Guest Commentary: Enough Delays, Valencia Street Needs a Protected Bike Lane This Year

A decade of dithering has resulted in multiple injuries. It's time to stop hiding behind studies and 'process' and get to work.

A rendering of a quick, fast, low budget, interim solution for Valencia, made by advocates
A rendering of a quick, fast, low budget, interim solution for Valencia, made by advocates

Bill Couch was riding his bike on Valencia Street, between 21st and 22nd, early on the morning of Tuesday, August 21, when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver. “I fractured seven vertebrae, broke two ribs, my left thumb, and underwent a severe concussion,” he posted on Twitter a week after the crash, adding that he is, thankfully, expected to make a full recovery.

Couch is just the latest cyclist to be seriously injured riding on this street.

Ten years ago, SFMTA had already recognized Valencia Street as the second-most dangerous street (behind Market) for people on bicycles. It is part of the city’s “High Injury Network.” Every day there are over 2,000 bike trips on Valencia. That’s over 700,000 times per year that our residents risk their lives biking on this street. A decade of inaction from SFMTA is inexcusable. The agency has started a plan to fix the street, thanks to repeated demonstrations and intense lobbying from bicycle advocates. But it still has no timeline for putting in protected bike lanes. The city has to do better. It has to install a protected bike lane on the majority of Valencia this year–yes, within the next four months.

Valencia Street 2008 – March 2018

In the past ten years, SFMTA has added a jug-handle bicycle turn from Market to Valencia, a green bike box at Duboce, and one block of parking-protected bike lane on the southernmost end of Valencia. This is woefully inadequate. Between 2012 and 2016 there were 268 reported collisions on Valencia: 107 of those–forty percent–were car/bicycle collisions.

Summer 2017: People Protected demonstrators and Supervisors push for action

SFMTA didn’t start plans for protected bike lanes on all of Valencia until People Protected Bike Lane demonstrations started last year. After two successful demonstrations, then-Supervisor Sheehy unlocked $145,000 of funding through SFCTA to immediately begin planning for near- and long-term improvements.

Yet SFMTA still has no public timeline to provide protected bike lanes on the majority of the street, including the block where Couch was nearly killed. In March of this year, after SFMTA painted an additional white line and placed some soft-hit posts at some parklets on Valencia, Jamie Parks, SFMTA’s Livable Streets Acting Director, sent out a tweet promising “continual, incremental changes rather than [waiting for one] perfect (and inevitably long-term) project.” Street safety advocates cheered this announcement. However, July’s community meetings made it clear that SFMTA isn’t following through on this promise.

Summer 2018: SFMTA prioritizes car parking over bicyclist safety

The agency continues to prioritize loading zones and parking over protected bike lanes. Curb changes are expected to take place on all of Valencia Street by early 2019; however, the current plan will test protected bike lanes on only three of Valencia Street’s fifteen blocks by the end of 2019. Does Valencia need curb changes? Yes, but bicycle safety activists didn’t put their bodies on the line during the People Protected Bike Lane demonstrations so ride-hail companies and delivery services could have better curb access. SFMTA’s top priority for the Valencia Bikeway Project needs to be a near-term protected bike lane.

As SFMTA has shown on the Folsom Street Safety Project, near-term parking-protected bike lanes can be implemented before the design of a long-term bike lane is complete.

Eleven of the fifteen blocks of Valencia have a ten-foot center turn lane. By removing this center turn lane, SFMTA will have enough room to flip the bike and parking lanes and install a five-foot buffer of paint and soft-hit posts between the two. This has become standard procedure on streets throughout SOMA – 7th, 8th, Folsom, Howard, etc. Valencia’s bike lane doesn’t need to be piloted – it simply needs to be installed.

A parking-protected bike lane is easy and cheap to install and can be updated or improved at any point in the future. These eleven blocks of Valencia Street have neither bus stops nor overhead Muni wires, which should simplify installation even further. This improvement would not be a perfect protected bike lane, but it would provide a substantial improvement to 75 percent of Valencia–adding 1.4 miles of protected lanes in each direction. This is the type of incremental and continual change I assumed that Jamie Parks was referring to in his March tweet.

