The reviews are decidedly mixed for the new Valencia center bike lane, with some saying it’s safer, and others alarmed that it “sandwiches” bicyclists between two lanes of moving cars.
We all had a good laugh last week, when Mission Local reported that pranksters had altered the signs on the new Valencia Street “center” bike lanes to display messages like “Uh, good luck turning right” and “We regret this bike lane.” And while construction remains underway on the still-incomplete center bike lanes between 15th and 23rd Streets on the Valencia corridor, the Chronicle reports that cyclists are highly polarized in their opinions on this center bike lane experiment, with the paper noting this center-lane model was “never utilized in San Francisco and rarely seen in other cities.”
Yes those signs are amusing, but there’s nothing funny about the multiple bike accidents that have occurred during the construction phase. The main problem seems to be confusion over a highly counterintuitive layout, though there are also reports of motorists basically using the bike lane as a passing lane. Streetsblog even published a “Don’t Bike on Valencia” op-ed, and it appears many cyclists agree.
At least 2 people crashed their bikes in the last 3 days in the new Valencia bike lane at 23rd st, one was hospitalized. The lane isn't officially open, but it's used anyway since the alternative is dealing with cars tailing you all the way down Valencia. @sfbike @SFMTA_Muni pic.twitter.com/auQmJyuYYv— DylanY (@Dylan_Why_) June 17, 2023
To be fair, though, there is some support among cyclists from these center bike lanes — including from the SF Bicycle Coalition, which advocated for this one — and you’re certainly less likely to get “doored” by a car under the new design. Supporters say they’ve seen fewer cars parked in bike lanes with the new layout, and cars seem to be traveling more slowly on Valencia in general.
“I feel more comfortable riding with my kid on the back of my bike than I did before,” KidSafe SF organizer Sara Barz tells the Chronicle. “It’s not perfect by any stretch, but, in my opinion, it’s an improvement."
The Valencia Meatgrinder was somehow designed in a way that is worse for drivers, riders, and pedestrians. And the roll out has been criminal. We were sold a quick build. There hasn’t been anything quick about its buildout.— Ruskin Landreth (@RuskinLandreth) June 21, 2023
That’s not consensus opinion, as others have called the new layout "The Valencia Meatgrinder."
"The center bikeway is flawed at a fundamental — and potentially fatal — level," sustainable transportation advocate Luke Bornheimer tells SFist. “It sandwiches people between two lanes of driving cars, locks people into the bikeway making it more difficult to visit local businesses along Valencia, and discourages people from shifting trips from cars to active transportation (e.g. bikes, scooters, skateboards).”
The design can still be altered, as the center lane is a year-long pilot program (and the “year” hasn't even started yet, with construction still underway).
“SFMTA can replace the center bikeway with curbside protected bike lanes within months if the Agency and Mayor Breed made it a priority,” Bornheimer adds. “Our city and the planet need them to make it a priority, and the SFMTA Board can take immediate action to correct this flawed and dangerous decision.”
Earlier this afternoon, I saw this XPO Logistics truck easily drive over the curb and park in the bike lane. What’s the plan here @jeffreytumlin, @sfbike, and @SFMTA_Muni? You actually think adding K71s every 20ft will stop this? This design is a disaster waiting to happen pic.twitter.com/FmB1a4oSVj— Bill (@willie__gus) June 22, 2023
And the top brass at SFMTA already sound resigned that the pilot program will be scrapped. “We are hoping that three years from now this will not be the design for Valencia,” SFMTA director Jeffrey Tumlin tells the Chronicle. “But what we’re trying to do is to buy time while we rethink our original plans for Valencia and raise funding for that.”
Those plans could include shutting down part of the street permanently to car traffic (this seems unlikely), or turning much of it into a one-way street with a dedicated bike lane on one side.
So the Valencia center bike lanes feel like a brand new TV show that the network has already decided to cancel. The question is how much collateral damage might happen in the meantime.
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist