Still Fighting for Promised Improvements on Valencia

A cyclist goes around a double-parked car during last night's protest, assisted by the demonstrators. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
A cyclist goes around a double-parked car during last night's protest, assisted by the demonstrators. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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“We got at least four complaints” about protesters blocking traffic, said a San Francisco police officer through the open window of his cruiser, parked on the sidewalk of Valencia Street in Tuesday evening’s cold drizzle. “Someone’s going to get hurt.” He was talking to a group of ten yellow-shirted, people protected bike lane demonstrators who had just finished 90 minutes standing in the street holding signs that said “Just a Minute,” to stop traffic whenever a driver obstructed the bike lane, so that cyclists could safely get around.

The cop who couldn't be bothered to pull into the parking lot, park, and walk back ten feet to talk with the demonstrators, instead blocking the sidewalk and the group. Photo: Austin Day
The cop who couldn’t be bothered to pull into the parking lot, park, and walk back ten feet to talk with the demonstrators, instead blocked the entire sidewalk and the group. Photo: Austin Day

One of the demonstrators, Aditya Bhumbla, was wearing a splint because of a recent collision with an inattentive driver in Dublin who shot out of a driveway. On Valencia in particular, one of San Francisco’s supposedly main bike routes, “getting hurt” is almost a guarantee for anyone on two wheels. As the demonstrators explained to the officer, cyclists are desperate and they’ve been lied to for years, with the city and SFMTA promising again and again to install protected bike lanes but failing to follow through.

This was the second time demonstrators did this still-new “Just a Minute” demonstration. And while many motorists expressed support (one tooted “shave and haircut” as he drove by), it did get nasty at times. A driver in a Mercedes (see lead image and below) intentionally bumped into Maureen Persico, one of the leaders of the group.

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The driver of this car, also seen in the lead image, intentionally drove into one of the demonstrators. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Another driver parked his van (see image below) on the bike lane and approached to say how cyclists don’t follow the law. Streetsblog explained the obvious: “you are breaking the law right now.”

After about ten minutes, an SFMTA parking control officer (PCO) threatened to cite him. The van driver eventually left, but only after the PCO made repeated warnings and then pretended to type on his portable computer. “I sympathize with you guys,” said the PCO to the demonstrators, adding that he wouldn’t really cite the driver, for fear that he might be “packing.”

An SFMTA PCO tries to get a scofflaw motorist to get out of the bike lane during Tuesday's "just a minute" protest. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
An SFMTA PCO tries to get a scofflaw motorist to get out of the bike lane during Tuesday’s “just a minute” protest. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

In fact, the car parked longest on the bike lane during the demonstration was an SFPD cruiser left there while its occupants went into a shop to buy chocolate. Clearly, law enforcement is not the answer. The long-promised, concrete protected bike lanes down the entire length of Valencia is the only thing that’s going to improve conditions.

“Please know that we continue to check in with SFMTA on when this work can resume with renewed urgency,” wrote Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s staff in an email last December about the lack of progress in installing the protected lanes. Streetsblog is more than tired of hearing that from Supervisors Rafael Mandelman and Ronen. SFMTA works for you, supervisors, not the other way around. How about legislation ordering the city to install real protected bike lanes by the end of the month on the entire street?

For the most part, thankfully, Tuesday night’s demonstration went smoothly, with the dedicated group of advocates stopping traffic only when cars blocked the bike lane, and only long enough to give cyclists a safe way to pass. Many cyclists thanked them for their work.

Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

As to the cop who blocked the sidewalk to talk with the group when the demonstration was over, his “someone’s going to get hurt” from his idling cruiser came across like a threat. An exhausted and cold Parker Day, one of the demonstrators, asked the cop to move so everyone could just go home.

And that, ultimately, is all the demonstrators are demanding: to be able to get home, safely. Instead, cyclists continue to be forced to navigate, without any protection, a dangerous maze of illegally parked cars and distracted motorists guiding deadly machines that can, and often do, kill or maim vulnerable road users. And until Mandelman and Ronen show some leadership, people will continue to get hurt on this cluster f*ck of a street.

The group of demonstrators. Photo ;Streetsblog/Rudick
The group of demonstrators. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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