Valencia Street ‘Just a Minute’ Pilot Protest
Advocates are trying a new action on one of San Francisco's most contentious streets
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Six members of the “People Protected Bike Lane” advocacy group met up on Valencia Street at 16th Tuesday evening to test out a new protest approach to the lack of progress on that street’s long-promised-but-not-delivered protected bike lanes. In this protest, whenever a motorist parks in the bike lane to load or run into a shop for “just a minute,” as is the excuse often given, yellow-shirted advocates block cars in the adjacent traffic lane so any approaching cyclists can safely leave the bike lane to get around the parked car.
Watch video of the protest on the Great Walkway Civil Disobedience Society Twitter below:
Tonight we protested the city’s complete mismanagement of Valencia Street. While cars were loading in the bike lane, we paused car traffic to create a safe route for bikes. https://t.co/gadLW2fKBb pic.twitter.com/9oB2bXfkVL
— Great Walkway Civil Disobedience Society (@safestreetrebel) January 26, 2022
As regular readers of Streetsblog S.F. know, for years the bike lanes on Valencia–ostensibly the main bike corridor between downtown and the Mission–have been a de facto double-parking and delivery zone. Countless cyclists have been injured on the corridor. This resulted in years of regular “people-protected bike lane” protests, where people don yellow t-shirts and stand on the edge of the bike lane to prevent motorists from blocking it. However, while this kind of action has resulted in protected bike lane pilots on short stretches of Valencia, the bulk of the street remains an unprotected and dangerous realm that has become essentially unusable for cyclists.
Then, in February of last year, just before the pandemic lockdowns, SFMTA finally revealed a plan to begin installing protected bike lanes and intersections on the length of the street. But it was mothballed for reasons that remain unclear. “I have reached out to Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s office in the past. I’ve called, Tweeted, and – it’s crickets,” said Maureen Persico, chief organizer of the “Just a Minute Protest,” in an interview with Streetsblog. “What did they think–that we’d just go away, forget about the promises, and forget about our beloved fellow bicyclists getting hurt and terrified?”
In a previous Streetsblog story, a staffer for Supervisor Rafael Mandelman told Streetsblog that the SFMTA was re-configuring the plans because of parklets added in response to the COVID emergency. However, in Streetsblog’s view–and the view of many advocates–that’s just an excuse. Cities all over the world have added quick-build protected bike lanes during the COVID crisis, and the addition of parklets hasn’t stopped them.
The “People-Protected Bike Lane” approach to protesting for safer streets succeeded in gathering mainstream media attention and played a huge role in getting protected bike lanes on Upper Market, parts of the Embarcadero, and in SoMa. But those protests only prevented motorists from doing something that’s already illegal: parking and driving in bike lanes. This new idea takes things up a notch and will force motorists to wait and experience first-hand what cyclists go through every time someone blocks the bike lane for “just a minute.”
Persico and others decided since drivers sometimes get enraged in such situations, they needed a small, nimble group to work out procedures for getting out of the way if things seem to be getting violent. In addition, “one of was assigned if anyone got aggro to take photos of the person and the car and the license plate.”
They also designated Josh Kelly, reportedly their coolest member, to calm nerves and explain what the protest was about on a megaphone (he can be heard on the Twitter video assuring drivers they’ll be out of the way soon). “He’s a super chill kind of guy with a lovely warm personality,” said Persico.
Persico also stressed that they don’t want to harm businesses on the street. But they’re also not willing to just accept that cyclists have been put in danger and deterred from using this designated bike corridor. “We’re just saying ‘where’s the protection and infrastructure?’ because the street used to be wonderful to bike on. And it’s flat.”
Now that they’ve worked out their procedures, the group is preparing a large-scale protest, with multiple “pods” of yellow-shirted advocates positioned up and down the street. The date for the next action is yet to be determined, but it’s coming soon.
Persico hopes these protests will prevent what has happened on streets such as the Embarcadero, Howard, Folsom, and others, where protected bike lanes were only installed after tragedy. “We’re not going to wait until after somebody gets killed.”
Want to get involved? Be sure to follow PeopleProtected on Twitter for info on future actions.