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Updated Designs for Valencia Curbside Protected Bike Lanes Drop

The Bicycle Coalition responds as SFMTA releases conceptional drawings to replace the center-running lane on Valencia

Valencia Street. A center running bike lane violates pretty much all principles of safe, Dutch design. But now a fix is on the way. Photo from advocates

SFMTA's staff has completed initial designs for curbside protected bike lanes on Valencia Street from 15th to 23rd. The agency promised to release more details on Thursday/tomorrow, June 13 and Tuesday, June 18th, when they present them to the SFMTA's Board of Director. From an SFMTA release:

In February, the board directed us to investigate this possibility, and just four months later, we prepared a conceptual design. Coming up with this design required hundreds of hours of meeting with merchants, both in one-on-one meetings and block-wide meetings, and targeted outreach to other stakeholders. While the design itself isn’t final, this is an important step to check in with the board. Assuming the board endorses it, we’ll proceed with detailed design and outreach focused on residents and people who bike and walk, as well as continued outreach with merchants, before a final vote this fall.

As Streetsblog reported previously, SFMTA's center-running bike lane, installed last spring, actually increased crashes over the striped lanes they replaced (in its latest post SFMTA is still trying to spin this as a positive, writing that "Mid-block [emphasis added] vehicle-bike collisions have remained low when compared to before the pilot.")

Because of the collision results, coupled with intense blowback from merchants, the decision was made to revive an old 2020 plan for curbside lanes. The city set out to refresh the designs, made prior to the COVID pandemic lockdown, to account for new parklets that have since gone in. The bike lane will either have to bend around parklets or they will have to be moved over to make room.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition recently published its views on the two options for parklets:

For members, the top three concerns about the conceptual design include:

  1. Unpredictable interactions with pedestrians crossing the bike lane to get to floating parklets and liability in the event of a collision between people on foot (pedestrians, parklet customers, or staff) and people on bikes
  2. People in cars using daylighting zones as temporary parking spaces
  3. Double-parking in the bike lane and buffer spaces around parklets

Either way, the coalition wants SFMTA to be consistent in its parklet arrangement, rather than allowing merchants to pick a mix of curbside and floating parklets. Predictability is, after all, a cornerstone of building safe streets.

From Streetsblog's view, it's great that this is moving forward. One hopes the city has learned to avoid center-running bike lanes and other "experiments" and will now adhere to international best practices. But, it seems, San Francisco isn't there quite yet.

The preliminary designs show parking lanes preserved on both sides of the street in addition to two-way traffic, including from 15th to 19th where Valencia has wide sidewalks. That leaves less street width to work with, as seen in the diagram below:

Image from SFMTA. Those bike lanes are only 5' wide.

So far, SFMTA's solution is to squeeze the bike lane down to five feet. The minimum width for a one-way protected bike lane in the Netherlands is about 6.5 feet (and they recommend 8 to 10 feet for a street with as much bike traffic as Valencia). With only five feet, it won't be safe for cyclists to pass or ride side-by-side. This is obviously a politically motivated decision to avoid taking parking spaces (or converting the street to one-way for this stretch).

It's also disappointing to see the designs do not include the last few blocks of Valencia, from 23rd to Cesar Chavez, especially since that stretch was included in the old 2020 plan. Streetsblog has asked SFMTA about other details, such as intersection configurations, and was told that more is coming.

The SFMTA meeting where the board will see the plan, meanwhile, will be held Tuesday, June 18, starting at 1 p.m., Room 400, Floor 4, City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, S.F. The Bicycle Coalition is encouraging advocates to attend.

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