An intersection in the Glen Park neighborhood has become the poster child in the fight over the placement of bike share docking stations in neighborhoods.
During morning and evening rush hours, the block of Randall Street between Chenery and San Jose Avenue is a mess. The narrow street is clogged with commuters trying to get to I-280, school buses, and parents double parking their vehicles to drop off kids at Dolores Huerta ElementarySchool (formerly Fairmount).
Motorists entering Randall from Chenery often have to back up into the intersection so buses and trucks going the other way can get through. Adding to the chaos, school kids — without the benefit of crossing guards — run across the Randall/Chenery intersection to a market to get drinks and snacks before school.
Now the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is considering putting a GoBike docking station on that intersection next to the school. Supporters say that the location is highly visible and has ready access to Chenery, the traditional bike route to the Glen Park BART. Its location will provide a “transit opportunity” for parents, teachers, and school staff, encouraging them to get out of their cars.
Opponents argue that people backing bikes out of the docks will step into traffic, further compromising safety at an already congested and chaotic intersection. Many neighbors of the proposed Randall station – along with then-Supervisor Jeff Sheehy – only learned of the plan when they saw notices for an SFMTA hearing on July 6, 2018 to approve the site. School was out of session and many residents were away for the holiday.
Site selection apparently began in February 2017, at a community workshop held at the Excelsior Library (not in Glen Park). Nothing in the event notification, however, mentioned Glen Park.
Fewer than two dozen people reportedly attended the workshop. No proposed locations were officially announced. Yet GoBike supporters cite this planning workshop as a community meeting that supposedly informed the public about the Randall plan.
The Randall neighbors, feeling blindsided, showed up at the July hearing to oppose the site. In response, SFMTA put the proposal on hold, adding to several. Proposals for several GoBike locations around The City are on hold partly over concerns about inadequate public outreach to affected neighborhoods.
But what does “on hold” really mean? Is there a time limit? At what point is a site just removed from consideration? Or will it be quietly approved if it looks like neighbors have stopped paying attention? SFMTA did not respond to questions about this process before deadline.
The limbo has left those on both sides upset. “I think it’s insane that it takes two years to get permission to repurpose three of the city’s 275,000 parking spaces,” says Mike Schiraldi, who supports the Randall GoBike station. “I bike past the proposed location every day during drop-off hours, and it really doesn’t seem that bad.”
Opponents disagree, and have proposed alternative sites within a block or two of the Randall location. “We prefer to move the station to or toward the protected bike lane on San Jose Ave,” says Chris Faust, who lives nearby. “That bike route is the safest route between Randall Street and the village of Glen Park and BART. … We ought to be promoting its use over Chenery, which is the old bike route.”
“I don’t oppose bikes or bike rental stations,” Faust continues. “I am opposed to installing a station in a particularly bad location.”
Opponents have asked SFMTA for copies of any traffic safety studies conducted at the site but, so far, have received nothing. “We are simply stunned that monitoring real-time traffic conditions is not part of a responsible protocol in selecting sites,” Faust and others wrote in an October letter to Supervisor Rafael Mandelman.
The decision on where the bike share stations would be located was made by Motivate, the company that operates GoBike, not SFMTA. Last year, Lyft bought Motivate which is now called Lyft Bikes and Scooters. The company has rejected the alternatives suggested by Faust and others.
A statement from Jean Walsh, Community Affairs Manager at Lyft Bikes and Scooters, said, in part, “In every neighborhood in which we operate, we work closely with local communities, SFMTA, and elected officials to identify feasible locations for bike share stations that meet community needs.”
Last September, after hearing a presentation by Motivate as well as public comment from critics, the SFMTA Citizens Advisory Committee recommended that the SFMTA expand public outreach policies for bike share station locations to give more residents more time to comment. The committee also recommended that the SFMTA Board, not staff, be required to give final approval for proposed docking locations. The recommendations seem a tacit admission that public outreach at the Randall site was not what it should have been.
There are currently 1,500 bikes available through GoBike at over 150 docking stations, primarily on the northeastern section of The City. The company plans to double the stations – and triple the number of bikes – in the coming year.
This expansion will likely generate even more backlash if the SFMTA and Lyft don’t work with all potential stakeholders – neighbors, schools, and merchants, not just bike share supporters – to get their input before sites are selected.
As for the Randall location I am wondering: Do we really need to add a bike share docking station to the chaotic mix?
Sally Stephens is an animal, park and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area. She is a guest columnist.