Community rumblings against the SFMTA’s proposed center-running bike lane on Valencia Street were reaffirmed by a feedback report released by the agency on Monday.
Hard pass, said the majority of respondents to the transit agency’s open-house surveys in September. Now, the agency is headed back to the drawing board, meaning the long-awaited project will see further delays.
“I’m not too surprised,” said Luke Bornheimer, a community organizer and cyclist, said of the community’s resounding rejection of the SFMTA’s plan. “I think that people know a safe bike lane when they see it. And they know an unsafe bike lane when they see one.”
The proposal for an 18-month pilot, part of the Valencia Bikeway Improvements Project, proposed a ban on left turns, moving bike lanes to the center of Valencia Street, and adding loading zones to each block between 15th and 24th streets.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, after the strong negative online response the proposal received when it was first published in mid-September, 70 percent of 441 feedback comment cards did not support the center bikeway or preferred an alternative solution.
Less than 18 percent of respondents showed support for the SFMTA’s new proposal.
The SFMTA has long promised protected bike lanes on Valencia Street: The pandemic derailed original plans to install them by 2021, and the negative feedback this fall means the project may not even begin implementation until mid-2023.
“The project team has pushed back the project’s approval schedule in order to update the pilot design to address the feedback received during the project’s outreach processes,” read an announcement from the SFMTA on Monday.
Since the plan was released in September, bike and pedestrian advocates have taken to the internet to blast the new proposal or suggest alternative plans of their own. One Streetsblog SF article called the proposal “ridiculous.”
Though community members had suggested different plans for Valencia Street, the SFMTA, on Monday, cited those suggestions’ longer timelines, and an “immediate need” on Valencia, as reasons why they would not work.
The SFMTA said it reached out to the public during a Sunday Streets event, a series of meetings with community stakeholders, and a virtual open house that took place through the second half of September. The virtual open house platform illustrating the proposed changes got thousands of views, and hundreds of responses were sent in, according to the SFMTA.
Survey respondents and critics of the center bikeway said the current plan doesn’t do enough to protect cyclists on a street known to be a part of the city’s High-Injury Network. The plastic bollards surrounding the center bikeway would do little to prevent drivers from illegally turning left through the green lane, putting bikers at risk, respondents said. As it is now, Valencia’s bike lane is often used as an extra parking lane.
Another concern lies with accessibility to a center-running bikeway, Bornheimer said. Less confident cyclists, such as children or people with disabilities, particularly less experienced ones, may be uncomfortable weaving through oncoming car traffic to exit the center bike lane toward the sidewalk.
Though Bornheimer supports making Valencia Street one-way for cars, he said that even the SFMTA’s other proposed solutions during the 2018 planning process were preferable to the one they presented this fall. Those alternatives included bike lanes alongside the curb, protected from moving vehicles by parked ones.
The stretch of Valencia between 15th and 24th streets sees about two collisions per month, more than half of which involve a bicycle or pedestrian, according to the SFMTA. More than 150 collisions have been reported there between 2017 and 2022.
To what extent the SFMTA intends to adjust the existing plan is unclear: Spokesperson Stephen Chun said the delay would give the team time to “consider different materials for bikeway separation, and to conduct additional conversation with local merchants around the curb management portion of the plan.”
The final proposal now is anticipated to appear before a public hearing and an SFMTA Board of Directors meeting in the spring.