Push for Valencia Pedestrianization Trial

Not satisfied with SFMTA's options for protected bike lanes, advocates try for something better

What if every day were Sunday Streets on Valencia? Image: Catherine Orland
What if every day were Sunday Streets on Valencia? Image: Catherine Orland

Safe-streets advocates are reaching out to merchants on Valencia Street to promote a pilot project to introduce car-free “shopping zones” between 16th and 17th Streets and 23rd and 24th Streets. Catherine Orland, District 9 representative to the Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) and longtime member and volunteer with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, is leading the effort.

“The main thing is it’s a trial,” she told Streetsblog in a phone interview. “We want to collect data on how many people arrive and by what method of transit, bike or car, how much time they spend on Valencia, what do they buy and how much money do they spend.”

Of course, if the trial is successful–and the two blocks prove safer for cyclists but still lucrative for merchants–the idea would be to turn all or nearly all of Valencia into a pedestrianized street, similar to Las Ramblas in Barcelona, as seen in the image below:

Advocates want Valencia Street to look like this pedestrianized street in Barcelona. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Advocates want Valencia Street to look like this pedestrianized street in Barcelona. Image: Catherine Orland

Through Orland’s efforts, last August the BAC passed a “Resolution to Create Shopping Zones on Valencia Street,” which proposes to set up the two car-free sections, blocked off with permeable barriers that will permit cyclists and pedestrians to pass but not through motor traffic. Provisions will be made for delivery trucks, emergency vehicles, and paratransit.

The proposal is already endorsed by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the San Francisco Youth Commission, Livable City, Bicis Del Pueblo, and others.

CORRECTION, Oct. 22: The Bicycle Coalition has not formally backed the plan. But ‘in general, we’re supportive of car-free spaces in San Francisco,’ said SFBC’s Brian Wiedenmeier, in an email to Streetsblog.

On Wednesday, Orland gave a presentation to the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association, a key constituency to moving the pilot project forward. “There’s some concern about parking and traffic, but there’s a lot of merchants who were supportive and concerned about safety,” said Orland. “They have seen first hand many of the problems with congestion and cars double parking on the Valencia Street bike lane.”

A pedestrianized street in Belgrade, Serbia. Pic: Wikimedia Commons
A pedestrianized street in Belgrade, Serbia. Pic: Wikimedia Commons

Many merchants, she said, are also excited about the idea of having expanded sidewalk cafe seating and retail kiosks.

The effort is in response to SFMTA’s design options for upgraded bike lanes on Valencia, first presented to the public for feedback in July. The options include center-running bike lanes, protected one-way side-running bike lanes on each side of the street, or protected two-way bike lanes on one side of the street.

Bike safety advocates were pleased to finally see some progress on getting upgrades to Valencia, but also dismayed that the vast majority of the pavement in the designs, on one of the city’s most heavily biked streets, would still be set aside for automobiles. Livable City’s Tom Radulovich bemoaned the designs as being far too incremental. “There’s no official vision in this room, even in the bikeway designs,” he told Streetsblog at the time.

The idea is that the BAC resolution, with merchant support, can be moved to the desks of Supervisors Rafael Mandelman and Hillary Ronen, who together represent the corridor. It’s hoped they can bring the resolution to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. “If we get political traction, the Board of Supervisors can hopefully tell the SFMTA to take care of it,” said Orland.

It would be a great next step towards making Valencia, which is already used by 2,100 cyclists on an average weekday, a true pedestrian and bicycle street.

Want to help? Email Orland at SeaOrLand [at] gmail.com. And contact Mandelman and Ronen to express your support for a pedestrianization trial on Valencia.

Also, “spend money with merchants on Valencia–and bring your bike helmet in with you!” said Orland.

