The protected bike lane that’s causing an uproar in San Francisco – Urbanist Update

“], “filter”: { “nextExceptions”: “img, blockquote, div”, “nextContainsExceptions”: “img, blockquote, a.btn, a.o-button”} }”>

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members!
>”,”name”:”in-content-cta”,”type”:”link”}}”>Download the app.

Welcome to the Urbanist Update. My job here might be as tech editor, but I’ve also spent tons of time studying transportation, city planning, and engineering. Here are some of the things I’ve found interesting over the past week related to biking in cities, cycling infrastructure, and urbanism.

What is urbanism? In short, it is the study of how the inhabitants of an urban area interact with their towns and cities. If you care about building sustainable communities that let you live a happy and healthy life, then this is the spot for you. See previous Updates here.

What’s Incomplete About Complete Streets?

(Photo: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The idea of ‘complete streets’ is a fantastic one. For the unfamiliar, a complete street in urbanist talk is a street that is designed to be safe for folks of all abilities and ages to travel, be it by car, as pedestrians, cyclists, or on public transit. Usually, that means adding features and amenities the road didn’t have before, like crosswalks, a wider sidewalk, or the go-to, a bike lane. 

Nonetheless, I’ve shared my opinion about the implementation of complete streets in previous Updates:

“The problem is this: you can’t just drop a bunch of money on a road, call it a complete street, and then have stuff like this happening… a box to be checked to satisfy those irritating environmentalists.  Many times, those complete streets do little to drop speed differentials between cars and people walking or biking and even less to connect people to important destinations.”

This story from Planetizen, which highlights a Complete Streets policy of my current home of San Antonio, Texas, dives even further into it. What the dive tells us is why these complete streets feel so half-baked.

One of the main reasons according to the story mentions that ambiguity is a killer. This is what happens when you’re trying to check a box: you lose out on why you’re trying to build a complete street in the first place.

And of course, there’s the issue of lack of funding. American infrastructure is crumbling, largely because a sizeable tax base can’t support the country’s sprawling roadway network AND everything else that needs to be supported. It’s hard to find funding to support car culture and ever-expanding roads and goodwill for cyclists despite cycling infrastructure costing significantly less both in construction and upkeep.

I actually had the chance to speak briefly with local active transportation planner Joey Pawlik about the city’s complete streets program, who mentioned that San Antonio communities are already looking at updating the city’s complete streets program. We’ll have to stay tuned on what changes, as community outreach and work takes time, but it is comforting to know that something will happen, hopefully.

Complete streets sound useless, but as Michael Lewyn says in the story, that’s not completely the case. They’re just not the lone tool in the street safety toolbox we need to use to make streets safer for everyone to use.

Los Angeles’ car-free ‘park block’ pilot aims for cleaner air and safer neighborhood streets

(Photo: Manuel Medir/Getty Images)

In the fight to reclaim streets away from cars, Los Angeles City Council approved a concept seeking to implement a ‘park block.’ Smart Cities Dive covered the exciting development.

The idea of a park block takes a square block area – usually two by two or three by three square blocks – and marks those roads within the block area as pedestrian-specific. Only delivery vehicles and residents’ vehicles can go through the block, and when they do, they’re navigating on streets designed first and foremost for pedestrians.

Why would Los Angeles go through this type of change? The most obvious reason is that doing so reclaims street surface area into public space for people to walk, roll, or simply play with. We’re used to thinking of public space being largely parks, but streets are for everyone as well. 

I particularly love this quote from Pete Brown, communications director for LA councilmember Kevin de León:

“Given the limited resources for initial pilots, priority areas should be chosen among communities who have the least access to public space, highest health disparities, high population densities and the desire to participate in the program.”

We’ve seen the effect in North America of closing down streets to cars through the ‘slow streets’ many cities adopted at the start of the pandemic: more people out on the streets, fewer accidents, and happier communities. Those streets once filled with loud, polluting cars give way to multi-purpose spaces that become shared, mixed-use public spaces.

