On Valencia Street. Photo by Walter Mackins

A proposal to shift bicycles to a two-way lane in the middle of Valencia Street — which was resoundingly rejected by community members last fall and remains unpopular — is on track for approval by the Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors next week. 

The plan will remove dozens of parking spaces from Valencia Street to clear the way for additional loading zones, ban most left turns between 15th and 23rd streets, and move bicycles from the edges of the roadway to the center. 

Some community members begrudgingly support the plan, but many are still outright against it. Many cyclists fear that sequestering bicycles between two-way traffic is unsafe and unlikely to get more people onto bikes. Others hope the pilot will at least improve on current conditions. 

“Is this my first choice? Absolutely not,” said Amandeep (Deep) Jawa, a cyclist and Valencia Street resident of nearly 20 years. “I don’t think there’s anybody honest about this that says this is their first choice.” 

But Jawa, who bikes with his young daughter, and runs Friends of Valencia, said he will still support the proposal, as he is “desperate for improvements” — and tired of nothing changing. 

That seems to be the view of many. Despite widespread unhappiness with center bike lanes, the opposition appears to have decided, like Jawa,  that something is better than nothing. For its part, the SFMTA appears intent on approving the plan at its meeting on Tuesday. 

In 2019, the SFMTA announced that the bike lanes between the sidewalk and parked cars on Valencia north of 15th Street were so successful that the project was set to be extended from 19th Street to Cesar Chavez Street. Since revisiting the project in 2022, the agency began taking a different direction and, despite its unpopularity, some community members are reluctantly supporting the plan for center bike lanes. 

“While we do have hesitations about the center-running bike lanes. … It is what is available at the moment,” said Nesrine Majzoub, of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “We aren’t being given any other option.” 

But the SFMTA did have another option to expand the proposal to put the bike lanes next to the curb: A plan it released in early 2020, before the pandemic shut down the city. 

Despite once strongly supporting the earlier SFMTA proposal for curbside bike lanes protected from car traffic by parked cars — as Valencia Street has, north of 15th Street — the Bicycle Coalition, a powerful bicycle advocacy nonprofit, has acquiesced. It now supports a plan it considers suboptimal. The plan for center bike lanes has not been tested in San Francisco, and is rare around the world. In Washington, D.C., and Monterey, studies showed an uptick in collisions after the implementation of center-running bike lanes.

While it is not entirely clear why the SFMTA abandoned its earlier plan, the current plan appears to be driven by a need to prioritize loading and pick-ups by delivery drivers, which have proliferated during the pandemic. 

The “arrival of Shared Spaces and increase in food and parcel deliveries have created more competing demands for curb space,” the SFMTA explained in an FAQ document released last month. The new plan doubles the amount of loading space between 15th and 23rd streets, and creates a separate area for bikes in the center lane that will be protected by bollards and rubber road bumps. 

It’s unclear how these lanes will compete with cars that, often, park in the center lanes of Valencia. 

Many bikers are unconvinced that the changes will be sufficient to keep them safer. In fact, just 13 percent of survey respondents in November supported the plan. The SFMTA suggested at the time that it would take the feedback into account, but that has not translated into changes to the plan. 

Luke Bornheimer, a transportation infrastructure organizer,  said he worries that the plan is a step in the wrong direction, and will discourage new people from trying to ride a bike. The center-running bike lane is rare and not well-studied, he said: “It’s just asking for something terrible to happen.” 

Tom Radulovich, the executive director of Livable City, said that while changes like adding space for pick-ups and drop-offs were long overdue, “everyone seems to agree” that the center-running bike lane is not good bicycle infrastructure. 

Radulovich described biking through the double-parked cars often seen on Valencia today as “harrowing.” He noted that the new left-turn restrictions will help with the safety of bikes in the middle of the road, and that “maybe they’re marginally better than the painted bike lanes filled with Ubers,” but he could not say for sure. 

Ryen Motzek, who runs City Station at 18th and Valencia streets and is the head of the Mission Merchants Association, said he is hopeful that parking in the center bike lane will “feel a little more blatant” and therefore will happen less, but was also unsure if the new plan would be better than the current one. 

But if the SFMTA does not enforce the rules or issue citations more than it does currently, Radulovich said, nothing will change, and Valencia will remain “dangerous and congested.” 

