Eyes on the Street: Battery’s Unprotected “Protected” Bike Lane

Financial district safety washing gets a layer of plastic

The bike lane is closed so that SFMTA can add bendy straws. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick
The bike lane is closed so that SFMTA can add bendy straws. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick

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There’s perhaps no greater contrast in infrastructure in San Francisco than north and south of Market Street in downtown. To the south is District 6 where, thanks to the hard work of former Supervisors Matt Haney and Jane Kim before him, there is now flawed-but-nevertheless-much-improved, parking-protected, bike infrastructure. And District 3, well, let’s just say it’s pretty much the same sh*t show it’s always been, featuring sharrows, striped door-zone bike lanes (sometimes on the wrong side of the street) and total priority for motorists.

However, work is now underway on what the SFMTA is billing as the first major bike project in the district. More from the agency’s web page:

This project is a major step forward for cycling in the city. Apart from the Embarcadero, there is no other protected bike lane near the Financial District — even though two out of the 10 most active bike share stations in the city are in the downtown area. With so many people returning to downtown offices after working from home due to the pandemic, this new route will offer a safer option for those looking for a more active commute.

And here’s what it will look like when it’s finished:

Image: SFMTA
Image: SFMTA

Streetsblog received a nasty email from the Supervisor’s office back in 2019 when it published Safety-Washing on Sansome and Battery, a take-down of an early phase of this supposed “quick build” safety project. And while what’s going in now is a minor improvement, with more delineation for cyclists, it’s scandalous just how far this two-lane, unprotected bike lane still departs from international best practices–and physics.

How the hell is this flimsy piece of plastic supposed to protect anyone?
How is this flimsy piece of plastic supposed to protect anyone?

Two-way bike lanes are pretty fraught; but they make sense along waterfronts and rail yards and in other situations where there are no intersections. Otherwise, they invite conflicts with turning motorists. If a city is going to do a two-way on a street with big intersections then they must, at the very least, have concrete protection. Signals and signs aren’t enough. The situation SFMTA is building for here almost guarantees a simple mistake by a motorist will result in serious injuries.

What happens when the driver of a vehicle this size or bigger crosses into the bike space while making a turn?
What good, really, is a plastic post against a vehicle like this? Or even just a car driven inattentively?

Meanwhile, it’s not as if the means and materials to properly protect the bike lanes aren’t already there, as seen with these planters between Jackson and Pacific. Just put these between motorists and cyclists to provide some real protection:

Why would SFMTA put protective planters on the wrong side of the bike lane?
Protection on the sidewalk. But not the bike lane.

Is it too politically challenging to put in concrete protection? Even on the one block where they could provide protection without taking anything from the street, they fail to do so. Between Washington and Jackson there’s an enormous building setback and a huge sidewalk. Would it be Armageddon to paint the bike lane onto part of this space, where cyclists would be protected, in reality, for one damn block? That’s a place where it makes sense to use plastic posts–to segregate pedestrians walking from pedestrians rolling on two wheels (aka: cyclists).

There seriously isn't enough space to segregate out a bike lane at sidewalk level? The infa's already here. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
There seriously isn’t enough space to segregate out a bike lane at sidewalk level? The infrastructure already here. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

This is an easy and common “quick build” treatment found in Europe that somehow the Bay Area just refuses to consider. The treatment pictured below from Dusseldorf isn’t great, but it’s way safer than what SFMTA is building:

A "quick build" bike lane put on a wide sidewalk in Dusseldorf. Image: Google maps
A “quick build” bike lane put on a wide sidewalk in Dusseldorf. Image: Google maps

In the German example above, people are at least protected from the real danger: cars and trucks.

Meanwhile, SFMTA continues to build whatever this is:

Farther down the street, a striped bike lane in the door zone on the wrong side
Down the street, a striped bike lane in the door zone on the wrong side mushed between parked cars and moving traffic

SFMTA and the Supervisor’s office need to write this 1,000 times on the blackboard: cyclists (and scooterists) are pedestrians on wheels. They are not cars. And when delicate human bodies are mixed in with two-to-ten ton vehicles driven at high speeds, people end up getting maimed and killed, no matter how bright their clothes or whether or not they wear a Styrofoam bowl on their head.

Adding little plastic bendy straws doesn’t change that reality.

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