Advocates Want Better Valencia Street Options

Advocates want to see Valencia look a bit more like this, with a bike lane. La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Advocates want to see Valencia look a bit more like this, with a bike lane. La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

SFMTA planners and engineers unveiled three initial design proposals for re-configuring the bike lanes on Valencia Street yesterday evening during an open house held at the Synergy School on Valencia near 24th Street. This was the first of two planned workshops for the Valencia Bikeway Improvement Project.

The design options were for parking-protected bike lanes on both sides of the street, a two-way protected cycle track on one side of the street, and a configuration that was met mostly with consternation–a center-running two-way cycle track in the middle of the street.

A look at the center-running bike lane design. Image: SFMTA
A look at the center-running bike lane design. Image: SFMTA

“Center-running violates the principle of putting faster in the center,” said Dan Connelly, a local resident who came to the meeting. He added that there was too much risk of collisions at intersections or, unless the center-running lane is protected by a substantial concrete barrier, a car or truck finding its way onto the lane. He said it would only work if we had perfect driver behavior. “Maybe if we switch to 100 percent self-driving cars?”

“A center bikeway would be terrible,” said Kyle Grochmal, a cycling advocate who rides through the area frequently. He said, among other things, that it’s bad for merchants since cyclists wouldn’t be able to leave the bike lane to stop off in a shop. “It disconnects cyclists from businesses.”

Indeed, other American examples of center-running cycle tracks that Streetsblog could think of are on much wider streets than Valencia, such as Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC (which SFMTA cited), or there’s a very short one on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, which is used as a connector to jog cyclists between two adjoining streets with conventional bike infrastructure. If Streetsblog readers have experience with other examples of center-running bike lanes please post about it below.

That said, in the countries with the highest bike mode share, center-running bike lanes generally aren’t done. “If the Dutch and the Danish don’t do it, we probably shouldn’t do it,” said Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of Livable City, who was also at the meeting. That could also apply to the two-way, curbside cycle track option presented at the meeting, which almost seemed like a throw-away option and was barely discussed at the tables.

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Livable City’s Tom Radulovich, left, discusses bike lane arrangements with SPUR’s Christopher Ulrich, right. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Radulovich was unimpressed in other ways as well. Even the more conventional, parking-protected bike lane option showed mixing zones, where bikes have to cross paths with cars looking to turn right, instead of protected intersections. Streetsblog NYC did a great critique of mixing zones (it includes a bike-cam video of a collision in a mixing zone that painfully drives the point home).

A detail from the SFMTA drawings...again, unprotected intersections/mixing zones. Image: SFMTA
A detail from the SFMTA drawings…again, unprotected intersections/mixing zones. Image: SFMTA

But, most of all, advocates at the meeting were aggravated that there was no proposal to fully or even partially pedestrianize Valencia. “There’s no official vision in this room, even in the bikeway designs,” said Radulovich.

SFMTA’s explanation is that other users of the street (ref: merchants, Ubers) would object. Here is what it says in SFMTA’s documents about the idea of eliminating through traffic and making Valencia a pedestrian and bike priority street:

From SFMTA's plans.

As to traffic circulation, Grochmal pointed out the obvious: “You have Dolores and Guerrero for cars.” As to the needs of merchants, which came up at the open house, advocates weren’t buying that either, especially since commercial corridors all over the world (with nearly identical characteristics to Valencia) have flourished when configured in a car-free way (you don’t even have to go out of state to find a great example–think of the Santa Monica promenade, which was originally opposed by local merchants).

Catherine Orland is the advocate who gathered data two years ago on Uber and Lyft violations of Valencia’s bike lanes (and she deserves a large amount of credit for starting this whole redesign in motion). She’s inspired by La Rambla in Barcelona (just imagine the lead image with bike lanes added) which she thinks would make a great model for Valencia.

