Category: Bicycle Infrastructure

Green carpet of super bike sharrows – a new type of bike lane?

Bike sharrow (left) and super bike sharrow (right). Are bike sharrows becoming more common?

Bike sharrow (left) and super bike sharrow (right). Are bike sharrows becoming more common?

I never did like bike sharrows on wide streets that have more than two lanes in any city. I have seen them a lot where the roads have no space for bike lanes. Then not too long ago, I started seeing green-backed bike sharrows, called super sharrows which can be spotted on the Wiggle and Market Street in San Francisco. Now they have taken it up another notch with these carpets of green super sharrows in Long Beach, Salt Lake City, and recently in Oakland. It just reminds me of vehicular cycling (where you ride your bike like a motorist) which has failed miserably to get more people to bike. I hope this doesn’t become a norm.

Green sharrow bike path on 40th St. in Oakland, CA.

Green sharrow bike path on 40th St. in Oakland, CA. Does it make you want to ride on it?

The first time I drove my car in a car lane that had a green sharrow bike path painted on it, although there were no cyclists there,  I felt like I was running over all the cyclists that had ridden there before, in a spiritual sense. – Nellie, Scion IQ driver and bicyclist

A carpet of green sharrow bikeway was put down on 40th Street in September of last year to give bicyclists a safe passage to the MacArthur BART Station in Oakland from Emeryville in the west or Oakland’s Piedmont Ave. in the east. It was said that this was a compromise between having a protected bike lane or doing nothing. Yep, bicyclists always get the bad end of the stick. (I guess they can at least claim they are rolling out the red green carpet for us bicyclists.)

Street sign indicating green sharrow bike path leading to MacArthur BART Station

Street sign indicating green sharrow bike path leading to MacArthur BART Station

We went to Long Beach in 2012 to check out their bike infrastructure and we experienced this type of bikeway. We didn’t like it at first. I thought it was stupid because again, bicyclists have to share a lane with drivers and it seemed like having green paint there was supposed to trick cyclists into thinking they have the lane. After some analysis, I understand now why they did this. The auto traffic through there moved slow at around 8-15 mph (12.9-24 kmh) which is bike speed, with many traffic lights on 2nd St. and it’s on a commercial corridor. In this situation, this type of bikeway may work better than a conventional bike lane because you are away from car door zone. You won’t have to swerve out of the bike lane because of idling cars blocking it, and you can avoid right hooks at intersections.

2nd St. commercial corridor in Long Beach, CA. Notice numerous shops and traffic lights.

2nd St. commercial corridor in Long Beach, CA. Notice numerous shops and traffic lights.

However, I think that the one on Oakland’s 40th St. is a bad idea. I did not feel safe at all going through there because motorists were going as fast as 40 mph (64.4 kmh). You can hear the roaring engine noise from trucks coming from behind, and cars passing you to change into your lane at 3 times your speed and merge into your right of way at any time. I felt vulnerable. Maybe during commute times things may be different (I was there on a late Sunday afternoon and very few cyclists were on it). Still, I can never trust distracted or angry drivers and I see plenty of them on the streets at all hours.

Also, if adding a protected bike lane was going to be so expensive (again, the green sharrow lanes that are there now are a compromise between protected bike lanes and none at all), I don’t understand why street parking couldn’t have been removed to create a buffered bike lane instead, which is cheaper and easier to do. Since this is a residential area with homes that have garages and it is not a commercial area with shops, they do not need the parking. Also, adding a buffered bike lane wouldn’t impede traffic flow.

Note the lack of traffic lights and long distance before each intersection suggests bikes and cars shouldn't be mixed.

Note the lack of traffic lights and the long distances between intersections. That type of environment does not allow for the safe mixing of bikes and cars. There should have been a buffered bike lane instead.

Fortunately, according to this EastBayExpress.com article, this will not be the final design for that street and this is a pilot study. I hope it will not be permanent.

Oakland has the potential to be a wonderful bike city

Grand Lake Theatre, a landmark situated in Grand Lake neighborhood.

The Grand Lake Theatre, a well-known landmark of the Grand Lake neighborhood of Oakland.

