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After Uber, Lyft swarm Valencia bike lanes, supervisors demand barriers

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Cyclists maneuver around a van parked in an unprotected bike lane along Valencia Street near 16th Street in San Francisco’s Mission District Friday, August 4, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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In 1999, painting bike lanes on Valencia Street was cutting edge — and part of a grand design.

In conjunction with city officials, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency determined South Van Ness Avenue would handle car traffic, Mission Street would handle buses, and Valencia would become a major bike throughput.

Those plans, however, came before the rise of ride-hails Uber and Lyft.

Flash forward to 2017, and neighbors say swarms of Uber and Lyft vehicles swing in and out of Valencia’s painted bike lanes every day, putting bicyclists in harm’s way.

Now two members of the Board of Supervisors — Jeff Sheehy and Hillary Ronen, who represent Districts 8 and 9, respectively, which both include parts of Valencia Street — are calling on the SFMTA to install protected bike lanes on that corridor in the Mission District.

Cyclists are more than fed up with the lack of protected bike lanes there. Valencia Street was the site of “human chain” protests in May earlier this year, where about 50 bicycle activists, led by San Francisco Matt Brezina, linked hands to form a barrier to the bike lane.

“It’s where people live, and everyone experiences it,” Brezina said. “People get nearly hit by Ubers swinging into traffic, it’s a very sensitive lane.”

Hearing those demands, the SFMTA has already slated protected bike lanes to become part of its next round of capital projects funding, which requires approval by the SFMTA Board of Directors and would also go before the Board of Supervisors in spring 2018, according to the agency.

Valencia Street has had painted bike lanes since 1999, but in the last decade San Francisco has installed safer, “protected” bike lanes on other streets, which use barriers to separate bikes physically from auto traffic. Protected bike lanes can be protected by planters used as barriers, to “parking protected” bike lanes, which place a bike lane between parked cars and a sidewalk.

That capital budget “is currently in development and protected bikeways on Valencia [Street] are under consideration and will be weighed against other citywide needs,” said Ben Jose, an SFMTA spokesperson.

Because there is no conceptual design, Jose said, no cost has yet been proposed.

However, there are wrenches in the process. Sheehy is pushing for parking-protected bike lanes, though the SFMTA said it hopes to choose the type of protection through a community process. Ronen is pushing for action sooner, rather than waiting for SFMTA’s proposed years-long process.

“My first job in San Francisco was as a bike messenger downtown,” Sheehy said at a July Board of Supervisors meeting, when discussing bike lanes. “I know bike safety has to be a top priority.”

But the SFMTA would only start planning the protected bike lanes after the budget is approved in 2018, which neighbors called a glacial pace. And the SFMTA has not yet settled on a form of protection, which Jose said “would require community input, technical analysis and a project budget” before determination.

Jefferson McCarley, CEO of Mission Bike on Valencia Street, said action should be taken sooner. “How many injuries and how many accidents will happen during that time?” he asked.

McCarley said many of his new customers, who are also new to city cycling, are frightened by the sheer amount of Uber and Lyft vehicles pulling into bike lanes, in a neighborhood that historically has a reputation for bike-friendly roads.

“They ride down Valencia [Street] and see this nightmarish experience, where they think there’s a thing called a bike lane, but there’s two Ubers into it,” McCarley said.

Data from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority supports McCarley’s observations. On one average Dolores Street block on any given Friday, there are about 280 ride-hail pickups and dropoffs. On just one block of Valencia Street near 16th Street, by contrast, there are as many as 2,190 daily pickups and dropoffs by ride-hails like Uber and Lyft.

Valencia Street between Market and Cesar Chavez streets is among the highest used ride-hail corridors in San Francisco, according to transportation authority data, rivaled only by Columbus Avenue and the downtown urban core.

“With the influx of Ubers, Lyfts and delivery trucks illegally double-parking in the bike lane, it’s become clear that the infrastructure just hasn’t kept up with changing uses and needs,” said Chris Cassidy, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

The move to create protected bike lanes on Valencia Street is part of a larger push by The City to take a hard line on Uber and Lyft on city streets, prompted by a bombshell transportation authority report that revealed as many as 6,000 ride-hails on city streets during commute hours in San Francisco’s most traffic congested neighborhoods.

“We’re not going to be able to fix our congestion problems until people in City Hall are willing to step up and admit that emerging technologies are wreaking havoc on our transit system,” Ronen said in a statement.

“We can’t blindly say ‘yes’ to every kid with a big idea and start-up funding,” she added. “We’re literally running out of room on our streets.”

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