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Valencia Street merchants push city to scrap controversial center bike lane

A blurred image of a person riding a bike across a city street intersection.
A cyclist rides down Valencia at 19th St. in the center-running bike lane past several small businesses. The merchants along Valencia have submitted a letter to the SFMTA to replace the center bike lane in order to allow for more customer parking. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

Valencia Street business owners are calling on the city to overhaul the controversial center-running bike lane as transit officials consider redesigning the Mission District bikeway.

In a letter submitted on Monday, the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association urged the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to replace the center bike lane with a side-running protected lane, restore left and right turns for vehicles, and prioritize the preservation of customer parking.

"We have watched as dozens of our friends and neighbors have closed shop and know of a score more who are barely hanging on and likely to shutter in the coming months," the letter read. "As Valencia represents the largest continuous stretch of independent merchants in the nation, it occupies a special space in the city and is worth saving."

Among the key requests outlined in the letter are restoring commercial loading zones converted to parking during the pilot, assisting businesses in relocating parklets if needed, adding signage for nearby SFMTA parking lots and reimbursing merchants who are forced to demolish or rebuild parklets due to construction.

A composite image of four signs in shop windows that show opposition to a bike lane.
Business owners along Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District have posted signs in their storefront windows that read, “This Bike Lane is Killing Small Businesses and Our Vibrant Community.” | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

The merchants also proposed reducing metered parking costs for six months during and after construction to attract customers, expediting the construction schedule, and timing new bike signals with green lights to prevent gridlock.

SFMTA spokesperson Michael Roccaforte said in a statement that transit officials have been meeting with business owners in the corridor "to find solutions that meet business operational needs while improving the safe access and travel on Valencia Street."

"We’re taking a block-by-block approach to engage with these businesses and evaluate their diversity of needs that requires individual attention and dialogue with each owner and with each other to find the best solution to expand access to the curb and the Valencia Street corridor for everyone," Roccaforte said.

In February, transit officials announced they were mulling changes that included a side-running protected bikeway similar to what they had initially proposed when the pilot program was introduced in 2018. An update on what is next for the project is expected this summer.

Ever since the agency installed the center bike lane in August 2023, local business owners and others have criticized the project, claiming it has negatively impacted customer access and contributed to a wave of closures along the corridor. But officials and advocates say moving the bike lane into the middle of the roadway has improved cyclist and pedestrian safety, which was the whole point of the project to begin with.

In its letter, the association said its recommendations are aimed at making Valencia “both safe and sustainable.”

“We love this city and have a common goal of preserving one of San Francisco’s iconic streets,” the letter read. “We sincerely hope you will consider these requests with the requisite care, concern, and speed they deserve.”

Transit activist Luke Bornheimer applauded the letter, saying he would welcome SFMTA moving the protected bike lane away from the center of the street.

"Curbside protected bike lanes are proven to be safer and more effective than center bikeways and curbside parklets intuitively increase safety, comfort and the dining/shopping experience," Bornheimer said.