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Controversial bike lane in middle of SF’s Valencia Street approved by transit bosses

Mission resident Tony Partono rides along Valencia Street. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

San Francisco transit bosses unanimously approved plans for a controversial bike lane down the center of Valencia Street on Tuesday.

The plan approved by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board would change the layout of Valencia Street from having two unprotected bike lanes along the sides of the street to having a two-way protected bike lane sandwiched between traffic lanes.

The pilot program would continue for one year after the San Francisco city traffic engineer says the installation is complete.

Valencia Street is among the most dangerous streets in the city. It is among the 13% of San Francisco streets that account for three-quarters of all traffic deaths and severe crashes, according to data from the city’s public health department as part of a “High Injury Network” study.

A Lyft/Bay Wheels bike is taken from a station on Valencia Street in the Mission District. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The plan for a protected center-running bike lane between 15th and 23rd streets has been criticized by some bike activists, who have called the plan dangerous.

READ MORE: SF Wants a Bike Lane in the Middle of This Busy Road. Locals Think It’s ‘Dangerous’

‘We need bold, courageous leaders to do what’s right’

Transit activist Luke Bornheimer repeated those criticisms and said the design creates a “bike highway” that could discourage stopping or squeeze bicyclists in between traffic, possibly making it unsafe for kids and seniors to use.

Bornheimer has suggested a different layout for a plan called “Better Valencia,” which would create protected bike lanes along the sides of the street rather than through the middle. Bornheimer said that having bike lanes on the sides would be safer, motivating more people to bike down Valencia, and would help to boost business traffic.

“We need bold, courageous leaders to do what’s right for the city and planet, and this plan isn’t it,” Bornheimer said. “An alternative exists.”

Supervisor Hilary Ronen, who represents the area, said that she supports the center-running bike lane plan, but acknowledged it has been met with substantial criticism.

“Many of us aren’t in love with a center-running bike lane, but something needs to be done to improve biking conditions on Valencia,” Ronen said.

Cyclists wait for the signal at Valencia Street at 23rd Street in San Francisco. | Camille Cohen/The Standard.

In a city poll of 618 respondents last year, only 13% supported the center-running bike lane plan.

“The merchants are split on this: There are some who want to try it out, and some who don’t, and some who wonder why it isn’t on Van Ness,” said Manny Yekutiel, who is an SFMTA board member and president of the Valencia Merchant Corridor Association.

“We believe this is a safe proposal that will work on Valencia. We are also fully committed to the pilot evaluation and reporting process, including making any changes necessary in the future up to and including replacing the center-running facility,” the SFMTA tweeted.

SFMTA spokesperson Stephen Chun said in an email that there are space constraints that made a side-running bike lane plan unfeasible, including the existence of parklets, which have reduced available commercial loading space.

The main concerns from the community include issues accessing the sidewalk from the center bike lane and enforcement of double-parking violations, according to the transit agency. The plans will allow for feedback and changes in the future after the pilot is finished.