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In win for cyclists, attempt to stall upper Market Street bike lane fails

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Cyclists ride down an unprotected bike lane on Market between Duboce and Octavia streets on March 6 in San Francisco. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

The latest conflict between the San Francisco Fire Department and advocates for bike lane improvements played out Tuesday when a citizen attempted to stall Market Street bike lanes, citing fire safety.

Yet, in a win for cycling advocates who lobbied against the project’s delay, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to allow the Upper Market Safety Project to move forward.

“I’m not contesting the underlying project,” David Pilpel, the citizen filing the appeal, told the board. “I do not think it needs to be a debate at the board of bicycle safety versus fire safety access.”

The Upper Market Street Safety Project includes a suite of pedestrian and bicycle safety measures on Market Street between Octavia Boulevard and Duboce Avenue, including a parking-protected bike lane.

SEE RELATED: Despite safety concerns, Upper Market protected bike lanes approved

Pilpel, who is widely known at City Hall as a citizen watchdog who formerly served on the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, argued that the San Francisco Fire Department’s concerns that the bike lanes would interfere with fire operations were not given their proper weight.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency visited the site multiple times with the San Francisco Fire Department, staff said during the meeting.

Pilpel also contended that the Planning Department may have exempted the project from environmental review incorrectly, since the SFMTA changed aspects of the project after it was exempted from review.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin told SFMTA staff, “I’m a little sensitive to not blowing it,” adding, “next time, if you’d just do it right.”

Members and staff of both the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and Walk SF said the urgency of new protective measures on upper Market Street has never been greater.

“Not a week goes by where I don’t see a close call or experience fear while on my bicycle,” Natasha Opfell, a Walk SF organizer, said.

And, citing concerns that Supervisor Jeff Sheehy would support Pilpel’s exemption, angry bicyclists bombarded his office with at least 400 emails demanding he clear the project and deny the appeal.

Sheehy said the project was “urgently needed,” adding, “my first job in San Francisco was as a bike messenger downtown, so I know bike safety has to be a top priority.”

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