Looking north during one of last year's people-protected bike lane protests on Valencia, between 16th and 17th. Photo by Brandon Splane
Looking north during one of last year’s people-protected bike lane protests on Valencia, between 16th and 17th. Photo by Brandon Splane

Instead, the SFMTA community meetings were entirely focused on the long-term design of protected bike lanes on Valencia. Diagrams were presented of center-running, two-way side-running, and traditional parking-protected bike lanes. SFMTA has been doing a good job of proposing new versions of protected bike lanes and asking for feedback. However, this should not be allowed to hold up the immediate installation of protected bike lanes.

SFMTA needs to separate the bicycle safety project into independent, manageable parts

Here’s how I would separate and, most importantly, prioritize the improvements to Valencia Street:

  1. Parking-protected bike lanes from Market to 15th and 19th to Mission. This change would only cost a few hundred thousand dollars and could be implemented within months.
  2. Curb and loading zone changes. Right now delivery services and ride-hail companies have two bike lanes and a center turn lane to utilize as loading. Once the center turn lane is removed and the bike lanes are protected, loading will become an issue and should be fixed quickly.
  3. Protected bike lanes from 15th to 19th. It is more challenging to install protected bike lanes along this stretch because it has wider sidewalks and no center turn lane to repurpose. The block between 16th and 17th streets also has overheard Muni wires, which may have to be moved based on which design is chosen for this stretch.
  4. Long-term protected bike lanes from Market to 15th and 19th to Mission. These protected bike lanes should then be revisited to incorporate protected intersections and potentially a different design (two-way curbside or center-running) depending on the preferred design for the section of 15th to 19th.
  5. Vehicle restrictions on Valencia. SFMTA dismissed potential vehicle restrictions too quickly. Guerrero, Van Ness, and Dolores should handle through car traffic, not Valencia. Valencia should not have a motor-vehicle turn pocket from Market. However, coupled with Mission Street vehicle restrictions, these changes could have wider impacts and should be piloted and studied before full implementation. This will take time.
  6. Shopping districts between 16th and 17th Streets and 23rd and 24th Streets. The Bicycle Advisory Committee recently passed a resolution to support these shopping districts that would open two blocks of Valencia to people walking and biking. It’s bold and should be pursued by SFMTA.

Together these crucial changes create a bold vision for the future of Valencia Street that would serve as a model for the rest of San Francisco and the country. Imperfect, continual improvements to Valencia Street over the next five to ten years would surely annoy some stakeholders–bicyclists upset about mixing-zone intersections, delivery people upset about losing bike lanes for loading, etc. Therefore, we cannot expect SFMTA to deliver these bold changes without political cover and leadership from our elected officials. Supervisors Rafael Mandelman and Hillary Ronen must champion a new vision for Valencia designed for people, not cars. In addition, Mayor Breed must also step up and explicitly call for a fast implementation of Valencia’s protected bike lane. SFMTA has already squandered a decade since realizing how dangerous Valencia is. We’ve put our bodies on the line enough. Now we need SFMTA to replace that people-protected bike lane with real protection. The agency needs to install protected bike lanes this year. Yes, within four months. And, yes, they can do it if directed by our Mayor and Supervisors.

Kyle Grochmal is a San Francisco street and bicycle safety advocate who is active with People Protected Bike Lanes. He works full-time at a technology company and frequently posts on Twitter @KCGrock.

  • nolen777

    Those center “turn lanes” are used for illegal parking much of the time anyway, so the street clearly does not need them as turn lanes.

  • Doug J

    Reduce the speed limit to 15 MPH. The lights are already timed for 13 MPH in both directions, so there’s no need to go faster. Slower cars dramatically increase safety: https://usa.streetsblog.org/2016/05/31/3-graphs-that-explain-why-20-mph-should-be-the-limit-on-city-streets/

    I routinely see cars race from one light to the next as I pedal along at a steady 13 mph. Until the ride-share mixing problem is remedied, slower cars would make it much less likely to have a dangerous collision.

