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Valencia Merchants Don’t Like Center-Running Lane Either

One of the big sells of the center-running lane on Valencia is it was supposed to be more palatable to merchants. Turns out it isn't.

1:29 PM PST on November 22, 2023

Kimberly Sawyers, who runs S.F. Autoworks on Valencia, objects to the center-running bike lane (that’s a Ford Model ‘A’ she restored). Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

A group of Valencia Street merchants is asking the city to reevaluate the center running bike lane, which they say is harming business. From a website created by the San Francisco Small Business Coalition (SBC):

We are reaching out to you with a sincere request for your support as we navigate the challenges posed by the Valencia Quick Build Project in collaboration with SFMTA. Our appeal is directed not only to our esteemed Mayor but also to the respected members of the Board of Supervisors, urging them to carefully assess the impact of the "pilot project". This project has rapidly introduced an express lane down the center of Valencia street, which has led to concerning safety issues, negatively affecting both the well-being of individuals and the accessibility of businesses along this crucial corridor.

Streetsblog counted a handful of signs in the windows of Valencia merchants between 15th and 23rd where the new center-running pilot was installed last spring. The signs, produced by the SBC and displayed by its members and supporters, claim the center-running lane is "killing" their businesses.

One of the anti-bike lane signs popping up on Valencia

Kimberly Sawyers, seen in the lead image, owns SF Auto Works between 21st and Hill and displays the sign. "People come here because they can bring in their car and walk, bike or scooter home," she told Streetsblog. "I don't want my customers to get killed." Sawyers said a parking-protected bike lane would be a better solution. A center-running lane, putting "squishy bodies" right next to multi-ton cars and trucks, doesn't keep people safe, Sawyers added. The only thing between moving traffic and those bodies are plastic K-71 posts and a plastic bus curb. "Those plastic bollards don't mean shit."

Eiad Eltawil serving a customer at his shop.

"One person has died," said Eiad Eltawil, owner of Yasmin, a Mediterranean restaurant on the corner of 19th, referring to the pedestrian killed while crossing Valencia at 18th in September. He said he sees near daily close calls. "My wife is Danish," he said, explaining that he'd like to see the bike lane protected and moved to the side, as they do in Denmark. "But we need parking too," he stressed.

"I saw a guy on a scooter flip over a couple of weeks ago" entering the center-running bike lane, said Servio Gomez, owner of Back to the Picture, a framing shop between 20th and Liberty. He also blames the center-running lane for traffic jams, a loss of parking, and a loss of business.

Servio Gomez in front of his frame shop

Roger and Connie Wong said the new lane makes it difficult to get deliveries at their shop, Santora Supplies at 19th. "Our larger trucks used to use the middle lane," said Connie Wong. Roger Wong suggested making Valencia one-way so there will be room for delivery trucks and safe bike lanes.

Connie and Roger Wong

It's unclear to what extent these merchants and others who commented on the SBC webpage object to the center running lane specifically, a loss of parking, or some combination. After all, merchants often complain about Dutch-style, curbside protected bike lanes as well, as some did in Oakland on Telegraph. And some of the Valencia merchants who spoke with Streetsblog stereotyped cyclists for "not following the rules, not stopping at red lights, etc."

Nevertheless, at least some of these merchants agree with the majority of cyclists (and all designers and engineers from Denmark and the Netherlands) that the center-running lane is just dangerous for all users of the street. They say it's also bad for business, because it makes it more challenging and stressful for people to access their shops, regardless of what they use for transportation. Meanwhile, no merchants on Valencia north of 15th, which has had conventional, curbside parking protected bike lanes since 2019, are displaying these signs and they did not form an anti-bike lane group.

In addition to being dangerous, Sawyers said the center-running lane makes it impossible to legally tow cars in and out of the shop, since the trucks are forced to drive into the lane because of space constraints. "This was not properly designed and not well thought out. I know most cyclists didn't want this to happen either."

Note: Curious about the claim about tow trucks, Streetsblog also spoke with Tony Rakkar of West Wind Automotive, whose auto-body shop is north of 15th (with its curbside, parking-protected lanes). Rakkar faces similar logistical challenges to Sawyers, yet he said that the conventional protected bike lane "is not bad" and doesn't interfere with his business or his ability to maneuver tow trucks into his shop. He also expressed scorn for the center-running lane farther up the street.

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