Cyclists cross Masonic Street through the Panhandle bike path along Fell Street on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Work to begin on temporary Fell Street bike lane

New pathway expected to be ready for use in early August

Panhandle pathways may soon be much more conducive to social distancing, thanks to a long-awaited temporary protected bike lane on Fell Street that’s been green-lit after being held up in the permitting process since May.

The approximately one-mile bike lane will run directly alongside the Panhandle between Baker Street and Shrader Street. It will reduce the current number of car travel lanes from four to three by shifting the existing parking lane over to occupy the lane closest to the park.

Preston Kilgore, a legislative aid for Supervisor Dean Preston, who represents the area, said this proposal was a direct emergency response to overcrowding on the Panhandle since the start of the shelter-in-place order in March.

“Fell and Oak have both been talked about forever,” he added, so Preston’s office was able to draw on existing ideas from previous campaigns for the emergency response project and others to allow for quicker implementation.

Westbound riders will be protected by plastic posts dividing the bikeway from the street, and eastbound cyclists will continue to share paths within the park’s interior with pedestrians.

Urged by Preston, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency first proposed the bikeway in May with construction anticipated to begin in June. However, weeks passed with no changes to Fell.

A July 6 tweet said staff was “working to get the necessary project approvals, including addressing emergency access challenges.” The message provided a long-awaited update, but it also bolstered reports the bikeway was being delayed by the San Francisco Fire Department, the agency largely responsible for evaluating how street changes impact emergency access.

“Look, we’re happy this bike lane is going in. For years we’ve been advocating for it, and with the pandemic, the need is greater than ever. But we’re not happy that it took this long,” said Kristen Leckie, a community organizer with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “We’re frustrated that the SF Fire Department keeps holding up projects that have immediate safety and health impacts like this and Tenderloin Slow Streets. We’re thankful for Supervisor Dean Preston for working with us to keep this moving and push it forward.”

Fire Department officials told the Examiner on Tuesday that the Fell Street bike lane had been approved, but declined to provide further comment.

According to the statement from Preston’s office, the SFMTA will be closely monitoring traffic volumes and speeds as well as emergency response access. Additionally, the transit agency will consult with SFFD after one-month of the pilot program’s operation.

Preston’s office, which will be in “constant contact” with SFMTA and SFFD about the project’s efficacy, also reiterated the bikeway is a pilot program. Any permanent changes to Fell Street, including establishing a bike lane, would need to go through the proper approval channels with SFMTA and the Transportation Advisory Staff Committee, its statement said.

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