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Open Thread: Is it Time to Pilot a Sidewalk Bike Lane on Market Street?

On this stretch of upper Mid-Market, approaching the Wiggle, there’s already a Berlin-style protected bike lane–but somebody put a bike corral in the middle of it. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Yesterday, I took a ride on a Jump electric bike on Market Street. Ryan Rzepecki, the CEO of Jump, was riding alongside. When we stopped, we talked about how nerve racking it is to ride on Market. We also discussed how comfortable it is to ride in Berlin, where, in many places, rather than stripe a bike lane on the street (American-style, in the gutter, as on Market Street) they stripe it on the outer edge of the sidewalk.

A short time later, I noticed the brick treatment on Market near Duboce, seen in the lead image, and thought to myself: that looks just like a Berlin bike lane.

I fear some readers are already foaming at the mouth. In San Francisco, the mere intimation of putting a bike lane on a sidewalk causes heads to explode (maybe it's better to call it adding a raised bike lane?)

But let's face it, since fifteen percent of trips in Berlin are made by bike, maybe the Germans are on to something. And maybe it's part of the answer we're looking for to solve the mess that is Market Street.

A sidewalk bike lane in Berlin. Photo: Streetsblog NYC/Aaron Naparstek
A sidewalk bike lane in Berlin. Photo: Streetsblog NYC/Aaron Naparstek

As Streetsblog NYC explained a few years ago, with pictures to prove it, there are places where sidewalk bike lanes work just fine. And it's not entirely without precedent in San Francisco--we have a few shared-use areas, such as the promenade at the Embarcadero. But there, as with the shared-use path in the Panhandle, the division between pedestrian space and bicycle space is poorly defined--it's nothing like the way dual-use sidewalks are done in Berlin and other cities.

It's intriguing that some stretches of Market already have what any Berliner would identify as a sidewalk bike lane. Now, I'm sure some will object to taking any space from pedestrians--and Streetsblog, of course, sympathizes with that point of view. But the red brick portion of the "sidewalk" is already denied to pedestrians--look at the bike corral in the middle of it. If we can use it for bike parking, why can't bikes ride on it instead? As much as we all appreciate someplace to lock up our bikes, isn't it more important not to get crushed under a bus?

Here's an older image, before that bike corral was put in:

There's already a protected bike lane on Upper Market. Were just not using our imagination. Image: Google Maps
There's already a protected bike lane on Market. See the red bricks? We're just not using our imagination. Image: Google Maps

It even solves the Uber/Lyft/delivery truck/double parking issue--the current bike space can continue to be used for drop offs and, unless someone is obnoxious enough to mount the curb with a truck, the bike lane should, finally, be kept clear (obviously, some kind of door buffer space would need to be defined, as seen in the picture of Berlin).

Of course, curb cuts/ramps would have to be created at intersections. And the intersections should have protections to make sure cars don't right-hook cyclists and pedestrians. The Berlin-style treatment might also address Fire Department concerns about protected bike lanes.

I hope it's obvious that I'm not suggesting this is the answer everywhere, or even in most places. But can we have the imagination, especially on Market Street on stretches with over-sized sidewalks and narrow traffic lanes, to tweak our thinking about how we define the relationships between sidewalk and bike-lane space?

San Francisco has its Better Market Street planning project under way. And the city is trying lots of pilots on Market, including a raised bike lane. Perhaps it's time to take things one step further, and consider a sidewalk bike lane.

Let us know what you think below.

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