Valencia Street’s latest bicycle infrastructure changes are finally underway — but currently on one block only.
Construction crews working this week are racing to complete new curbside loading “islands” between Duboce and 14th Street as part of a pilot program that aims to eventually add protected bike lanes on all of Valencia Street.
The loading area additions are being fast-tracked to benefit two schools on the block: San Francisco Friends School, located at 250 Valencia Street, and the adjacent Millennium School at 245 Valencia St. According to Guybe Slangen, the director of community engagement at Friends School, the school asked the SF Municipal Transportation Agency to build the islands during the school’s winter break to minimize construction once school resumes on Monday.
When the kids show up again, platoons of yellow-vest-wearing volunteers will assist car-driving parents as they drop off at the schools on Monday morning and make pick-ups in the afternoon.
The loading islands are narrow strips of sidewalk situated between vehicle traffic and the bike lane; motorists can drop off passengers here without having to block or drive across the bike lanes.
Getting to this point took months of planning, Slangen said.
“I think we are as prepared as possible,” he said. “We let our parents know what’s going to happen. It’s going to take everyone to increase awareness.”
The school will receive assistance from a city parking-control officer, in addition to the volunteers who’ll be there Monday between 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. For the afternoon, volunteers and employees plan to redirect cars to nearby Clinton Park Alley for pick-ups.
The drop-off islands are part of a bigger project, called the Valencia Bike Improvements, that was approved Dec. 4, 2018, by the MTA’s Board of Directors after hours of public comment and debate. The islands are intended to create a designated drop-off and pick-up area for pedestrians and drivers, while staving off the possibility of cyclists being struck by cars moving through bike lanes or blocking them.
During the December meeting, parents took to the podium and argued that the project needed more review time, while bicyclists asked that something be done now to protect them. Eventually, the board sided with the bike lane advocates, but found ways to address the concerns of parents and school faculty.
Part of those concessions included the addition of a crossing guard during the morning and afternoon hours, and the addition of a loading and unloading island on the inside section of the street. Parents felt that the addition of an inside biking lane could lead to a collision between pedestrians and cyclists, while bicycle advocates felt that an open car door or person walking into the bike lane could cause them to crash. The crossing guard would figure to aid all parties by slowing traffic when someone is crossing and warning both pedestrians and cyclists.
Because it is a pilot program, only a small section of Valencia between Market and 15th Street will see near-term changes that include protected bike lanes and parking spot changes. According to MTA spokesman Paul Rose, construction for the rest of these pilot-designated areas will be completed by the end of January or early February.
“As we move forward with the long-term planning process for the project, we will also look into curb-management strategies for the 15th to 24th Street section of the corridor, as well as long-term design options for the remainder of Valencia Street,” he said in an email.
Last year, Mayor London Breed asked the MTA to fast-track improvements along Valencia, prompting a large gathering of residents to voice their input at the Dec. 4 meeting.
Brian Wiedenmeier, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said the coalition would be sending volunteers to help with the morning drop-offs.
“The pace of improvement … has been too slow for too long. It’s refreshing to see the city move with speed to get these protected bike lanes on the ground,” Wiedenmeier said.
A review of the pilot area is set to take place about three to six months after the pilot areas are implemented, Rose said. And eventually, lessons learned here will help shape what becomes of Valencia in the future.