Mayor London Breed is asking the San Francisco Municipal Transit agency to accelerate cyclist safety improvements on Valencia Street: namely, installing protected bike lanes along the corridor between Market and 15th streets within four months — much sooner than the agency had originally planned.
“I am tired of waiting for months, and often years, for important Vision Zero projects to be implemented when we know they are urgently needed to protect pedestrians and bicyclists,” Breed said in a statement.
The transit agency had, in fact, already begun plans to install protected lanes and make curb improvements this summer. It hosted several workshops in July and August with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, in which more than 100 cyclists attended and offered feedback on how those bike lanes would look. They would be piloted along Valencia between Market and 15th streets.
But, according to MTA’s timeline, those improvements would not have been complete until late 2019. And that, the agency said, was a “near-term” goal. “The takeaway is that we are trying to make incremental change on Valencia,” said SFMTA Program Manager Miriam Sorell at the meeting in July.
“Incremental,” apparently, was too slow to for Breed and bicycle-safety advocates.
“The SFMTA had been working toward Valencia improvements, but the original timeline was too long,” Rachel Dearborn, a spokesperson with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said in an email. “Street safety projects are often hindered by unnecessary delays, and we are grateful the Mayor has told SFMTA to cut the red tape and protect people ASAP on this high injury corridor.”
This four-block stretch of Valencia sees the highest volume of cyclists — and the highest rate of cyclist injuries. The bike lanes would be moved closer to the curb, and parking spaces would separate cyclists from the roadway.
The pilot would inform further changes along the popular biking corridor, the mayor’s office said.
Breed has also mandated that the transit agency’s so-called “Rapid Response Team” — which is in charge of quick road maintenance — respond within within one hour of a serious injury or fatality of a cyclist and analyze, over a 24-hour period, how improvements can be made to avoid another incident. Those improvements then must be made within 72 hours of an incident.
“After a serious crash, the City should respond quickly to identify the problem and make the changes needed to prevent future crashes,” said Cathy DeLuca, Walk San Francisco’s policy and program director.
Valencia Street is part of San Francisco’s Vision Zero high-injury network — among the 13 percent of San Francisco’s streets where 75 percent of all serious and fatal traffic-related injuries take place.
Jefferson McCarley, a spokesperson for the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association, welcomed the news. He said, recently, cyclist safety has been a major focus for the merchants’ association — and it will be focusing on drafting its own proposals in the coming weeks.
“We’ve talked to almost everybody from a planning side about [making Valencia safer for cyclists],” he said. “One thing that’s very clear is that there’s no perfect solution.”
McCarley, a cyclist and former general manager at Mission Bicycle, noted that the pilot on the stretch from Market to 15th streets will have few downsides, because businesses are sparser on those blocks. “But between 16th and 24th streets — that’s gonna come at a cost to parking, parklets, carshare pickups and drop-offs, and commercial vehicle delivery,” he said, adding that some merchants might be concerned about losing business.
“We want it to be easy for customers that arrive by cars, but not at the expense of those that arrive by bicycle,” he said. “But the status quo has its own costs and nobody’s satisfied with the way things are now.”
Yet, already, the status quo has begun to change. In March, the MTA installed flex posts along portions of Valencia Street to prevent cars from stopping at “bulb-out” curbs. And, soon after, Lyft began diverting pickups and drop-offs from the corridor between 16th and 19th streets onto side streets. Lyft made the practice permanent late last month.