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San Francisco Takes a Step Back From Raised Bike Lanes

Sometimes they just can’t prevent cars from parking in the pathway.

The first, experimental raised lane on Market Street. (SFMTA)

In the battle of cars versus raised bike lanes, the cars just won a small battle in San Francisco.

The city had planned on installing a two-inch raised, mountable lane on a section of Polk Street, where, on average, cars hit one cyclist and one pedestrian every month. But now it’s scrapped that plan in favor of a more traditional lane, which will be protected with soft-hit posts.

The switch comes after San Francisco evaluated its first, experimental raised lane on downtown’s Market Street. The lane proved challenging to some cyclists since it debuted in late 2015; at least two collisions occurred (one resulting in a “major injury”) when people tried to roll up onto the path. But the main issue was the raised lane just wasn’t keeping cars away, as evident in angry social-media posts about police cars and a delivery truck blocking cyclists’ right of way.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency says it believes lanes in these kinds of heavily commercialized corridors should be protected with a line of parked cars (something Oakland recently did, with varying success). But since that’s not possible on Polk, it will have plastic barriers sticking up from a buffer zone, as depicted on the right:

SFMTA

The city will continue to evaluate raised lanes on future protected pathways. Here’s more from the transportation agency in regard to its Polk project:

To make the bike lane safer without a major delay, the northbound bike lane will no longer be raised but will be built at road level with plastic safe-hit posts and a painted buffer zone to separate it from the traffic lanes.

These measures will be more effective at deterring illegal parking and loading, and they could save on costs and time for construction. Since they won’t require changes to infrastructure like curbs, they won’t preclude further improvements.

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.