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City College doesn’t want a new bike lane. It’s getting one anyway

A city street with a bike lane symbol, cars on the road, and a parked motorcycle to the right.
A car drives next to the existing bike lane on Frida Kahlo Way next to City College of San Francisco. SFMTA plans to widen the bike lane and install safety posts to separate it from vehicle traffic. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is moving forward with building a controversial bike lane project adjacent to the City College of San Francisco despite objections from the school’s leadership.

The SFMTA Board of Directors voted unanimously on Tuesday to greenlight the half-mile-long protected bike lane along the main drag of the City College Ocean Campus. The vote was the final hurdle for the street safety project, which will also modify bus stops along the route running on Frida Kahlo Way from Ocean Avenue to Judson Avenue and two blocks east on Judson Avenue.

Construction is slated to begin this summer and will eliminate 29 parking spaces.

“I don't think it's fair for a lot of people to say, ‘Oh, it's just 29 parking spots.’ Do you know how many thousands of students come from different counties to park there?” City College student Jess Nguyen said during public comment before the vote. She pointed out that students may put the money they save parking in the free spots along Frida Kahlo Way towards school books and that City College attendees haven’t received the free transit passes that regional transportation officials have made available to students at other Bay Area schools.

A map shows the proposed Frida Kahlo Way quick build project.
A map outlines the current Frida Kahlo Way Quick-Build Project proposal. | Source: Courtesy SFMTA

“It is a challenging one for me to vote for,” SFMTA Board of Directors Vice Chair Stephanie Cajina said, recognizing the outpouring of concern from City College students and leaders. But she took comfort in the fact that the project will be part of the SFMTA Quick Build program, which implements projects that are reversible if they don’t work out.

“If we do have a firm commitment to say this is a quick build in its true form, and we are committed to adjusting its design within a year’s time if need be, then that’s something I feel more comfortable with,” Cajina said.

As part of approving the project, the board instructed SFMTA staff to return a year after construction wraps to share how the project has impacted the community.

When SFMTA initiated the Frida Kahlo bike lane proposal in spring 2023, officials thought it would be “relatively uncontroversial.” Instead, it became the latest battleground in San Francisco’s long-running conflict between city officials who want to transform streets to better accommodate cyclists and local advocates who believe that preserving parking is essential to the health of neighborhood businesses and institutions.

The project faced staunch opposition from City College, whose campus straddles the public streets it would reshape.

A cyclist in black attire and helmet rides a yellow bike on a sunny city street with cars and traffic lights.
A person rides their bike along the existing bike lane in front of City College of San Francisco that runs along Frida Kahlo Way. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

While the bike lane project will eliminate less than 1% of City College’s parking supply, it's coming at a time when the school’s entire parking infrastructure is in upheaval. 

City College has plans in place to get rid of nearly 1,800 parking spots, roughly 60% of its cache. The city transferred ownership of one of the school’s main parking lots to a developer group, which plans to build about 1,100 housing units on the Balboa Reservoir site next year. There is an academic building being built in the other primary parking lot for the school, and a new theater building is also slated to go up in that car park. To address the loss, the school is preparing to put out a request for proposals to build a parking structure on campus.

“This isn’t just about parking or biking lanes,” said Emma Heiken, a legislative aid for Supervisor Myrna Melgar, who supports the project. “This is about a greater vision for our city. This is about generations of San Franciscans commuting together on their bikes.”