San Francisco’s First Raised Bike Lane Project To Keep Cyclists Safe
San Francisco’s newest safety measure for cyclists is hard to see from a distance, and its future success may be even harder to see.
A raised bike lane on eastbound Market between 12th and Gough has been installed, allowing cyclists to ride 2-3 inches above the height of the regular road, which puts them about halfway between the level of the road and the sidewalk. This measure is intended to keep riders safe from cars and trucks which have a tendency to park and pull into the bike lane without warning, not noticing or not caring that it is there.
“Raised bike lanes are an attempt to solve the fundamental problem of bike infrastructure design: drivers tend to put their cars virtually anywhere and everywhere they possibly can, rules, signs, and common sense be damned.”
Unfortunately, SFGate continues, it doesn’t seem that this particular elevated bike lane is actually doing much to improve the safety of cyclists by keeping other vehicles out of their lane.
“The bad news is that the experiment isn’t a success in its current form. It doesn’t pass the most basic test of a protected bike lane: preventing illegal encroachment from drivers. The plastic soft hit posts that previously protected this stretch of bike lane, while not perfect, were a more effective, not to mention easier and cheaper, solution here.
…Market’s raised bike lane unfortunately doesn’t succeed. There’s already anecdotal evidence—no hard data is available yet—that delivery trucks and ordinary cars are illegally making themselves right at home two inches off the ground in the newly raised lane.”
Before the raised bike lane was implemented, the city had installed soft plastic posts along the outer boundary of the bike lane to serve visual signals demarking the space to cars and trucks letting them know that they could not enter the bike lane.
The raised bike lane is an attempt to increase that awareness that the bike lane is there and is not for vehicles; however, because the height of the new lane is so low with such a gentle slope up from the street, and the plastic posts are no longer in place, it appears that the new bike lane is may not to be perceptible enough to keep motorists from encroaching on the space.
In other bike-heavy cities, such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam, raised bike lanes have worked. However, they have been implemented in slightly different ways which make them more effective. For example, in Copenhagen, the raised bike lane also has a full-height curb along the road-side of the lane, which provides a visual and a physical barrier for cars.
In San Francisco, the gentle slope of the bike lane is almost imperceptible to a car or truck pulling into the lane.
While a harsher slope or a curb might make for an unpleasant jostling of a cyclist who needs to leave the bike lane to, for example, cross the street or avoid an emergency vehicle that is pulled in close to the sidewalk blocking the bike lane, it seems that these options are the only way to truly keep cyclists safe by providing the real, unignorable barriers that they need.
“Emergency vehicles can easily drive over full curbs when necessary, and paratransit vans would stop outside the bikeway. While it’s important for paratransit vehicles to get as close to the sidewalk as possible, nearly all of our streets have parked cars next to the sidewalk. If on-street car parking next to the vast majority of our sidewalks isn’t a problem, then a small number of fully protected bikeways next to sidewalks should be acceptable as well.
…Bike lanes that are raised but not protected by a curb or other tough barrier are rare in cycling capitals, and with good reason. In its current form, the Market Street project, despite costing more than other design options, simply doesn’t function as a protected bike lane. ”
Keeping cyclists safe is everyone’s responsibility, and it is a positive sign that the SFMTA and city of San Francisco are working to find creative ideas that work elsewhere to encourage drivers and cyclists to commute safely. However, long-lasting solutions won’t come in the form of half measures.
Without a significant change in how we think about sharing our roads, any changes we make won’t truly work to keep us all safe. We will keep our eyes on this project as it develops and keep you posted on how effective raised bike lanes turn out to be in San Francisco.