It’s been 3 months now since I’ve started biking around Oakland as a resident, commuter, and recreationist. As my wheels have wandered into different parts of the city, I have often found myself saying, “This place really has the potential to be a wonderful bike city.” It is not just a matter of wishfully dreaming about it being a paradise for people on bikes, although that is certainly part of it too. It is more about seeing that there are a lot of inherent characteristics about Oakland that make it pretty ideal for biking, if the city can ever fully embrace it as a means of transportation and the infrastructure that it would require. (Like practically all American cities, the transportation budget allocates very little to biking.)

Oakland is a fairly dense city for the United States, registering at about 7,000 residents per square mile (2,705/sq. km) and growing. Although there are many neighborhoods which are quite suburban in character, there are significant parts of Oakland that are actually quite urban such as neighborhoods like Grand Lake, Adams Point, and Chinatown which have triple the density. Moreover, the city’s dense neighborhoods are mostly clustered together. Density is good for biking because it makes the travel distances between destinations much shorter.

One of the things that makes Oakland a special place is that the shops here tend to be mom and pop, which means small and local. There are some chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks, but they don’t have many big box stores. So that means that most of the shops tend to have a smaller footprint. These small shops tend to have limited parking because they usually do not have their own parking lots or garages and street parking is not always plentiful. Bikes complement these small shops nicely since 10-15 bikes can fit in one car parking space. The shops are human scale and that attracts people on foot or bicycle. Their signs are also smaller which makes them more visible by foot and bike as well.

Old Oakland, a charming neighborhood that is filled with small businesses.

Old Oakland, a historic and charming neighborhood that is filled with small businesses.

The top biking cities of Copenhagen and Amsterdam have ironing board flat topography which is very conducive for biking. But Oakland isn’t too different in this regard. Although there are the Oakland Hills, large parts of Oakland are nice and flat. A visual estimate using Google Maps shows that at least 60% of Oakland is flat and the hills are tucked to the side. A side effect of this is that you see people on bikes coming and going in every direction. Although you will rarely see a whole bunch of cyclists stopped together at a traffic light, you will see one or two turn up here and there in all directions. This is due in part to that all the bicyclists do not need to funnel into a few preferred routes to avoid hills. For example, in San Francisco, there are many areas that are empty of bicyclists and yet when you go to The Wiggle during rush hour, you will see a whole bunch of them going by like a herd of wild gazelles. That is because The Wiggle is really the only east-west route to avoid SF’s infamously steep hills. (There are still some hills on the route, but the slopes are much easier to climb.) But in the flat parts of Oakland, you can bike for miles without meeting a hill. Combined with less traffic congestion, cyclists even regularly take routes without bike lanes on them. So, there is greater freedom to roam.

In addition to flat topography, Oakland has a lot of street space. Most streets in the urban areas are really wide and the width of many of them are not justified by the amount of car traffic that actually uses them. This underutilization is an opportunity for bike facility planners because there is enough space to put in cycle tracks without removing car lanes and/or the need to remove parking spaces. That means that, at least in theory, there will be less fighting between different interest groups over the scarce and valuable resource of space. Even if a few parking spaces have to be removed, not as many people are going to throw a fit about it because Oakland is not as space-constrained of a city yet. So in theory, it should be easier to implement bike infrastructure. But space will not always be this available. As the city grows and traffic increases, the opportunity to easily implement bike lanes with little opposition will disappear. It is better to incorporate bike infrastructure now rather than later when it will become more difficult to do just about anything in a crowded city.

Super wide streets are common in Oakland which provide enough space to put in cycle tracks.

Super wide streets are common in Oakland which provide enough space to put in cycle tracks, or at least buffered bike lanes.

Oakland is one of the few American cities which has a decent regional public transit system. The subway-like Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system has 8 stations within Oakland and connects to San Francisco (which also has 8 BART stations) and a large part of the Bay Area. Thousands of Oakland residents use the BART every day to get to SF for work or play. In fact, it is quicker to get into downtown SF from certain BART stations in Oakland, than from the western neighborhoods of SF to downtown using SF’s own metro transit system. However, not all people live within walking distance of a BART station. The solution is to take a bike to the nearest station. They are actually bike-able from most places in Oakland. Plus, the BART now allows bikes on board all the time and when you get to your stop on the other end, you can use your bike to cover the last mile to your final destination. With the sleek new BART cars (designed by BMW) coming in a couple of years, they will have better on-board bike racks in which you won’t need to stand next to your bike to keep it from falling over.

system-map

BART System Map

Weather-wise, in Oakland it’s almost perfect for biking. The climate is mild all year round and on average there are 261 sunny days per year. The average low is about 45 deg F (7 deg C) and average high is about 74 deg F (23 deg C). It rarely goes above 80 degrees which is great for cyclists because we don’t want to get all sweaty. It doesn’t get that windy so you won’t get that strong headwind you sometimes have to face when riding. The fog which engulfs SF for much of the year dissipates by the time it reaches Oakland and the humidity level is pretty comfortable too.