The barriers blocking the central bike lane from the two lanes of car traffic on either side are expected to be made of plastic, and the Fire Department will be able to drive over them in case of emergencies. It is unclear whether car drivers , who are currently accustomed to disregarding the few existing flimsy divider posts and temporarily parking in the median while loading, will respect the new bike lane as off-limits. 

Advocates for safe bike lanes also feared that once the pilot is implemented, it will stay, regardless of its effectiveness.  

Manny Yekutiel, a member of the SFMTA Board of Directors who will vote on the proposal next week, and the owner of Manny’s Cafe at Valencia and 16th streets, said he was told that SFMTA will be doing more enforcement once the pilot is implemented. 

Yekutiel said he plans at next week’s meeting to request clear tracking of traffic patterns and safety data on the corridor during the pilot program, and will ask to shorten the pilot to 12 months.  

“It doesn’t surprise me that there’s lots of folks who are upset about it; I don’t think that means that it shouldn’t be a pilot, though,” Yekutiel said. He agreed that he did not think a center-running bike lane was the best solution, and plans to ask about why the curbside bike lane plan from 2020 was nixed. 

But, like the Bike Coalition that dislikes the plan but now supports it, Yekutiel still plans to vote in favor of the plan. 

Majzou,b from the Bicycle Coalition, suggested that the plan is better than doing nothing. The pilot “will be absolutely safer than what we have now,” which is no protection at all from moving cars, she said. 

As it stands, Jawa called Valencia “a great pedestrian street despite itself” He pointed to the narrow sidewalks for pedestrians, slow speeds for drivers, lack of loading spaces, and bikes that must constantly dodge cars. “It doesn’t really do a good job for any of us.” 

Unconvinced by the pilot, advocates like Radulovich are looking to using the more than $200,000 that the San Francisco County Transportation Authority commission allocated last week toward a long-term bikeway plan for Valencia Street, which he called a “pilot within a pilot.” 

They will test a to-be-determined alternative plan, supported by business owners and residents, on one or two blocks of Valencia. 

“That street design is out there; this isn’t it,” said Radulovich. 

Bornheimer believes his “Better Valencia” plan, which suggests alternative plans for curbside bike lanes and varying width sidewalks and parklet spaces, or even the SFMTA’s plan from 2020, could encourage more, safer biking and walking, and less dependence on cars. The plan has already garnered nearly 4,000 letters of support.

The SFMTA Board of Directors meeting to vote on the Valencia Street proposal will be held Tuesday, April 4 at City Hall. For details, click here

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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39 Comments

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  1. If one of the goals is to get people out of their cars, a center bike lane definitely will not accomplish that goal.

  2. Those plastic posts are easy to drive over. Although they make a terrible noise, they don’t do any damage to your car. Not that I’ve ever done it.

  3. Seems worth a try.
    If the Bike lane is against the curb there’s now a lot of people crossing it to load unload, etc. Even a protected lane would be difficult with this sort of pedestrian cross traffic.
    Intersections are gonna be interesting, hopefully all the car left turns are going away. Probably needs a fence with plants to keep out cars, not a good idea to put intermittent posts. Might be nicer to raise this up occasionally on a something like a 4 inch high boardwalk like Culver city has done downtown.

    1. A bike lane next to the sidewalk would be overrun with pedestrians, strollers, shopping carts, skateboarders, scooters etc.

      And if parking protected then where would the delivery drivers and uber/lyft/cabs drop off and pick up?

      Non starter.

  4. Do not forget the bicycle coalition is funded by the city.Do not forget taking away parking affects seniorsextended families,disabled and small businesses. I cannot ride a bike.I absolutely will not spend an hour on muni to visit shops on Valencia.Stealing public parking spaces is one of the reasons small businesses fail.

  5. i hope they let Mission Pet Hospital (Valencia near 18th) keep the 2 parking spots–it ain’t easy transporting sick animals on the bus–and impossible for mobility-impaired folks. They lost parking with the huge parklets on the block.

    1. Agree. We let all these shithole
      Churches have protected parking but not vets? Criminal.

      Commute by bike everyday down Valencia. Far from Ideal in the afternoons but really not excited about the center lanes. Anticipate getting clipped within the first year.

      1. Rocky, but what other alternative is there?

        The bike lane either has to go on the side of the road, as at present, or in the center.

  6. 23 -year Mission cyclist here. I hate the double parkers on Valencia but they are largely between 16th & 17th, a few near 18th …one horrid block where taking out a few spaces for loading will suffice (and more ticketing of double parkers,,,funny how the police station is right there at 17th huh?). This “plan” is a bad bad idea safety wise.

