Two cyclists ride along Howard Street in a new protected bike lane between Fifth and Sixth streets. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF to streamline approvals for protected bike lanes, other safety improvements

Proposal could cut as much as three months off time needed to implement projects

San Francisco may soon tear up the red tape delaying the construction of some protected bike lanes.

While some street safety advocates are over the moon about the idea, others worry it doesn’t go far enough to make The City’s deadly streets safe to walk and bike.

A proposal up for approval Tuesday by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors would give city staff the authority to create “quick build” protected bike lanes without the approval of the SFMTA board.

Staff would also be empowered to enact other street changes without going before the SFMTA board, including creating transit boarding islands, designating blue and red parking zones, establishing stop signs, prohibiting right, left or U-turns, establishing restrictions against red-light turns, and establishing multiple turn lanes.

The new proposal comes on the heels of Mayor London Breed’s directive to transit leaders to make walking safer, and build 20 miles of protected bike lanes in two years.

“These policies align with the Mayor’s directive to make our streets safer and to save lives by streamlining the delivery of critically important improvements,” said Jeff Cretan, the mayor’s spokesperson, in a statement.

Quick-build bike lanes usually feature bendable posts separating bike lanes from car lanes, and are easily taken out, an SFMTA staff report said. More permanent concrete bike lanes or bike lanes that use vehicle parking as a barrier, for instance, would still require SFMTA board approval.

As for the less permanent quick-build bike lanes, staff would still need to run those proposals through a City Hall engineering hearing to give the public a chance to voice concerns. But cutting the SFMTA board out of the process would save projects up to three months of time, staff argued in a report.

The Mayor’s Office said that last part is key.

“There will still be a public hearing for people to weigh in, but to make our streets safer for all we can’t continue to slow down public safety projects with layers of bureaucracy,” Cretan said.

Advocates and other experts are divided on the proposal.

Charles Deffarges, a senior community organizer with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, told the San Francisco Examiner the organization is in full support.

“This new quick-build policy is truly game-changing and could not come sooner,” he said in a statement. “Too many times, the City’s ability to make our streets safe for everyone is caught up in unnecessary bureaucracy as people continue to be hit and killed on our streets.”

Jodie Medeiros, director of Walk SF, said “we are glad that SFMTA is trying to streamline the process” but added she would also like to hear how the agency would prioritize safety changes. “We’re interested in understanding what the transparency is in how they’re building on the streets,” she said.

The new proposal would streamline The City’s clunky, slow approvals process, said Jason Henderson, a San Francisco State University geography professor specializing in urban streets, but he thinks there’s a deeper, systemic problem holding San Francisco back from engineering streets to be safer.

The Board of Supervisors is at the heart of that problem, he said.

“There is a pervasive aura within SFMTA planning staff that makes them very reluctant to pursue bold, transformative bicycle infrastructure because of political interference by individual supervisors and neighborhood naysayers,” he said.

Notably, the Board of Supervisors recently granted itself the power to appeal SFMTA street changes that they disagree with.

SFMTA staff are already proposing the first locations of potential “quick-build” corridors where streets could be made safer: Alemany Boulevard from Congdon to Putnam Streets, California Street from Arguello Boulevard to 18th Avenue, Seventh Street from Folsom to 16th Street, Golden Gate Avenue from Polk to Market Street, Howard Street from Embarcadero to Third Streets, Leavenworth Street from McAllister to O’Farrell Street, and Valencia Street from 19th Street to Cesar Chavez Avenue.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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