At the open house, she said she is now working on a resolution she hopes Supervisors Rafael Mandelman and Hillary Ronen, whose districts together encompass Valencia, will sponsor and eventually bring to a vote before the Board of Supervisors. The resolution would instruct SFMTA to make Valencia into a primarily bike and pedestrian corridor. Under this scheme, there would remain some space, perhaps a single narrow lane, for cars and delivery trucks, with designated loading zones here and there. And the designs would divert that traffic off of Valencia at each intersection, or at least at regular intervals, to eliminate all through traffic. In other words, cars would be permitted onto the street only in one direction, and only for loading.

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Catherine Orland, right, challenged an SFMTA official on the necessity of maintaining Valencia as an automobile thoroughfare. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

The push now by advocates is to get merchants on board. And then, they hope, lawmakers and SFMTA will follow.

The next outreach meeting/open house will be held on July 28th from 4-6 p.m. at The Women’s Building, 3543 18th Street.

In the meantime, here’s a list of the best pedestrian streets in the world (spoiler alert: businesses are flourishing).

  • I’d be happy with any of the 3 proposals, though no one would call any of them visionary, innovative, or forward looking.

  • City Resident

    One of several disturbing aspects of the “Center Running Two-Way Bikeway” proposal is that it includes possible corner bulb removals to accommodate turns on and off Valencia! This would be a step backwards for pedestrian (and cyclist) safety. Car-free Valencia (with limited access for local residents and businesses) would be most ideal and, short of that, whichever protected bike lane option is chosen should not have these terrible “mixing zones” and should extend up to each intersection.

  • deuce_sluice

    Eliminate street parking, widen sidewalks, ban all cars except for delivery trucks (and emergency vehicles, obviously.) State Street in Madison did it 40 years ago, and they even still allow taxis and buses to run down it. Why can’t we?

  • spragmatic

    I’m all for making Valencia a walkway/bikeway. Kick all transit and cars off the street. BUT MAKE SURE THE SURROUNDING STREETS WILL BE ABLE TO HANDLE THE ADDITIONAL TRAFFIC THAT IS NO LONGER ABLE TO USE VALENCIA.

    So, basically, no accomodations for bicycles on the roadway on Guererro and South Van Ness. We’ve already kicked the cars off Mission, and they will need somewhere to go. Especially those Ubers and Lyfts all the bike riders use when it rains.

  • sworddance

    Boston near North Station on Causeway. You can see it being constructed here: https://www.google.com/maps/place/North+Station/@42.3652296,-71.0625217,200m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x89e37091ba66f5ab:0x7043cdc303ba52dc!8m2!3d42.3665113!4d-71.0640894

    It works pretty good because the bikeway acts as an express lane and allows bicyclists to not interact with any vehicles for several blocks

  • Jeffrey Baker

    What car-free Mission St. are you hallucinating about?

  • Guy Ross

    As a native Madisonian, the State Street example is spot on. The most amazing part of it is that the city did it on this short stretch, everyone loves it, and it was repeated nowhere else in Madison or the state of Wisconsin.

  • p_chazz

    La Rambla and the other pedestrian streets in the linked article may seem like a great inspiration for Valencia Street, but ultimately they are neither practical nor suitable as models because they are too dissimilar. Valencia Street has garages and people who live in upper floor units, so a greater accommodation for automobiles must be made. Really, I am getting so tired of commissars like Catherine Orland trying to impose their vision on people.

  • Boston has at least two examples.

    Comm Ave bike lanes on the left / center have been around for a decade.

    A new cycle track in the west end is in the middle.

    ““If the Dutch and the Danish don’t do it, we probably shouldn’t do it”

    Disagree. They don’t have to deal with drivers who break the law at will with no enforcement. With ubers/ fed-ex, freight, buses, etc, the edge of the roadway can be a bad place for bicycles.

    The new Boston one is in the center because they know that being near a basketball arena and train station, there is no stopping the out of control Ubers from discharging into a bike lane.

    As for “faster in the center”…nah, Muni goes super slow in the center with no issue. The cable cars are routinely passed by faster vehicles.

    Boston Comm Ave: https://goo.gl/maps/nfQWY8Xk7uP2

    Boston West End (not finished at time of streetview) : https://goo.gl/maps/yQDd8NhNKa52

  • Greg Costikyan

    Allen Street on New York’s Lower East Side has a central bike lane. However, it also has a linear park in the center of the street, and for most of (but not all of) its length, the lane runs through the park, meaning a curb protects the bike lane from traffic.

