More San Franciscans Share 17th St. Bike Path Horror Stories

1-EclairMandown3
“How many will have to fall before they heed the bike lane call?” — Eclair Bandersnatch, 2016 from her “Man down on 17th St.” series.

The Hoodline article from last month elicited a lot of responses from people across the city who have their own tales to tell about their personal encounters with the 17th Street MUNI tracks. I thought I would post a few of them here for the public record.

Dan •

As somebody who has biked this route hundreds of times, saying the condition is fine outside of a pothole is pretty unsatisfactory. If the tracks on 17th cannot be made more bike friendly or removed, I think serious consideration needs to go into making 16th or 18th more bike friendly. 18th in particular is already a very slow moving street that goes right by a park that a lot of people bike to.

When I’m biking west at night and there is less activity and traffic I’ll often bike up 17th, turn left at Dolores (and if I see traffic I’ll *gasp* use the sidewalk on Dolores), turn right at 18th and just bike up 18th for the next half a mile to get home. Staying out of the door zone and off those tracks on 17th street is certainly more dangerous than dealing with 18th.

hailfromsf •

These particular tracks are dicey for scooters too.

Jason Stallcup •

I clam-shelled my rear tire going over these tracks. I managed to stay on my bike and not fall over but my rear tire looked like a taco after it got stuck. And, I went over the tracks at about a 45 degree angle, which I figured would be more than safe. Super dangerous for bikes. I personally see/hear (if they are behind me) probably 3 crashes a year in this stretch, especially when it rains.

pch1013 •

I live half a block from 17th, and I ride my motorcycle down that stretch every day. I’ve learned to treat those tracks with the utmost respect – especially when they’re wet. In fact, the only time I’ve ever crashed my motorcycle in 20+ years of riding was on those tracks on a wet day.

Now, whenever it rains, I carefully re-route my commute so that can I cross all sets of tracks at a 90-degree angle.

vlcsnap-2016-08-22-23h14m07s888
“Beware Tracks + Cracks & Tar with wear.” — Eclair Bandersnatch, 2016 from her “Man Down on 17th. St.” series.

Eric Theise •

I have not fallen due to the tracks on 17th St.

I have fallen–I broke my wrist–getting stuck in the streetcar tracks while crossing over into the inbound left turn lane at Market and Laguna. I mention this because, like Rachel Masters, I chalked it up to bad luck (or inattention) and didn’t report it. Previously, SFPD had refused to take a report when a car rolled into my back wheel and crushed it in front of the Hall of Justice so it was difficult to imagine which city agency would take a report from a cyclist who fell down on his own at the crack of dawn.

Thanks to John Entwistle, Jr., for taking action on this.

John Entwistle responded:

God Eric, you bring back a memory and an issue. I had the same experience: SFPD refused to take a report when a motorist hit me from behind in stopped traffic on Montgomery Street between Bush and Sutter. And even in the case of the Mother and two kids four fire trucks showed up but no cops ever. This is a related and important observation that must be acted on. Thank you

als •

I have a problem with giving the F car priority over peoples’ safety. To me the F car is a tourist line (I know, some locals do use it) and should be dropped. That would allow the rails at 17th and Church to be removed, cause less traffic on Market Street (where we say no to cars but yes to the F tourist line?), and allow the Jane Warner Plaza disaster to be be re configured.

Don’t get me started on what I think when I see diesel MUNI buses subbing for the F cars. And for historic value the cars can run as E trains on the Embarcadero.

Andrea Cross •

I’ve fallen at that intersection — going around a double parked car. One solution is to ban parking on the stretch of 17th from Church to Hartford. If the city is serious about alternative modes of transportation this should be seriously considered. Or at least big “no double parking” “Danger to … (Sorry,this got cut off.)

shamelessly •

I’ve been biking in SF for a couple decades now and have hated that block of 17th St ever since it became part of an otherwise amazing bike route. Last fall I biked that block on a drizzly day. Someone I assume was a parent waiting for a child at the school was double parked, and I had to ride around them onto the tracks. Coming off, my tires lost traction on the rails and I fell over. I bruised my hip and was pretty much immobilized for the next 3 days.
I realize the presence of the school means there will always be a lot of cars there a couple times a day. But if the Muni tracks can’t go, then the logical alternative is to remove the parking altogether on the westbound side of the street. I know residents who own cars think free on-street parking is an inalienable right, but something has to give in the interest of safety.

