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.”
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.”