SFMTA Cuts Bike Lane from Planned Sixth Street Safety Improvements

Pushback from hotels adds car space and rolls back safety

Sixth Street today, and as envisioned (before the safety project was watered down). Image: SFMTA
Sixth Street today, and as envisioned (before the safety project was watered down). Image: SFMTA

Streetsblog tipster and advocate Brian Coyne brought this to our attention: “SFMTA’s Sixth Street Safety Project, which Streetsblog has covered several times over the last few years, has now had the bike lane component removed.” The plan, as shown on the agency’s project page, is now to remove the bike facility and add an additional northbound car lane to the design.

Paul Rose, a spokesman for SFMTA, confirmed that the bike lane is out. “The project maintains the key pedestrian safety elements–substantial sidewalk widening and bulb-outs at corners from Market to Howard. Sixth Street is not on the bicycle network and the facilities would have been unprotected if built,” he added in an email to Streetsblog. “SFMTA will focus on implementing the highest achievable quality bicycle facilities on Fifth Street, a corridor that is on the bicycle network and is a project currently in development.”

Of course, no matter how good the bike lane is on Fifth, it won’t help a cyclist trying to reach an address on Sixth. “Very frustrating to see this,” wrote Coyne in his email to Streetsblog.

Streetsblog has emails out to District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim to find out where her office stands on the safety downgrade and will update this post accordingly. Meanwhile, sources close to the project said that SF Travel and the Hotel Council were behind the bike lane removal and the addition of a northbound car lane (they want more motor lanes from I-280 to the hotels in and around Union Square and Chinatown).

It’s a shame there’s no mass transit alternative from SFO and the Peninsula for hotels to suggest to their guests.

“Everyone who believes in improving street safety should be disappointed to see an additional traffic lane replace a bike lane in the latest plans,” said Chris Cassidy, spokesman for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “This bad news really increases the importance of seeing continuous protected bike lanes delivered along the entirety of Fifth Street, from Market all the way to Townsend.”

It’s important to remember that much progress has been made in SoMa over the past few years, with protected bike lanes going in on Folsom, Seventh, Eighth, and 13th; word has it that even the debacle with the proposed protected bike lane on Howard Street may be resolved soon. But it all has come at a tragic cost.

Advocates are hopeful that they can at least keep the Sixth Street project from morphing back into four motor-vehicle lanes. “We know that there’s some pushback from the Hotel Council and from SF Travel on the lane reductions,” said Jodie Medeiros, Executive Director of Walk San Francisco. “We still think that the street can be made safe with the three lanes.”

Medeiros confirmed that, at least so far, other safety measures–such as new traffic signals, mid-block crossings, bulb-outs, daylighting of intersections–are still in the plan. “Sixth Street needs to be redesigned for people; it is one of the most dangerous streets in our city, and it needs these safety improvements,” she said.

For the record, there have been four people killed and five severely injured since 2005 on the stretch of Sixth from Market to Brannan. It was also one of the first in the city to receive painted sidewalk extensions.

A screen shot from San Francisco's injury and fatality tracker. Image: SFGov
A screenshot from San Francisco’s injury and fatality tracker. Image: SFGov

The next chance to chime in on the bike lane removal and other features on Sixth Street is on Wednesday, June 27, from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Gene Friend Rec Center at Sixth Street and Folsom. Readers can also email Charlie Ream at charlie.ream [at] sfmta.com or Shayda Haghgoo at shayda.haghgoo [at] sfmta.com, or contact District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim.

  • Bruce

    Well, f***

  • David Marcus

    What does “not on the bicycle network” mean? People on bikes aren’t supposed to patronize businesses on 6th street?

  • NoeValleyJim

    Make that a dedicated bus lane and I will agree. Otherwise this is nonsense.

  • Stuart

    The bicycle network concept is useful as a way to identify significant gaps in city-wide connectivity to find places to prioritize redesigns. It’s pretty sad to see it being used to justify putting no dedicated bicycle infrastructure of any kind on a large street that is already being completely redesigned.

    Surely the SFMTA doesn’t believe that this project will calm traffic so much that most people would be comfortable with vehicular cycling? It’s not like it’s going to become a quiet residential side street.

  • gneiss

    In point of fact as the article points out, the local hotels are pushing back on any reduction in automobile volumes. They want to continue to maintain 4 lanes of traffic here. The only reason why SFMTA is reducing it to three is that this street has such a truly dismal safety record that the city would face significant exposure to liability if they failed to do more than just add traffic signals and bulb outs.

  • David Marcus

    It’s so weird. Is there really a hotel that thinks 3 lanes vs 4 lanes matters even a little bit to a tourist staying downtown? I imagine tourists mainly care if it’s nice to walk around by the hotel.

  • Stuart

    The project page still says that “the 6th Street Pedestrian Safety Project aims to create a safe and inviting place for people to walk, bike, and drive”.

    I encouraging everyone who contacts them about this change to ask the SFMTA to explain what part of this project is fulfilling their stated goal of creating a “safe an inviting” place to bike. Ask them if they would feel comfortable telling people biking with young children that a street busy enough that it can’t possibly do with fewer than three lanes of automobile traffic is a “safe an inviting” environment for vehicular cycling.

  • Cynara2

    I was unaware that hotels think.

  • jonobate

    “Sixth Street is not on the bicycle network”, said the head of the agency that arbitrarily decides which streets are or are not on the bicycle network.

  • Schad

    What’s more odd is that anyone thinks tourists are staying in the heroin dens that call themselves hotels on 6th. I lived on Minna between 6th and 7th my first year in the city. No tourist would be dumb enough to book a room in any of the hotels I saw on 6th.

