Protected bike lanes are now officially slated to arrive on Valencia Street between Market and 15th streets this coming January — a pilot program that will last 18 months but could become a permanent fixture up and down the entire corridor, currently known for its unsafe biking conditions.

The bike lanes will run in a corridor created between the curb on one side and parked cars on the other side.

The San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency Board of Directors unanimously approved the pilot program on Tuesday following a two-hour public comment session that pitted bicycle advocates against parents of students who attend a private school on Valencia between 14th Street and Duboce Avenue.

Parents of the San Francisco Friends School worried that the bike lane design would put their children at risk when crossing the bike lanes to the school, while bike advocates said that the city had dawdled too long on the cyclist safety infrastructure and needs to move forward immediately.   

“I encourage the board to postpone implementation of the pilot,” said Doug Foster, a parent at the Friends School. “There is a great opportunity to mitigate the collision between cyclists and cars, but think of an alternative that put kids in harm’s way.”

The request to postpone the pilot’s implementation was echoed by dozens of parents who asked for further dialogue before the pilot launched. They were nonetheless foiled by bike advocates who, in so many words, argued that the 204 bike-vehicle injuries on the corridor from 2012 to 2016 took precedence over the hypothetical danger of the school’s students getting swiped by a bike.

“I hear the parents, but it’s a perceived danger, not a real danger,” said one proponent during public comment.

Some parents worry that crossing the bike lane from the school board islands would pose a risk to their children. Image courtesy of SFMTA

The board ultimately approved the pilot, under the condition that certain safety measures be implemented during the pilot period. Tom McGuire, SFMTA’s director of sustainable streets, said the agency would provide safety crossing guards to guide children across the bike lane from the so-called “school boarding islands” during pick-up and drop-off hours.

Jamie Parks, the director of SFMTA’s livable streets program, said the agency will provide clear signage and markings on the boarding islands to make it clear that a children might be crossing. Those markets, he said, would be “tweaked” as the pilot progresses.

“It’s really important to note here that we take really seriously the design of boarding island for interaction between cyclists and pedestrians,” he said.

Finally, officials noted that school pick-ups and drop-offs could be routed to side streets during the pilot period.

Groundwork for the pilot began early this year, with the lanes slated to open in late 2019. Mayor London Breed, however, directed SFMTA in September to move faster on implementation.

“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,” she said at the time.

The pilot is slated to conclude in June 2020.