SFMTA

The idea is to keep motorists out of cycling space.

This fall, San Francisco will become one of the elite few cities in the United States to build a raised bike lane.

The city's Municipal Transportation Agency will oversee the construction of an elevated pathway on Valencia Street in the southern Mission District. The curb-hugging lane will be raised about 2 inches above the road surface, and will measure 6-feet wide with an additional 5-foot "buffer zone." The city will follow up with a handful of other raised lanes next year, all planned for areas with high rates of bicycle injuries.

As a showcase project, the Valencia path will stretch for only a block. But cycling activists sound pumped, nonetheless. "We're really excited about bringing [the lanes] to San Francisco," says Tyler Frisbee, policy director at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "Like all protective bike lanes, they help people feel safe on the road, create more predictable traffic patterns, and encourage people who otherwise might be nervous to ride on busy streets."

Raised lanes are a relatively new concept in the United States, though they've been around for a while in Europe. The idea is that by jacking up the path a bit, motorists will be less likely to stray into cyclist space. Cyclists, meanwhile, won't feel as compelled to ride on the sidewalk in heavy-traffic corridors. It's a minimalist form of what's known as a protected bike lane, and one that's not as in-your-face as, say, defensive lines of bollards or planters.

"Unlike a protected lane with a physical barrier, these require a little less space to obtain the same safety results," says Frisbee.

The raised lanes planned for Masonic Avenue. (SFMTA)

The initiative could help San Francisco get closer to its goal of having 8 to 10 percent of the population cycling by 2018. (It was 3.5 percent in 2010.) When the new pathways debut, the city will join the tiny cabal of American raised-lane enthusiasts, including Chicago, Milwaukee, and Bend, Oregon.

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