Cyclists and transit advocates have long sought safety improvements on Valencia Street, a major north-south route through the Mission District that’s been known to have higher rates of serious or fatal collisions. But before they’re even finished, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s new center-striped bike lanes have some bike riders begging for an alternative.
Since construction began on a bikeway down the center of Valencia Street between 15th and 23rd streets a couple months ago, there have been at least two reported cyclist crashes related to the installation in progress. Cars, meant to be separated from the middle, have continued to drive down the middle lane, barreling through the freshly installed buffers.
Although signage directs cyclists to use the full vehicular lane until construction is complete, many choose to ride down the incomplete bikeways, which are separated by rubber curbs, to avoid cars and all the tension that can come with them.
To prevent serious injuries—or worse—other cyclists are avoiding Valencia altogether.
“I’ve seen nearly everything that could go wrong, go wrong,” said Luke Bornheimer, a transportation activist behind Better Valencia, which opposed the design before it was approved. “I don’t think there’s any salvaging this.”
The transit agency approved the controversial design in April as a pilot through October 2024. By moving bike lanes from between the parking and driving lanes to the middle of the street, the agency said it will roughly double the number of loading spaces on the nightlife- and retail-heavy Valencia. Previously, the heavily used street had seen a great deal of double-parking at all hours.
The project also reduced the number of general parking spaces by about roughly one-fifth while creating 40 new metered parking spaces on side streets.
Overall, the redesign was intended to make the area safer for cyclists and pedestrians. From January 2018 to December 2022, there were 132 collisions causing injuries on that stretch of Valencia Street. In January, a driver fatally struck a woman while turning left on 16th and Valencia. Cyclists make up 45% of all collisions in the area due to unsafe turning, lane changes and vehicle passengers opening doors that cyclists can crash into, according to the SFMTA.
This is why cyclists have sought a protected bike lane along the curb, which was once proposed for Valencia between 19th Street and Cesar Chavez Street but not presented as an option to the SFMTA Board of Directors.
Though the project is a pilot, cyclists like Bornheimer fear that the longer the design is in use, the likelihood increases that people will get seriously hurt or killed.
While neighborhood cyclist Parker Day thinks it will be safer for cyclists once construction is complete, he agrees with Bornheimer that the final result will be worse than what came before. He has also called into question the design and reasoning behind it.
While cars can easily hop over the new curbs, cyclists may simply crash. Further, there are only limited spaces for cyclists to enter and exit. Spacing is especially tight for bikes with cargo, such as parents riding with children seated behind them, Day added.
“People are going to hit that curb, and they’re going to fall, and I hope they don’t get hurt and run over when it happens,” Day said. “It’s the only option SFMTA was willing to try. I don't understand how the MTA could’ve decided this is better.”
The transit agency said staff reached out to transit agencies in Washington, D.C., and New York, which have center-running bikeways, for guidance and best practices. Spokesperson Stephen Chun said SFMTA is aware of two collisions in the bikeway, one of which the San Francisco Police Department confirmed to the agency.
“The SFMTA proposed this configuration because it was the best design alternative available, given the physical and contextual circumstances and constraints along the corridor,” Chun said. “SFMTA will continue implementation, and once the pilot officially begins, we will evaluate the design and make design revisions as needed.”
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