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San Francisco Makes a Guerrilla Bike Lane Permanent

Score a victory for the city’s anonymous league of cycling-safety advocates.

SFMTrA

Since debuting this year, the anonymous San Francisco Municipal Transformation Authority has installed more than a half-dozen interventions in the city to protect cyclists, mainly in the form of orange cones that barricade bike lanes from cars.

Their goal is not just to reduce traffic accidents, but to put “pressure on the [San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency] and public officials to make proactive, rapid, and substantive improvements in street safety,” they write on a new website. And the pressure might be working: The city has decided to keep one of the SFMTrA’s fortified lanes until it can build its own version.

The lane sits at the entrance of Golden Gate Park on the same road where a cyclist was fatally struck in June by a driver in a stolen car. (It was one of two deadly hit-and-runs on cyclists on the same day.) The SFMTrA’s standard cones have disappeared in lieu of white-plastic paddles, which they say are better in the long run: “While we love the psychological impact of orange cones (drivers intuitively slow down around them), we have noticed that our orange cone installations get pretty banged up after a day or two…. The traffic delineator, sometimes called a safe hit post, or soft hit post, is a more permanent tool to keep cars out of bike lanes and mark pedestrian crossings.”

On Saturday, the city announced on Facebook the unpermitted lane will stay, for now:

Generally, we have no choice but to remove cones and posts that do not go through an official process because it’s a code violation to place objects in the roadway, and they could create conflicts for various types of traffic.

In the case of JFK, our hope has been to install our own safe hit posts, pending a final review process, so we plan to leave these in until we can replace them.

We certainly understand that people are passionate about safety. We are too. In 2010, we had zero miles of protected bike lanes and buffered bike lanes in San Francisco. Since then, we’ve installed 27 miles of bike lanes that are either protected from traffic by things like parked cars or curbs, or have a space buffer between them and vehicles so people on bikes are safer.

The SFMTrA comments via email:

It's important to note that while we want to show how easy it is to make quick fixes, at the same time we want to draw attention to the importance of rapidly accelerating work on larger projects: whole street transformations that will make pedestrians and cyclists safer. It’s not enough to build protected bike lanes a few blocks at a time, for planning processes to drag on for years, and for safety improvements to be watered down by those who want driving and parking to be convenient.

This particular installation was inspired by a Twitter user and cyclist who reported nearly getting hit by a large bus that veered into the bike lane while making that turn. We wanted to show that an improvement at that location would be easy, cheap, and could be done quickly.

The group is promising to erect more of these interventions, and has already crowdsourced more than $1,000 to put safe-hit posts on a new raised bike lane downtown.

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.