With construction on the controversial new center bike lane on Valencia Street “substantially complete,” the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on Tuesday announced the official kickoff of its one-year evaluation period of the pilot program.
The agency’s rollout of the program has sparked anger among community members who rejected the plan at the outset — and this week’s rushed opening has deepened that frustration.
Despite initially giving tepid support to the plan to move bike lanes into the center of Valencia Street, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has grown frustrated with the MTA’s handling of the construction and rollout over the last 14 weeks. Last week, the organization spoke out on Twitter, blasting the agency for sowing “distrust” with the cycling community, and called the rollout “haphazard” and “a mess.”
The MTA’s Aug. 1 announcement of the pilot’s start — even though construction is incomplete — drew even more outrage. “Obvious shortcomings” like missing or far-apart bollards and low-visibility curbs, the coalition wrote on Twitter this week, should have been addressed before the lanes were opened.
The Bicycle Coalition has called on its followers to send complaints to the MTA.
During the weeks of construction that commenced in April, cyclists have crashed and been injured on the incomplete two-way bicycle lane in the middle of the street, and a purported shortage of plastic bollards has left parts of the lane even more vulnerable to cars entering it.
Experts have criticized the center bikeway as unsafe and ill-advised according to best practices. In fact, when this reporter rode down Valencia Street on Wednesday, a driver making an illegal left turn across the bike lane forced her to slam on her brakes mid-street to avoid a crash.
The project’s changes include the removal of dozens of parking spots and the creation of new vehicle loading zones. The bike lanes from either side of the street’s traffic lanes have been shifted into the center of the roadway between 15th and 23rd streets, with rubber bumpers and collapsible bollards keeping cyclists in the new lane.
MTA spokesperson Stephen Chun said in April that the bollards would be spaced 16 feet apart between 16th and 19th streets, and 12 feet apart between 19th and 23rd streets. He said skinny collapsible posts would be used as a stopgap measure until the bollard supply is replenished.
But the bollards are not all installed, and the bike lane, on most blocks, remains unprotected from cars driving into it. Multiple cars can fit between the sporadically placed bollards and, on Aug. 2, several were damaged and at least one was crushed. No collapsible skinny posts were observed by Mission Local.
The black rubber bumpers on the ground are difficult to see — and highly dangerous, if struck by a bicycle.
The MTA, in its Tuesday announcement, said that more bollards and rubber curbing will be installed to protect the bikeway in coming weeks. It is unclear why the pilot launch was announced prior to the project’s completion. Chun, in an email, said that the agency is still waiting on shipments of additional bollards.
The department appears, however, to be taking the community’s displeasure into account.
“When we talked to the community about this center-running protected bikeway, we heard loud and clear the desire to do more beyond this pilot,” read the announcement. To address the public’s concerns, the agency said it is also kicking off two studies “to help inform a future design” for Valencia Street: One study of traffic and circulation, and another study about how to make the street more enjoyable as an outdoor space.
“As the pilot progresses, we will consider design adjustments to improve safety and effectiveness,” read a statement from the department’s announcement this week.
Data collection on the pilot program, according to MTA’s statement, will not begin until the fall, which could discount the collisions and injuries that have occurred in the bike lane thus far.