In addition to the great biking weather, riding around the better parts of Oakland can be a very visually enjoyable and stimulating experience. The built environment around Oakland is aesthetically charming and pretty, has lots of old growth trees, a variety of neighborhoods, a variety of architectural styles, and many unique gems. There are many churches with great architecture, some of which are old like the neo-gothic First Presbyterian Church on Broadway or new like the glassy Cathedral of Christ by Lake Merritt. There are elegant old landmark theaters in the Art Deco style such as Fox, Paramount, and Grand Lake which bring you back to the Jazz Age. Then there is the beautiful Lake Merritt known as “The Jewel of Oakland”, a natural estuary lake placed in the middle of an urban setting for everyone to enjoy. You can see Oakland’s well-known and lauded diversity of people (people of every color and background) when they gather at the lake, strolling, biking, jogging, and boating. Also, the fact that Oakland has the most artists per capita in the US, besides Greenwich Village in NYC, gives Oakland a very visible artistic flair. There are art galleries and murals everywhere with a great concentration of them in downtown and the waterfront. It is great to roll by on your bike and take in these interesting and sometimes unexpected sights.

Murals are everywhere throughout the city and best discovered on a bike.

Murals are everywhere throughout the city and best discovered on a bike.

Now, I’d like to point out the elephant in the room that is always there when speaking of Oakland. Yes, as many of you have heard, Oakland does have a lot of poor residents and yes, it does have a problem with crime. Much like SF, Oakland is also a city of contrasts. So even though there are wealthy neighborhoods like Rockridge, Piedmont (which is technically its own city contained within the city of Oakland) and the Oakland Hills, there are lots of poor neighborhoods with a depressing and disturbing amount of blight. Even though Oakland has a lot of assets, culturally and physically, that other cities dream about, it also has an alarming amount of crime.

We all know that Oakland has long been comprised of low-income residents. The estimated household income for Oakland in 2011 was just a little bit over $50K and currently, the unemployment rate is at 11%. During the recession, Oakland was hit hard and the already financially strained city had to suffer through massive foreclosures. This took a toll on the city’s funds and they had to dramatically cut services. While the city has been forced to find ways to cut costs, these problems only make it more important for the city to look into investing in bicycle infrastructure. Bike infrastructure costs only a fraction of what costs for both car-oriented and mass transit infrastructure.

As well as saving money for the city, it also saves money for its residents at an individual level since more people will have the option to commute by bicycle since they will feel more safe and comfortable to do so when bike lanes are put in. More people will not have to own a car or can use their cars less frequently, saving them money. A study in Copenhagen showed that riding a bike for a mile provided an economic net gain of $0.42 while driving produced a net loss of $0.20. If there was any city that needed bike infrastructure the most it would be one that is economically strained, such as Oakland.

The other problem Oakland has is its crime rate. Although its robbery rate has dropped 26% and the homicide rate has gone down by 30% at the end of 2013, its crime figures still remain embaressingly high. Having real bike infrastructure would make Oakland a better city for its residents and a worse place for criminals. If more people are encouraged to bike, there would be more eyes on the streets. Having more eyes deters crime and is something even the famous urbanist Jane Jacobs has written about. More riding of bikes also means less parked cars which provide barriers needed for discreet drug dealing or other hidden criminal activities. A real example of this can be seen in SF, where they recently banned parking on the worst block in the seedy Tenderloin neighborhood. Crime dropped immediately. 

It is the poverty and crime which has held Oakland back from taking its rightful seat as a world-class city (they’ve got the 5th busiest port in the country and their own international airport for crying out loud). That and the fact that San Francisco, its neighbor across the bay, has stolen a lot of the attention away. But because of San Francisco’s recent stunning economic growth, Oakland is also changing. Even Chip Johnson from the SF Chronicle admits there is something special happening right now in Oakland.

