A plan with a street legend.
One block of the plan.The full plan is at https://www.sfmta.com/sites/default/files/reports-and-documents/2023/02/final_plan_view_illustrative_pdf_layout_20230209.pdf

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board today approved a pilot project putting bike lanes into the center of Valencia Street by a unanimous vote of 6-0. 

In addition to moving bikeways to the center of the road, the plan will ban left turns, add loading zones and take away 70 parking spaces on Valencia Street between 15th Street and 23rd Street. Implementation will begin by the end of April.

The board reached consensus to shorten the pilot from 18 months to a 12, with an evaluation after six months. 

 “The pilot is the only option on the table that can be implemented now,” said Janelle Wong, the executive director of the SF Bike Coalition, who was one of 30 people who spoke at the three-hour-long meeting at City Hall. Like Wong, more than half of the public speakers were supportive.

But that support is not as strong along Valencia itself. In an informal poll of Valencia businesses conducted this week, Mission Local found little enthusiasm for the plan. 

And in an SFMTA poll from late 2022, 70 percent of 441 respondents did not sign onto the plan to shunt bikes into the middle of the road. Only 13 percent supported the plan.

Still, at the meeting on Tuesday, more than half of the speakers were supportive. 

A speaker who worked on Valencia Street put together a list of nine reasons why a centered bikeway would be better. “The danger of being doored” was key. 

Many, however, were cautious about the safety plan. For Sasha Ortega, having centered bike lanes delineated by soft materials and small curbs would be a “near-miss-near-hit.” She wants cement barriers: “Let’s put something up that’ll scratch some paint.” 

Speakers lined up at the MTA Board meeting to discuss the Valencia Street plan, April 4, 2023. Photo by Lingzi Chen.

Many who came up to oppose the plan did not believe that drivers would obey the rules. “Drivers don’t read signs,” said one speaker, “they read the road.” She wasn’t convinced by the pilot plan. Citing the city’s ballooning deficit, she said “this thing is complex and costly and I truly believe is more dangerous than nothing.”

“What do we do if there’s an earthquake during public comment?” interjected board member Manny Yekutiel, and the audience laughed, as a 4.5 magnitude quake did hit the Bay Area this afternoon.

The answer was: Public comments go on. 

While the meeting-goers showed conflicting opinions on the pilot project, the board members appeared  to make their decision easily, even while acknowledging the current plan is an imperfect solution.

“I wish we had more options here, but we have what we have,” said board member Steve Heminger. “It would be a shame to me if we walk out of the room empty-handed today.” 

“We know that enforcement is not going to be the answer,” said Gwyneth Borden, the board’s vice chair. She asked for “really good implementation.” 

The later discussions mainly revolved around the timeline, the materials of barriers to keep cars from the bike lanes, and the possibility of a Plan B if the pilot fails. 

“Regardless of whether we succeed or fail, we’re going to learn a lot from this pilot,” said MTA director Jefferey Tumlin. “I want to make sure that you are open to us learning whatever it is that we learn. And I don’t know what it is that we’re going to be learning.”

Bikes in the middle of the road — what a concept

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Lingzi is our newest reporting intern. She covered essential workers in New York City during the pandemic and wrote about China’s healthcare and women’s rights back in college. Before coming to America to pursue her dream in journalism, Lingzi taught in the Department of Chinese Studies in National University of Singapore.

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  1. It’s going to be a depressing mess, just like traffic on Mission Street, where the “red lanes” for buses are constantly blocked by delivery service drivers, and hundreds of drivers a day just drive on through the intersections where they are supposed to turn right onto a side street. Or like the Folsom Street slalom course. Making driving more confusing does not appear to have reduced car traffic on SF streets; but it has made drivers more distracted and angry and prone to accidents. At the same time, enforcement of double parking laws and dangerous moving violations such as speeding and rolling through stop signs and red lights is close to nonexistent.

    And what’s the point in building bicycle riding infrastructure if every time you get off your bike you run the risk of having it stolen or vandalized because there is no secure bike parking?

    Have bicyclists or pedestrians or small businesses benefited from all of MTA’s experimentation? It would be great to see some actual data. If the MTA is “learning something”, it seems like they never “learn” how to make the City more liveable.

  2. Everyone should think about support Valencia merchants because this change is really going to hurt them.

  3. This is really disappointing and truly a step backwards in terms of safety. As both a neighborhood resident as well as someone who rides a bike along Valencia regularly, I guess I’ll just keep doing what I do currently: ride in the car lane. Sigh…

  4. Am I totally missing how emergency vehicles will safely navigate a single lane of traffic and/or cars will have a safe place to pull out of the way??

    Regardless, there are numerous issues with this plan, and the majority of the (engaged) community doesn’t agree with this building version. It is trash.

    Boo on all of the weak-ass SFMTA board members for trading viability for relative ease of implementation.

  5. The most important bike corridor in the city gets the worst possible bike infrastructure. Great job SF.

  6. Great, now we can sit back and watch a spate of head-ons in the center bike lanes between scooters, 1-wheelers, E-bikes, multi-passenger Private School Dad Bikes, and kids on motos mobbin Valencia throwin wheels in the air, oh, and a few acoustic bikes. As long as bike are “Allowed Full Use of Lane” I’d rather ride with the cars like we always have. This city can’t do anything right.

    1. > now we can sit back and watch a spate of head-ons in the center bike lanes between scooters, 1-wheelers, E-bikes, multi-passenger Private School Dad Bikes

      My experience on car-free JFK is exactly this. It is shocking the number of near misses I witness everytime I am on car-free JFK.

      Yes, it’s a pleasure being able to ride across the entire street without having to worry about cars, but my god, at times it’s pure mayhem

      1. That’s the main reason why, when on the ballot, I voted for opening JFK back up to cars. Park&Rec turned JFK into a free-for-all county fair circus, especially on the weekends.

  7. I don’t understand why they can’t just copy what has already been implemented between Market and 15th? Feels like a lot of political shenanigans going on especially with the people who came to support it yesterday. This city’s agency and leaders should be incentivizing sustainable modes of transportation (we are in a god damn climate crisis!). This plan does the opposite.

    But I guess we’ll see. I just hope that the “failure” of the project doesn’t mean injuries and fatalities happen as a result.

    1. The reason is obvious. Valencia below 16th has quiet sidewalks. Between 16th and 24th it is a zoo. A curbside bike lane would be overrun and effectively useless.

      1. This is not true. Generally, pedestrians aren’t interested in conflict with wheeled traffic. And if I have to slow down for peds spilling into the bike lane, that’s fine, because chances are I’m near my destination anyway.

        The point of all of us opposing a center lane on this particular stretch of Valencia is that we *don’t* want a bypass–we just want equity in safe modes of travel to shop, transport kids, attend exercise class, etc etc.

        1. Disagree. I sometimes walk in the existing bike lane on the other side of the parked cars, just to make better progress. If instead the bike lane were right next to the sidewalk, I would use it all the time, as would many others.

          Then there would be strollers, skateboards, shopping carts, scooters etc. Cyclists would be reduced to a crawl. The center lane idea is much better.

  8. Will the “fire lane” markings in the new center lane design change the fines or enforcement for all the vehicles that will still be parking there?