Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Panhandle project: No stop signs for cyclists


Howard Chabner sends a message to City Hall:

Dear Mayor Lee and Supervisor Breed:

SFMTA performed a preliminary feasibility study about implementing bike lanes on Fell and Oak along the Panhandle, from Baker through Stanyan. Attached is the Final Memorandum dated August 22, 2016 from MTA. There have been articles recently in The Examiner, Hoodline and other media about the possibility of these bike lanes. 

The linchpin of the project is that cyclists in the bike lanes wouldn’t be required to stop for red lights at the intersections of Fell and Oak with Lyon, Central, Ashbury, Clayton, Cole and Shrader (emphasis added).

I’ve lived on Fell near Clayton since 1988. I use an electric wheelchair, spend a lot of time in the neighborhood, and cross the Panhandle several times each week. 

I emailed MTA and received a response dated January 9 from Luis Montoya, Livable Streets Director, stating that “…at this time the SFMTA does not have an active project to reduce lanes on Oak and Fell” and “SFMTA has not studied this in detail and does not have funding programmed to do so at this time.”

Although MTA doesn’t have current plans to implement this project, I believe it’s important for you to be aware of the possibility, features and problems of such a project.

The project described in the Final Memo includes:

· Moving the parking lanes on the South side of Fell and the North side of Oak away from the Panhandle, and constructing one-way bike lanes. The parking lanes would “float” away from the curb, like those on JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park; people parking wouldn’t have a curb to guide them.

· Reducing the number of vehicular travel lanes on Fell and Oak from four to three.

· Bicyclists in the bike lanes wouldn’t be required to stop for red lights at the intersections of Fell and Oak with Lyon, Central, Ashbury, Clayton, Cole and Shrader---pedestrians crossing Fell and Oak couldn’t rely on the red lights but would have to make sure no cyclist is coming. Indeed, the ability of cyclists to go fast and not have to stop at traffic signals would be a major attraction of the bike lanes. (See Final Memo, page 12)

· Around 75 of 280 parking spaces on the South side of Fell and North side of Oak along the Panhandle would be removed. (These would be in addition to the parking spaces lost on Masonic due to the Masonic project (all spaces on both sides of Masonic from Fell through Geary), and those lost elsewhere in the neighborhood to exclusive use by corporate shuttle buses and car sharing rentals.)

· Cyclists could continue to use the existing pedestrian/bicycle path in the Panhandle, besides using the new bike lanes.

As mentioned, the linchpin of this project would be exempting cyclists from having to stop at red lights along Fell and Oak. In discussing the intersections of Fell and of Oak with the “minor cross-streets” (Lyon, Central, Ashbury, Clayton, Cole and Shrader), MTA says something remarkable: 

“The preferred control for the protected bike lane at these 'T' intersections is to exclude it from the traffic signal, allowing bicyclists to proceed through the intersection without stopping unless a pedestrian is crossing the bikeway. Due to the relatively low pedestrian volumes at these intersections, it is expected that people using the protected bike lane would routinely violate the signal if required to stop during every pedestrian phase, creating unpredictability and likely conflict between users on foot and on bicycles. This treatment also recognizes that in order to attract many bicycle commuters, the new protected bike lanes would need to be time-competitive with the existing multi-use path that has the advantage of a single traffic control signal for the length of the Panhandle.” (Final Memo, p. 12)

Also: “Pedestrians would be required to wait for gaps in bicycle traffic to cross the protected bike lane (which may present new challenges to people with low or no vision).” (Final Memo, p. 12) 

This is extraordinary: MTA is actually arguing that, in order to attract bicycle commuters, and because bicyclists are likely to ignore the basic traffic laws that require them, like motor vehicles, to stop at red lights, cyclists should be rewarded for their anticipated bad behavior by not being required to stop at red lights. MTA would prioritize the convenience of bicyclists who want to ride very fast and not stop at red lights above the safety (and convenience and time-sensitivity) of pedestrians. 

