The ride toward permanent, protected bike lanes on Valencia Street has resumed, but its design will yield to popular pandemic parklets.
Shared Spaces and parklets “have made it more challenging to install the original design,” Stephen Chun, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, wrote in an email.
Valencia Street’s existing bike lanes are located between the traffic lane and cars parked along the curbs. The new, protected design would have placed the bike lane along the curb, but now that some parklets are using that space, the permanent protected lane will have to “weave around” them. Up to two parking spaces will need to be removed per parklet for the new, protected bikeway design, Chun said. Still, the city is “committed” to updating the bikeways this year, according to an SFMTA blog post. The pandemic derailed original plans to install them by 2021.
“It is now clear that Shared Spaces will remain a significant part of Valencia’s future but, while they must be accounted for in the roadway design, they in no way supersede the need for protected bike lanes on Valencia,” the post stated.
An earlier design also envisioned timed cross-street meters, limited left turns on certain intersections, and some commercial loading zones.
But, while the 2022 goal will be met, the agency said it doesn’t “currently have a new design to share, as of yet,” Chun said.
It’s clear that pressure on the SFMTA will remain. Just last week, bike safety activists Maureen Persico and Stephen Braitsch used some street theater to keep the issue alive. Persico darted up and down a darkened Valencia Street in a hilarious bike safety campaign, shielding bikers from the oncoming cars with neon signs. “Sorry, just a minute,” Persico explained to the confused drivers.
Persico came to the rescue of cyclists who found double-parked cars blocking the bike lane and had to reroute onto the street. Persico, Braitsch, and other activists became the barriers between cyclists and cars, creating a makeshift “protected bike lane” for riders.
Despite the laughs, vehicle encroachment in existing bike lanes is a serious issue, they said. In 2019, Valencia Street joined the High Injury Network as one of the most dangerous streets for pedestrians and cyclists.
From 2012 to 2016, 30 percent of the collisions between vehicles and bikes or vehicles and pedestrians occurred on Valencia between Market and 15th streets, resulting in 65 injuries and one death. In March, 2020, a pedestrian died at Valencia and 18th streets after a vehicle struck them.
The parking-protected bike lane in the latest Transportation Agency design is supposed to curb cyclists from getting “doored,” or getting slammed when a driver suddenly opens a door.
“It’s absolutely so dangerous for parents [on bicycles] to be navigating their children and having to merge with rapidly moving cars,” Persico said.
The latest bikeway design also includes protected intersections. Cycling activists would also like to see concrete barriers that are harder to vandalize, and speed bumps. The slower the car, the less damage it can do, they said.
Braitsch and Persico also advocate against increasing monetary fines or other enforcement, stating that it may disproportionately affect marginalized groups.
These ideas should be reproduced in other high-trafficked areas of San Francisco, Braitsch said. “This is not a Valencia Street-specific problem,” he said.