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20 More Miles of Protected Bike Lanes in the Next Two Years?

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Mayor London Breed announced on Bike-to-Work Day earlier this month that SFMTA would double its rate of installation and complete 20 miles of protected lanes over the next two years. Given the city's history of compromise and falling short on promises, I was left wondering: is this another empty promise or a game-changing increase?

In 2016, two women cyclists, Kate Slattery and Heather Miller, were killed in collisions with motorists on the same night. In response, Mayor Ed Lee and SFMTA announced 57 "new" Vision Zero projects. But none of these projects was actually new; they had already been languishing in the project pipeline. Bike advocates were furious. SFMTA later revised the announcement as “high-priority” projects.

So there's reason to be skeptical--but also hopeful that the city can and will really meet Mayor Breed's demands. I decided to break down the mayor's promise and take a look at San Francisco's current and planned protected bike lane projects.

San Francisco's first protected bike lane under construction in 2012 on Cargo Way. Image: Streetsblog SF
San Francisco's first protected bike lane under construction in 2012 on Cargo Way. Image: Streetsblog SF

San Francisco’s Existing Bike Network and Commitments

At the end of 2018, San Francisco’s "bike network" was 448 miles; however, almost 50 percent of the network comprised of nothing more than sharrows. While 20 miles represents less than 5 percent of San Francisco’s total "bike network," the new lanes announced by Mayor Breed would indeed more than double the miles of protected bike lanes in the city.

Bike Lane TypeMiles (as of end of 2018)
Striped unprotected bike lanes140
Off-street bike paths77
Protected bike lanes19
Total bike network448

In the Spring of 2012, SFMTA installed three on-street (at least partially) protected lanes on JFK Drive, Cesar Chavez and Cargo Way. These comprised the first five miles protected bike lanes in San Francisco. Unfortunately, over the next five years, SFMTA only installed nine miles of protected lanes - less than two miles a year. Last year, SFMTA installed over five miles of protected lanes, which included a mix of long-term projects such as Masonic Ave and near-term improvements such as Howard and the 8th Street extension. By SFMTA’s historical standards, the Mayor’s call for 20 miles of protected lanes is a significant increase in the pace of protected lane installation.

This past March, after the tragic death of Tess Rothstein, Tom Maguire, Director of Sustainable Streets at SFMTA, presented a new proposal of “Quick-Build” street safety projects to the SFMTA Board of Directors. Maguire committed to installing 10 projects by the end of 2019, which included approximately seven miles of protected lanes. He also promised to install eight miles annually of “high-impact sustainable travel lanes” - whatever that means (I’m confident he wasn’t referring exclusively to protected lanes). Therefore, Mayor Breed’s call for 10 miles of protected lanes annually appears to be a legitimate stretch from SFMTA’s commitments even just two months ago.

San Francisco Compared to Other U.S. Cities

San Francisco’s commitment of 20 miles of protected lanes exceeds many commitments from other cities. Portland only has five miles of protected bike lanes and only plans to add 29 miles over the next five years. Washington DC has a lackluster ten miles of protected lanes and an even more pathetic goal of building only 10 more miles over the next five years. Boston has eight miles of protected lanes with a total of 32 miles planned to be installed over the next five years. Seattle had a goal to build 10.5 miles of protected lanes in 2018, but only completed 2.3 miles. New York City, the U.S. leader in protected-bike lanes, installed 16 miles of protected lanes in 2018 bringing its total to over 100 miles. However, given that NYC has six times the miles of surface streets as SF, our city’s protected lane network will still be rather impressive. If SFMTA can deliver on the mayor’s promise, London Breed will become the most bike-friendly mayor of any large U.S. city.