A view of the Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland during dusk.

A view of the Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland during dusk.

Right now, Oakland has about 100 miles of bike lanes, but none are protected or buffered from cars. A lot of them are comprised of these silly painted bike sharrows that I think should be completely eliminated. And some bike lanes just disappear right under your pedals. But even with its lack of real bicycle infrastructure, this city still observes a commute modal share for bicycles of 3% in 2012, an increase of 40% since 2010. What’s also interesting about these stats is that the gender split between male and female riders is about 50:50. That’s rare unless you’re in one of those bike-friendly European cities.

Oakland is a city with a lot going for it and if it can fix its problem with poverty and get its crime under control it will become another amazing city that people everywhere will want to visit. Oakland also has a lot going for it bike-wise and if it can truly embrace biking by financially supporting bike improvements in a significant way, it could become one the best bike cities in the US. It would not just be great because it would have cycle tracks and such but also because it is an incredibly rewarding and pleasant urban city to ride your bike in. The biking in turn would make Oakland an even more desirable city. It would be wonderful.

Lake Merritt is an urban park centrally located in the middle of the city.

The “Jewel of Oakland”, Lake Merritt is a beautiful urban lake centrally located in the middle of the city.

Truck drivers and traffic engineers need to rethink bicycle safety

In urban cities, over 50% of all collisions involving bicycles are at intersections. Up to a third of all bike collisions involve heavy trucks, despite there being less trucks on the road than passenger vehicles. These two statistics help paint a horrifying picture of how a lot of bicycle collisions happen. In most bicycle collisions involving trucks, the bicyclist is usually heading straight when an oblivious truck driver makes a right turn and “right-hooks” him or her. This past August in San Francisco, Amelie Le Moullac, a 24 y.o. woman, was killed exactly this way. This time was no different in Susan Watson’s death.

Susan Watson, a dear and wonderful friend to many, was riding on Market St. in Oakland after getting off the ferry at Jack London Square on Monday evening, December 17th, 2013. She was a dedicated bike commuter on her way to her home in El Cerrito, about 9 miles away. The shortest route with some sort of bike facility for her to take was northbound on Market St. and she wore all the things that would make a cyclist visible to drivers in the evening hours: an assortment of flashing and colorful wheel lights, bike lights, and lights decorating her backpack. She would have known that this route, close to the Port of Oakland, is often filled with trucks- even more the reason to have so many lights.

Her route going home has bike lanes in both directions, but it is also a favorite route for truck drivers coming in and out of the Port of Oakland to pick up and drop off all those cargo containers (see the stack of Matson containers in the image below). Anyone who rides a bike can tell you that large trucks are the scariest things on the road (aside from maybe aggressive and impatient taxi drivers), but the city decided to put bike lanes there anyway, sharing the truck route without doing anything more than painting white stripes. Obviously, doing only that much wouldn’t and doesn’t work and this setup hasn’t worked in San Francisco either.

Market St. - looking southbound. You can see this street is filled with big rigs.

Looking southbound on Market St. near 4th St. – You can see that this street is filled with 18 wheelers.

Trucks come and go on this route because of its vicinity to the Port of Oakland and the nearby freeway entrances and exits (see image below).

Market St. - northbound, another way to get on the freeway.

Looking northbound on Market St. near 5th St. – Truck drivers’ preferred route to get onto the 880 freeway.

Furthermore, when I was taking photos at this intersection, I saw that over 95% of the truck drivers did not merge to the far right before making a right turn (see image below). Although that would require trucks to merge into the bike lane before executing the turn, this is what they are supposed to do. Trucks need to do that so bicyclists and everyone else can predict where they will go and not think that they are going straight instead of turning. Also, it will keep bicyclists from treacherously ending up in their right-side blind spot.

Why aren’t truck drivers merging all the way to the right before turning? There’s definitely still enough room to make a right turn if they do so. This is probably so they can make wide turns which would also require less effort than having to merge to the right and then make a tight right turn.

Another truck not merging onto the bike lane.

Another truck driver is not merging to the far right before making a right turn.

