Cyclists create a human-protected bike lane along Market Street near Octavia Boulevard on Monday in protest of the modifications to the parking-protected bike lane. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Bicyclist advocates bemoan new design for long-delayed upper Market Street bike lane

A long-planned — and long-embattled — parking-protected bike lane on upper Market Street will see major changes to allow fire engines to access the street.

Parking-protected bike lanes place cyclists between cars and the sidewalk, so the cars provide a buffer.

But the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s controversial deal with the Fire Department would change those street parking spaces, meant to protect cyclists, into white loading zones. Bike advocates claim the changes will imperil the lives of cyclists.

That bike lane was approved by the SFMTA Board of Directors in May, and remained in limbo as the SFMTA and Fire Department debated how to modify the project to meet concerns that fire engines would not be able to access buildings during emergencies.

That led the upper Market Street parking-protected bike lane to see a month-long delay in implementation, according to SFMTA staff. Negotiations concluded last week, but were not revealed to the public until Tuesday.

“We should be able to start some preliminary, non-capital work next month,” SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin told the San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday.

The Fire Department confirmed the deal, but said the jury was still out on the project.

“Last week the SFFD and SFMTA met and reached a tentative agreement,” Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White confirmed in a statement. “We are awaiting SFMTA’s proposal for SFFD final review.”

Reiskin told the Examiner that the compromise would see the parking spaces along the parking-protected bike lane turned into white loading zones on Market Street from Octavia to Buchanan streets.

“It was a tradeoff we felt was reasonable to make to provide vehicle access to the building, but not impede the fire department in the case of a fire,” Reiskin told the Examiner.

But the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition contended the compromise puts cyclists in danger. By allowing more parking spaces to remain empty more often, those parked cars won’t be available to buffer cyclists from traffic.

“Given what we know, we would not consider this new design a protected bike lane,” bike coalition Executive Director Brian Wiedenmeier told the SFMTA board at its Tuesday meeting.

On Monday night, the site of the future bike lane saw a protest of more than 70 people. Cyclists clad in yellow shirts formed a human chain along upper Market Street’s bike lane to highlight the danger cyclists face every day.

The protest was joined by state Sen. Scott Wiener, Supervisor Jeff Sheehy and supervisor candidates Rafael Mandelman and Nick Josefowitz.

“I have an enormous respect for the Fire Department, [but] the MTA approved this plan, these protected bike lanes, and the MTA has the power to implement them tomorrow,” Wiener said.

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