  • p_chazz

    The hotels being referred to are the Union Square hotels–the St. Francis, the Clift, the Nikko, the Hilton, the Parc 55, etc.

  • Boo

    I cycle 10 miles per day and have been cycling in SF daily since 2003. I also have a car and drive occasionally. This is one instance (at least the only one I can recall) where I think bike lane removal might be a good idea. The reason is that 6th street has a lot of traffic (due to the freeway) and a lot of lights and stops. I cycle through here daily – it is not safe. I don’t believe a bike lane is not going to make it safer. There is already a lot going on due to the demographics and culture of the street.

    The other issue is that drivers frequently back up the freeway and clog Market street because it is unpredictable whether you will have enough time to make the intersection because the lights seem to be timed poorly.

    I think the additional mid block crossings will allow cyclists to use the lanes on 5th (which can easily accommodate great ones since there’s never much vehicle traffic there at all) and on 7th and then use the sidestreets like Natoma, Minna, etc to access the block on 6th they might be trying to reach. It’s a much safer and pleasant experience as well IMO.

  • Zharol

    He’s also the head of the agency that has arbitrarily decided that EVERY street is on the car network.

  • Michmill

    Agree with Boo, this is a rare case where cutting a bike lane makes sense. I lived on 5th, which should be the main bike route with a protected lane the whole way. Sixth needs safer crossings, especially at the freeway. But the city really should try to send bikes to 5th or 7th, and keep cars, especially clueless tourist cars, on 6th.

  • ride_it_like_you_stole_it

    People also use 6th to access destinations north of Market St. They can take 280 to 6th to Taylor to Union Square, for instance, which is why I think the hotel folks have an opinion on this.

  • LazyReader

    Yes I can just imagine people showing up to hotels in their bicycle.

  • Guy Ross

    This makes total sense. Just look at what has happened to the hotels on Times Square since they significantly reduced the throughput of automobile traffic in the area….

    (eye-roll)

  • Stuart

    Sixth needs safer crossings

    Adding back a lane of auto traffic by removing the planned bike lanes makes crossings less safe.

  • The traffic vs. bike lane is on 6th street in SOMA (South of Market) while the hotels in question are north of market.
    So this isn’t “cyclists need a lane right in front of the hotel to get there” but “Hotels in one area of the city propose that cyclist safety in another part of the city is not worth losing a lane of traffic flow on a stroad from I-280 which is in their general direction”.

  • Thanks for pointing that out.
    The hotels north of Market street in Chinatown and eastern Tenderloin are stating that the 6th St traffic in SOMA between I-280 and Market is vital enough to their businesses that they need another lane on that stroad more than cyclists need a lane for safety.

    And I used to joke about the reach of Rose Pak and asking her opinion on any change to the city no matter where it was.

  • NoeValleyJim

    Chinatown merchants complained that if The Embarcadero was torn down, they would all go out of business. This did not happen. North Beach merchants made the same complaint. This sort of came true, mostly in the form of reduced night life. SOMA businesses claimed that SOMA would become gridlocked. Traffic is certainly worse but not gridlocked.

  • TheFacts

    Get the facts NoeValleyJIm. Many Chinatown businesses went out of business when the Embarcadero Freeway was torn down. They never fully recovered and had to sell their soul to tourists to survive.

    Please stop spreading this lie as it continues to show its racial overtones.

  • NoeValleyJim

    Prove it. Prove that more Chinatown businesses went out of business in the decade following the removal of The Embarcadero Freeway than in the decade prior to it. I bet you can’t. Any “evidence” you have is anecdotal but because businesses come and go all the time, that is not proof. Give me proof.

  • NoeValleyJim

    Employees need to get to work too.

  • NoeValleyJim

    I really don’t think 5th is a good bicycling route. When I used it last week, I was the only cyclist and I almost got killed by a driver turning right from the left turn lane. Cars also back up at rush hour due to the freeway entrances. Only the most experienced and adventurous cyclists should use 5th. It needs a protected bike lane.

  • Boo

    Yeah that’s what I meant 🙂 I think it’s not too busy and wide enough for a better/protected bike lane. The only parts I’ve ever seen really backed up is between market and Howard but parking there is already not allowed at rush hour so maybe that space could be better utilized

  • TheFacts

    YOU are the one that needs to show the proof. I saw it. Other Chinatown residents saw it. People who visited often saw it. City traffic officials who lived through it saw it (and dealt with it). The newspapers reported it. It has been repeated over and over again in the mainstream press especially in the 1990s right after the earthquake. It was only in the last 10-15 years or so that the anti-car advocates, blogs and press started spreading this lie to push their agenda. They hope repeating this over and over again to turn this lie into the truth.

  • NoeValleyJim

    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/17549170902833899

    You are right! Employment in Chinatown dropped by 1/3. But other positive economic benefits more than made up for it overall. Chinatown deserves compensation though.

  • Your interlocutor alludes to an agenda being pushed (using the usual blithering nonsense phrases), but misidentifies the parties doing so.

    There was in fact a dip in business in Chinatown, citywide, and nationwide, stemming from the 1989 S&L crisis. The dip ended in 1991, in Chinatown, citywide, and nationwide. In the interim, Mayor Alioto suggested a Central Subway project to a Chinatown merchants group, and they rejected it.

    When Willie Brown became Mayor, he spun this rejected proposal as a “promise,” not to the merchants group, but to “the people of Chinatown.” He also lent credence to the dishonest tale that the early-1990s recession was caused by the freeway coming down, and that it only happened in Chinatown. All these lies were refurbished to make the Central Subway deal.

  • Just south of there, the NoMad Hotel and Ace Hotel opened up directly next to the Broadway protected bike lane. Both have amazing restaurants, bars, and lounges on the ground floor, and bikes you can rent.

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