San Francisco must prove dedication to bike initiative

Three short blocks are about to show whether city officials are truly serious about increasing bicycling in San Francisco.

Today, the directors of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency are set to discuss the addition of buffered bike lanes to three-block stretches of two separate streets that are among the most traveled by cyclists and cars heading between the western and eastern sides of The City. But to enhance the safety of cyclists, The City would have to remove parking spaces from the streets.

The two roadways are Fell Street, a one-way street heading west, and Oak Street, a one-way street heading east.

The stretch of road in question extends from Baker Street on the western side to Scott Street on the eastern side.

The stretch is a thoroughfare for motorists driving from the western neighborhoods to downtown and the Bay Bridge. But it also is the flattest route for cyclists to take when traveling between downtown and the western neighborhoods. This combustible commingling of bicyclists and fast-flowing traffic has left some two-wheeled commuters feeling unsafe along the stretch.

On Fell Street, a narrow bike lane currently runs between a row of parked vehicles and a lane of traffic. On this stretch of Oak Street, there is no bicycle lane, and cyclists have to ride in a lane shared with vehicles.

The proposal is to construct lanes that are physically separated from traffic on this stretch of both streets. The lanes would connect the Panhandle in Golden Gate Park, which has a path that cyclists can use, and the widely used route known as the Wiggle, which winds through the Lower Haight to avoid steep hills.

Early plans for the added bike lanes considered removing a lane of traffic, but that idea was shelved because of the inconvenience it would have imposed upon drivers. The final idea would result instead in the reduction of parking spaces — 55 fewer spaces, to be exact.

Advocates for the proposal, including the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, say the new lanes would increase cycling since more people will feel comfortable riding through the area. Opponents say the neighborhood needs the parking spaces.

This project has been well-vetted through community meetings and public outreach, and we believe the transit agency has selected the design that will be least disruptive while still accomplishing the noteworthy goal of making bicycling through the area safer.

San Francisco has set a lofty goal of having 20 percent of the commutes in The City occur via bicycle by 2020. But to get beyond rhetoric and actually move more people onto bicycles, San Francisco officials have to look at busy thoroughfares, such as the two in this proposal, to consider how to make them safer for bicyclists.

In some instances, the improvements can occur without any changes for motorists. In other cases there will be trade-offs, such as these proposed improvements to Fell and Oak streets. But a cars-first approach cannot be the norm moving ahead.

This vote can prove that San Francisco is willing to make tough choices in its transit-first policy. We urge the board to approve this project.

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