Panhandle Protected Bike Lane Burned

The project appears to be on hold thanks to objections from the fire department

No progress on the Panhandle. July 9, 10:30 am. Photo: from a Tipster
No progress on the Panhandle. July 9, 10:30 am. Photo: from a Tipster

There should be a protected bike lane on Fell right now alongside the Panhandle. But, as seen in the lead image, nothing has changed and Fell remains a busy, surface-level freeway with two parking lanes and four lanes of fast moving traffic. And the culprit behind the delay of this essential safety project is, again, the San Francisco Fire Department.

Streetsblog readers will remember that in May SFMTA announced the “Panhandle Social Distancing and Safety Project,” a plan to quickly build something advocates had long fought for–a parking protected bike lane along the Panhandle, giving westbound commuters a safe route from the Wiggle all the way to the park. Construction of the protected lane, which was to involve simple paint and posts, was supposed to begin in June (a quick look back through SFMTA’s web page updates shows that on June 15 they removed any mention of starting the project in June and added “Pending emergency services review.”).

SFMTAJune15
On June 15 SFMTA removed the “anticipated” construction date from the project web page

The Fire Department did not immediately reply to Streetsblog’s requests for comment. But apparently representatives from SFFD, SFMTA, and District Supervisor Dean Preston’s office took a tour of the area. And “SFFD has raised some questions regarding the Fell street protected bike lane and we are working closely with MTA and SFFD to resolve any issues and move the project forward as quickly as possible,” wrote a staffer from Preston’s office, in an email to Streetsblog. “Hope to have an update soon!”

SFMTA’s official explanation was similarly lacking in details: “We are working to get necessary project approvals, including addressing emergency access challenges. We will post updates to the project page site once available.”

This is a familiar story. Fire Department objections have delayed many street safety projects, from Upper Market and Howard to the removal of Holloway from the ‘slow streets‘ network.

Usually, however, there’s at least a reason given–no matter how flimsy. But this time, there are “no tall buildings. No overhead wires. etc. What is the concern??” as put by People Protected Bike Lane advocate Matt Brezina.

Is Fell about potential traffic backups stretching response times? As advocate Patrick Traughber, who first pointed out the delay to Streetsblog, wrote: “If they really thought street widening would speed up their response times they would be pushing for parking to be removed from streets, but they do not… ”

As firefighter and cyclist Michael Crehan pointed out in a past interview with Streetsblog, there are firefighters in the department, concerned about their personal car commutes, who use emergency response concerns as a red herring to delay these projects. And apparently they have the political power to do so with impunity. “There are many firefighters who bike, but there’s also some who think bicycles have no place on city streets. I’ve heard them say that. They say bikes should only be allowed in Golden Gate Park,” Crehan told Streetsblog in 2018.

Advocates, meanwhile, including the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, are attempting to push past this latest impasse from the fire department. “We’re working on this diligently with the supervisor’s office and hope to know more soon,” wrote the SFBC’s Rachel Dearborn, in an email to Streetsblog.

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