After three years of delays and broken promises, the fate of a dangerous but vital bike route in San Francisco will be decided on Oct. 16. Oak and Fell streets, one of the few major east-west byways in the city, carries tens of thousands of cars each day, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Right now, there is no bike lane on Oak, and the stripes on Fell are only two feet wide with no buffer, putting cyclists inches from heavy traffic.
But all that could change. If the transit agency gives it the green light, the perilous Oak-Fell corridor between Scott and Baker will gain needed concrete barriers and wider bike lanes, according to SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose and bike advocates.
“This has been a long push,” said Leah Shahum, president of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a vocal advocate of the project.
If passed, separated bikeways, crosswalk enhancements, traffic signal timing changes, and parking mitigation measures would be installed by the end of 2012, Rose said, and construction of bulbouts and a concrete bikeway barrier would be put in by the summer of 2013.
The project has met repeated delays, despite Mayor Ed Lee’s promise that it would be done by the end of 2011.
A section of the major bike route “The Wiggle,” its the only game in town if you’re a cyclist who wants to cross the city from east to west. But not everyone favors the fix.
Blogger and anti-bike activist Rob Anderson, who sued San Francisco for not performing proper studies on bike lane projects in 2005, calls it a slap in the face to people who must drive to work.
“It shows no sympathy or understanding for working people in the neighborhood,” Anderson said. He bemoaned the loss of parking as particularly harmful to residents in the area, which would lose 35 parking spaces, according to SFMTA data. “It’s all about making cyclists comfortable.”
Shahum agrees with Anderson on that point, arguing that's the best way to encourage more people to get on a bike. “Poll after poll, survey after survey say that the biggest deterrent to biking is safety,” Shahum said. Its not just about the accidents, it's also about people perceptions.
If the bike lanes were more safe, more cyclists would ride them, Shahum said. This would pave the way towards San Francisco’s goal of increasing bike ridership to 20 percent of trips made in San Francisco by the year 2020, which is enshrined in legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors two years ago. Currently, about 3.5 percent of bike commutes in the city are by bicycle, a 71 percent increase from 2005, according to the city’s “2012 State of Cycling Report.”
One San Francisco politician says that the city wasn’t pedaling fast enough on the redesign. District 5 candidate Christina Olague sent a letter to the SFMTA two weeks ago urging the transit agency to pick up the pace and break ground by year’s end. That may have been a factor in SFBC's subsequent decision to give Olague it's top endorsement, with Julian Davis gets its number two spot.
Shahum said the SFBC plans to turn out its members on Oct. 16 to ensure passage of a project it has sought for years: “We can breathe when it's over.”