Eyes on the Street: Better Bike Lanes on 17th

A once notorious section of street is now a calm, safe, and comfortable place to ride

A cyclist entering the newly upgraded, curb-protected bike lane on 17th between Church and Sanchez. All pics Streetsblog/Rudick unless noted
A cyclist entering the newly upgraded, curb-protected bike lane on 17th between Church and Sanchez. All pics Streetsblog/Rudick unless noted

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The protected bike lanes on that notorious stretch of 17th between Church and Sanchez got significant upgrades in August, with the plastic safe-hit posts that previously delineated the bike lane replaced with a concrete curb. Even before the latest round of upgrades, the bike lanes have been working well. “It has ended the midblock bike wrecks,” said bike advocate John Entwistle, who lives on the street. “That is wonderful. Drivers do respect the bollards and the concrete. I would prefer a bit more green paint and a wee it more signage but overall I am delighted.”

DPW crews installing the concrete curb in August. Photo: John Entwistle
DPW crews installing the concrete curb in August. Photo: John Entwistle

Entwistle, as previously reported, set up a camera in his window to record all the crashes that were happening on the street. This popular cycling route has train tracks in the middle and was continually plagued by motorists double-parking on the bike lane, which forced cyclists to delicately maneuver onto the tracks–often resulting in a crash. Finally, Entwistle caught on camera a now infamous wreck of a woman riding a family bike with her two children. This prompted SFMTA and Public Works to take action. They removed the parking lane and installed the temporary, plastic bollard-protected bike lane until the work could be scheduled to put in concrete curbs, to permanently segregate bike and car traffic and to physically prevent motorists from blocking the lane.

Not only did they remove the parking, but SFMTA also narrowed the traffic lanes. “The cars that do proceed down our street drive a little bit slower than they used to. So you have fewer cars, driving slower and visibility is through the roof for everyone. This is a major change in the character of our street. It is indisputably good,” said Entwistle.

“This kind of physical barrier is precisely the standard we want to keep people biking safely separated from people driving,” wrote Rachel Dearborn, Interim Communications Director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “We look forward to seeing more of this type of safety improvement applied to high injury corridors across the city.”

Current conditions on 17th, with a historic streetcar heading to Castro and Market
Current conditions on 17th, with a historic streetcar heading to Castro and Market

The project still isn’t finished. “The bikeways were first put in with paint and posts in January. The pavement was then repaired to make for a smoother ride prior to the islands being built in August,” wrote Mike Sallaberry, the project’s manager for SFMTA, in an email to Streetsblog. “Next steps include the construction of curb ramps at 17th and Church and 17th and Hartford. Last I heard from Public Works, they would be built this month.”

He added that SFMTA is also looking at changes to the traffic signals to add pedestrian countdowns and possibly bike signals. Although he warned that this later phase is “…years off due to the time needed to design the project, get it in a contract, and construct.”

A cyclist enjoying the protected bike lane on 17th--no longer in fear of munching out on the tracks
A cyclist enjoying the protected bike lane on 17th–no longer in fear of munching out on the tracks because of a double parked car blocking the lane

There could be even more improvements on the way. One source told Streetsblog that advocates want to spruce things up a bit–guerrilla planters may pop up unexpectedly on the curbs.

Meanwhile, much of the double parking that caused the crashes were the result of pickups and drop offs at Everette Middle School. “We created a long white zone on Church in front of Everett Middle School and spent a year getting parents to use it. That has worked well to remove a source of chaos from 17th Street in the mornings,” added Entwistle. “The school drop is now textbook, a very civil procedure indeed.”

 

  • sf in sf

    Indeed it’s a great improvement.

    The missing piece is to have a clear warning NOT to ride on the two blocks of 17th from Sanchez to Market/Castro, which remain extremely dangerous. You are either in the door zone or you’re between the light rail tracks (and will fall when you cross them). Despite this danger, the Sanchez to Noe block is marked as a bike route on Google Maps.

    Here’s what I want to see. Looking east from Market to 17th, a very graphic and obvious warning sign like this one from Portland: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/570901690241742817/ By showing a bicycle going flying, there’s no missing or misinterpreting that sign. And then underneath it, a white sign with the text, “CYCLISTS ADVISED TO USE 16TH STREET” with a left arrow.

    And looking west from Sanchez, similar signs, but with a right arrow.

  • mx

    Having once done a rather painful re-enactment of that warning sign (on Muni tracks, but elsewhere on Market), I agree. We have a bunch of spots in this city where beautiful bike infrastructure abruptly ends and leads you to danger with no indication. You quickly figure it out and develop alternate routes, but this stuff needs to be signed so that everyone doesn’t have to learn it by trial and error.

    Alternatively, how about figuring out how to make the rest of 17th safe too?

  • Sanchez Resident

    I think the planter boxes on the separation curb could impact the visibility of bicyclists. If the SFMTrA does this, please consider sight lines for riders.

  • p_chazz

    Hopefully not by removing the tracks on 17th, between Noe and Sanchez as has been suggested. The tracks are needed to move streetcars around on the system.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Most of the dangers for bicycles aren’t the tracks themselves but the deteriorated pavement around the tracks which creates sharp wedges. If the pavement was smooth and the tracks had rubberized fill on 17th street, people wouldn’t be crashing their bikes there all the time. Putting signs up warning people not to bike there is a cop-out that will likely not have any impact in the number of people who are hospitalized from crashing their bikes on that dangerous section of roadway. If people don’t notice the big gaps around the tracks, they probably won’t notice a small sign on the side of the road sandwiched with hundreds of other signs.

  • First time I saw the video. Shocking!

  • @p_chazz – One of the solutions suggested on John Entwhistle’s blog was to replace two sets of track with one set, which would allow this use to continue. That appears to have been rejected for this block in favor of this treatment, but perhaps it will work elsewhere.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Public works paved the roadway to the left, but left the bike lanes full of cracks, dangerous furrows, potholes, and other defects. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless noted.

City Lets Cargo Way Protected Bike Lane Fall Apart

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As cyclists who use Cargo Way in the Hunters Point/Bayview neighborhood know all too well, the bike lane, once celebrated as San Francisco's first on-street protected bike lane, is in a state of disrepair, with broken pavement, a dangerous, tire-grabbing groove, and a busted fence. And in a stark display of how some city officials regard bicycle safety, the city repaved the adjacent car/truck lanes in August, but skipped the bike lane.