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How Not to Protect Bike Riders During Construction

Imaging if a city closed a sidewalk during construction and told pedestrians to just walk in traffic for a month.

That's tantamount to what San Francisco has done to cyclists on Howard Street between 5th and 6th--within sight of where Tess Rothstein was doored and killed while biking to work in 2019.

The move left cyclists understandably riled. Rothstein was killed precisely because the city left long stretches of unprotected bike lane in place for many years; she died in sight of where the protected bike lane used to begin, on the other side of 6th Street.

"They painted this unprotected lane on a street where three people were killed in three years!!" wrote People Protected Bike Lane advocate Matt Brezina, in an email to Streetsblog and public officials.

Fortunately, this is a temporary measure. "The protected bike lane that was there will be restored. The current configuration is made of temporary tape and related to the construction of the development there," explained an official with SFMTA.

Where the bike lane bends around the construction site. The passing box truck is same type of vehicle that took Rothstein's life.
Where the bike lane bends around the construction site. The passing box truck is same type of vehicle that took Rothstein's life. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
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That's not going to help though, if someone is injured or killed in the meantime.

Unprotected human bodies, on bicycle or foot, should never be put in close proximity with fast moving, two-to-five ton cars and even heavier trucks that can snuff out a life in a millisecond. Motorists are encased in passenger compartments with crumple zones and seat belts and air bags for a reason. Why on earth would anyone think it's okay to leave cyclists or pedestrians in traffic without protection, especially in construction zones, where things are already especially dangerous?

It's not hard to make temporary protective barriers. In fact, SFMTA went through the trouble of putting in lightweight pedestrian barrier along part of the route (as seen above). How much harder would it have been to put down real barriers? Cities in Denmark, the Netherlands, and elsewhere find ways to keep cyclists safe, even in construction zones.

A construction zone bike and pedestrian lane in Copenhagen. Photo: Jason Henderson.
A construction zone bike and pedestrian lane in Copenhagen. Photo: Jason Henderson.
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In fact, it's occasionally done even in a far away city called Oakland:

A construction area on Broadway in Oakland. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
A construction area on Broadway in Oakland. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
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Is the above configuration in Oakland above really that hard to emulate, SFMTA? Is it really that hard to see why the arrangement used on Howard, seen below, is just not safe?

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The Howard Street temporary lane as seen from the pedestrian area. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
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That said, Streetsblog would be unfair not to point out some of the positives getting installed in the area. At the corner of 5th, SFMTA installed a great protected turn. So at least when the construction is done, things should be better than ever.

A protected corner is under construction at Howard and 5th
A protected corner is under construction at Howard and 5th. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
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Let's just hope nobody gets hurt during the remainder of construction.

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