The unfinished, controversial center bikeway on Valencia Street has caused confusion and at least two bicycle crashes in its first eight weeks, with one cyclist reportedly landing in a hospital last week.
Multiple bike riders interviewed by Mission Local on Tuesday were confused about the street design and worried for their safety while cycling down Valencia.
“Right now, it’s dicey,” said Jessica, a daily cyclist who said she prefers to ride on Folsom Street whenever possible. “I just think Valencia is a scary road.”
Currently, a two-way bike lane has been painted in the middle of Valencia between 17th and 23rd streets. The center lane currently has “Bike Lane Closed” signs on every block, but the old right-side bike lanes have been mostly removed, leaving cyclists with the option of riding among cars, or using the new center lane.
“I think it sucks,” said Kappy, who called the bikeway “reinventing the wheel” as he rode to meet a friend near 18th and Valencia streets. “Whoever designed it doesn’t ride bikes.”
Like Jessica, Kappy said he takes different streets to avoid Valencia when he can.
“I might like it,” said Douglas Evans, a daily cyclist who rode on the unfinished bikeway on Tuesday. Cars frequently park in the center lane, sometimes chased away by police driving down Valencia; at least one San Francisco Fire Department truck was spotted taking up the middle lane over the weekend.
Evans said he was hopeful that, eventually, with protection like rubber curbs and plastic bollards, cars would stop parking in the bike lane and cyclists would be safe from being “doored” by drivers leaving their cars.
But he was still unsure. “It’s very difficult to tell how good they’re gonna be.”
The MTA launched the Valencia Street project in late April, despite community feedback showing a large majority of residents opposed putting cyclists in the center of the roadway and removing dozens of parking spaces and the center median, both of which are often used for loading.
New passenger and commercial loading zones have been added to Valencia Street, but they are being routinely ignored in favor of the center lane. This has reaffirmed concerns that drivers will park in the bikeway, even when it is officially open.
On Tuesday, delivery vehicles could be seen parked in both the center bikeway and the middle of the car lane, forcing cars to drive into the bikeway to maneuver around them.
Workers on Tuesday installed rubber curbs on Valencia between 19th and 20th streets; the center bike lane will eventually extend north to 15th Street.
And, despite signs along Valencia indicating that the half-finished bike lane is closed, and that cyclists should use the car lane, about half the cyclists observed on Tuesday morning were using the new lane to avoid riding among cars.
The confusing interim period has caused issues: Jessica said she is worried about the new rubber curbs, and is scared of weaving in and out of them. And the two people who crashed last week reportedly did so because of similar confusion.
SFMTA spokesperson Stephen Chun confirmed that the agency is aware of the two recent crashes, and that they were believed to be “related to ongoing construction on the mid-Valencia pilot.”
Chun said members of the public had expressed “confusion with the construction signage and placement of the ‘Bike May Use Full Lane’ sign,” but noted that cyclists are not supposed to use the center bikeway yet.
Even when the bikeway is complete, however, cycling infrastructure experts from around the world said the plan is a bad one.
“It is an abomination. It is the worst infrastructure I have ever seen anywhere in the world,” said Mikael Colville-Andersen, an urban designer and founder of the Copenhagenize Design Company. “You save lives, you keep people safe, by using tried and tested techniques.”
Colville-Andersen added that the transition between the center bike lane and existing right-hand lanes would be tricky: Right now, cyclists are meant to cross between cars in the middle of an intersection to enter or exit the center bike lane.
Claudia Adriazola-Steil, deputy director for the global urban mobility program at the World Resources Institute, said it was a “bad idea” to create such a complicated crossing and keep bikes in the center of the road, especially on an avenue with constant traffic like Valencia.
On Tuesday, every single car observed by Mission Local drove through newly painted white buffer zones meant to separate car traffic from cyclists.
And since the bikeway project began, cars have been banned from turning left across the center lane on Valencia.
But do drivers still turn left illegally?
“All day,” said William Lucas, the chef at Etc. Wine Bar at 19th and Valencia streets, who stood outside on Tuesday morning.
The new bikeway also forces cyclists to stay in the middle of the road or wait to exit the bike lane at an intersection, even if their destination is a shop or restaurant in the middle of the block.
“The whole point of bicycles is, you’re supposed to be able to hop off wherever,” Lucas said.
Anne Eriksson, a traffic safety engineer at the Danish Road Directorate, agreed.
“I mean, don’t [cyclists] want to go to some of these commercial services and shops along the road? How are they gonna get there?” Eriksson said. “It seems like they’re sort of giving up on some basic principles because there are some Uber Eats idiots parking in the lane.”
In Denmark, Eriksson said, enforcement by traffic police is also critical to ensuring safe practices.
Those interviewed on Valencia on Tuesday said they had seen surges of enforcement since the street changes took effect, urging cars not to drive into the center bikeway, for instance. But it is unclear how frequently enforcement occurs.
Chun estimated the bikeway would be complete within another four or five weeks, around early August. Last week, the MTA surpassed its original time estimate of eight weeks.
This story was updated with a time estimate from MTA spokesperson, Stephen Chun.