Editorial: Stop Doing Safety Projects Piecemeal

Extend Howard's protected lane to the Embarcadero... and then Folsom, and then don't stop until the job is done

Friday night's People Protected Bike Lane protest in front of the Intercontinental Hotel on Howard. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick
Friday night's People Protected Bike Lane protest in front of the Intercontinental Hotel on Howard. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

Tess Rothstein, 30, was killed Friday morning riding a Ford GoBike on Howard near the intersection with 6th. On Friday evening, some 150 advocates for safe streets formed a People-Protected Bike Lane on Howard, lining the entire block from 4th to 5th, to express their outrage over another life lost. Matt Brezina, the organizer, told Streetsblog he believes it was the biggest turnout yet.

After Friday’s tragedy, the SFBC put out a release demanding quicker improvements to Howard. “This crash at 6th and Howard was less than a hundred feet away from a protected bike lane that would have saved this woman’s life. Where infrastructure stops, people die,” they wrote. The organization called for the protected bike lane to be extended from 6th to 5th, on the block where Rothstein was killed Friday. A source close to the organization told Streetsblog that’s only what they want to see in the next week or two. Meetings are also being held between advocates, SFMTA, and Mayor London Breed to get protected bike lanes extended all the way to the Embarcadero. And ditto on Folsom.

Sadly, that’s too late for Tess Rothstein. It’s too late for Kate Slattery. It’s too late for Amelie Le Moullac. It’s too late for many other victims of SoMa’s deadly, surface-level-freeway-style streets.

In December, an SFMTA crew was busy installing parking-protected bike lanes on Howard. It didn’t take long–just a few days. What took so long was the political back and forth with the San Francisco Fire Department, which opposed them, and the lack of spine among certain city officials and politicians to push back.

New crosswalks and bike lanes getting painted on Howard today
New crosswalks and bike lanes getting painted on Howard in December. If only this crew had been permitted to keep going east.

The fire department’s objection was that protected bike lanes would interfere with their ladder trucks–and yet somehow they never complained about street parking getting in the way. Eventually, the fire department’s claims were debunked and things moved forward. S.F. got bike lanes on Upper Market and then on Howard from 11th to 6th.

So why did those crews on Howard, as seen above, go home without completing the bike lane all the way to the Bay?

Paul Rose, spokesman for SFMTA, explained to Streetsblog:

The SFMTA understands the need for protected bike facilities for the entire length of Howard Street. The Folsom-Howard Streetscape Project includes Howard St. from 3rd St. to 11th St., and SFMTA is working on plans for Embarcadero to 3rd St. in concert with SF Planning.

The parking-protected bike lanes installed from 6th St. to 11th St. on Howard in 2018 were near-term improvements meant to realize immediate safety benefits even as long-term designs were being evaluated. SFMTA will extend the parking-protected lanes on Howard from 4th St. to 6th St. this year in conjunction with anticipated approval of the long-term Folsom Howard Streetscape concepts.

In other words, SFMTA is doing things piecemeal, instead of in a systematic way. So instead of continually upgrading streets along their entire length, they’re doing a bit here, and a bit there, without continuity.

To its credit, SFMTA has gotten better at responding to tragedies with fast solutions, as it did when a man was run down and killed in a crosswalk on Howard Street last September. But as the SFBC pointed out, where they still fall down is on doing safety upgrades proactively and systematically–before someone dies.

The next time a crew is out on Howard, they should not stop building protection for cyclists until they reach the ocean. And then they should turn around and build a protected bike lane down the length of Folsom. And they should keep building until they’ve transformed all the dangerous streets in SoMa.

And then they should head to the Financial District and install protected bike lanes there too. They should not stop going down high-injury corridors, street after street, installing protected infrastructure, every day all day, until our city is safe.

The situation on Howard, near 4th, right after the bike lane protestors went home--violated continually by motorists
The situation on Howard, near 4th, right after the bike lane protesters went home–violated continually by motorists
  • Bruce

    Well said, Roger.

  • Mike Schiraldi

    Note how overprovisioned Howard is re: traffic lanes: it’s evening rush hour, there’s a block-long protest going on, and the lanes are half empty. Plenty of street width to build a safety buffer / barrier.

    Note also that this isn’t some random street for bikes to be on; it’s *the* street Google Maps will send you down if you ask for bike directions out of SOMA. It’s the best we have to offer.

  • jd_x

    And why does everyone keep neglecting the intersections? We need protected intersections to truly make these routes safe. The insanity that is mixing lanes is way too dangerous, especially on the freeway-like roads of SOMA. We will never get bicycling into double digit mode share without protected intersections.

  • LarryLem

    Whomever was in charge of the fire department putting forth the merit-less objection should be fired with no pension. Easy-peasy.

  • Roger R.

    Thanks.

  • crazyvag

    I find that mixing zones like on 8th at Harrison are best since they force the cars to slow down. 7th St lane at Folsom is another good one.

    However, the ones such as from Folsom across 8th – where bikes have a protected cycle – don’t work well in practice. Why?
    1) Bikes going straight are limited to 1/2 the green cycle that cars get.
    2) Cars sometimes turn right on red anyway when there are no bikes
    3) Bikes sometimes go straight on green anyway when no cars are turning
    4) Many do a variation of #3 by merging into the vehicle lane

  • p_chazz

    Maybe not so much. Courts have held that pensions are a contractual obligation of the public agency. Fire the person with no person and he or she would sue the City and win.

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