  • mx

    I’d add a #7, which can be implemented tomorrow: immediate enforcement of traffic laws. This doesn’t even need SFPD, just someone from SFMTA with the authority to order people to move. Ed Reiskin could do it himself during commute hours for all I care. It’s not hard: FedEx truck in the bike lane? Flash some kind of city ID and demand the driver figure out something else because there’s no stopping there. This can also serve to collect data to figure out where loading zones are required.

    As Grochmal notes, we need more legal loading zones to meet demand, but the massive rampant double parking, car after car on every single block, needs to stop immediately.

  • Steep Ravine

    Make Valencia a one way street northbound for all vehicular traffic. Two way for cyclists. It makes sense for the entire corridor, from Mission on the south side of Army all the way down to Duboce. SFMTA’s inaction is not acceptable, and their lack of enforcement and heel dragging are city-wide.

  • Mario Tanev

    YES!

    Likewise Mission should become one-way in the Southbound direction (removing Northbound vehicle access AND parking), a Northbound transit-only lane should be added, and both Southbound/Northbound transit-only lanes should be separated from the rest of traffic (protected).

    This way Guerrero and Van Ness will be for cars, Mission will be for transit and Valencia will be for bikes with limited slow car access in both.

  • embarcadero

    Valencia Street sidewalks are so overcrowded that if you put the bike lane next to the sidewalk you will be sharing it with very drunk reveller and homeless person with a shopping cart.

    These cyclists who were injured on Valencia. By any chance did they pass unsafely?

  • embarcadero

    Funny that the people who complain about double parking are the same people for whom the solution to every problem is “take out the parking”.

    Ever think that maybe those two are related?

  • mx

    As I said, we need legal loading zones. The double parking on Valencia is Uber/Lyft pickups/drop-offs and deliveries to/from local businesses (including food delivery). Those loading zones also need to get used: I recently had a UPS truck blocking the Valencia bike lane directly next to a commercial vehicle loading space.

    They are related, in that some of the city’s bike lane designs have left no loading space at all, and it becomes inevitable that double parking will occur. Given how people are using cars in SF now, for better or for worse, removing more parking and converting it to loading need to happen.

  • Mike

    I’ve wondered the same thing about pedestrians on Valencia Street spilling into a curbside bikeway on regular basis.

  • mx

    You’re asking if the person who suffered a severe concussion, fractured 7 vertebrae, and broke 2 ribs and a thumb at the hands of a hit-and-run driver was passing unsafely? What is wrong with you?

  • Stuart

    You’re surprised that RichLL is trying to find a way to shift blame away from a driver who hit someone and onto the victim?

    Welcome to Streesblog.

  • SF_Abe

    “These cyclists who were injured on Valencia. By any chance did they pass unsafely?”

    Yes, they passed in such a way that it caused someone to get in a car and drive it into them. Are you serious?

  • (The person you’re responding to is actually @RichLL/@RoyTT/@R94110/etc., the endlessly-whatabouting troll who keeps getting banned from sites like this, and is now impersonating other IDs including mine and @Stuart’s, and is currently impersonating someone who goes by @embarcadero.)

  • embarcadero

    it was a serious question. Did a vehicle move into the bike lane and hit them?

    Or did they attempt to pass a stopped vehicle unsafely?

    Big difference

  • embarcadero

    I am asking for the exact cause of the accident, which you appear not to know

  • embarcadero

    I’ve seen people walking in that bike lane ever where it is now

  • embarcadero

    That still takes out parking and there are people who live on Valencia Street, above the shops and restaurants

    And the loading spaces would quickly fill up. The problem would remain. I question whether the bike lane would be better on a parallel street instead, like Mission

  • embarcadero

    I did not blame anyone. I asked for the cause of the accident. Nobody here seems to know the answer.

  • embarcadero

    Some of us want to have serious discussions here about important issues, rather than throwing around personal attacks and false allegations.

    Do you have anything to say on the topic? If not then it is you who should be banned here.

