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.

Deliveries trucks
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.

Intersections
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.

Dangerous left
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.

Loading g disaster
When crossing this intersection, cyclists are supposed to jog right to an abruptly unprotected portion of the bike lane
Serpentine
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.

Construction
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.

  • City Resident

    Thanks for covering this, deficiencies and all. These lanes certainly appear to be an improvement. Maybe next decade we’ll have some protected intersections along this stretch and by the time I’m old and grey (if I survive until then) Market from downtown to the Castro may have continuous protected bike lanes… Inch by inch, foot by foot, little by little…

  • plasm980

    Nice analysis of the bike lanes! Hope they can find a way to address these deficiencies incrementally instead of starting from scratch next time.

  • p_chazz

    “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” That would have cost several hundred thousand of dollars in material and labor cost. Much better from a cost perspective to make cars and cyclists dipsy-doodle.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    I wish they’d move all bike lanes on one way streets to the left side because it’s inherently safer. It’s much harder to be left hooked than right hooked because there aren’t nearly the same blind spots when your face is just a few feet away from the driver. Left side bike lanes are also much less likely to be obstructed.

    In NYC most bike lanes are on the left side of one way streets and it feels much safer. NYC also makes their intersections less confusing by painting bike lane stripes through the intersections themselves, and they have actually have signs guiding drivers and cyclists where to go. It’s truly baffling that SF constantly refuses to do this.

    Hopefully Turk street is just the beginning. All one way streets should have left side bike lanes.

  • crazyvag

    I saw construction crew working on finishing the lane on 8th Street in SOMA, so you’ll have more to cover soon.

  • Alex Ritter

    Awesome. Does it look good?

  • Roger R.

    Hi Ziggy. So unusual to disagree with you about something! Honestly, I’m from NYC and I love NYC, but it’s not the model city for bike infrastructure. For that I think we have to go to Europe. I can’t recall ever seeing a configuration like Turk in the Netherlands, and back when I toured SF by bike with Mark Sloothaak, a Dutch traffic engineer, he commented that Fell Street’s left-side bike lane was very counter intuitive (I always thought so too). I tend to think anything that feels so odd is probably a bad design, and biking on the left definitely feels wrong. Dutch road designs are so different, but the very first time I biked them everything was totally natural.

    I’ve reached out to my Dutch contacts to see what they think of the description of Turk. My guess is they’d never build such a wide one-way street in a city to start with (they’d make it a two way street) so I’m not sure what they’ll say. Let’s hear what the global masters of cycling infrastructure have to say…and maybe I’ll turn that into a follow-up article. 🙂

  • Roger R.

    Cool. Thanks for the lead!

  • • Upper Market is my commute route. This paint doesn’t keep Uber out any more than the drive-over plastic bollards did. Perhaps we should stop calling these “protected” bike lanes until they are actually, you know, protected.

    Never mind Amsterdam, New York City did this right a decade ago.

  • Frank Kotter

    Great write-up.

    If you stay on these street transformation stories, please talk about the difference between the European ‘stop light at the stop line’ and the U.S. ‘Stop light on the far side of the intersection’. It’s a massive difference which is often overlooked.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    For drivers making a left turn through a left side bike lane on a one way street, it’s much more difficult to left hook a cyclist because there’s so much more visibility out the left side window. Especially in cases where traffic is gridlocked, biking past and between cars trying to turn left is easy when I could make eye contact with the driver, something that’s impossible to do with right side bike lanes. It’s less ideal than fully protected bike lanes and protected intersections, but it’s a lot safer than the bone headed blind spot mixing zone intersections we’re currently riding through today. With driveways and alleyways it’s the same thing; it’s much easier for drivers to avoid crashing into a cyclist when making a left turn across a left side bike lane.

    The other major problem all of us deal with is obstructed bike lanes. Left side bike lanes are much less likely to be blocked, where as right side bike lanes usually end up becoming Uber waiting zones.

    I’m trying to understand your point that right side bike lanes are more instinctive, and I honestly can’t. It’s instinctive to pass on the left. Often when I’m riding my bicycle in this city I’m passing more vehicles than pass me because many of our streets are hopelessly gridlocked. It makes more sense to keep bike lanes on the left side of one way streets in my opinion because it’s easier for everyone to avoid conflicts.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Pouring a few bags of cement into a mold shouldn’t costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. What’s more important is making our intersections instinctively obvious so that people don’t need to struggle to figure out where they’re supposed to go. Painted markings that are only visibility under the most ideal lighting conditions create confusion and ambiguity; which is exactly what we don’t want in any intersection design.

    Artificial detours that go against what people will instinctively want to do will cause many people to completely ignore them; either intentionally or unwillingly. The costs of building better smarter intersections by adding refuge islands and bicycle chutes is a one time expense.

    The cost of just one collision; one person’s life destroyed by a confusing intersection is likely to dwarf the costs of fixing the intersection deficiency. People’s lives are expensive. Curbs are not.

  • Roger R.
  • Roger R.

    I heard back from Mark in Amsterdam. He replied that they never put bike lanes in The Netherlands on the left on one-way streets, unless they’re putting bike lanes on both sides of the street (so one side is counterflow). Anyway, given the mode share and safety record in the Netherlands, that’s good enough for me.

  • p_chazz

    It shouldn’t cost that much, but it does because traffic engineers would have had to draw up plans that would have gone through several levels of review and approval, plus the people doing the pouring are collecting union wages. And if the job was contracted out, the City would have had to go through a bidding process. The City built a mid-block crosswalk on a busy street near a shopping center in my neighborhood and it cost nearly a million dollars.

    I don’t disagree with you. There are other things to consider beside costs as you rightly point out. But it is very difficult to overcome that bureaucratic mindset in public works projects.

  • Mike

    I find the Fell St observation interesting. The only other person I’ve heard complain about it being on the left is the owner of the Arco gas station, and he wasn’t too worried about what was intuitive for cyclists. The Fell St lane is on the left because cyclists enter from the left side and three blocks later exit to the left. The lane could be moved to the right side of Fell but then you are asking cyclists to cross 3 lanes of arterial traffic twice over the span of a short distance, which doesn’t seem safer, easier, or any more intuitive than what is out there now.

  • Mike

    All bike lanes in the Netherlands are technically two-way? I’ve ridden there and have studied their design manuals and that is news to me. Is there something you can cite that states that?

  • Aron

    Nah it’s not true.

  • Roger R.

    “…technically two-way” apologies, but I think I confused a detail in Rotterdam (I saw cyclists occasionally go against the flow to access something mid block presumably, and my guide either said it’s legal or it’s accepted, but I can’t be sure). Anyway, I should have double checked before posting. I edited my comment. Thanks for flagging that.

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