Metamorphosis on 17th St.

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Our story starts with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors at their November 7th, 2017 meeting passing SFMTA Board of Directors Resolution Number 171107-141 creating Class IV Protected Bike Lanes on 17th Street between Church and Sanchez Streets.

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These were the key details of SFMTA Board of Directors Resolution Number 171107-141 creating the bike lanes on 17th Street between Church & Sanchez Streets.

This was a very important meeting where over a year and a half of planning work came together with many people testifying about serious injuries they sustained riding bicycles on that stretch of 17th Street. Mike Sallaberry, Chief Engineer for San Francisco’s bike path system had convinced everyone that protected bike lanes were the way to go.

Engineer Mike Sallaberry was emphatic about the need for protecting the right of way of bicyclists in an environment where there is “a lot of demand for curb access” by motorists. He was specific about the need for posts and for concrete curbs to provide the physical protection that enforcement could never match.

“With the 24 hour bike lane we are actually able to protect it. That’s really important. You’ll see double parking in bike lanes all over The City. There’s double parking in the lanes. There’s a lot of demand for curb access. And so, if you’re to go to a part time bike-way compromise, that would mean that we would not be able to effectively protect the bike lane.

… What would happen is we would need to allow drivers access to the curb on the non-peak hours at night. So we wouldn’t be able to put in the posts, for instance, or a concrete island.” — SFMTA Engineer Mike Sallaberry, November 7, 2017.

The plan was approved to protect bicyclists by replacing the parking on both sides of 17th St. with fully protected bike lanes described as being similar to the ones on Oak or Fell Streets. The plan also includes Americans with Disabilities Act  modifications to the corner of 17th & Church as well as a curb bulb out at 17th & Hartford Streets.

So I wasn’t surprised to see Mike Sallaberry meeting up with the amazing folks from the Department of Public Works who will actually do the work of resurfacing the road in preparation for the bike path and creating the concrete traffic islands which will physically protect it. Those folks are fast, hitting the street just a week later.

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I ran over and said hi to everyone but really didn’t want to interrupt them as this was a pretty serious group of city planner/engineer types. But I couldn’t help noticing the plans they were all referring to. Being the curious type I availed myself of a little peek at those plans, not the whole package or anything but just what I could readily see.

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“Project Scope Includes: 8 median islands, each 6″ high and 2′ wide, length varies from 10 feet long to 75 feet long. Repaving both sides of 17th St. up to 10 feet from curb.”

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Nice solid looking plans for Concrete Traffic Islands connected firmly to the substrate with dowels drilled into the concrete under the paving.

The timing of anything on 17th Street is largely influenced by the school schedule. With so many schools in one concentrated area it is best to plan work for the breaks, in this case the Winter Holiday from Christmas through New Years. SFMTA’s sign shop hit the place like a pack of tigers on December 27, 2017 and on several days following. They will be back during the first week of 2018 to install plastic flexible posts on the thermoplastic lines they have laid down.

Here we will report on what has and is being done. What we know about future work being scheduled. And we will be observing the impact of the changes as they occur. How do people interpret this new street layout? Do lines on the pavement alone solve the problem? If not, do flexible posts really prevent cars from taking the curb by pulling into the bike lane?

We are also curious about the impact of the new street geometry on driving speeds. We already know that the average “high-speed” driver on our block clocks in at about 27 MPH. But that was under the old set up with 15 foot wide lanes. Nowadays, if one measures from the center-line to the new bike path deliminator line the distance is close to 11.5 feet. That is a radical narrowing of the roadway.

Chopping three and a half feet off the width of both of two opposing traffic lanes should cause drivers to go just a bit slower. That is just one hypothesis that we are testing as we go forward.

Would downgrading the planned and approved “protected” bike lane to a shared motorist drop off zone combined with a sort-of-maybe kind-of bicycle “Right Of Way” work just as well as the approved plan? We are about to find out.

Looking West on 17th Street from Church Street. This is the North side of the Street.
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New signs replacing all the old ones.
The visual expansiveness is striking. The view is way different.

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Looking West up 17th Street from Church Street at the South side of the street.

This is a decidedly slow, low traffic time of the year. Most folks are obeying the No Parking signs even without barriers. Bikes are loving the new space. A few joggers have decided that it works for them as a running space. And aesthetically speaking, the street is more pleasant to be on without the cars parked everywhere. So, while noting the various design and installation discrepancies we are very pleased to have initiated a serious effort to make this street safer for bikes and pedestrians.

