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Important safety projects have always had a disturbing habit of slipping their timelines and falling off the radar. Today, an update on two such projects: Fell Street and Valencia.

Fell gets approved... again?

Word came down yesterday that SFMTA would start installing a parking protected bike lane on Fell along the Panhandle next month. "We are excited to share the news that the Fell Protected Bike lane will move forward as planned," wrote Preston Kilgore from Supervisor Dean Preston's office, in an email to Streetsblog. "The Fell bike lane will provide an important temporary response for cyclists during COVID-19 and alleviate crowding and unsafe conditions in the panhandle."

A look at the approved configuration for Fell Street, on the Panhandle. Image: SFMTA
A look at the approved configuration for Fell Street, on the Panhandle. Image: SFMTA

As Kilgore explained, "The Fell protected bike lane will allow westbound cyclists to fully bypass the interior of the Panhandle. The bikeway will run alongside the Panhandle path from Baker to Shrader streets, to alleviate traffic in a space that's also used by pedestrians."

That sounds great, but Streetsblog readers will recall that the Fell project was supposed to be completed by now, but as-yet-unexplained interference from the San Francisco Fire Department jammed up the project. "The MTA will be tracking traffic volumes, traffic speeds and emergency response times/speed, and consulting with the SF Fire Department about the pilot project after its been operating for a month," added Kilgore.

The lane is now expected to start construction the first week of August. Although not all advocates are convinced there won't be another delay, given the city's history:

Speaking of delays...

What happened to the latest phase of Valencia upgrades, the protected bike lanes from 19th to Cesar Chavez?

February's outreach meeting on Valencia, refining the protected bike lanes and intersections from 19th to Cesar Chavez. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
February's outreach meeting on Valencia, refining the protected bike lanes and intersections from 19th to Cesar Chavez. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

After reading about the delays on Fell Street earlier this month, Advocate Scott Feeney emailed Streetsblog with the following request:

Can we get some similar follow-up on the Valencia protected bike lane from 19th to Cesar Chavez? It could have been approved at the February open house, but it wasn't despite overwhelming neighborhood support. If approved that day it was expected to have been built this summer, or in other words, now... And this isn't even the "hard" part of Valencia (15th to 19th will require removing all parking on one side). So who's getting in the way, and why is MTA letting them get in the way? With people shifting away from transit, we need it more than ever.

Streetsblog readers will recall that the city has done years of community meetings and outreach on the various Valencia protected bike lane proposals. That resulted in parking-protected pilot projects from Market to 15th and from Cesar Chavez to just shy of Mission. Designs for the section from 19th to Cesar Chavez, the stretch referenced by Feeney, was the subject of extensive community outreach, culminating in a huge community meeting (pictured above) attended by over 400 people back in February, shortly before the COVID crisis began for the Bay Area.

It would be one thing if SFMTA crews were overwhelmed with COVID-related emergency work. However, this was SFMTA's response about the holdup on Valencia:

The project was put on hold when shelter in place started. We had some outreach to finish on the commercial corridor before going to MTA Board, but we wanted to be respectful of the businesses [emphasis added] given COVID. The MTA Board had approved making the pilot between Market and 15th permanent in June. We’re currently working on next steps.

Streetsblog is certainly glad the pilot between Market and 15th will become permanent (did anyone doubt that at this point, since it requires SFMTA to do nothing further?). But huge numbers of people in the Bay Area are now doing their jobs via Zoom, email, etc. What exactly is the problem with SFMTA finishing outreach online?

And respecting businesses is fine, but what about respecting the lives and limbs of San Francisco's cyclists, who continue to be put in danger by the years and years of delays on Valencia, on a project that, some might say, has been studied ad nasuem? As Streetsblog published last year, it seems the city is still 'absolutely waiting for someone to die' on Valencia. From SFMTA's own project page: "Between 2012 to 2016, there were 204 people injured and 268 reported collisions on the corridor, of which one was fatal. Collisions involving vehicles and bikes were most common, accounting for 40 percent of all reported incidences on Valencia."

Streetsblog reached out to Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Rafael Mandelman, the Supervisors whose districts encompass this section of Valencia. Staffers didn't know what the holdup was about, beyond SFMTA's statement above. A deputy for Ronen reached out to SFMTA Livable Streets Director Jamie Parks for more information. Streetsblog also asked Parks directly why the SFMTA can't finish up outreach by phone and email but has so far received no reply.

A diagram of the default intersection design for the next set of upgrades for Valencia. Image: SFMTA
A diagram of the default intersection design for the next set of upgrades for Valencia. Image: SFMTA

Maybe it's time for readers to call their supervisors (here are links to Ronen and Mandelman's contact info) and demand the Valencia project get built as soon as construction crews are available?

On a related note: there will be partial street closures on Valencia, between 16th and 19th, as part of San Francisco's "Shared Spaces" programs to help merchants maintain safe social distancing. Check out the SF Chron's coverage.

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