  7. Instead of acquiescencing to increased delivery drivers on cars, why is the city and SFMTA not encouraging bike deliveries by providing ebike discounts and most importantly proper infrastructure? NYC increased their bike infrastructure and lo and behold a lot of deliveries are done by ebikes even in the winter. Deciding to put cyclists lives in danger to accommodate the influx of delivery drivers is such backwards thinking. Shame on Manny and the Bike Coalition for going along and voting for this stupid plan

  8. “The plan for center bike lanes has not been tested in San Francisco, and is rare around the world. In Washington, D.C., and Monterey, studies showed an uptick in collisions after implementation of center-running bike lanes.” So let’s go with the plan that has been proven to be less safe? Who is getting paid to implement this plan?

    1. Yeah, I wonder how many bikers ending up in the hospital will convince them this is a bad idea. I mean, catering to UBER or other delivery services over humans seems a bad way to go. Bet the delivery drivers will not use the loading zones even if empty. and they will never be empty I bet.

  9. Long time Valencia st resident and bike commuter here. Am I missing something? If the problem theyre trying to solve is harm to cyclists from so many cars hanging out in the bike line (this is certainly MY biggest, daily frustration), then isn’t the “current bike lane or propsed bike lane” debate a false binary for god’s sake?! What about say..just actually enforcing the rules and agressively deterring drivers from parking in the bike lanes? This has never been tried even for a minute! Hmmm as I’m thinking about it this leads me to think maybe cyclist safety is not the end goal here at all,but rather the “loading acess” and all that referenced. Trying to serve two masters than are in direct conflict here? Disapointed in bike supporters who have caved to the “this will at least be better” rationale. It not the ONLY choice! Why arent we demanding an end to these drivers in our current bike lanes?!

    1. Reply to Sara S:
      YES! I don’t ride a bike but I have friends/family who do and it drives me nuts to see cars (mainly Uber/Lyft) constantly blocking the bike lanes, endangering bicyclists. ENFORCE!

    2. “Why arent we demanding an end to these drivers in our current bike lanes?!”

      Because the most intensely used blocks of Valencia where there is the most contention on the roads are within line of sight of the 17th and Valencia SFPD cop shop.

      SFBC has only recently supported getting SFPD to stand down on bicycle harassment tickets for non-threatening violations. Is more policing the answer in cases like this?

      Could SFMTA dedicate parking enforcement officers during days and evenings on Valencia to keep existing bike lanes clear since the cops are both useless and dangerous?

  10. It feels like SFMTA is intentionally trying to make bike improvements difficult and dangerous. This is worse than no bike lane at all in my opinion: It forces bikes to merge with car lanes just to access the sidewalk. So many opportunities for something terrible to happen (again). Everything that comes out of SFMTA’s designers for bike infrastructure seems to be messy and difficult, and they don’t listen to the people who actually ride on it: Try riding along Folsom or Howard between 9th and 2nd, or Townsend between 8th and 2nd – so many merges, sharp turns, obstacles and conflicts.

  11. Isn’t it the parklets? How do you move them further out into the street and put a bike zone between them and the sidewalk without pedestrians getting hit by bikes? I agree the center lane idea is a terrible one though.

    1. Curbside protected bike lanes, like those proposed in the Better Valencia plan, would wrap around existing parklets, eliminating conflicts/collisions between people walking and using mobility devices in the parklets and people on bikes in the road.

      Please support the “Better Valencia” plan for curbside protected bike lanes on Valencia: https://BetterValencia.com

      Sending an email takes two taps and 10 seconds and it makes a difference!

      If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to reply here, text me at 617-899-4487, or email LukeBornheimer@gmail.com. Thank you!

  12. It remains legal for cyclists to ride in traffic lanes even when there are bicycle lanes. Hopefully all lanes will be clogged with bicycles.

    I take issue with Radulovich’s characterization of cycling on Valencia as “harrowing.” There are plenty of harrowing streets where cyclists take our lives into our own hands. Valencia is not one of them.

    My bet is that this is a designed to fail SFMTA/DPW make work project that will only need to be redone once its failure is evident. Keeping that laundered money squeaky filthy.

  13. This is really bewildering to me. Nobody is asking for a center bike lane, yet leaders who know that this is not a good idea will still support it? This is bad leadership from the SFMTA, Board of Directors, Director Tumlin, and the Mayor. Center bike lanes feel like a death trap and incentivize bad infrastructure at a time that we should be incentivizing people to bike and not use cars to address the climate crisis.