In the image below, you can clearly see that the rear end of the truck is far from the corner curb. The front wheel axle barely turned.

Another reason why truck drivers might make such wide turns is to avoid the tail-end from hitting curbs, light poles, and pedestrians waiting on corners, etc., but does it warrant such a wide turn? I have seen big rigs make tighter turns than this.

Almost every truck makes this wide right turn.

Almost every truck driver makes a right turn this wide, with the rear end far from the curb.

Another reason for such wide right turns is so that after making the turn, the truck would not end up outside the boundary of the road he or she is turning onto. However, at this intersection these truck drivers clearly have space. The photo below shows that 5th St. is so wide, almost 4 lanes wide in one direction (including street parking space), that there is actually room for truck drivers to make tighter right turns. Tighter turns would mean trucks would have to merge to the far right, crossing over into the bike lane before turning, which would also mean that the driver would more likely see a bicyclist in the bike lane where Susan was located at the time of the collision.

Why such a wide turn when there is so much space? Do truck drivers do this so they can more easily position themselves on the farthest left lane on 5th St. so they can get onto the freeway ramp a few blocks down? To me, they just seem carelessly lazy.

3 lanes wide 5th St.

5th St. is a wide street: 4 lanes wide (including the parking lane).

Whether or not such wide right turns are indeed necessary at this junction, traffic engineers must design it better and also wherever there are bike lanes sharing the road with heavy traffic and in close vicinity to mass transit stops (in this case, the ferry terminal in Jack London Square).

Here are my ideas to improve this area:

Better and adequate street lighting in the right places, which it currently does not have (see photo below). For some strange reason, the street lamps are placed away from the sidewalks on the median island, so  that means that they will not really light up the curbs and sidewalks. This is pretty darn silly if you ask me. Why would street lamps be placed in the center of a road when pedestrians and bicyclists need it the most? Moreover, this junction is partially under a BART bridge and so needs more lighting than usual.

In addition, I think a bicycle alert signal placed near the intersection for alerting truck drivers of the presence of bicyclists is another good measure for safety.

Speaking of lights, another thing they can do is have different traffic signal lights for both drivers and bicyclists at this kind of junction.

Perhaps, let’s have green marked lanes such as green cross bikes all the way through the intersection.

Of course, protected bike lanes are ideal but that is going to be perceived as too expensive and intrusive in our car-centric society. Instead, put buffered bike lanes in that stretch since there is no street parking allowed anyway (see image below) and there is plenty of space. That way, bicyclists are placed closer to the curb and away from the back end of trucks making right turns. This extra distance will allow them some space to react.

No street parking, so why not have protected and buffered bike lanes

No street lamps on the sidewalk. No street parking, so why not have protected and/or buffered bike lanes?

To conclude, Susan’s death could have been prevented but a truck driver that night was too carelessly lazy and traffic engineers were too incompetent to see that what they put there is not enough to allow for the safe mixing of bicycles and trucks on open streets. They need to do more and they need to do it right.

Related reading:

Update: Susan, a ferry passenger and bike commuter just died…

 

New East Span Bay Bridge with bike path!

This past weekend we went to Oakland and biked up on the new East Span of the Bay Bridge. The East Span started construction in 2002 at a final cost of $6.4 billions and it was recently opened on Labor Day. It was built to replace the old bridge due to earthquake safety hazard.

It is truly a bridge with a bike path built from the start. Golden Gate Bridge’s bike path was originally built for infantry to cross it during WWII.

It’s 3.4 miles (5.5 km) bike ride from the entry point (Oakland’s Maritime St.) to near the end of the bridge. There’s another entry point on Shellmound St. in Emeryville. The  actual length of the bridge is 2.2 miles (3.5 km) and sits lower than the old industrial bridge with a 2% incline (an easy climb for both biking and walking). The bike path has a speed limit of 15 mph (24 km/h) and both bike/ped path is 15.5 ft (4.7 m) wide. Unfortunately, I think the pedestrian path is narrow causing many pedestrians to spill over onto the bike path. Still, it was a lot of fun and the location is not as windy and noisy as the Golden Gate Bridge. Indeed, this is definitely going to be a tourist trap but I hope it doesn’t get as crowded as Golden Gate Bridge though.

