In a surprisingly quick turnaround and execution, the city began construction on Valencia Street’s center bike lane this morning, just three weeks after a vote to launch the project.
The center bike lane, which will run from 15th to 23rd streets, will shunt cyclists into the middle of Valencia Street in a lane protected by plastic posts and raised rubber curbs. Cars will pass on both sides, and will be barred from making left turns. Cyclists will enter and exit the bike lane from crosswalks.
During construction, cyclists and motorists will share a single street lane in each direction.
On Monday morning, plastic orange cones forced cars and bikers alike onto a lane in the middle of the street between 18th and 19th streets. Workers with PG&E and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency drilled holes into the asphalt, or painted red no-parking areas and blue accessible parking zones onto the curb.
Though the usual obstacles were present — a loading truck in the center of the road, a car parked in the bike lane while picking up a rider — the street was no more chaotic than usual.
“It was easy,” said one cyclist who paused briefly at a light at 18th Street after riding through the orange cones. The rest of the cyclists sped past.
Construction is estimated to take eight weeks. Street parking between 19th and 23rd streets will not be allowed through the end of June on Mondays through Saturdays, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The plan to implement a center-running bikeway on Valencia Street between 15th and 23rd streets, remove some 70 parking spots, and create new loading zones, was passed by the SFMTA board earlier this month.
The construction this morning made for an unusually efficient project rollout for the transit agency. While the plan to revamp Valencia Street’s bike lanes has been discussed for years, the center-running lane has only been publicized as the agency’s preferred plan in recent months.
Ironically, the rare fast-paced project has received little enthusiastic support. Cyclists have safety concerns about biking in the middle of the road on the new two-way, center-running bike lane, while motorists and business owners have expressed concern about losing already-limited parking spots. Many have chosen to support the plan as “better than nothing.”
Additionally, SFMTA appears to be short on crucial supplies. The center bike lanes will be eventually protected by three barriers: Thick plastic posts known as K71 posts, buffer spaces, and “bus lane curbs,” which are similar to rubber speed bumps.
But the agency is short on the thick plastic posts, meaning sections of the bike lane will only use skinnier flexible plastic posts, like those already on Valencia, to keep car traffic away from cyclists.
The posts will be spaced 20 feet apart along most of the bikeway, with bus lane curbs between each post. Between 21st and 23rd streets, the posts will be 10 feet apart.
That 20-foot gap is the size of a large U-Haul truck. Cyclists will be protected in some areas by only the equivalent of a speed bump, and in others by plastic posts that are easily crushed by cars. Advocates say those posts provide little meaningful safety.
“Use materials that prevent drivers from encroaching on the bikeway,” reads the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Bikeway Design Guide published last month. “In places with low parking demand, flexible delineators and markings are sometimes enough to keep drivers out of the bikeway. In others, curbs or high barriers are necessary to make the bikeway usable.”
Valencia would appear to be one of those areas with high parking demand.
Tom Radoulovich, the executive director of Livable City, said in an earlier interview with Mission Local that the center-running bikeway was not the best practice, or the way to get more people onto bikes.
“If it’s too flimsy a barrier, I think you might end up with a lot of loading,” Radoulovich said. “It still feels like it could be pretty hazardous if motorists don’t respect it.”
“Presently, we don’t have enough K71s in stock, so we will also mix in some standard delineators” confirmed Stephan Chun, a spokesperson for the SFMTA. Chun said the flexible white delineators will only be used temporarily until more K71s are available.
The bikeway, with cyclist traffic flowing in two directions, will be 12 feet wide. At certain points along the bikeway, an additional buffer area will run between car traffic and the bikeway. At the north and south ends of the bikeway, cyclists will return to existing lanes along the outer edges of the road, crossing intersections to do so.
By midday, initial signs of the construction were gone, and the drilled asphalt near 19th and Valencia streets had been patched up. It is unclear whether workers were on a break, or if construction had been halted until the cars still parked on the street from the night before were gone.