Valencia Street’s new center bike lanes are likely to remain the center of controversy after yet another accident, this time a driver making a U-turn and colliding with someone riding a scooter in that center lane.
The accident happened a week ago, but we’re just learning of it now thanks to a Thursday Mission Local report about the scooter rider using the Valencia Street center bike lane being hit by a driver making a U-turn. This reportedly happened at about 3 p.m. last Friday, October 20, at the intersection of Valencia and Sycamore Streets.
A driver making an illegal U-turn on Valencia Street struck a scooter rider in the controversial Valencia center bikeway last week.— Mission Local (@MLNow) October 27, 2023
The woman’s injuries were not life threatening, but she was taken to the hospital.
via @miss_elenius https://t.co/Eddwppvz0d
And it’s sure to cause more scrutiny of the unusual center bike lanes, which opened in August, and feature an unconventional arrangement where the bike lanes are sandwiched in between two lanes of automobile traffic. Some cyclists who feel the design is unsafe have taken to referring to the center bike lanes as the “Valencia meatgrinder.”
Yes there are protective bollards around these bike lanes. But as seen above, in an image taken right where this accident happened, there are also sizable gaps between the bollards. Drivers might not even realize they aren't supposed to drive through that area.
The victim is a woman who has not been identified, but SF Fire Department Captain Jonathan Baxter told Mission Local she suffered injuries that were not life-threatening. That site also notes that the driver was cited for making an illegal U-turn in a business district.
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
But U-turns, whether illegal or not, may be a factor that the SFMTA did not consider when they approved the unconventional design in April. As the above tweet reminds us, there were multiple bike accidents in the center bike lane before it was even completed.
And it's not unprecedented that confused drivers simply drive right through the Valencia Street center bike lane, oblivious to the fact that they’re doing anything wrong.
“SFMTA’s Valencia Street center bikeway is unintuitive and dangerous,” sustainable transportation advocate Luke Bornheimer told SFist, after news of the latest accident broke. “One person has already been killed on Valencia since the bikeway was installed, and countless people have been injured as a result of the center bikeway.”
That fatality in September killed a pedestrian, and may or may not have been related to the bike lane. That accident occurred within a half-block of where the scooter accident occurred, and involved a driver making a left turn from 18th Street onto Valencia Street. But the whole new arrangement is likely confusing to some drivers, and of course, making a left turn onto Valencia does take cars into the bike lane for a brief bit.
SFMTA says they’re monitoring the situation, but aren't about to make any changes yet. “We are fully committed to the pilot and its evaluation and reporting process,” SFMTA spokesperson Stephen Chun told Mission Local. “We will know more about changes in collision patterns once we’ve completed our initial rounds of pilot evaluation.”
There’s also the complaint that Valencia Street merchants say the new bike lanes are hurting their business revenue and delivery logistics. At an SFMTA board meeting last week, the SFMTA Citizen Advisory Committee said in a statement that it “recommends abandoning the unintuitive and dangerous center running bicycle lane pilot on Valencia and refocusing the street towards its corridor needs."
Many bicyclists want the center lanes torn out and replaced with protected bike lanes along the curb side. “Mayor Breed and the SFMTA Board of Directors must immediately direct staff to replace the center bikeway with curbside protected bike lanes or pedestrianization of the street before more people are killed and injured,” Bornheimer told SFist. “Curbside protected bike lanes and pedestrianization are safer for all people, better for business, and more effective at fighting climate change, as shown by data in San Francisco, New York City, and countless other cities around the world.”
The Valencia Street center bike lanes are intended as a year-long pilot project that will be reevaluated, though one wonders if they'll even stay in place for the full year. And in fairness, some bicyclists like the design. If you have thoughts on the matter, you can let SFMTA know your opinion on the center bike lanes by sending an email to the email addresses at the bottom of this page.
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist