s executive directive, SFMTA showed its ability to install reasonably good protected bike and bus infrastructure in a short amount of time–sometimes to Streetblog’s pleasant surprise. What has been installed on 17th is dangerous and sub-standard. Streetsblog can only hope that the bike lanes on 17th will get improved and the early implementation work to make a decent transit lane on 16th will get on schedule–for real, instead of just on the SFMTA web page–come the new year.

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