SFMTA engineers, SF Bike Coalition Director & Neighbors walk tracks

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Janice Li, Mike Sallaberry, Alan Uy, and concerned neighbors at 17th & Church.

John Entwistle reporting on Thursday, July 28, 2016 — Janice Li, Advocacy Director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition arrived on bicycle a half hour early for the meeting at the notorious intersection of Church and 17th St. She was studying the flow of traffic and bikes when she noticed me across the street measuring the street lanes. We spent a productive half hour discussing the problem and various solutions. Janice made the point immediately that the city is data driven and the better our documentation of the problem the better our chances of getting it fixed.

While we were talking several neighbors joined our group including a professional musician, a professional nurse and a public relations expert who lives nearby taking many pictures. At 5:30 SFMTA Engineers Mike Sallaberry and Alan Uy rolled up 17th Street on their bikes and we basically initiated a little brainstorming session right there on the spot. The setting was great with bikes rolling through, cars doing all the stuff they do including one who pulled right into the bike lane next to us to drop someone off.

The Separated Bike Path Proposal

Removing all the cars on the North side of 17th Street from Church Street to Castro Street and dedicating that space to a two way separated bike lane is the only other way to end these terrible bike wrecks. The logic is airtight, the goal is worthy and doing this would increase the value of every property on the block. The politics is the downside. There are 24 spaces on the school side of 17th St. and 20 more on the next two blocks headed toward Castro St. that would be impacted. The barrier would be similar to the one on Oak Street.

Several benefits to riders of this world class Dutch style separated two way bike path running from Church Street to Castro Street. First, it would be safe. No more cars and no more tracks. All of that would be on the other side of a low concrete barrier. Second, bicyclists headed south on Sanchez Street would no longer have to cross tracks to turn left on 17th. That alone would eliminate a percentage of serious accidents.

The third benefit is to riders who aren’t here yet. All the new development on Upper Market Street at the Castro Street and Noe Street end of this bike path is being approved by the City Planning Department recognizing bicycles as the transportation component of their permits. This means bike lockers and amenities  instead of parking spaces and many new riders in the future. Also the Bay Area Bike share program is expanding in force into this area with a major Blue Bikes Station at 17th and Sanchez. Even more totally inexperienced riders coming right here.

The fourth and not by any means insignificant benefit is the low cost and high efficacy of this plan. It would virtually eliminate a terrible problem going back decades and stop the flood of expensive (read:multiple million dollars each) lawsuits that are about to stem from this problem being unresolved. The City does not have the luxury of waiting any longer and fortunately the separated bike path proposal combined with the One Way Street proposal are so low cost to implement its practically negligible.

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Janice Li, Advocacy Director,SF Bike Coalition speaking while SFMTA engineers Mike Sallaberry and Alan Uy (Right) listen intently.

17th St. & Church St.

I started the list off with a call for curb cuts for wheelchairs on both the Western corners of that intersection because the tracks cut the corners so tightly. Janice Li echoed this point with her observation of a person in a wheelchair having to navigate that corner to get out of the intersection, as she said,”it wasn’t pretty.” We discussed ways to cure that corner such as better paint to get motorists more aware and even intersection art which has been used in some places but apparently DPW (or someone) really objects to.

I have to say, Janice Li was really intrigued by the challenge here and I think will bring some good counsel to the table as she researches further within her contact base through the Bike Coalition. We discussed flange filling but Mike Sallaberry says he is always looking for that and there’s still no product that would work for our situation.

While we had agreed to discuss the removal of tracks at another time there was one part of that agreement that we waived by consensus. The one track that hugs the corner of 17th and Church closest to Everett Middle School. That one spur connects the Southbound Church Street line to the Westbound 17th Street tracks and it basically isn’t gonna be used for a long time, if ever.

It is also the most dangerous spur of the whole system on that corner because of its interaction with bikes headed toward Castro Street. Filling that one spur where it crosses the walkways and bike path is doable and would stop a percentage of the ambulance calls right off the top. Mike Sallaberry agreed to go to bat for that idea at SFMTA for us. No guarantees.