This report is going to be continued over the next few days. We have observed a few instances of people behaving badly that need to be chronicled and addressed. And more work is slated to occur over the first week of 2018.

So please look forward to more content as events unfold.

Initial challenges:

It turns out immediately that some folks really feel entitled to park alongside the curb in the manner they have grown accustomed to and they resent the changes even if safety is the overall goal. These folks responded by purposefully ignoring the “No Parking” signs which left their vehicles blocking the new as yet fully unprotected bike lane. Traffic was light over the holiday week so bike riders were able to safely go around those cars but it demonstrated the need for physical barriers to make this new pathway work.

January 7, 2018 Update: I have watched pretty closely for the past week and so far this has been much less of a problem than it could have been. Neighbors can load & unload in front of their homes and a few have done such. Those can take up to 15 minutes which is a bit much but there has been very little of that. For the most part I have to report that this is not a huge ongoing issue at this point so far. And we are grateful to our friends and neighbors for helping to make this work.

This car was parked for a couple hours illustrating an obvious problem with the “Protected” bike lane design on 17th St. at Sanchez Street.
A Department of Public Works street cleaning crew using the “protected” bike lane as an area to pull over to the curb and hang out for a while thus demonstrating the flawed design at 17th St. & Church Street.
These same City Workers caused a bike wreck in the same part of the street just a week prior to intentionally blocking the bike lane on December 30, 2017. The City is not merely failing to prevent bike wrecks, it is actively causing them.

Sunday Church Service Traffic

Before you even start this section know that it has a happy ending. Bear with me

Another group who bring traffic challenges to our area is a church group called Reality/SF. They rent Everett Middle School from the Unified School District and use the entire school playground area (as well as Sanchez Elementary grounds in addition) as parking lots for several hundred cars. The impact of this group on on what would be a quiet day of the week is tremendous. They arrive & depart en masse creating a local traffic jam and overwhelming all the local stoplights causing them to fail.

A few folks from Reality/SF were initially hostile to the new bike path. Three of their members chose to test The City’s willingness to tow by deliberately parking their cars right in the path at the entrance to the Everett Middle School playground. Despite five or more police cars passing by during the several hours they were violating the law, no one stopped to issue any tickets, warnings or admonishments.

This car is owned by someone who showed up at Church at 8:15am choosing to park here instead of in the schoolyard where all the other Church cars go. He stayed for more than three hours and was joined by several other scofflaws from “Reality/SF.”
This shows the need for barriers instead of mere paint to create a Class IV protected bike lane on 17th Street.
We note the decision to place the church parking signboards in the bike lane.
After about an hour or so the first car was joined by several others forming a solid mass of illegal parking in the new but as yet unprotected bike lane right underneath the “No Parking — Tow Away” sign.
Plenty of parking available right there in the schoolyard with several uniformed attendants to help guide you, yet these activists chose to risk having their cars towed to see if they could hijack the bike lane space for their overflow parking. It worked!
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All morning bicyclists had no choice but to leave the bike lane to go around the parked cars from Reality/SF’s Sunday gathering at Everett Middle School.
Before long the street looked just like it did before the bike lane project.
And this is on one of the very slowest low traffic low speed days of the year. Does this look like a safe environment to ride a bike in? Does this look like a Class IV protected bike lane to you?

January 7, 2018: Update: As I said above this story does have a happy conclusion. During the week SFMTA crews finished installing the flexible post barrier system which massively reinforced compliance with the bike lane. The folks from Reality/SF respect this new configuration and this morning was a whole new ball game.

This Sunday still saw several hundred cars drawn to the Sunday event hosted at Everett Middle School but not a one of them parked in the bike lane. Even as they filled the street with automobiles the bike lane was clear sailing for dozens of riders. To their credit the Reality/SF volunteers working the parking lot had a person stationed at the entrance guiding the cars through the bike lane and into the schoolyard one at a time in an orderly fashion. It was pretty close to textbook perfect! DSC09188DSC09190DSC09201DSC09206DSC09225DSC09243DSC09254DSC09256

I walked over and complimented the young man attending the driveway, thanking him and the group for helping us make this work. I gently suggested that they find a better spot to place their sign boards. My feeling is that they will act on that suggestion on their own. They seem to have warmed to the bike path and the fellow had only good things to say about it in our brief exchange.

I told you this one had a happy ending!!

