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Open Thread: Car Free or Protected Lanes on Valencia?

Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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Ban private cars? Or finish the protected bike lanes on Valencia? It seems, to some degree, both are now on the table.

Valencia Street is used by 2,100 cyclists daily according to SFMTA. But after years of hard work by advocates it only has a few blocks of protected bike lanes, from Market to 15th and from Cesar Chevez to Duncan. There are no protected intersections. And from 15th to Chevez cyclists are sill getting slammed in the striped bike-lane, de facto Uber/Lyft drop-off zone.

In "Banning cars on SF’s Market Street changes little. But Valencia Street is a different story," the San Francisco Chronicle's Carl Nolte on Saturday asked the city to "take a deep breath" before banning private cars from Valencia Street. He's bringing this up because, at last week's celebration of the closure of two miles of Market Street to private cars, SFMTA board chair Malcolm Heinicke, Supervisor Matt Haney, and others called for a similar ban on Valencia.

What if every day were Sunday Streets on Valencia? Image: Catherine Orland
What if every day were Sunday Streets on Valencia? Image: Catherine Orland
Sunday Streets on Valencia in 2018. Image: Catherine Orland

Nolte thinks not. He quotes Jonah Buffa, vice president of the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association, who says a car-free Valencia would be “devastating for our business.” Nolte explains that Buffa runs a high-end barbershop and his customers come by car. More on that below.

SFMTA, meanwhile, is planning to finish the protected bike lanes on Valencia over the next two years: 19th St to Cesar Chavez will get built in the spring of this year, with the remaining 15th to 19th getting done sometime in 2021.

Valencia bikeway timeline - chart from SFMTA

But maybe Heinicke's proposal to ban cars from Valencia would be a faster, safer, and all-around more desirable option?

Certainly, the cautions that Nolte brings up don't make much sense. For example, he writes that "There is no public transit on Valencia."

BART and two major bus lines run down Mission a block away. There's also the nearby J Church Muni line and bus lines that cross Valencia. As to the car access the businesses bring up, there's a slew of adjoining alleys and cross streets up and down Valencia, not to mention private parking lots, so people who choose to drive would still be more than able to access the shops. Motorists also have nearby Guerrero and Dolores, with 12 lanes between them.

A drop-off island on the first part of Valencia's new protected bike lane segment. Photo: Paul Valdez
A drop-off island on the first part of Valencia's new protected bike lane segment. Photo: Paul Valdez
A drop-off island on that's part of Valencia's protected bike lane segment from Market to 15. Photo: Paul Valdez

Nolte's right about this much: Valencia is different. Market Street has so many taxis and buses and delivery vehicles that, despite the ban on private cars, protected bike lanes are essential and are part of the overall Better Market Street plan. But on Valencia banning cars could be viable instead of protected bike lanes.

Streetsblog highlighted the idea of a pedestrianized, car-free or car-light Valencia last year. Maybe such a plan is more plausible and can be realized faster than advocates previously imagined, making protected bike lanes unnecessary.

What do you think? Is a car-free Valencia Street all the way from Market to Mission plausible? How about a car-free section from 15th to Cesar Chavez, with protected bike lanes (and cars still permitted) on the remainder? Tell us your thoughts below.

A reminder that the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is having a strategy/outreach/happy hour on the future of Valencia's bike lanes on Thursday, Feb. 6 from 6-7:30 p.m., at Muddy’s Coffee House.

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