Eyes on the Streets: Upper Market and Turk Finally Get their Protected Bike Lanes

Advocates see first results from the protracted battle for safe infrastructure on these two important projects

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The paint was literally still drying on the inbound side of the new protected bike lane on Upper Market this morning. An SFMTA crew was out putting the finishing touches on the lane, as seen below. Both sides are now protected by long stretches of concrete curb (as seen in the lead image). Cycling the stretch from Octavia to the start of the Wiggle is already a much calmer, safer experience.

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Upper Market’s newly protected bike lane, with a city crew putting on the finishing touches.

SFMTA’s design also seems to have solved the loading problems. Streetsblog watched as an Uber did something almost unimaginable–it stopped in a legal loading zone and discharged passengers without blocking the bike lane. The plastic bollards and designated loading areas saw to that, as seen below with these two delivery trucks.

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Delivery trucks living in harmony with the bike lane. The cones were there for a few more minutes as the paint dried on those white markings.

Yes, deliveries had to travel a little bit farther by hand truck, but they managed–and, in fact, the drivers seemed pretty happy about the more orderly street and system. The boxes of booze seen below got where they needed to go.

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Deliveries may have had to travel a slight bit farther by hand truck, but Upper Market commerce continued just fine despite the protected bike lane

Advocates from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the people-protected bike lane protests can be proud of finally raising enough momentum to push through the bureaucratic morass that tied up the Upper Market project for so long.

The design seems to function well, but there’s still room for improvement. As seen below, the intersections don’t really work and go against ideal, Dutch-style designs. At the intersection with Laguna, for example, the bike lane is squeezed in closer to automobiles at exactly the point when the separation should be increased. Bike boxes are not a great solution, considering they are routinely violated by motorists. A ramp could have continued the bike lane straight up over the bulb-out to create a partially protected, more Dutch-style intersection. Poor intersection design has been an ongoing problem that advocates have complained about before.

“There are so many treatments that you could pull from streets of Amsterdam, for instance. But we don’t want to be in the position that the city can’t try new things because advocates jump on them for the imperfections that come along with early iterations,” said Chris Cassidy, spokesman for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

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This intersection increases potential for conflicts by squeezing cars and bikes (or in this case a scooter) together at exactly the point when they need more separation. The bike lane could have easily continued straight or curved away from the car lane by building a ramp (with green paint) up and across the sidewalk bulb out.

SFTMA also recently rolled out a protected bike lane on Turk (it’s not officially open, but it’s mostly complete). As previously reported, Turk has electric trolley bus wire over the right-most travel lane and a parking lane against the right-side curb. The fire department complained that the trolley wire, if a parking-protected bike lane was installed on the right, would limit ladder truck access to adjacent buildings, a concern that some thought was misguided. Either way, SFMTA opted for a left-side running bike lane on Turk to avoid the issue.

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Turk’s partially protected bike lane is on the left side of this one-way street

Although it can be argued that any protected bike lane is better than nothing, during Streetsblog’s survey this morning, this was clearly a counter-intuitive and potentially hazardous design. The biggest flaw becomes apparent, once again, at intersections. Without phased bike signals at turns, cyclists now have to worry about getting left-hooked instead of right-hooked–why would a motorist expect something to be passing on the left when the motorist is in what appears to be the left-most travel lane? There’s a mixing zone, and presumably motorists are supposed to merge into the bike lane before making a left to prevent this from happening, but they don’t; the truck in the image below, for example, cut suddenly and sharply across the bike lane. It would be incredibly easy to catch a cyclists off guard in a situation such as this, with tragic results.

This is the danger with bi-directional, counterflow, or left-side bike lanes–intersections have to be extremely well thought out. Instead, this design doesn’t even continue the green bike lane paint across the intersection.

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This truck “left hooked” across the bike space–well, where the bike space would be, if SFMTA bothered to paint the lane across the intersection

Meanwhile, to maintain curbside loading at the Curry Senior Center at Leavenworth and Turk, SFMTA has the bike lane suddenly jog right and then left again, crossing paths with loading cars. During the jog, the bollards stop to let cars cross the bike space to load curbside. It probably would have made way more sense to add a raised crosswalk and something akin to a bus-boarding island for seniors, rather than making cyclists and cars dipsy-doodle through the same space.

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When crossing this intersection, cyclists are supposed to jog right to an abruptly unprotected portion of the bike lane
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Some loading on Turk is curbside. And some loading is to the right of the bike lane, depending on which block, requiring the bike lane to serpentine in a confusing way.

And then, at the intersection with Larkin, we see an example of why it’s not okay to shrug off construction crews that don’t make allowances for bikes. As seen below, the bike lane dumps cyclists into this as they cross the intersection–again, there is no paint actually in the intersection. With nowhere to go because of the construction barriers from a building site, I ended up crossing two lanes and shifting back to the right side of the road.

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Construction crews simply must allow for bike lanes, or, especially if the bike lane is on the left, they create situations that are worse than having no bike lane at all.

And then, on the last block of the partially protected, serpentine, left-handed bike lane on Turk, in front of the federal building, the lane was blocked by Homeland Security, right in front of open curb space. Of course, by then I was riding on the right and ignoring the bike lane. I crossed the street on foot and went back to take this picture:

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Homeland security parking on the left-side bike lane in front of the federal building. Thanks for protecting us from terrorists. Who protects us from you?

It’s good to see such progress on Upper Market. And some of the issues brought up about Turk, hopefully, will be addressed when the last bit of work is done, although the Bicycle Coalition is not aware of any improvements coming in the near future (the Turk lane’s official ribbon cutting is Thursday, April 26, at 9 a.m.)

“The near-term improvements on Turk were informed by compromise, but this is the best protected bike lane that we could see for now–it’s not necessarily the bike lane that will be there a year or two or five or ten years from now,” said the SFBC’s  Cassidy. “The SFMTA deserves credit for navigating stakeholder concerns to deliver the Tenderloin’s first protected bike lane.”

Fair enough, but to Streetsblog, the solution for Turk was to eliminate parking on the right side of the street to create a protected bike lane in what is now the parking lane–wide enough so fire trucks could use it in an emergency. That would have maximized safety for cyclists and maintained access for fire trucks, the senior center, and everyone else–with the exception of people who think the city is obligated to provide car parking and loading on both sides of every street.

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