  • MPPBruin

  • spragmatic

    ^^^ says someone who obviously hasn’t tried to drive on Mission in the mission.

    Right now Valencia is a far better option than Mission. At least the lights are timed (for bicycles- no big deal, drive slower), plenty of room to maneuver. Get from one end to the other pretty quick.

  • crazyvag

    I don’t think center running bike lanes are nearly as bad as people say. It really comes down to how left turns are handled which can be compared to “mixing zones” for parking protected lanes.

    Looking around SF, I’ve seen 3 variations for mixing zones with protected lanes:
    * Unprotected mixing zones – protection ends and cars/bikes all mingle at the light
    * Signalized mixing zone – not really mixing one, but bikes get their own cycle like Folsom bike lane at 8th street
    * Protected mixing zone – cars have to slowly merge across the bike lane because entry is at sharp angle. 7th St bike lane approaching Folsom St.

    In order of preference:
    1) I find Protected Mixing Zones the safest and they are my favorite. The force the cars to really slow down, and bikes get the benefit of the full light cycle.
    2) Signalized Mixing zones are my second favorite. They are safe by giving bikes their own cycle, but the cycle is really just 1/2 as long as it is for cars going forward. Also, traffic lights don’t offer physical protection, so you’ll still see occasional car run a red light. Many bicyclists will also run the bike red light to catch the car’s green light when there’s no traffic that also defeat the safety purpose.
    3) Unprotected mixing zones are most common and my least favorite because cars might merge at any point of the mixing zone and bikes lose physical protections for the rest of the block.

  • “I can’t go, there are too many cars and double-parked trucks, it’s almost as if it’s car-free!”

  • Stuart

    Valencia Street has garages

    Garages don’t require allowing through traffic. Guerrero carries lots of car traffic, as does SVN in the other direction. Both are easily accessible from Valencia.

    In fact, as someone who lives very close to Valencia, I overwhelmingly use Guerrero or SVN when I drive already, so it’s not clear to me that there would actually be much impact on routing for people with garages on Valencia.

    and people who live in upper floor units

    Um.. what do you think all the upper floors of the buildings in the lead picture are?

    […] a greater accommodation for automobiles must be made. Really, I am getting so tired of commissars like Catherine Orland trying to impose their vision on people.

    You don’t seem to have any problem trying to impose your vision on people who want something different.

    (Side question: if people who want more bike infrastructure are all commies, what title should we use for you when you argue against it? Gauleiter?)

  • p_chazz

    I actually thought the upper floors in the lead picture were offices. Most of the great pedestrian streets in the linked article seemed to be commercial areas exclusively. They probably have service alleys for vehicular traffic.

    And really, I’m not trying to impose my vision. I’m defending the status quo.
    Orland is the one demanding change.

  • Guy Ross

    *Valencia Street has garages and people who live in upper floor units, so a greater accommodation for automobiles must be made*

    Here is one of the SIX parking garages on Las Ramblas. This one offers 300 spots

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c2744e6b0cdd32012078ebcf99f83b31fa1a6b72f5a46e9cdbb8e2fb4a904c1e.gif

    Oh, in the background you can also see the ‘upper floor units’.

  • Guy Ross

    Disagree with your disagree. ““If the Dutch and the Danish don’t do it, we probably shouldn’t do it” is spot on. They both have obsessively focused on reducing vehicular death and injury and improving quality of life through urban design since the early 70’s.

    As to the difference of drivers: The Dutch don’t behave because their cops are breathing down your neck, it’s because their urban design forces you to behave. Boulevard bike lanes aren’t a part of that design.

  • Stuart

    The fact that your vision for what Valencia should look like is the status quo doesn’t mean that demanding that it stay that way isn’t you trying to impose your vision on others.

  • p_chazz

    This is not to suggest that I don’t think there can’t be improvements on Valencia; there can. I just think that what Orland is demanding is too much too soon.

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