Catherine Orland (green dress) in 2016, when she lead volunteers counting the number of cars blocking bike lanes on Valencia. Photo: Streetsblog.
Catherine Orland (green dress) in 2016, when she led volunteers counting the number of cars blocking bike lanes on Valencia. Photo: Streetsblog.
  • City Resident

    This is fantastic and would be a big step forward. Car-free blocks on Valencia would be fitting for a city that is officially, at least, transit-first. Thank you to Catherine Orland and others for moving this forward and to Streetsblog and others for covering this.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    It’s a great concept; close a few blocks as a trial and measure the effectiveness. I hope these plans will include redesigning the intersections on Valencia to accommodate the vehicle closures.

    On Market St, the intersections were not redesigned at all to accommodate vehicle closures which results in lots of needless conflicts between turning vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians followed by long periods of unnecessary waiting while everybody waits for non-existent cross traffic. It’s boneheaded stupid but we’re going on 2 years since these changes now, and to this day most of the Market St intersections run at less than half capacity with lots of turning conflicts and needless waiting just because nobody at the SFMTA bothered to retime the traffic signals.

  • Wallaby

    The city’s track record of mixing cyclists and pedestrians isn’t good. You only have to look at the Panhandle mixed-use path to see fights, near-misses, disagreements and the like, mostly because cyclists there refuse to comply with the huge “SLOW” signs.

    The reality is that when you remove cars from the equation, cyclists becomes the biggest bullies. A pedestrianized Valencia might be a success in terms of throngs of people, outside cafe seating and other things that we see successfully working in various European cities.

    But that vision is incompatible with the cyclists’ perception that Valencia is a high-speed commuter bike route. So if you really want to turn Valencia Street into Las Ramblas, then we’re probably going to have to move the bike lanes to Mission.

    Oh, and you’d also have to allow access in Valencia to any home or business there that has a garage or off-street parking.

  • Frank Kotter

    1, This is a design problem and not a ‘cyclists are jerks’ and therefore it won’t work problem

    2. You don’t have to allow this. This is a decision which needs to be made but nowhere in the law is any easement from public to private for access by automobile guaranteed.

  • Wallaby

    Wherever you put a bike lane will effectively split Valencia into two, thereby ensuring that it cannot be a pedestrian sanctuary.

    I am not saying that bikes should be banned there – only that the concept of a high speed bike commute-way is incompatible with the concept of a street closed to all traffic and thronged by people.

    Or else the bike lane will fill with people, rendering it unfit for purpose anyway.

    As for vehicular access, if you take it away and thereby prevent a resident using his off-street parking, then that is a taking and the city would have to compensate financially. A garage parking spot can easily be worth six figures. Also the exception for deliveries is something you can literally drive a truck through.

  • p_chazz

    Las Ramblas is not purely pedestrianized. I see automobiles and crosswalks in the above picture.

  • Wallaby

    That’s true, although the photo taken in Belgrade appears to show a pedestrian-only street. The article here accepts that emergency vehicles would always be allowed but of course that is an occasional thing. Whilst delivery trucks could perhaps be limited to certain hours, and banned in the evenings and on week-ends when people would likely throng.

    But whenever vehicles are allowed, even if only streetcars and bikes, as in Denver, then as a pedestrian you cannot completely relax. You always have to look out for your safety. And I just do not see how cyclists commuting fit with promenading merrymakers. Either the cyclists have to crawl or the pedestrians will be constantly looking over their shoulder.

    If we really want to create a pedestrian oasis then it might be best not to listen to the cycling lobby any more than the auto lobby.

  • p_chazz

    Agree. as I neither drive a car nor ride a bike, I don’t see bicycles and pedestrians as natural allies against the evil death machines. As far as I’m concerned, bicycles are just another thing with wheels that I have to look out for.

    As far as the Belgrade photo, I’ll betcha that there are service alleys behind those buildings, or it could be as you say that delivery vehicles are only allowed at certain hours. I helped set up an aquarium show in Tanforan Mall when I was with the San Francisco Aquarium Society where we were able to drive into the mall after it closed.

  • This is a fantastic proposal that has the potential to transform San Francisco and the organizers are going about it in a smart way. Kudos to the organizers. Hopefully more volunteers will join this excellent project.

