San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Blinks on Safe Valencia
Org gives up the fight for Dutch-style, protected bike lanes on Valencia. They're making a huge mistake.
“This would actually be funny, if it weren’t for the fact that people are going to die”– a former senior staffer at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition who spoke on condition of anonymity, responding to SFBC’s Tweet endorsing center-running on Valencia.
Only 13 percent of respondents to the most recent SFMTA survey supported a center-running two-way bike lane proposal on Valencia. A Dutch consultant just called the concept “a bad idea.”
Nevertheless, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, along with a few other orgs, have reluctantly endorsed center-running. From Janelle Wong, director of SFBC, in an email to Streetsblog:
The organization is not convinced that a center running bike lane on Valencia will be successful and safe. We are, also, not convinced that there are not better configurations for the street, as well, which is why it’s a pilot project with assurances from SFMTA staff that they will be evaluating the design and other options while the pilot is on the ground. We believe a key difference between the designs from 2020 and what is happening on the street right now is that Valencia has a number of parklets through the shared spaces program that make it challenging to have loading zones and temporary parking on Valencia for deliveries for merchant’s businesses. That said, our position is simple the way Valencia is right now (unprotected painted bike lanes) is unsafe and unacceptable and we need to try something new.
Except, of course, center-running bike lanes are not new. They’re an old design that the Danish refer to as an “infrastructure fail.” And up until 2020, SFMTA’s plan was to extend the traditional, successful Dutch-style protected bike lane pilots from the ends of Valencia–something they could still do if advocates demanded it. Also, the shared spaces program and parklets are a red herring. There are already two short protected bike lane pilots on Valencia that work fine: the lead photo is of a section of parking protected bike lane going around Four Barrel Coffee’s parklet north of 15th.
Streetsblog has had several background conversations with officials at SFMTA and advocates. Really, the only argument for center-running–which are clearly not safe and not worth “piloting”–is they avoid eliminating any car parking or loading zones, which, ostensibly assist merchants with Caviar and Uber Eats food deliveries.
The Mayor, who is up for reelection next year, needs all the cyclist, merchant, and police support she can get (the Mission police station is, of course, on Valencia). It’s natural that she’s trying to see who she can get to back down first to broker a compromise that makes everybody “happy.”
I would have said the same thing at the Open House 3 years ago. For now let's pilot something that isn't perfect, but greatly reduces dangerous double parking, right-on-red, and left-turn conflicts. Then let's improve it. The vision isn't over, it's just in progress.
— Alexandra Sweet (@ASweetPlanner) September 16, 2022
Advocates need to understand that SFMTA’s Jeffrey Tumlin, mayoral staffer Alexandra Sweet, and others who work for the city are–gasp–not sincere all the time (see Tumlin’s leaked rant about those hood-banging cyclists or Sweet’s Tweet above and her leaked memo about killing slow streets before the program was voted on). It may seem like they’re friends, but politics is a dark business. If the mayor’s minions can get advocates to compromise on safety more easily than they can get Caviar drivers to use bikes or mopeds for deliveries, that’s what they’ll do. Advocates, on the whole, seek conciliation and are often just easier to persuade (or the right word might be “con”) than cops or merchants. Streetsblogs editors refer to this effect as the “thank you sir may I have another” problem of advocacy. Others call it the “better than nothing trap.”
Lies and false promises can be hard to resist when one desperately just wants something to happen, which is obviously the case on Valencia. Still, it’s naive to believe political staffers who claim that center-running is the way to get to pedestrianization. That’s just a way of manipulating advocates by telling them what they want to hear.
Bottom line is center-running bike lanes are a dangerous concept that should have never even been on the table for Valencia. Copenhagenize’s Mikael Colville-Andersen put it perfectly in this Tweet from 2016 about the center-running lane in Washington D.C.:
What sadistic person put narrow, two-way lanes in the MIDDLE of a street? Find out & fire them. Photo: @OleKassow pic.twitter.com/jcTPxHNrjO
— Mikael Colville-Andersen (@colvilleandersn) March 13, 2016
They absolutely should be fired. And the advocacy orgs need to steel themselves and remember that the layout and design of our streets aren’t up to the police, merchants, or firefighters–it’s the purview of the SFMTA. They also need to review core values: to make streets safe even for kids; for bike riders of all ages and abilities. For reasons that should be obvious, the center-running bike lane proposal is just not that.
Center running is worse than nothing. It was thrown out in 2018 with good reason and should be mightily opposed now.
Be sure to check out the campaign webpage: BetterValencia.com, which is pushing for an actual compromise that still brings more Dutch-style protected bike lanes to Valencia.