It’s not in the much-litigated, hard-won San Francisco Bike Plan: That plan has its eye on Capp and Shotwell. It’s not part of the Mission District Streetscape Plan: That plan depicts two visions of Folsom — one with a tree-lined median down the center, another with “vegetated gutters” roughly where the bike lanes will be. And Folsom is only two blocks away from Harrison, which is one of the most spacious bike corridors in the city.
But if all goes according to plan, Folsom Street will soon have the Mission’s newest bike lane.
“We didn’t ask for a bike lane on Folsom,” says Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “But we’re delighted. There’s been such a huge increase in the number of people bicycling in the last six years that we’ll be using them right away. The bike lane on Harrison is already pretty crowded during commute hours.”
But why not focus on Capp or Shotwell, which have slower traffic and are more evenly positioned between the bike lanes on Valencia and Harrison? And both of which are, quite frankly, nicer. With trees and stuff.
Bike lanes for Capp and Shotwell are still in the works, says Shahum. And Valencia Street used to be not unlike Folsom — four lanes of traffic, more fast-moving than today. Bike lanes are likely to make the street calmer, much like they did there.
Ilaria Salvadori at the San Francisco Planning Department can’t say exactly who suggested the bike lane on Folsom, but it it is, she says, consistent with the Mission District Streetscape Plan. The primary thing that came out of the community meetings that led to the plan is that the busy corridor — part residential, part industrial, part commercial — needs to go on a “road diet.” Which is another way of saying that Folsom needs to be cut from four lanes down to two.
But bike lanes instead of plants? “You shouldn’t look at it that way,” Salvadori says. The arcadian vision of Folsom outlined in the Mission District Streetscape Plan is, like so many visions, not actually funded yet. It’s proving to be the sort of vision that doesn’t come cheap.
The current construction on Folsom, says Salvadori, opened up a window. Since the streets are going to need to be re-striped anyway, why not put in bike lanes? A median is expensive. Sidewalk widening is even more expensive. A bike lane is a matter of applying paint in the right places.
So how much would the bike lane cost in comparison to the first two options? A little? Nothing at all? Dan Provence, the SFMTA employee in charge of the budget, could not, alas, be reached for comment.
Adding bike lanes to Folsom won’t rule out the possibility of greening the street later on, says Salvadori. And the purpose of the street doesn’t end when the Mission does. Our main artery for traffic downtown is Harrison. In SOMA, it’s Folsom. Cyclists heading downtown along Harrison find themselves staring down the barrel of four lanes of one-way traffic once they reach 11th Street, and are forced to hang left and cut over to Folsom anyway.
“The role of Folsom is the connection between the Mission and the water,” Salvadori says. “It’s one of the only streets in the city that connects the two directly.” In other words: It may not be a charming street, or an especially green one, but it’s a straight shot to the sea.
The public hearing for the SFMTA’s plans for Folsom will be held at 10 a.m. this Friday, February 4, at Room 416 in City Hall.