The new Valencia protected bike lane pilot where it passes San Francisco Friends School and Millennium School (across from each other at Brosnan). All pics Streetsblog/Rudick
The new Valencia protected bike lane pilot where it passes San Francisco Friends School and Millennium School (across from each other at Brosnan). Image: Streetsblog/Rudick

The City’s 2021 Protected Bike Lane Network

To better understand what San Francisco’s protected lane network might look like for Bike-to-Work Day 2021, I compiled all the protected lanes completed, under-construction or planned, along with some concepts that I believe are feasible to install in the next two years (see lead image). Based on the Mayor’s announcement, I prioritized projects that build on the existing protected lanes in SoMa and the Mission.

StatusMiles of Lanes
Completed (Jan ‘19 - May ‘19)2.8

SFMTA has already disclosed 16 miles of protected lanes under construction or planned for completion within the next two years, which gives us a good sense of what the protected network will look like. While the future network will be a huge improvement on today’s disconnected protected lanes, it certainly won’t be complete. I’ve identified over 20 miles of additional protected lanes that should be feasible to install as “Quick-Build” projects. However, even this expanded network will have huge gaps, especially outside SoMa and Mission districts. So unfortunately, San Francisco won’t yet have a robust protected lane network on Bike-to-Work Day 2021, but we will have made meaningful progress.

While 20 miles of new protected lanes won’t transform San Francisco’s streets into the next Copenhagen, the mayor’s announcement was a huge step forward. SFMTA’s pivot to installing projects quickly and cheaply and then iterating on their designs is a huge improvement compared to the agency’s prior focus on slow-moving, expensive, long-term projects. The mayor’s dedication and focus on protected lanes will ensure SFMTA can carry through on their commitments.

My conclusion: The mayor’s announcement was not business as usual for SFMTA and highlighted meaningful structural improvements to SFMTA’s planning and installation of protected lanes. I suspect SFMTA will easily surpass their 20 mile goal and I hope that San Francisco’s bike infrastructure will finally become the envy of other cities around the country.

Maybe then we can start working on getting protected intersections.

Protected Bike Lane Projects and Miles

ProjectStatusMilesOne-way / Two-way / MixTotal Miles
Valencia: Market to 15thCompleted0.42-way0.8
Polk: McAllister to PineCompleted0.7Mix0.7
2nd: Market to FolsomCompleted0.42-way0.8
Howard: 3rd to 6thCompleted0.51-way0.5
Townsend: 4th to 5thConstruction0.152-way0.3
Terry Francois Blvd: Mariposa to Mission BayConstruction0.52-way1.0
2nd: Folsom to KingConstruction0.62-way1.2
Alemany Blvd: Congdon to BayshoreConstruction1.12-way2.2
Indiana: 25th Street NorthConstruction280 ft2-way0.1
Folsom: 4th to EmbarcaderoConstruction1.0Mix (2-way from 2nd to Embarcadero)1.5
Beale: Market to Folsom Planning0.32-way0.6
Howard: 3rd to EmbarcaderoPlanning0.71-way0.7
5th Street: Market to TownsendPlanning0.82-way1.6
7th Street: Cleveland to 16thPlanning0.9Mix (2-way from Townsend to 16th)1.4
Valencia: 15th to MissionPlanning1.52-way3.0
11th: Market to 13thPlanning0.62-way1.2
13th: Folsom to ValenciaPlanning0.42-way0.8
Golden Gate: Polk to MarketConcept0.41-way0.4
Polk: McAlister to VallejoConcept1.2Mix1.7
Brannan: Division to EmbarcaderoConcept1.62-way3.2
Arguello: Fulton to Presidio GateConcept1.12-way2.2
Folsom: 13th to Cesar ChavezConcept1.52-way3.0
Kearny / Montgomery: Market to ColumbusConcept0.552-way1.1
Embarcadero: King to North PointConcept2.22-way4.4
Upper Market: Dolores to CastroConcept0.72-way1.4
17th: Church to HarrisonConcept0.92-way1.8
Grove: Market to Van NessConcept0.32-way0.6
JFK: Crossover to MLK DriveConcept1.52-way3.0

Kyle Grochmal is a San Francisco street and bicycle safety advocate who is active with People Protected Bike Lanes. He works full-time at a technology company and frequently posts on Twitter @KCGrock.

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