  • WealthyMM

    Funny that the people who complain about taking out parking to make protected bike lanes are the same people for whom the solution to every parking problem is to illegally park in the bike lane and call cyclists entitled whiners if they object.

    Ever think that maybe those two are related?

  • embarcadero

    Except that the reason they double park is because the other options were removed, because people like you whined about “too much parking” as if there is anywhere with that “problem”.

  • WealthyMM

    By any chance was the hit and run the intentional act of someone who has bragged about getting away with a hit and run before and who hates cyclists so much they share their daydreams of attacking them?

  • WealthyMM

    Except that the reason they want protected bike lanes is because the other options were ruined, because people like you park in them while whining about “removed parking” as if there used to be ample parking on Valencia that was removed by cyclists.

  • embarcadero

    All I am saying is that if you take away all parking options except for “illegal” options then you cannot reasonably complain when drivers take those options.

    You might as well ask why cyclists illegal blow through stop signs and lights.

  • WealthyMM

    It’s sad that you would try to suppress someone’s free speech just because you don’t like what they are saying.

    Why are you afraid of people with different opinions?

  • embarcadero

    Jym did not offer a “different opinion” on the topic. He offered only a personal attack whilst ignoring the topic.

  • WealthyMM

    All I’m saying is that if you take away cyclists’ “legal” right to use the bike lane then you cannot reasonably complain when cyclists take the option of getting protected bike lanes installed.

    You might as well ask why drivers say all legal parking has been taken away on a street that has parking on every block.

  • WealthyMM

    The fact that Jym has not been banned proves that the Streetsblog editors and sponsors appreciate his contributions.

  • embarcadero

    Your “protected” bike lane there, if it ever happens, will be overrun by drunk pedestrians and homeless people with their shopping carts.

    You are better off with what you have now.

  • embarcadero

    Obviously I have not been banned either. And at least I comment on the topic.

  • WealthyMM

    Your current “parking” spaces, if they remain, will be overrun by drunk pedestrians and homeless people with their shopping carts.

    You are better off with some parking spaces on the other side of a bike lane.

  • Impersonating other people’s user IDs is not engaging in serious discussion, it is trolling.

  • embarcadero

    I was discussing the topic. You were engaged in personal attacks and allegations.

  • embarcadero

    That comment makes no sense – it is the parked cars that are the only thing stopping the drunks invading your precious bike lane.

    If you cannot ride safely in the existing bike lane then you probably should not be riding a bike at all. It’s not all about you, you know?

  • WealthyMM

    That comment makes no sense – it is the separation from the curb that is the only thing that will stop the drunks invading your precious parking spaces.

    If you cannot park legally in the existing parking spaces then you probably should not be driving a car at all. It’s not all about you, you know?

  • embarcadero

    I’m not the one complaining about the current situation though

  • embarcadero

    Why are you so perpetually angry with everyone? Your blood pressure must be through the roof. Lighten up.

  • WealthyMM

    Why are you so perpetually angry with everyone? Your blood pressure must be through the roof. Lighten up.

  • WealthyMM

    So you admit you have lost the debate and cannot convince the voters to prevent the planned redesign of Valencia.

  • embarcadero

    On the contrary, I am looking forward to having a wider sidewalk to walk and play on.

  • embarcadero

    I am relaxed and laughing. I do not take anonymous internet chatrooms that seriously.

  • Frank Kotter

    Hi Rich, Been a while. How you doing? Retirement going well? Seems boring from the looks of it.

  • WealthyMM

    Some of us want to have serious discussions here about important issues.

  • embarcadero

    Agreed, but some like Jym take it all too seriously.

  • embarcadero

    I wouldn’t know. I run two businesses.

  • SF_Abe

    Or is it the people who choose to bring heavy, fast moving automobiles into this scenario who are the ones engaging in dangerous behavior?

  • Frank Kotter

    True to form Rich, true to form….

  • embarcadero

    It’s OK, you made a mistake, we all do it.

  • embarcadero

    OK, so you do not know whether a car hit the bike or the bike hit a car?

  • WealthyMM

    If you were here to have serious discussions you would comment on the topic instead of making personal attacks.

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