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SFMTA Civil Engineer Mike Sallaberry taking careful notes next to his bike.

And one last set of photographs added later (8-31-2016) to illustrate the drop off/pick up problem at this specific corner. Here, by Everett Middle School on the North West Corner of Church and Sanchez SFMTA did a lot of painting and signage to try to guide vehicles through this especially dangerous corner. Bikes have to cross the tracks at certain angles or they get caught and crashes ensue. And if a MUNI train ever turned that corner it would need a clear area as well.  So a bunch of paint went down on the pavement and a sign was erected to tell motorists they can’t park there. Voila, instant Uber drop off spot. vlcsnap-2016-08-31-12h35m52s060

Pushing the bicyclists into harms way.


The One Way Street Proposal

So we discussed ways to simplify the traffic flow at two key intersections, Church and 17th and Sanchez and 17th. This is where the One Way idea comes in. Running all traffic (except MUNI trains) Eastward all the way to Church Street or even Dolores Street would keep cars from turning West onto 17th Street, especially at Church Street. It would also eliminate the use of 17th Street as a highway to the Haight.

Everything has its pros and cons and the two potential downsides to the One Way Proposal are the turn off effect at Church and 17th (or Dolores & 17th) where drivers are forced to turn left or right en mass. One remedy discussed for this was crossing lights for bikes where the bikes get five seconds or so to cross before the cars. The other issue is the potential for drivers to go faster because the road is one way.

We discussed different forms of speed bumps for traffic calming on 17th Street. SFMTA likes the classic bump and raised platform type infrastructure for this purpose. They say neighbors complain about the noise associated with the smaller micro bumps (the oversized Botts blocks that are sometimes used.) Good to know!

17th & Sanchez Streets

We stopped and examined the pavement in a number of places on 17th. At the Sanchez Street intersection we noted the need to complete the intersection crosswalks. We also added another local idea to the mix.

A small change was proposed for Sanchez Street from 16th to 17th Streets where cars park perpendicular to the sidewalk. This means vehicles back out right into the bike path. The main bike route from 17th Street to The Wiggle. A local homeowner who bikes to his job as a Lieutenant in the San Francisco Fire Department suggested that if these cars backed into those spaces they wouldn’t threaten bikes while pulling out.

Mike Sallaberry wrote that down and remarked that the experience of SFMTA in these cases is that the parking spaces need to be angled slightly to make that idea work. The cost would be a space or two due to geometry. But it is great idea, don’t be surprised if it happens. He also added that because its a school zone the thresh hold is much lower for implementing safety upgrades on Sanchez Street such as speed bumps and curb bulb outs.

Another idea we discussed here was raising the separated two way bike path as it crosses the 17th Street and Sanchez intersection next to the crosswalk. The bike path becomes a slight speed bump or speed platform, if you will, requiring the driver to be more cognizant of bikes. Perhaps a dark green raised bed would be even more striking.

Mike Sallaberry has definitely tuned into the flange concern from our online photos. He even recognized the one on Prosper and 17th Street from our archive. He fully agrees that the pavement needs some work, soon. We looked at the transition from T rail to grooved rail by Health Center One. I suggested that if the tracks were to stay that they should be upgraded to the higher standard all the way to Church St.

17th & Noe Streets

At Noe and 17th we noted the eroded condition of the pavement. This relatively narrow small street bears quite a load with the streetcar tracks and the car traffic and the bikes trying to pass through it all. The point was made that perhaps more maintenance is needed to make it all work. Once again the bike path could be raised in this area as it crosses Noe Street.

Also, as we observed this corner, Mike Sallaberry mentioned that the  crosswalks could be improved by using some slightly better style of demarcation. I confess I didn’t fully visualize his idea but he wrote it down and hopefully we’ll see something there.

The idea of fresh crosswalks is about getting drivers to respect the ‘hood. When the walkways are faded drivers start thinking they are in the ghetto and their driving reflects this belief. It’s psychological.