Postal Service Vehicles

“High demand for curb access…” affects everyone. Glancing across the street we see the US Postal Service pulling into the bike lane in front of Casa Sanchez where The City has opted to postpone installing a barrier adequate to prevent vehicle access. Will mere flexible posts do the trick? We shall soon see.DSC08485

And again on another day with an even larger truck. This time at the other end of the 17th Street, near where it hits Church Street. Clearly we need to do more to protect the bike lane than thermoplastic lines on the pavement. DSC08694

January 8, 2018 Update: Another happy ending story. The US Postal carriers in our area are very friendly people who work on these streets and care deeply about local safety issues. It only took our local team a few days to modify their parking habits into a much safer configuration.

I don’t anticipate much further in the way of incursions from postal vehicles. It could happen from time to time by mistake if something unusual happens or someone new takes over a shift for a day but overall I think the postal couriers enjoy being part of the solution on 17th Street.

First Day of School — Everett Middle School Parent’s Morning Drop Off

January 8, 2018: Everett Middle School has come a long way! They are very close to perfect. There are a few scofflaw parents that really need immediate attention but overall it is pretty darned close to textbook. An amazing change has manifested from where we began with complete total chaos on 17th Street every morning to what seemed like a basically smooth set of drop offs in the morning and pick ups in the afternoon.

Thanks for a lot of great work goes to the Everett Middle School Principal and top school officers working with SFMTA and the SF Department of Public Works to completely reorient the parents.

That said this is still a work in progress and we shall report further after a few more days of observation.

The 17th & Church Street drop off problem reemerges:

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The corner of 17th & Church with cars placed in the circled areas of the diagram to illustrate the problem. It is a very easy mistake for a motorist to pull over for just a minute and it puts bikes in extreme danger crossing the “half grand union” streetcar track configuration.
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17th & Church North West Corner looking West.
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17th & Church St. Southwest corner looking Southwest. The red curb paint has been removed as part of the bike path installation.
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17th St. & Church St. looking west at the Southwestern corner before The City installed the flexible posts to enhance the effectiveness of the red zone in that critical spot.

Because of the streetcar tracks which wrap around the corner from Church Street onto 17th Street bicyclists are forced into a super dangerous track crossing when vehicles pull over to the curb right near the crosswalk. Compounding this problem is the fact that this is a traditionally popular spot for dropping off and picking up passengers going way back.

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17th St at Church St. looking West. — Photo was from before SFMTrA installed their first set of flexible posts.
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17th & Church Street North west corner seen a few months later after the renegade traffic activists installed flexible posts. The problem is intractable.

Because this spot is so very critical to bicyclist safety, local renegade traffic activists (SFMTrA)  installed a system of flexible posts to enhance the red painted curbs, thermoplastic stripes on the pavement and signage SFMTA had already applied to this spot.

To their credit the folks at SFMTA embraced the input and instead of removing the flexible posts they sent a professional crew out there to redo and double the scope of the local activists’ contribution. The City rebuilt the original system with fresh flexible posts bolted to the ground. And then the SFMTA crew mirrored the system onto the South side of 17th street which was a very smart practical and overall commendable thing to do.

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All of that has now been removed. The curb is no longer painted red on either side of the street in that spot. The no stopping here signs are gone. The thermoplastic striping is gone. And all the flexible posts are gone, from both sides of 17th Street. The new stripping configuration for the bike lane actually encourages drivers to pull into that most dangerous of all spots, forcing bike riders into unprecedented hazards on both sides of 17th Street at the intersection of Church Street.

All it takes is just one car pulling onto that spot where the bike graphic is stenciled onto the concrete parking strip. That forces the bike riders onto the tracks at a terrible angle and has sent many fine people to the hospital.
Flexible posts, pavement markings and red curb paint all gone!!

I think this is a significant hazard that needs to be addressed immediately. This has sent plenty of people to the hospital already. We fully understand the danger inherent to this corner. We absolutely should not be letting this happen again and yet, as far as I can tell right now, that is the plan.

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This is from the rendering at the June 15, 2017 public meeting boards.

January 6th Update on the Curb drop off problem: Crashes already starting.

This short twenty second video below illustrates exactly what we have described above. The bicyclist is a young woman who had to navigate over the tracks at 17th & Church Streets due to the silver colored car which pulled over and blocked the bike lane at that most crucial point. The barriers which previously would have discouraged the driver from pulling over (red line on curb, white lines on the pavement, signage & flexible posts) were all removed by SFMTA despite many warnings that protection is needed at that spot. This happened on January 4th, the morning after the flexible posts were installed.

Let’s review with a few extra pics and a few blow ups grabbed from the videos.

