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In SF, the Solution to Poor Bike Lanes: Just Get Rid of Them

The ghost bike at King and Third is for Diana Sullivan, who was killed on the stretch where the bike lane disappears. Photo: Google Maps

The SFMTA wants to remove bike lanes and sharrows on King Street in SoMa's South Beach area to discourage bicycling on the truck-heavy street, Hoodline reports.

The agency wants to divert bike commuters to the parallel stretch of Townsend Street, but has no plans to install bike lanes there. The unprotected bike lanes on Townsend west of Fourth Street are routinely blocked by drivers at the Caltrain Station.

The SFMTA originally proposed extending King's striped bike lanes (one of its 24 Vision Zero projects). But the agency instead decided to remove all bike infrastructure on the street until concrete changes can be made.

The existing bike lanes are narrow and disappear suddenly, which "is not comfortable for people biking," said SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose. "By directing people to bike on Townsend or the Embarcadero Promenade, we can improve safety for people biking and reduce confusion in the area."

"In the long-term," said Jose, the agency "will be examining how biking can be improved in the area through the larger-scale Embarcadero Enhancement Project," which could bring protected bike lanes along the waterfront years down the road. In the meantime, the agency's "goal is to encourage people biking in the area to use Townsend when appropriate."

The SF Bicycle Coalition isn't fighting the removal of King's painted bike lanes. But Communications Director Chris Cassidy said it "highlights the importance of protected bike lanes on Townsend."

"The ideal would be for every neighborhood in San Francisco to be connected with protected bike lanes," said Cassidy. "The SFMTA needs to make Townsend safer for people biking to and from Caltrain. Protected bike lanes would go a long way towards protecting people who bike and demonstrating the SFMTA's commitment to Vision Zero."

King, which connects Highway 280 to the Embarcadero, has as many as nine traffic lanes at intersections where the road widens for multiple left-turn lanes. That count includes the pair of exclusive streetcar lanes in the median, which is protected by tree-lined strips of concrete.

King's westbound bike lane disappears between Second and Third Streets. Photo: I Love Biking SF
King's westbound bike lane disappears between Second and Third Streets. Photo: I Love Biking SF

Mid-block between Second and Third, King's westbound bike lane disappears as the median widens to accommodate a crosswalk waiting area. People in the bike lane approaching Fourth Street are forced to merge into a heavily-used traffic lane with sharrows.

That's where Diana Sullivan was killed in 2013. While stopped at a red light on her bike, witnesses said, a cement truck driver pulled forward and ran her over in front of a crowd of ballpark-goers.

The SFMTA hopes to prevent further injuries by simply discouraging people from biking on King until it can implement plans to change the street's geometry. Years down the line, the northern spur of Highway 280 could also be torn down, which would significantly reduce motor traffic on King.

Extending King's bike lanes west using only paint "would require reducing lane widths to below minimum standards," said Jose. "This would decrease safety and comfort for all road users, since heavy vehicles would need to straddle lanes."

But the SFMTA has no plans to enhance bike infrastructure on Townsend, one block away. Instead, Jose said the agency will install "near-term improvements" to guide people biking on the Embarcadero to turn on to Townsend rather than continue on to King. Those measures include a left turn bike box, green-backed sharrows, "better signage," and continental crosswalks.

The SFMTA plans to hold a public engineering hearing on the bike lane removal. If approved by the SFMTA Board of Directors, Jose said it could happen by the end of the year.

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