At their peril, blind people and those with low vision would have to suck it up and deal with the “new challenges” the bike lanes would present whenever they crossed Oak or Fell! Under the project, besides keeping their ability to use the multi-use path in the Panhandle, where of course there are no traffic signals (nor should there be), cyclists would have a second path around 50 feet away where they would not have to stop at traffic signals. 

If this project were implemented, a pedestrian making a round trip across the Panhandle would have to avoid four streams of zooming cyclists in these bike lanes---twice at Fell, and twice at Oak. That doesn’t include having to look for cyclists on the multi-use path in the Panhandle twice; but that’s necessary because it’s legitimate for cyclists to use that path, and that path has been part of the fabric for decades. So pedestrians making a round trip across the Panhandle would have to cross the path of fast-moving cyclists a total of six times.

MTA cites no data or other support for its statement that pedestrian volumes are relatively low. Based on my experience of crossing Fell and Oak at Clayton, Cole and Ashbury countless times in the 28 years I’ve lived on Fell Street, I strongly believe that the pedestrian volumes at these intersections are not low. When I cross at these intersections, there are almost always other pedestrians crossing at the same time; often there are many.

The multi-use path in the Panhandle is already one of the most protected bike paths in San Francisco---there are no cars, and therefore no conflicts whatsoever between cars and cyclists. Instead of this bike lane project, that path should be repaved, smoothened, better lit, and, if justified by the volume of pedestrian and bicycle traffic, widened. In fact, Rec and Park is planning to improve this path and the other one in the Panhandle (and to make other improvements in the Panhandle). 

One hopes that the reason MTA isn’t studying this project in detail is not primarily because of lack of current funding for a study, but because of a recognition of the many problems that would be inherent in this project or any similar one, especially one that exempted cyclists from stopping at red lights and that actually aimed to attract more cyclists because of this exemption. 

The project described in the Final Memo would endanger pedestrians (especially seniors, people with mobility and vision disabilities, small children and those in strollers), increase congestion, delays and pollution, make the shortage of on street parking even worse, and increase conflicts between motorists and cyclists. 

Moreover, exempting cyclists from stopping at red lights along Oak and Fell would violate California law and set a dangerous precedent for other streets in San Francisco.

The Masonic construction currently underway is causing major congestion, delays, more drivers circling in search of parking, potholes, extremely uneven pavement, uncertainty, dust and other pollution from the excavation and construction, and other impacts on the neighborhood, and the work on Hayes is adding to the mix. The final impact of the Masonic project won’t be known until after completion, which is still a year away. Now is not the time to even contemplate any additional road projects, bike lanes or parking removal in this neighborhood.

Finally, it is essential that MTA notify the entire surrounding neighborhoods, not only residents along Fell and Oak, if in the future it contemplates any changes on these streets, including the bike lane project analyzed in the Final Memo, and do so in a timely, meaningful and effective manner.

Thank you for considering this email.

Howard Chabner

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At 9:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great letter. Too bad it's a done deal. The first phase of this plan was the original removal of parking for bike lanes on oak and fell between Scott and baker. Panhandle Area is phase two.The feasible study is bullshit. All that really means is should we start the project now or later.

Look out for a "feasible study" for Lincoln. The arguement will be bikes need a connection from the panhandle. Parking will then be removed all the way down to the great highway(accessibility to the beach)

Horse shit. It sucks that this letter will fall on deaf ears.

At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You don't get it...this is the camels nose poking under the tent. The MTA and SFBC long term goal is to make driving and parking impossible. They are already on their way to accomplishing this. They screwed up 9th street and Division last month by doing away with three lanes one way north, down to two. And they added some weird pedestrian island instead of the existing corner.

At 2:00 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I "don't get it"? Hey pal, I've been on this issue for more than ten years.

At 7:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 12:25 , Rob has been waging a losing war of obstruction since before you were in diapers. Have some fuckin respect for your elders.


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