Nearly a year after a parking-protected bike lane was installed on a stretch of Eighth Street known to be dangerous to cyclists, city officials are moving forward with plans to extend it.
A parking-protected bike lane in the South of Market neighborhood between Market and Harrison streets was installed in May 2017, but after a unanimous vote Tuesday by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors that bike lane will be extended to Townsend Street.
The final section of the parking-protected bike lane will run between Harrison and Townsend streets, a dangerous passage close to freeways. There have been 45 injuries and one fatality caused by traffic collisions along Eighth Street between 2011 and 2016, according to an SFMTA staff report.
Construction of the Eighth Street Safety Project is expected to be complete in May 2018.
The project was approved amidst some misgivings from the public. Some advocates felt the $1.6 million project didn’t go far enough to prevent traffic collisions. Bicycle safety advocates pushed for more protection from vehicles in intersections and pedestrian advocates said they wanted more protections for walkers from speeding bicycles.
Parking protected bike lanes place bike lanes between vehicle parking and the sidewalk, effectively blocking off bikes from traffic behind parked cars. Golden Gate Park also has streets in this configuration.
About 200 bicyclists per hour travel the Eighth Street corridor during peak morning periods, and over 100 bicyclists per hour during evening peak periods, according to the SFMTA.
Bicycle safety advocate Matt Brezina, who has led multiple protests across The City, offered his support for the project with what he called “a giant caveat.”
“Why don’t we have protected intersections? Why don’t we paint bike lanes through (the street)?” he asked the board, in public comment.
Brezina noted that some early designs of the bike way had painted lanes across SoMa intersections, but those are now gone from the final design.
“It would keep highway-minded vehicles from clipping a bicyclist,” he said.
Alan Uy, an SFMTA planner leading the project, said those plans were reliant on a sidewalk expansion on nearby Brannan Street. That sidewalk expansion “fell through,” making the protected intersection problematic to create.
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition spoke in favor of the project at the SFMTA board meeting, Tuesday.
By contrast, Josie Ahrens, who spoke on behalf of the pedestrian advocacy group WALK SF, decried the lack of protections for pedestrians from bicyclist.
“We would like to see this project be more robust,” she said, including engineering changes to the street such as painted safety zones that would slow down cyclists at intersections for pedestrians.
Ahrens invoked the death of a pedestrian over the weekend by Fifth Street, near a freeway on-ramp, to highlight the importance of safety changes for pedestrians in this project, which also takes place near freeways.
The safety plan will also see two concrete boarding islands installed along Eighth Street for Muni riders to board the 19-Polk bus line safely. Engineering changes through phase one of the project have already reduced 19-Polk travel times by 24 seconds, Uy told the board.
Installation of boarding islands and other engineering changes to Eighth Street will cause 13 parking spaces to be removed, according to an SFMTA staff report– a change that some members of the public also decried.
“I have concerns about the cumulative impact of that parking removal,” said David Pilpel, a member of the public who spoke during the meeting. “I believe MTA is creating congestion, not solving it.”
Uy told the board phase one of the project has already seen some success. Surveys of bicyclists show they overwhelmingly perceived a safer ride, and “bikes and buses no longer have to weave around each other,” he said.
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