Despite Increased Attention SF Bike Lanes Routinely Blocked by Cars Trucks

In March of 2019, a woman was killed riding her bike along Howard Street in a bike lane. She swerved to avoid a door opening from a parked car and was run over by a box truck. After an outcry from the biking community, the mayor of San Francisco vowed to increase enforcement of bicycle lane violators by 10 percent.

Many feel that these efforts, while a step in the right direction, are not having an impact on reducing the number of bike lane violators. This begs the question is what good is a bike lane if its filled with cars?

In a recently published article by SFGATE, the news site sent out observers to monitor bike lanes and found that of those they monitored, there was a violation almost every minute. The violators ranged from ride share drivers like Uber and Lyft, to delivery trucks, pop-in shoppers and even a city bus that didn’t pull fully up to the curb to get out of the bike lane.

Out of the violators just under half were cars pulling into the bike lane earlier than they should to make a right-hand turn. So even if you leave these out, that still makes a violation one every two minutes or so.

So what can be done to keep the bike lanes clear and safe?

City Enforcement of Bike Lanes

California vehicle code prohibits anyone from driving, stopping, parking or blocking a bike lane, and a violation is a ticket for a fine of $238 and one point on driving record if convicted. But if not enforced, most would feel that this law would do little to stop the violators and by extension, keep cyclists safe.

The perception is that enforcement isn’t happening and if it was, would it be enough? However, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), there were 1,168 tickets written in May to bike lane violators which was an 11 percent increase from April’s numbers.

But it is working?

Vision Zero

To its credit, the city has initiated enforcement efforts to make bike lanes actual lanes for bikes. In 2014, San Francisco became the second city to adopt the Vision Zero plan to completely eliminate traffic deaths in the city by the year 2024. The plan began in 1997 in Sweden to combat traffic deaths and injuries and has since spread to cities all over the world.

The program is a data-driven enforcement effort to target death and injury hotspots across the city based on previous accidents. In San Francisco, the city has identified a “high-injury network” where 70 percent of traffic deaths and injuries happen in 12 percent of the city’s streets.

At present, there has been some indication that the program is having an impact. In 2013, there were 34 deaths and in 2018, there were 23, and up to August 15 of 2019, there have been 20.

SF311 Reporting App

The city has also in place a cell phone app called SF311 that allows users to report violations as they see them. Initially, the app only allowed people to report violations, and the data would be used to affect future enforcement efforts. However, starting in April of 2018, a new feature allows users to file a complaint with the city for specific violations.

Once the complaint is made, the user can track the case until is it marked either “unvalidated” or a “citation issued” or “resolved” in some other way.

The program has seen mixed results. Some users excitedly report that a ticket was issued based on their complaint, while others say that the issue was marked resolved when it in fact no citation was issued nor had any enforcement officers shown up. The vast majority of complaints are marked unvalidated because the driver had left before the officer had shown up.

Bike Lane Safety: What Works?

This is the $64,000 question. What will work? Vision Zero has had both optimism and its fair share of criticisms. To be fair, five years of data is too small of a sample to show either way, but an eleven-point drop in traffic deaths seems to be a good start.

But for bicycle riders in the city, the only real safe option is to have protected lanes. In the tragic on Howard Street (one of the spots in the high-injury network) bicycle advocates are quick to point out that if she had made it another 100 feet, she would have been in a protected lane and most likely would still be alive.

So is the only option to create all protected lanes for all streets in the city? Multiple studies show that bike lanes reduce injuries and deaths by as much as 50 percent and protected lanes by as much as 90 percent.

Enforcement Issues

Human behavioral theorists have long held that before enforcement of a law can be considered a deterrent to behavior, justice must be swift and severe. Critics of Vision Zero and current enforcement plans feel that currently neither are present. The likelihood of getting caught is statistically small, and even if one is caught, the punishment isn’t that severe.

According to the SFMTA fine schedule, a fine for parking in a bike lane is $100 while parking in a handicap blue zone is $875, and we all have seen the empty handicap spots every time we go to the store. Who knows, maybe this is the answer, to raise the fines to a level that makes a violation too risky to take.

   

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