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Despite safety concerns, Upper Market protected bike lanes approved

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Mark Gonzales, deputy chief of operations at the San Francisco Fire Department, speaks to the SFMTA Board of Directors on Tuesday. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/S.F. Examiner)

Upper Market Street will be transformed following the unanimous vote by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on Tuesday to make it safer for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists.

Though the Upper Market Street Safety Project was heavily lobbied for by dozens of everyday-bicyclists who attended the meeting, it had one major detractor:

The San Francisco Fire Department.

SFFD Deputy Chief of Operations Mark Gonzales told the board that the department wasn’t opposed to the entire project, just the parking protected bike lanes.

In that configuration, a bike lane is placed between parked cars and the curb, to protect cyclists from traffic.

That new buffer of cars to protect cyclists would make it tougher for ladders from fire trucks to reach burning buildings, Gonzales argued, as he displayed a dramatic photo of a burning San Francisco building to the board members.

“The main challenge is the overhead wires,” Gonzales said, referring to a tangle of Muni wires near Market Street buildings. He said the parking protected bike lanes make it difficult to angle ladders around the wires.

“If there were no overhead wires, we would not have a concern over these parking protected bike lanes,” he said.

The SFMTA already made many concessions to the project to accommodate Fire Department ladders, according to an SFMTA staff report, including removing proposed angled parking, pedestrian “islands” in streets, and other changes.

“SFMTA staff has worked with the Fire Department since May 2016 to modify and refine the roadway design to address operational concerns,” staff wrote.

The nearly one-mile length of Market Street between Octavia and Duboce streets in the project area sees 700 cyclists per hour at peak times, and is a part of the popular East-West “Wiggle” route used by cyclists to get around The City’s hills.

It’s also among what The City has identified as its most dangerous streets, and saw 174 collisions of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists between 2011 and 2016, according to the SFMTA.

Approval of the project will see new safety features installed like wider sidewalk corners (called “bulbouts”), expanded center lane medians, 16 upgraded curb ramps, smaller “pedestrian refuge” islands along Market, painted bike lanes and the controversial buffered bike lane.

The proposal will see 29 metered vehicle parking spaces and 11 metered motorcycle parking spaces removed along Market Street, and is slated to cost $9.6 million. The project has seen 22 public outreach meetings since 2014.

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