LA doesn’t see these purely as streets without cars, but as spaces for communities to gather, find what they need without having to travel by car, and strengthen social ties within a community. That it can be implemented in targeted areas amongst folks who could use benefit the most from car-free streets is a worthwhile change I’m excited to see. 

Oh, and to the folks thinking that permanently closing streets to through traffic, Vox has an incredible series on how Barcelona implemented their version of the park block 30 years ago, and how they’re continuing their march to build 500 of them.

A Huge Bike-Lane Test in SF Is About to Start. Allies and Foes Already Want Something Better

(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

You’ve seen bike lanes. You’ve seen buffered or separated bike lanes. Maybe you’ve seen separated bike paths that place people rolling on bikes or other methods on a path elevated and independent of auto traffic. And if you’ve ever seen a center-running bike lane, well, here’s why it’s not a great idea. 

Valencia Street in San Francisco, California is set to receive a new bike lane that runs down the center of the street. It features a bike lane in each direction straight down the middle of the road; as you go toward the curb, you come across dividers, a painted buffer, a lane for auto traffic, and then a parking lane for cars and bikes. It’s the reverse of what you’d usually expect: bikes in the center of the road rather than cars. 

Despite the trial lane not being officially open for use, the results haven’t been great. The Frisc reports at least three injuries have occurred since its installation on April 24th, with more issues reported in Mission Local. That same story reports seeing delivery trucks taking the bike lane, drivers turning into it, and the fire department stopping for some Senor Sisig for lunch (I hope). That’s despite the San Francisco Municipal Transporation Agency (SFMTA) placing “Bike Lane Closed” signs along the 8 blocks of Valencia Street.

I love that something like this is being put in. The process of reaching out to neighborhood stakeholders and polling them for their input as indicated in the story tells me that there is a real desire to make the street more accessible for everyone. And that this happened even after funds were unexpectedly limited is good to see.

My fundamental issue centers around human-centered development. The last century in North America has seen roads constructed with cars as the driving force. Any laws and thoughts of infrastructure think of cyclists as the same as cars. Nowhere is that more obvious than a majority of North America’s bike ‘infrastructure’ being little more than paint on the ground.

Good bike infrastructure, to my eyes at least, sees people biking first as pedestrians, just moving at a faster pace; too fast to be with people walking, but not nearly fast enough to contend with a car’s ability to slow down, speed up, and maneuver through high-speed traffic.

If you want a street to be focused on people first and cars second, focus on the people. Anything less won’t solve why injuries continue to happen.

You’re probably doing an Idaho rolling stop on your bike, but it’s a-ok!

(Photo: Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

A slowly growing number of states are adopting legislation around an idea called the ‘Idaho stop,’ with Minnesota being the most recent state to adopt the law. Most of these bills allow cyclists to treat a stop sign like a yield sign, to roll through it but be going slow enough to be able to stop if a vehicle is coming. And while there are 11 states that allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yields, four of them also allow cyclists to treat red lights as stop signs.

This type of legislation makes sense if you’ve ever ridden a bike for anything other than leisure. Bikes have a far more difficult time raising and lowering their operating speeds, and the speed differentials are far smaller for a bike than for a car. A bike stopping and then starting takes far more time to get going than a car, which makes the journey itself less efficient for both cyclists and drivers alike, as well. In short, a cyclist maintaining momentum is straight up safer than not.

When you don’t have rules like this in place, you get videos from police departments like this:

Cyclists are treated like cars, but if there’s any theme to today’s update, it is that cyclists and cars operate differently. It isn’t worth pretending anything different. 

By the way, if you’re a regular cyclist you probably roll through stop signs. We at VELO don’t condone breaking local laws, even if those laws are silly and should be replaced with an Idaho stop that all cyclists are already doing anyways. Be sure to check the Idaho Stop Wikipedia to see where your state complies.

Leave a Comment