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SFMTA Cites Improved Road Safety With Valencia Street Bike Lane, but Some Disagree

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People on bikes and skateboards ride down a bike path in the middle of a city street.
Bicyclists ride on the Valencia Street bike lane in San Francisco's Mission District on Sept. 21, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The center-running bike lane in the business and nightlife hub of Valencia Street in San Francisco — which has drawn heavy criticism from many business owners in the area and avid cyclists — has shown to improve road safety, according to an initial progress report from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

“We basically eliminated the conflicts between double-parking motorists and bikes. We provided safe spaces for cyclists, and we significantly reduced the types of collisions that we had been seeing pre-COVID,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, SFMTA director, during a media roundtable Thursday.

The agency’s report analyzes the first three months of traffic data on Valencia Street since the center-running bike lane launched as part of a pilot, which began in August 2023. This project also changed traffic and parking rules on the corridor from 15th to 23rd streets.

SFMTA embarked on the pilot to address safety concerns on the corridor. Valencia Street is on the city’s high-injury network for serious traffic injuries and deaths, and before the mid-Valencia pilot, the former side-running bike lane was often used as a de facto loading zone for double-parked drivers working for app-based delivery and ride-hailing services. Since drivers often blocked the bike lanes, cyclists were forced to swerve into traffic, causing an average of two collisions a month, according to the agency.

The strategy of converting the bike lane has led to a 77% reduction in double parking in the pilot area over the first three months, according to the latest SFMTA report.

But Tumlin also acknowledged that the pilot has created new issues. According to SFMTA’s report, there were 20 collisions in the pilot area from August through December, and drivers making illegal left or U-turns caused seven of those collisions. To make the center-running bikeway feasible, left-turn restrictions had to be put in place throughout the pilot area.

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“So we’re working right now on design changes, as well as partnering with the San Francisco Police Department in order to reduce the amount of illegal turning movements by motorists in the corridor that have created some early concern for us in the data,” Tumlin said.

While some commuters have said they feel safer with the bike lane’s current configuration, many cyclists have voiced strong opposition.

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“SFMTA should take immediate action to replace the center bikeway with curbside protected bike lanes in order to help local businesses, reduce car traffic, and make Valencia more appealing for people to visit.” said Luke Bornheimer, a sustainable transportation advocate who has called the center-running bike lanes design “dangerous” and “unintuitive.”

Some small business owners along the hub of Valencia Street have also organized against the bike lane. They say the pilot’s conversion of general parking spaces to a new kind of dual-use loading zone has decreased would-be customers visiting their shops. Many businesses on the corridor now sports signs in their front windows reading: “This bike lane is killing small businesses and our vibrant community.”

“If the goal was to systematically destroy the livelihood of the Valencia corridor, then it has been a complete success for the SFMTA,” said Kevin Ortiz, co-president of the San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club. “Any new design must be carefully vetted with community and business stakeholders, not in the top-down approach SFMTA usually approaches these ‘pilot’ projects with.”

From the beginning, SFMTA officials have been adamant that they would rip up the pilot project and implement a new design if the current pilot was not working. Tumlin said the agency is currently in conversations with merchants and other stakeholders on the corridor to figure out potential next steps.

“We’re getting the sense that there is a lot of interest in pivoting to a side-running protected bike lane,” Tumlin said.

This could mean a change to the current center-running bike lane that would preserve restaurant parklets — mirroring a design on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland and in Manhattan. In this kind of design, the bike lane hugs the sidewalk on one side, and parklets and parking for cars are on the other side, thereby protecting cyclists from moving traffic.

However, any significant change to the street would require an SFMTA Board of Directors vote and around seven months of planning and construction. For now, the agency is asking the public to be patient with the new design.

SFMTA staff will present their findings Tuesday to its Board of Directors, and there will be public comment.

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