20 More Miles of Protected Bike Lanes in the Next Two Years?

A rundown of the numbers puts Mayor Breed's promise in perspective

A map of existing and planned protected bike lanes. Yellow and yellow-green lines represent lanes that are in planning or concept only. Other lanes are either built or under construction. Image: Kyle Grochmal/Google Maps
A map of existing and planned protected bike lanes. Yellow and yellow-green lines represent lanes that are in planning or concept only. Other lanes are either built or under construction. Image: Kyle Grochmal/Google Maps

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Mayor London Breed announced on Bike-to-Work Day earlier this month that SFMTA would double its rate of installation and complete 20 miles of protected lanes over the next two years. Given the city’s history of compromise and falling short on promises, I was left wondering: is this another empty promise or a game-changing increase?

In 2016, two women cyclists, Kate Slattery and Heather Miller, were killed in collisions with motorists on the same night. In response, Mayor Ed Lee and SFMTA announced 57 “new” Vision Zero projects. But none of these projects was actually new; they had already been languishing in the project pipeline. Bike advocates were furious. SFMTA later revised the announcement as “high-priority” projects.

So there’s reason to be skeptical–but also hopeful that the city can and will really meet Mayor Breed’s demands. I decided to break down the mayor’s promise and take a look at San Francisco’s current and planned protected bike lane projects.

San Francisco's first protected bike lane under construction in 2012 on Cargo Way. Image: Streetsblog SF
San Francisco’s first protected bike lane under construction in 2012 on Cargo Way. Image: Streetsblog SF

San Francisco’s Existing Bike Network and Commitments

At the end of 2018, San Francisco’s “bike network” was 448 miles; however, almost 50 percent of the network comprised of nothing more than sharrows. While 20 miles represents less than 5 percent of San Francisco’s total “bike network,” the new lanes announced by Mayor Breed would indeed more than double the miles of protected bike lanes in the city.

Bike Lane Type Miles (as of end of 2018)
Sharrows 212
Striped unprotected bike lanes 140
Off-street bike paths 77
Protected bike lanes 19
Total bike network 448

In the Spring of 2012, SFMTA installed three on-street (at least partially) protected lanes on JFK Drive, Cesar Chavez and Cargo Way. These comprised the first five miles protected bike lanes in San Francisco. Unfortunately, over the next five years, SFMTA only installed nine miles of protected lanes – less than two miles a year. Last year, SFMTA installed over five miles of protected lanes, which included a mix of long-term projects such as Masonic Ave and near-term improvements such as Howard and the 8th Street extension. By SFMTA’s historical standards, the Mayor’s call for 20 miles of protected lanes is a significant increase in the pace of protected lane installation.

This past March, after the tragic death of Tess Rothstein, Tom Maguire, Director of Sustainable Streets at SFMTA, presented a new proposal of “Quick-Build” street safety projects to the SFMTA Board of Directors. Maguire committed to installing 10 projects by the end of 2019, which included approximately seven miles of protected lanes. He also promised to install eight miles annually of “high-impact sustainable travel lanes” – whatever that means (I’m confident he wasn’t referring exclusively to protected lanes). Therefore, Mayor Breed’s call for 10 miles of protected lanes annually appears to be a legitimate stretch from SFMTA’s commitments even just two months ago.

San Francisco Compared to Other U.S. Cities

San Francisco’s commitment of 20 miles of protected lanes exceeds many commitments from other cities. Portland only has five miles of protected bike lanes and only plans to add 29 miles over the next five years. Washington DC has a lackluster ten miles of protected lanes and an even more pathetic goal of building only 10 more miles over the next five years. Boston has eight miles of protected lanes with a total of 32 miles planned to be installed over the next five years. Seattle had a goal to build 10.5 miles of protected lanes in 2018, but only completed 2.3 miles. New York City, the U.S. leader in protected-bike lanes, installed 16 miles of protected lanes in 2018 bringing its total to over 100 miles. However, given that NYC has six times the miles of surface streets as SF, our city’s protected lane network will still be rather impressive. If SFMTA can deliver on the mayor’s promise, London Breed will become the most bike-friendly mayor of any large U.S. city.