  • City Resident

    There are many European plazas and streets, and certainly some such places in the U.S., that are primarily pedestrian but have bike lanes passing through them. Provided one isn’t in the bike lane, pedestrians have no reason to feel unsafe in such places.

    The photo above is of Schmiedgasse in Graz, Austria – which is closed to automobiles (except for delivery and emergency vehicles and possibly some taxis and paratransit). Of note, this street doesn’t have a bike lane (although bicycling is allowed at low speeds) and this street is much narrower than Valencia. Coincidentally, there’s also a police station on this street (in the pedestrian section – and police cars regularly park in the street).


    The above photo is of a one-block-long section of the Hasnerstrasse in Vienna, Austria that is closed to cars. Left of center is the bike lane that cuts through this pedestrian space. Although this plaza is largely empty in the above photo, please note that the building on the right is a public school and there’s a playground on the left, which begins at the fence. (By the way and somewhat similarly to Valencia, this street is a major bike route – and totals over 20 blocks. Only one block is entirely closed to automobile traffic.)

    Valencia’s current “green wave” traffic signal settings encourage 13 mph speeds, for both cyclists and motorists (although the latter generally seem to not adhere to such speeds). Valencia’s width could well allow bike lanes (perhaps in the middle) for the couple of blocks that may be pedestrianized and the relatively low speeds (ie. 13 mph of the existing green wave) seem compatible with pedestrians, especially if limited to bike lanes.

  • City Resident

    Panhandle’s mixed-use path is now sometimes too narrow for the varying types of users and the volume of pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The volume of cyclists who take this path has gradually increased over the years. (Conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists were presumably less when this path was less heavily used.) Hundreds, if not thousands, use this path for their regular bicycle commutes and, for many if not most, there’s no viable alternative. The problem seems to be insufficient bicycle infrastructure along the Panhandle (and parking protected bike lanes on both Fell and Oak would greatly solve this and I believe is something that the city is considering).

  • jcwconsult

    Intelligently designed pedestrian precincts can be very successful.

    They don’t fit with high speed cycling intermixed. It may not be wise to choose what is now a main collector or arterial street that carries heavy loads of commuters, shoppers, tourists, visitors, and commercial traffic — as that traffic necessarily will have to re-route to other streets, some of which may be smaller and will not be able to safely accommodate the high loads. It may be wiser to choose nearby smaller streets where the amount of traffic that must divert will be smaller. And it may be wise to consider a multi-block area of perhaps 2 x 2 or 3 x 3 blocks in area that is adjacent to one or more main collector and arterial streets which can bring the shoppers from longer distances.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Wallaby

    “Of note, this street doesn’t have a bike lane (although bicycling is allowed at low speeds)”

    I think that is the solution for mixing cyclists and pedestrians. There are “SLOW” signs for cyclists on the Panhandle but they are ignored by cyclists. While on GG Bridge, when cyclists had to share with peds, a 5 mph speed limit was imposed.

    There is a clear distinction between slow recreational cycling, which can fit well with pedestrians, and high-speed bike commuting, which probably better belongs with regular traffic. An ideal Valencia would not carry any commuters.

  • City Resident

    I see no realistic alternative (or need for that matter) for Valencia to not continue as a bike route, even if pedestrianized. This would be an overreaction to an unsubstantiated concern. Bicycle traffic can be safely accommodated if there is adequate right-of-way, as is the case on Valencia. Slow speed limits (ie. a “walking speed” or something similar, as is the case on some – usually much narrower – streets in Europe where bicycle and pedestrian traffic mix) may be needed at times of heavy pedestrian use.

    As to the Golden Gate Bridge, it seems the primary reason that bicycle traffic is slow on the east sidewalk is due to congestion and its narrow width (and not because of recreational cycling – indeed there are many who bicycle commute over this bridge).

  • Wallaby

    Valencia, if pedestrianized, would be very crowded on evenings and week-ends. As it is I sometimes have to walk in the bike lane to make any progress.

    So the proposal was not to disallow bikes, but only to keep them to around walking speed, in which case there is no need for a special lane that would divide the street


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