saimin •

Wouldn’t surprise me if more bicycle crashes in the city were caused by streetcar tracks than by collisions with cars. I have read that some cities are making tracks safer for bicyclists. If that can’t be done in San Francisco, the city should make the bike lanes wider near tracks so that bicyclists can more easily see the tracks and maneuver around them. Right now, bicyclists often have too little space between the tracks and parked cars.

vlcsnap-2016-08-22-15h45m44s294
“The Door Lane Does Not A Safe Bike Path Make.” — Eclair Bandersnatch, 2016 From her “Man Down on 17th St.” series.

truckproductions •

here’s an easy solution for bikers.. stay off 17th.. bikers won’t be happy in this city until every roadway bans cars and muni.

Which brought the following responses:

David Gouldin to truckproductions

If you look at the official SFMTA bike network map ( https://www.sfmta.com/sites/de… ), you’ll notice 17th St is the primary east-west bike route through the Mission and Castro. Please don’t tell us not to use a route specifically designated by the city as being for bicycle traffic.

Jason to truckproductions •

Can’t stay off 17th, it’s THE bike lane that goes East/West. Other nearby streets are not good alternatives as they have no bike lane and are more dangerous because of this. Thank you for your understanding kind soul.

Hunter to truckproductions •

17th is the major bikeway connecting from the Mission to Sanchez, which is the start of the Wiggle – one of the most trafficked routes to the Western half of San Francisco. 17th already has a marked bikelane (unlike 18th and 16th). It’s a bit ridiculous to suggest that we are talking about “every roadway,” when in fact the article is discussing a couple of blocks on a single, high-use street.

Kristin •

Yes, the one time I fell off my bike it was from getting my tire caught in the tracks on 17th between Church and Sanchez after going around a double parked car by the school. It really seems like it’s the double parking that is causing the problem. I wonder if it would work to turn the parking spots into a loading zone so bikes can pass without crossing the tracks.

Elias Zamaria •

Several years ago, I was riding east on 17th, and my wheel got caught in the tracks where the tracks split up near Church. I fell and sprained my ankle. I think this part of 17th can and should be improved.

Chris Beckmann R94110 •

I live a block away at Sanchez & 18th and have gone down on the tracks more than once, as has my husband. A safe bike passage east is more important to our community than a few parking spots.

doctorstev •

Have ridden this stretch literally over a thousand times (and I’m a pretty experienced cyclist). Fell once after getting stuck in the tracks as I tried to avoid a swerving cyclist. Hurt myself pretty bad. My wife also got caught at 17th and church and fell and broke a rib. Because of that she now rides up 16th or 15th. I’ve done that ride with her and it’s definitely more dangerous with the car traffic (and no bike lanes). Also witnessed a few other cyclists crashing from the tracks. Since this is the dedicated east/west route, it is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with ASAP.

pickles94114 •

My hubby also crashed here, again trying to get around a double-parked car.

I’m not a lawyer, but given that the city fully admits it’s aware of the hazard yet is taking no measures to mitigate it, doesn’t that expose it to lawsuits? Does someone really have to be severely injured to get it fixed?

penjsface

I don’t feel any safer a block north or south… the traffic moves so fast. Also, everyone I know who bikes to work through that intersection (including both my wife and I) have fallen there.

GoatLegSF

18th can be sketchy, but if you take the lane it’s a step up. 16th isn’t much better as far as traffic goes, but it’s at least two lanes.

The last time rolled through the 17th/Church intersection a friend I was with fell and broke a hip. I felt terrible for taking that route knowing how sketchy it could be.

sutrostyle

I crashed there in 2012 and broke my ipad. My bike’s front wheel got caught in the track.

stronglift_cyclist

Top of Form

I saw someone today with an ambulance next to them on the tracks right by Guerrero and 17th. There’s a real problem there, you don’t realize how dangerous those tracks are until you’ve gone down on them.

Kraam Excelsior

Guess that 9 billion budget isn’t enough to properly maintain SF’s roads.

I live at 17th and church for the last 5 years and I have personally witnessed (and assisted) at least 5 bikers injured by crashing into the tracks. They are very dangerous and I support any effort to improve their safety. By the way, the multiple tracks are also very loud and our walls shake each time a muni bus goes by. I would like to see the unused tracks removed for multiple reasons.

