Port moves to block restaurant from valet parking in bike lane

Drivers versus cyclists. It’s a fight that rolls through San Francisco as regularly as the fog, but in The City...

Drivers versus cyclists. It’s a fight that rolls through San Francisco as regularly as the fog, but in The City this week the cyclists can add a new notch in the “win” list.

The Port of San Francisco is asking transit officials to protect bike lanes along a stretch of the Embarcadero where the restaurant Waterbar is known to valet park its customers’ vehicles.

So what’s the problem with the valet parking? Well, they apparently park their cars directly in a bike lane, forcing cyclists to pull out into vehicle traffic.

And without a physical barrier to stop them, it’s a regular practice that has prompted bicyclists to complain in a flood of roughly 80 emails to the Port, and on social media.

“Hey @sfmta_muni are we working in Embarcadero now or waiting until a @Waterbar valet doors some one into traffic? Why is this establishment even allowed to operate like this?” wrote Twitter user @jdivock, last year, complaining that a car passenger may hit someone on a bike with a car door.

“Hi @sfmta_muni are you going to so something about how the restaurant Waterbar is using the bike lane on the Embarcadero as a valet staging area? Looks unsafe and illegal to me,” wrote Peter Flax, Twitter user @pflax1, in a tweet in January.

Public records requested by the San Francisco Examiner show the Port is not only pushing the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to refashion the streets to end the valet service in bike lanes, but are also pushing police to enforce parking laws along the waterfront, too.

“Good afternoon Chief Scott,” Port of San Francisco Executive Director Elaine Forbes wrote to San Francisco Police Department Chief Bill Scott on January 27. Forbes then described the valet-parking problem at Waterbar, which she also said was due to ride-hail vehicles like Uber and Lyft.

“I would appreciate it if your officers would put in extra enforcement efforts at this location by citing vehicles that are parked illegally. Enforcement will go a long way to changing behavior,” Forbes wrote to Scott. She made a similar request of the SFMTA’s Department of Parking and Traffic Enforcement.

Pete Sittnick, a managing partner at Waterbar, told Forbes in an email that he is working on “additional steps” to make the bike lane safer.

“There shouldn’t be valet parking in a bike lane. That’s common sense,” Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents part of the waterfront, tweeted Monday afternoon.

More broadly, The City has many street safety changes on the way for the waterfront.

In a tweet above, bicycling advocate Dale Munroe pushes for bike lane enforcement along the Embarcadero.

Some bike lanes with physical barriers are already planned for the Embarcadero, courtesy of the SFMTA. Those plans, which have been long delayed, got a boost after the death of pedicab operator Kevin Manning, 66, who was struck and killed by a Honda Civic on the Embarcadero in 2018. Manning’s death sparked outrage from bicylists, who demanded a faster buildout of critical protected bike lanes along the waterfront.

Hearing those calls for change, SFMTA and the Port worked to find a quicker way to implement safety changes while also working on a larger, years-long Embarcadero Enhancement Project to make nearby streets safer.

The solution is a “quick build,” a build out of bike lanes with physical barriers from Mission to Folsom Streets along the Embarcadero with more temporary materials than will be involved in the final project. The quick build could be implemented as soon as summer this year.

To read more details on the Embarcadero Enhancement Project, including an in-depth description of the quick-build project, click here.

That’s also how the Port plans to nip Waterbar and nearby Epic Steak’s valet-parking habit in the bud — the Port will ask SFMTA to extend the quick-build along the waterfront to prevent parking in the bike lane, public records requested by the Examiner reveal.

“We definitely are aware of the complaints and issues with the passenger load zone fronting the Epic and Waterbar restaurants, and are actively working with the Port to identify what engineering and enforcement actions can be taken to improve safety,” SFMTA planner Casey Hildreth wrote to Port staff in a January 8 email.

In that email, Hildreth said the SFMTA could protect the bike lane by ‘floating’ a vehicle passenger load zone to an adjacent location, shuffling it a bit away from that bike lane. In order to do so, SFMTA would remove the nearby northbound left-turn onto Folsom Street, and narrow the center median toward a streetcar stop with a wheelchair ramp.

“These changes allow us to push the two vehicle travel lanes closer to the center of the roadway, giving us room to provide a pedestrian travel aisle between the loading/parking lane and bike lane,” Hildreth wrote. “People getting dropped off or picking up their vehicle would have a safe space to enter or exit their vehicle distinct from the bike lane, but would have to cross the bike lane at the start or end of their trip from the restaurant.”

It’s a bit of a compromise, the staffers admit in those emails, but they would also extend the passenger loading zone for the restaurant and bar, which they hope will stem the need to block the nearby bike lane.

Much of the call for change has come from one cyclist who is known in transportation circles to push for change, Dale Munroe. He filed extensive records requests, one of which revealed Water Bar had pledged to park its vehicles in a parking lot at Pier 26 in a city permit application.

“They are not doing this, instead leaving cars unattended in white zone or bike lane,” Munroe wrote on Twitter in January.

Public records reveal pages-long screeds by Munroe, which were cited by government officials, along with transit advocacy news outlet Streetsblog.

The public records request revealed a letter directly from Port director Forbes to Munroe, promising increased bike lane enforcement, street safety enhancements, and a new two-way bike lane.


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