The new Valencia protected bike lane pilot where it passes San Francisco Friends School and Millennium School (across from each other at Brosnan). All pics Streetsblog/Rudick
The new Valencia protected bike lane pilot where it passes San Francisco Friends School and Millennium School (across from each other at Brosnan). Image: Streetsblog/Rudick

The City’s 2021 Protected Bike Lane Network

To better understand what San Francisco’s protected lane network might look like for Bike-to-Work Day 2021, I compiled all the protected lanes completed, under-construction or planned, along with some concepts that I believe are feasible to install in the next two years (see lead image). Based on the Mayor’s announcement, I prioritized projects that build on the existing protected lanes in SoMa and the Mission.

Status Miles of Lanes
Completed (Jan ‘19 – May ‘19) 2.8
Construction 6.3
Planning 9.7
Concept 22.4
Total 41.2

SFMTA has already disclosed 16 miles of protected lanes under construction or planned for completion within the next two years, which gives us a good sense of what the protected network will look like. While the future network will be a huge improvement on today’s disconnected protected lanes, it certainly won’t be complete. I’ve identified over 20 miles of additional protected lanes that should be feasible to install as “Quick-Build” projects. However, even this expanded network will have huge gaps, especially outside SoMa and Mission districts. So unfortunately, San Francisco won’t yet have a robust protected lane network on Bike-to-Work Day 2021, but we will have made meaningful progress.

While 20 miles of new protected lanes won’t transform San Francisco’s streets into the next Copenhagen, the mayor’s announcement was a huge step forward. SFMTA’s pivot to installing projects quickly and cheaply and then iterating on their designs is a huge improvement compared to the agency’s prior focus on slow-moving, expensive, long-term projects. The mayor’s dedication and focus on protected lanes will ensure SFMTA can carry through on their commitments.

My conclusion: The mayor’s announcement was not business as usual for SFMTA and highlighted meaningful structural improvements to SFMTA’s planning and installation of protected lanes. I suspect SFMTA will easily surpass their 20 mile goal and I hope that San Francisco’s bike infrastructure will finally become the envy of other cities around the country.

Maybe then we can start working on getting protected intersections.

Protected Bike Lane Projects and Miles

Project Status Miles One-way / Two-way / Mix Total Miles
Valencia: Market to 15th Completed 0.4 2-way 0.8
Polk: McAllister to Pine Completed 0.7 Mix 0.7
2nd: Market to Folsom Completed 0.4 2-way 0.8
Howard: 3rd to 6th Completed 0.5 1-way 0.5
Townsend: 4th to 5th Construction 0.15 2-way 0.3
Terry Francois Blvd: Mariposa to Mission Bay Construction 0.5 2-way 1.0
2nd: Folsom to King Construction 0.6 2-way 1.2
Alemany Blvd: Congdon to Bayshore Construction 1.1 2-way 2.2
Indiana: 25th Street North Construction 280 ft 2-way 0.1
Folsom: 4th to Embarcadero Construction 1.0 Mix (2-way from 2nd to Embarcadero) 1.5
Beale: Market to Folsom Planning 0.3 2-way 0.6
Howard: 3rd to Embarcadero Planning 0.7 1-way 0.7
5th Street: Market to Townsend Planning 0.8 2-way 1.6
7th Street: Cleveland to 16th Planning 0.9 Mix (2-way from Townsend to 16th) 1.4
Valencia: 15th to Mission Planning 1.5 2-way 3.0
11th: Market to 13th Planning 0.6 2-way 1.2
13th: Folsom to Valencia Planning 0.4 2-way 0.8
Golden Gate: Polk to Market Concept 0.4 1-way 0.4
Polk: McAlister to Vallejo Concept 1.2 Mix 1.7
Brannan: Division to Embarcadero Concept 1.6 2-way 3.2
Arguello: Fulton to Presidio Gate Concept 1.1 2-way 2.2
Folsom: 13th to Cesar Chavez Concept 1.5 2-way 3.0
Kearny / Montgomery: Market to Columbus Concept 0.55 2-way 1.1
Embarcadero: King to North Point Concept 2.2 2-way 4.4
Upper Market: Dolores to Castro Concept 0.7 2-way 1.4
17th: Church to Harrison Concept 0.9 2-way 1.8
Grove: Market to Van Ness Concept 0.3 2-way 0.6
JFK: Crossover to MLK Drive Concept 1.5 2-way 3.0

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.

