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Valencia Merchants Stage Protest in Center-Running Bike Lane

Remember when this bike lane was pitched as being more acceptable for small business owners?

4:47 PM PST on December 5, 2023

Kevin Ortiz, Co-President of the San Francisco Latinx Democratic club, leading a protest in the Valencia center-running bike lane. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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A group of 30 merchants held a protest Tuesday morning against the center-running bike lane on Valencia. "We're calling for the immediate suspension of the pilot," said Kevin Ortiz with the San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club, an organizer of the rally and protest that took place in the bike lane between 16th and 17th.

SFMTA was supposed to report this month on the safety results of the center-running pilot, but it has instead delayed making results public. That, in effect, will allow the agency to extend the year-long pilot despite growing evidence that it is not working. "That is preposterous," added Ortiz.

Cyclists were forced to navigate around the protest

Ortiz and the merchants who attended the protest contend that the center-running lane has damaged business. "This is the worst six months we've ever seen," said Nikki Dewald, who owns the bar Blondie's located directly across from the protest. "We love bike lanes in general. But it should be moved into a residential street where there would be no issue."

Several speakers said the bike lane is responsible for declines in sales, blaming the removal of parking and conversion of parking into loading zones that was part of the pilot.

“The Valencia Bike Lane is a catastrophe, which has killed nightlife and live entertainment on the corridor," wrote David Quinby, owner of the music venue Amado’s, in a prepared statement handed out prior to the protest.

It is, of course, unclear if the bike lane is responsible for declines in sales since merchants on many corridors of San Francisco have suffered in the post-COVID environment. However, it's worth noting that none of the merchants identified themselves as coming from businesses north of 15th on Valencia, where the city installed a more conventional, curbside-protected bike lane in 2019.

Sahar Milani, originally from Denmark, was scornful of the center-running lane.

Sahar Milani, owner of Rossi Dresses on 19th, who also attended the protest, said she would be okay with curbside protected bike lanes like the ones north of 15th. Milani, who grew up in Copenhagen, said there's no such thing as a "middle-of-the-street bike lane" in Denmark. She was also critical of the materials used by SFMTA to build bike lanes generally. "This is cheap shit. Look at that plastic," she told Streetsblog, pointing at a crushed K-71 post across the street.

"This bike lane design is just bad," said cycling advocate Parker Day, who came to observe the rally. "It's difficult to get out of the bike lane to go to the businesses." Day and the handful of other bike-safety advocates who came to observe the protest want the center-running bike lane converted to Dutch/Danish-style curbside protected bike lanes. Supervisor and Mayoral candidate Ahsha Safaí, who was also there to observe, said SFMTA could have extended the curbside protected bike lane section between Market and 15th along the entire street. "That's definitely something that needs to be considered."

Ortiz and Supervisor Safaí conferring immediately after Tuesday's protest

Ortiz repeatedly evaded questions about whether he and his group of merchants as a whole would support Dutch/Danish-style, curbside-protected lanes.

After the protest, many of the participants went to city hall to comment at the SFMTA board meeting. The protest itself, meanwhile, blocked the bike lane for some twenty minutes, with many cyclists forced into traffic to get around it.

This mother with her children was just one of several cyclists forced into traffic by the protest. Photo: Parker Day

Advocate Luke Bornheimer, who warned that a center-running bike lane would be bad for business prior to its installation, also observed the rally. He told Streetsblog he hopes "this bad situation can be shifted to a good outcome."

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