    I hope people will be there on April 4 to let the board of directors know that this is a bad idea and that they should support Luke Bornheimer’s “Better Valencia” plan instead. Also side note: Remote comments to the SFMTA are limited to 10 minutes per item! (Which is undemocratic in my opinion)

    1. fully agree. so the question is what is their actual motivation to support it then? Is it the merchant associations/ small business orgs that are pushing this? Is it the delivery companies and Uber/Lyft? We all know “rideshare” cars are the biggest scoflaws. Is this why rather than enforce, the city decides to fully move the bikelanes?

      1. Unfortunately, they only had this option left once Mayor Breed put a constraint on using the curb lane for the bike lanes (in an attempt to help businesses create parklets). Ironically, by trying to reserve the curb lane for hypothetical/potential parklets, they would hurt local businesses by installing the center cycle track.

        Please support the “Better Valencia” plan for curbside protected bike lanes on Valencia: https://BetterValencia.com

        Sending an email takes two taps and 10 seconds and it makes a difference!

        If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to reply here, text me at 617-899-4487, or email LukeBornheimer@gmail.com. Thank you!

    2. “Remote comments to the SFMTA are limited to 10 minutes per item! (Which is undemocratic in my opinion)”

      So how long would you like to give to anyone with an internet connection and an opinion?

      1. Ron, you can say the same about in person public comment – do you limit that as well for everyone just because they also have an internet connection and an opinion? That’s undemocratic.

        People work and have families, most don’t have the time to physically come in to make a public comment so calling in remotely to make public comment should be allowed. If it’s really such an inconvenience to the “volunteer” board of directors and everyone else, then there is a better compromise like prioritizing residents over out of state, for example, than just restricting to a total of ten minutes per item. IMO

    3. Thank you for speaking up and supporting Better Valencia (and sharing it with other people)!

      For everyone else, please support the “Better Valencia” plan for curbside protected bike lanes on Valencia: https://BetterValencia.com

      Sending an email takes two taps and 10 seconds and it makes a difference!

      If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to reply here, text me at 617-899-4487, or email LukeBornheimer@gmail.com. Thank you!

  14. It’s a vote of the SFMTA board.
    You can get your two minutes public comment in person or call in: 415.655.0001 Access Code: 2495 036 2708# Password: 6822#
    Board of Directors meeting, April 4, 2023 Board 1:00pm City Hall
    1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco, CA

    1. You’re right, though remote comment will be limited to 10 minutes (or roughly five people at two minutes each).

      If you can make it to City Hall on Tuesday, please sign up for a public comment reminder here: https://forms.gle/znPt3r51eYTjzvHv5

      And if you haven’t already, please support the “Better Valencia” plan for curbside protected bike lanes on Valencia: https://BetterValencia.com

      Sending an email takes two taps and 10 seconds and it makes a difference!

      If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to reply here, text me at 617-899-4487, or email LukeBornheimer@gmail.com. Thank you!

  15. Another example of how SF is far far away from being a progressive city. When double parked Doordash drivers are more important than family’s and children. Shame on SFMTA for forcing this terrible design on us.

  16. From the article: “ But like the Bike Coalition that dislikes the plan, but now supports it, Yekutiel still plans to vote in favor of the plan.”

    When does the vote take place? Do all SF citizens get a vote? If not, who does?

    1. You’re right — the “Better Valencia” plan will be better for business, in addition to being better for safety and climate.

      Please support the Better Valencia plan for curbside protected bike lanes on Valencia: https://BetterValencia.com

      Sending an email takes two taps and 10 seconds and it makes a difference!

      If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to reply here, text me at 617-899-4487, or email LukeBornheimer@gmail.com. Thank you!

  17. Manny certainly knows how safe Valencia Street is. Remember what happened to his parklet? I think it wasn’t a bike rider who did that.

    1. You’re right — driving cars being close to people (sitting, walking, biking, or using mobility devices) is a recipe for disaster.

      Please support the “Better Valencia” plan for curbside protected bike lanes on Valencia: https://BetterValencia.com

      Sending an email takes two taps and 10 seconds and it makes a difference!

      If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to reply here, text me at 617-899-4487, or email LukeBornheimer@gmail.com. Thank you!

      1. Luke, how would you keep pedestrians off a “curbside protected bike lane on Valencia”? The sidewalks there between 16th and 24th are frequently mobbed. Then there are the parklets.