Crashed in this exact spot. Almost the same circumstances. Still a bit too scared to ride in the city anymore with no health insurance.

I feel like an iteration of the SF Bike Plan proposed bike lanes along this stretch of 17th St that would have been buffered, placed along the curb. It would have necessitated the conversion of street parking. Yet, this is what we’re left with.

Also, bicycles and streetcars can mix well – think of Amsterdam. Though Amsterdam’s tram tracks don’t look like the close-up photo above.

I’ve hit the pavement twice because of the tracks. There’s got to be a way to put rubber or wire mesh over the top that the streetcars can compress and still use the tracks but bike tires don’t fit in.

 

I’ve crashed in the tracks at 17th and Church twice over the past 15 years.

The tracks at that intersection and on 17th ARE more dangerous than in other places in the city because of their crude construction and the narrowness of 17th St.

For fellow cyclists, I’d recommend wider tires like 38s and keeping them a little underinflated. More rubber makes it easier to ride on this city’s well worn streets and even makes crossing tracks easier.

Of course, slowing down or stopping to wait for traffic to pass is the best advice when there’s a hazard.

For SFMTA, I’d recommend pouring concrete for those tracks to make the surface more even, a light at that intersection that gives bikes a 5 second head start, and signs addressing cyclists AND drivers.

This doesn’t need to be a bikes vs cars debate.

““I expect to see a lot more bike traffic on that stretch of 17th soon,” [rider David Gouldin] said. “These are likely to be inexperienced riders and unlikely to be wearing a helmet, since they’d have to carry their own to the bike share station.”

“I love that the bike share is coming here. I just hate to think about the number of unsuspecting patrons injured by the streetcar tracks … My big concern is how much worse this problem is going to get.”

Clearly, more signage should be added, particularly at a new nearby Bike Share station. In fact, every bike share station in the city should have signage specifically mentioning streetcar and cable car tracks. But bicyclists have an obligation to understand the hazards of the areas in which they operate, even if the state doesn’t require them to pass any tests to operate that vehicle on busy urban streets (lest we forget the pedestrian killed by a speeding, red-light running cyclist at Market and Castro last year).

And really, suggesting that public transit infrastructure that has been used and soon will again be used by streetcars that carry 23,000 riders a day — with the majority of Upper Market riders local — should be ripped out in order to accommodate people who don’t know how to ride a bicycle and will not wear head protection “since they’d have to carry their own” is a tad extreme. Riders of that kind — in fact all riders around transit tracks — have to learn to put their foot down, literally, once in awhile, to avoid the injuries they’ve documented here. Over the last 20 years or so, automobile drivers in the city have had to stop far more frequently and move more slowly — and rightly so — to provide safer conditions for cyclists and pedestrians. Everyone has to give something to accommodate other users of our valuable street space.

  • I don’t think anybody is arguing that the city must accommodate cyclists at the expense of actively used mass transit. It sounds like Entwistle was under the impression that they’re entirely unused. (And I have to admit, I rarely see an F going down those tracks, and never with people.) As others have mentioned, there are ways to keep the tracks and reduce the hazard to cyclists. Or the city could install a proper bike lane, possibly at the expense of some street parking.

    SFMTA still has a long way to go to reach its goals wrt bicycle mode share ( https://www.sfmta.com/sites/de… ). We’re not going to get there if we discourage “people who don’t know how to ride a bicycle and will not wear head protection” from using bike share stations. We should be designing our bicycle infrastructure so that it’s naturally safe rather than tolerating a hazard and telling inexperienced cyclists they should’ve known better.

    [John Entwistle adds: This letter from Rick and the reply is a slight deviation from our theme here but both comments are educational so I put them in. Good links, good people.]

    A few years ago I fell on the curved part of tracks at 17th and Church, even when there wasn’t a car to avoid. I suffered a huge contusion on my hip that caused me problems for months after the accident. After that I started taking 18th St instead, but it’s unfortunate that the road with the bike lanes also has these treacherous tracks.

    This same intersection cost me a rotator cuff back in 2012.

    Put me down as a person who almost went down of the tracks at Church & 17th. On another day, I witnessed a rider make a bad fall on the tracks. . . . Make sure you cross the tracks slowly and at a close to 90 degree angle.

     

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