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What Happens When Transit Lanes Block Off Bike Lanes?


It’s not news to any regular cyclist that sharing the roads in San Francisco is a constant battle.

Even as the city attempts to improve bike lanes and general conditions for cyclists (sometimes effectively, sometimes not), they also seem to be working at the same time to make life more difficult for cyclists.

The latest development in this story of “one step forward, two steps back” evolution of San Francisco’s roads is a new crop of bright red lanes that have been popping up on roads all over the city.

First it was the strangely raised bike lanes downtown; now it’s brand new, bright red lanes of “transit only” traffic in the Mission and all over the city of San Francisco.

San Francisco’s latest attempt to improve traffic flow has been to apply bright red coverage to lanes that are intended only for buses and Muni traffic. The goal of these lanes is to reduce violations by cars parking and driving in transit-only lanes and improve safety and flow on the streets. However, they don’t take into account a huge percentage of the people using the roads who these lanes reduce space for: cyclists.

These new red lanes — while they clear space for buses — often occur right in the areas where cyclists are able to ride most safely through the city, on the right-hand side of the road.

More troubling is how these lanes stop and start. A cyclist can be riding legally along the right shoulder of the road and suddenly find themselves in a red lane, competing for space with a bus that may or may not see them and having to quickly navigate to a new route, which often requires them to cut across traffic.

Streetsblog SF reports:

“In cases where SFMTA is putting the “red carpet” on streetcar tracks, bikes continue to ride to the right, on whatever infrastructure is available (and on most streets, that means not nearly enough). But in other cases, for example, on the recently red-treated Mission Street, SFMTA is putting the buses in the right-hand lanes. That puts Mission Street cyclists in a confusing and often harrowing predicament.

‘We’ve been requesting clarity for years on whether people biking are permitted in lanes designated transit-only,’ said Chris Cassidy, Communications Director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. ‘The SFMTA’s reluctance to offer that clarification encourages unpredictable and ultimately unsafe behavior on streets like Mission and Market, which are both high-injury corridors.’”

This lack of clarity and a uniform policy makes it confusing and dangerous for cyclists, who are already marginalized on the streets of San Francisco.

While the red lanes are perhaps an effective idea for keeping transit lanes clear (although there is already debate as to whether right-hand lanes even make sense for buses which can often move much more efficiently through a dedicated center lane instead), they also don’t take into account the many other people who use the road and who will be affected by sudden lane changes and unclear rules about who is allowed to be where.

These lanes are just another example of the city not thinking holistically about everyone who uses the roads in San Francisco. As they attempt to improve life for buses, they endanger cyclists by reducing, relocating, or simply removing the spaces they have available to ride safely.

What we need — and what has been so successfully implemented in cities around the world, in particular in European cities like Copenhagen, Denmark — is a city strategy that takes into account everyone who moves within the city. Cyclists, pedestrians, cars, taxis, trucks, and buses all need an infrastructure that supports their movement and keeps them safe.