Howard Protected Bike Lane Under Construction, Plus Thoughts on 2018

2018 will be remembered as the year the fire department impasse was broken on Howard, Upper Market

New crosswalks and bike lanes getting painted on Howard today
New crosswalks and bike lanes getting painted on Howard today

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We’ve all heard the excuses for why cities can’t build protected bike lanes: too much money, takes too much parking, it’s not part of the current plan and it’s too late to change it, and even that street sweepers and other maintenance vehicles can’t get through. Perhaps the most pernicious excuse was that they will interfere with fire department ladder trucks, especially in areas with overhead trolley wires.

A min-street sweeper, cleaning an in-progress section of Howard's new protected bike lane
A mini-street sweeper, cleaning an in-progress section of Howard’s new protected bike lane

Of course, all of these ‘reasons’ are pretty lame and usually easily solvable (as the above photo shows concerning maintenance trucks, taken today on Howard). But the hardest one to crack in San Francisco was the fire department objection. After all, who knows better than a firefighter what’s involved in setting up a ladder truck?

But after months and months (maybe years, all told?) of investigation and pressure by determined individualsadvocatesby Streetsblog, and by other publications, that excuse, on Upper Market and Howard at least, was finally blown away. In February, Streetsblog carried a Q&A with pro-bike firefighter Michael Crehan, who dismissed the idea that bulb-outs, bike lanes, and other safety treatments interfere with rescue trucks. In April, the long-delayed protected bike lanes finally went in on Upper Market.

And now, at long, long last, they’re under construction on Howard, at least from 6th to 11th.

A cyclist entering Howard's new protected bike
A cyclist entering Howard’s new protected bike

But you know what? It’s still not nearly enough.

Howard from the Embarcadero to 6th remains a dangerous free-for-all. Work is currently underway on 2nd and on Townsend. But surrounding streets are still harrowing. Intersections still suck. So do many streets all around the city and the rest of the Bay Area.

But there’s also lots of reason to be hopeful, and not just because a few more safety projects are going in.

A cyclist enjoys a newly completed section of protected bike lane on Howard

In Oakland last week, it seems a political corner was turned. DOT staff, backed by WalkOaklandBikeOakland and Bike East Bay, fought to get protected bike lanes approved by the City Council on a few blocks of Telegraph through Temescal.

Much to their initial chagrin, the Oakland City Council said “no.”

Thankfully, it wasn’t the “no” anyone expected. They said: no this is not good enough… fix the KONO section and we want protected bike lanes along the entire street, not just in Temescal, the project area.

Also, can SFMTA order some more "E's"?
Also, can SFMTA order some more “E’s”?

This is what we need to hear every time a project is in motion–not compromises, not watered-down safety measures to appease people who care more about parking spots than life and limb. No, what we need to hear from lawmakers and advocates is this: “Thank you, but this isn’t good enough. Make it even safer; make it even better!”

That’s what Streetsblog will continue to focus on in 2019.

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Streetsblog San Francisco will be closing down for the holidays after headlines on Friday, Dec. 21, returning January, 2, 2019. Have a great, safe, and happy holiday break and we’ll see you with everything streetsie in the New Year!


Kate Slattery's memorial ghost bike at 7th and Howard. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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