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Transit officials reconsider ‘watered down’ Turk Street bike lane

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Turk Street in the Tenderloin may soon net a protected bike lane, or a buffered bike lane, via the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Above, Eddy Street is seen in the Tenderloin. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/S.F. Examiner)

A Turk Street bike lane project critics called “watered down” at a heated city meeting Friday may be considered, according to transit officials.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency project initially would have seen a physically protected bike lane created across Turk Street from Mason to Polk Streets, as part of the Turk Street Safety Project.

At an SFMTA Engineering Hearing at City Hall on Friday, however, SFMTA planner Luis Montoya said feedback from different city stakeholders prompted a revision of that plan, now the bike lane is merely a “buffered” bike lane — with paint, instead of physical barriers.

“We haven’t been able to come up with a protected bike lane design that works for everyone who uses the street,” Montoya told those gathered, and said the first design was problematic for “businesses on the street, seniors on the street, for passenger loading zones and first responders.”

Yet, ultimately, after objections from the bike riding community, Tenderloin neighbors and Supervisor Jane Kim, Montoya said he might delay the project’s approval dates — originally slated to be May 16 at the SFMTA Board of Directors — to hear more feedback from the community.

“Hearing the significant concerns, I’m willing to say we’ll definitely rethink the next step of going to the board on that date,” he said

Turk Street was also among the list of streets where SFMTA proposed safety changes, and San Francisco Fire Department officials wrote to protest, saying the changes may make it difficult for emergency vehicles to navigate city streets. Emails detailing those protests were obtained in a public records request by the San Francisco Examiner and nonprofit Human Streets.

Though the fire department is concerned for the safety of patients and rescuees in its charge, the SFMTA is also concerned for the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers in its charge.

In the online description for the Turk Street Safety Project, the SFMTA cited 92 pedestrian and bicycle collisions on Turk Street between Mason and Gough Streets in five years, and Turk is part of the 12 percent of streets identified by officials as among the most dangerous.

At the engineering hearing to consider the Turk Street bike lane, Supervisor Jane Kim urged the SFMTA to create the fully protected bike lane.

“I want to appreciate staff at SFMTA,” she said, “I know they’re doing everything they can to balance a number of different priorities.”

Still, she said, “we would like to see a protected bike lane in the Tenderloin.”

At the meeting, San Francisco native and San Francisco Bicycle Coalition board member Mary Kay Chin said she was disappointed that there are no east to west protected bike lanes in the Tenderloin.

“What’s worse, the SFMTA had planned a protected bike lane for Turk Street,” she told the public at the engineering hearing. “Now, they’re asking for city approval for a watered down, unprotected bike lane.”

Though Montoya said he may delay the hearing date of the Turk Street bike lane to hear community concerns, that’s no guarantee the plan to make it “protected” will be reinstated.

Fire department spokesperson Jonathan Baxter told the Examiner previously that it keeps safety in mind when it objects to SFMTA projects.

“Only in those instances where safety standards are materially compromised do we recommend exploring additional options,” Baxter said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Eddy Street as Turk Street in the photo caption.

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