  • Mario Tanev

    I am glad that Mayor Breed is proactive, but I am not as optimistic:

    1. 20 miles sounds impressive, but when you take into account both directions it’s really 10 miles. That’s little more than the equivalent of one North-South and one East-West street in the entire city.
    2. The Cesar Chavez article linked is about the completely unprotected section between Valencia and the Hairball.
    3. The so-called protected portion of Cesar Chavez east of 101 is really just buffer + hit posts, and is easily violated as you can see here: https://www.google.com/maps/@37.7496474,-122.3988659,3a,75y,269.63h,89.87t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s6S4TFIA56FAoxldPOEmMPw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192
    4. Really most of the so-called protected bike lanes so far installed (e.g. Masonic) are not really protected.
    5. 17th east of Mission has no protection, nor planned protection AFAIK. Where does blue line come from?
    6. We have a problem in San Francisco with curb-cuts which limit all real protection. The best examples are 17th and Fell/Oak, which use actual physical barriers, except where there are curb cuts, and those portions get frequently violated.
    7. A lot of the “Concept” examples are stuck behind larger planning efforts such as Embarcadero and Market. Also, Arguello was recently redone without protection, so it’s unlikely that the city will revisit it so soon.

  • PhoenixRisen

    The new Valencia protected bike lanes are very dangerous. There is little visibility for motorists to see on coming bicycles when turning on and off of Valencia, I’ve witnessed many near collisions.

  • City Resident

    I appreciate the author’s thoughtful analysis and optimism. Regarding the number of miles of existing and planned protected bike lanes, do the figures include the mixing zones? For example, JFK Drive and Masonic have a few miles of protected bike lanes but also perhaps also a mile’s worth of unprotected mixing zones in the approach to most of their intersections. As Streetsblog has frequently pointed out, this design isn’t safe for cyclists (and the mixing zones shouldn’t be included in any figures of existing or planned protected bike lanes).

  • crazyvag

    Why is the panhandle missing?

  • Hunter

    I think the map only shows on-street protected lanes (not bike paths). The Embarcadero technically has a bike path on the sidewalk too, but it’s shared with people on foot so not really a separated/protected lane.

  • LazyReader

    yes I wanna bike thru mountains of urban dung…………..

  • crazyvag

    Breed does seem focused on speeding approval process for housing and now small businesses.

    Perhaps we should ask that a “Protected Bike Lane” cookbook be approved. The cookbook can then be approved for any safety improvements around the city.

  • quisqas2378

    I noticed the photo that shows the protected bike lane on Cargo Way with the caption saying, “San Francisco’s first protected bike lane under construction in 2012 on Cargo Way.”

    I thought the first protected bike lane in San Francisco was on Market Street in 2010.

  • The intersections are dangerous, the bike lanes themselves are not. Protected bike lanes need to go all the way into protected intersections where the bike lanes and turning vehicles are perpendicular to each other. With protected intersection designs, conflicting drivers and cyclists can easily see each another. Bicycle advocates have been saying for years to a completely deaf SFMTA that protected intersections are more important than protected bike lanes since that’s where most collisions occur. Making a protected bike lane without fixing the dangerous intersections is stupid and ineffective, but it’s low hanging fruit because the SFMTA doesn’t want to want to redesign dangerous intersections.

  • agvs

    The Cargo Way bikelane is a joke. I bike by there daily and never use it. The turns and intersection crossings and bicycle traffic light are super annoying, given that both travel lanes are on one side of a divided street. It is much faster and safer to simply use the main road there. I can’t recall ever seeing another cyclist on that route. I wish they would tear it out and replace it with sensible infrastructure that actually works.

  • The SFMTA has been fixated on protected bike lanes, without doing anything to improve the dangerous and dumb intersections where most of the bike collisions occur. Most of the intersections along bike corridors are ambiguous, confusing, and remarkably inefficient. Many people experience unnecessary waiting at red lights for non existing cross traffic, and then experience turning conflicts when pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles all try to compete for a 10 second green. All intersections should be instinctively obvious where people should go, with clear signage and markings so that even the most distracted and oblivious person knows where they should be going. Unfortunately, none of the intersections in this city meet this high standard.

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