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The bike rider seconds before getting pushed out of the bike lane and crashed to the pavement by the tracks at 17th & Church.
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The car that pulled over and caused the accident. Front plates are obstructed illegally and it has no rear plates. Typical for San Francisco.
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Bicyclist is forced to the left onto a dangerous set of curving rails called a half grand union.
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Her tire is caught in the huge wide open ruts alongside the rails. She is thrown from her bike.
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The bike rider is smashed to the ground with considerable force onto steel rails and giant steel plates embedded in asphalt.
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‘Nuff said. This will happen again and again until SFMTA corrects this poorly engineered corner.

And no. This accident was not reported to the police or the hospitals. Perhaps The City should erect a self reporting kiosk for these sort of incidents right there on the corner. There will be many many more of these.

January 8th Update:  The folks from Recology San Francisco who collect our recycling, compost and general waste are part of the solution on 17th Street. It was raining cats & dogs this morning and the rails were super slick. I was keeping an eye out on the corner of 17th & Church because those wet rails plus one car forcing bicyclists into crossing them at the wrong angle could be a big problem.

I was dumbfounded when I saw the gigantic Recology waste management truck stopping right there where I was watching and intentionally leave a good clear six and a half feet open for bicyclists to continue through completely unobstructed and in total safety.

He had to pull cans from the house right there so he paused the truck like this to keep the bike lane open. I thanked the gentleman driving and got an earful about bicycle safety! Yeah!!

It turns out that he had to collect some cans from the house right nearby and he was completely into the idea of the bike path. So he pulled over in that manner. I shot a few pics and walked over to thank him. Nice feller.

Recology is a pretty amazing company, by the way. If you haven’t seen their Pier 96 recycling facility you have missed something. It is pretty cool. I have actually sold them a lot of commodities over the years at that factory. What is so great about Pier 96 is the sorting techniques and technology that they employ. They were early users of Eddy Current Separators which can toss an aluminum can right off a conveyor belt. But I digress…

Why did The City skip the pavement resurfacing component and the raised concrete traffic islands as well as postpone the pedestrian curb ramps and modifications to the corners of 17th & Church as well as 17th & Hartford?

We don’t know why but I asked Mike Sallaberry and his response was that they are targetting Spring of 2018 for that work. I feel like that is an unacceptable compromise of safety and the goals of this project. We shall continue to document the impact of that decision as well as any progress as it occurs.

January 3rd, 2018 — Flexible posts are installed along the bike lane. (Corners of 17th & Church are still a problem.)


This morning an armada of large SFMTA work trucks pulled up on 17th Street and within four hours they had installed a large number of flexible posts along the main lines of our newly installed bike path. Hopefully this will address some of the issues documented above. We are noting great joy in the bicycle riders community as folks discover the changes and ride the street. And, to be fair, compliance has been fairly good despite the incursions that we did note.DSC08724

I snapped some pictures of the work and have a set of short movies from my home security cameras all of which glean insight into the assembly and installation of flexible posts. Overall it takes SFMTA approximately 10 minutes per post including moving the trucks into position and assembling the unit. They are very practiced and make it look easy while paying great attention to personnel and job-site safety. DSC08740

One more word about Safety. That’s one of the strong reasons for having the huge presence on the street with all the folks wearing safety vests, the flag people and all the bright blinking yellow lights on every work truck.  These guys work in the most dangerous environment known. Safety First!!DSC08750DSC08757

Let’s take some detailed observations. Why not? Start with the fact that these are the very finest of flexible posts. Able to withstand many collisions without losing their ability to function. “50 impacts at 60 MPH” brags the manufacturer’s website. Here’s a bit more about these miraculous bits of plastic. FlexiblePostPropa DSC08761DSC08762DSC08772DSC08780

The old world hand crafted standards are still maintained at SFMTA where every flexible post is hand assembled by a skilled craftsman.


And back to the big picture…DSC08801 (1)DSC08804DSC08813 (1)DSC08817DSC08823DSC08826DSC08831

And this is all so new that I have to run out and take photographs of the completed job. I have no shots of the South side of the street yet. Good excuse to take a walk! Final shots coming soon.

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That’s all for now folks. Our thanks to everyone who made this happen. Enjoy the flexible post installation tutorial below.

I know that this was a tedious set of videos but from an instructional point of view its informative. I like our local friend on the Ford GoBike cruising by and encouraging the SFMTA folks. I also like the clean up work. Professionals always clean up after every significant step. As we say in building trades, “Cleanup is part of the job!”

Please continue to monitor this page for updates as they occur. Thank You!

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