At Hartford and 17th we paused to look at the spot where the crosswalk ends in this giant step-up curb on the North Side of 17th. For ADA it seems a good place for a curb cut, perhaps with a bulb out. Mike noted that if a person in a wheelchair calls 311 and reports that they cross there every so often and need a curb cut, The City will run out and do it. Okay.

17th & Castro & Market Streets

Now for the fun part, Jane Warner Plaza. Here our interest was mostly ADA and concerned itself with the open flange ways that crisscross the plaza, the pedestrian pathways and crossings. The SFMTA engineers had already seen the proposal on paper so it was pretty easy. They basically agreed that filling in these areas west of the F-Market stop made sense. Mike was interested to hear that the Castro Merchants were also planning some resurfacing of the street to make the plaza better and that they would be doing that at some time soon. I suggested they could combine efforts and make a nice smooth and accessible plaza.

Crossing Castro Street to the final exhibit, the flanges in the crosswalk that are filled in completely right there where you can see them to the west of the crosswalk and wide open in the crosswalk itself. Ass backwards as they say. Finally the SFMTA Engineers broke into laughter the point was so blatant. It only took 25 years but at last the people in charge are going to fill that rut that crosses Market Street catching bikes flying downhill off Twin Peaks.

Overall,  great tour. Much work to be done and if you don’t see your idea here don’t think it is lost. Every idea is on the table. This article was a compromise on speed of publication versus listing every detail. I will add more ideas at the bottom as a general reference list.

The problem now is waiting for a plan from SFMTA. That will take some time but Mike Sallaberry and Alan Uy promise that it is not going to the back burner this time. We may not (probably will not) get everything but we will get a bunch of things and hopefully we will solve this intractable problem at long last.

Additional Comments — addendum

Here I want to add a couple of comments I harvested off Nextdoor because they are great input and I want them out there for all of us and the SFMTA folks to read when they visit this page.

Matt Brezina from West Dolores 22 Jul writes:

All crosswalks should be raised where possible (clear counter examples are where mini tracks run). Cars should enter the pedestrian realm to cross a street, instead of pedestrians entering the car realm to cross the street. All corners should have curb bulb-outs to slow cars and decrease pedestrian crossing distance. And finally, on longer blocks, we should have mid-block bulb outs or raised platforms to keep car speeds below 20mph, a speed under which the likelihood of a ped/biker dying is dramatically decreased. Thank you for working on this important issue. We have massive work to do in this city/country to retrofit our roads for safety/transport-equity vs maximizing car throughout. Cheers!

Jonathan Dirrenberger from Central Noe Valley wrote:

I agree with Matt’s comments: we need bulb-outs, daylighted intersections, and raised crosswalks. As for the bike lanes, they should be protected, so on the other side of the parked cars. This is especially problematic west of Sanchez with the Muni tracks which are causing a lot of injuries to bicyclists, often because cars are double-parked in the bike lane forcing bicyclists onto the tracks:

But as noted, this would require removing one side of street parking. While this is an inconvenience to some, it surely is worth inconveniencing some to improve the safety of bicyclists (and in fact everyone, since protected bike lanes have been shown to make roads safer for everyone, not just bicyclists: http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry…). Of course, by removing parking from one side, that side’s bike lane can’t be protected by cars so I would like to see the city add planters (not just paint or soft-hit posts) to protect bicyclist, like what has been done on Oak/Fell St.: http://sf.streetsblog.org/wp-content/upl…

Gianna Segretti from West Dolores wrote:

I live on Prosper Street, which is only accessible via 17th Street. Eliminating Northbound automobile traffic on 17th Street between Church and Castro would be an absolute nightmare for me and my neighbors. I am adamantly opposed to turning 17th Street into a one way street. I am all for bike safety, but we must share the road. The major problems I see are the uneven Muni tracks and pavement going up 17th and on Church. I think a better first step is fixing the pavement and removing the unnecessary MUNI tracks so cyclists are not forced to weave.

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