The bike path does not open all the way to Yerba Buena Island yet because there’s a section of the old bridge that is blocking the bike path. The entire bike path will be completed by 2015 when the old bridge is dismantled. When it does, it will make a great recreational ride. Just picture yourself riding from Oakland or Emeryville, across the gorgeous Bridge, through a natural island called Yerba Buena Island and end in Treasure Island for lunch. It could be a nice 30 miles/48 km round trip depending on where you begin.

Maritime St entry point

This sign was located on Maritime St. entry point in Oakland.

entry way to Bay Bridge

On our way to the Bridge…

old bay bridge.2

When I saw this, I really want to bike inside. It’s too bad it’s going to get demolished.

Bay Bridge column

Great modern architecture!

bike_ped path

Notice pedestrians are walking on the bike path. I hope this gets straighten out in the future.

old bay bridge

Farewell old Bridge! Thanks for the wonderful 77 years.

Review: Our experience with the Bay Area Bike Share

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was really ecstatic about the implementation of the Bay Area Bike Share (BABS) and I think it is a sign that bicycles are less marginalized in SF than previously. Having the bike shares lends great legitimacy to the whole bicycle movement. It’s not just obligatory bike lanes going down. Now, the city is backing and putting actual bikes on the road.

Just riding this bike around town branded with its official Bay Area Bike Share logos, I feel that I get more respect from motorists. Now if these anti-cyclists get angry at us like they often do, while riding these bike shares they would be putting the blame on the city too. We’re no longer fringe outcasts in the mean streets of SF. We are now officially backed by the government, consummated in the coolness of a celeste green color.

Townsend and 4th St. kiosk

She’s a beauty! Look at the cushy saddle, perfect for upright bicycling.

Right on the day it was launched, Nellie and I couldn’t wait to get on one. We had tried City Bikes in Copenhagen and it was a terrible system, but of course it was implemented in 1995. My workplace has a free bike share system but it is rarely used due to its campus location on hills. So, I was hoping for a better overall system.

This is where you insert your cc to request a bike

This is where you insert your credit card to request a bike. It doesn’t take Discover Card.

We just wanted to test out the bikes so we got the 24 hours pass. The 24 hours or 3 days pass is inconvenient because you would have to buy it at the kiosk, not online. You would have to first to stick your credit card to purchase, it gives you a 5 digit code on a small piece of paper, and enter it into the keypad on the rack. Then you have five minutes to pull out a bike from the docking station (if you don’t undock your bike within the grace period, repeat the process), then when you want to get a new bike at the next kiosk you would have to do the process all over again. I thought it was annoying. However if you purchase the one year membership of only $88, you just swipe the key fob (which they mailed to you) over the keypad and you get the bike instantly.

The green arrows pointing to the kiosks were the ones that we used that day.

The green arrows pointing to the kiosks were the ones that we used that day.

So we set up a test ride around South of Market (SOMA) to get lunch, errands, shopping and dinner in the end. We got the bikes at Townsend and 4th St kiosk across from the the Caltrain station, and rode toward the Embarcadero because that was the safest route to get to Financial District for lunch. It took us 25 minutes to get to the kiosk at Market and Battery St close to Specialty’s, our lunch place. On the way there, we passed 5 other stations!

It was a little exhaustive pedaling the 50 lbs (23 kg) clunky bikes for 25 minutes but it was very comfortable. They absorbed shocks very well from cracked pavements and potholes. We felt safe riding them, even without helmets. It’s probably due to a few reasons; the upright position you’re sitting provides a better all around view of the surrounding; the stability of the bike from the weight and fat tires; high visibility from the bright celeste green color; and the bike can’t go that fast. These bikes should fit anyone from 5 ft (1.5 m) to over 6 ft (1.83 m) tall. Moreover, I like that the seat post has markings on it to help adjust the next bike you rent to your specific height quickly.

Nellie's foot is 80% better and biking is her best way to get around town.

Nellie’s injured foot is 80% better since the Amsterdam trip and biking is her best way to get around town.

The nice thing is that we just dock the bikes without having to find a pole (bike racks are rare in the Financial District) to lock them. We walked 2 small blocks to get lunch at Specialty’s. That was a nice one hour lunch and felt pretty relief that we didn’t have to worry about leaving them outside. When we were done, we walked another small 2 blocks to get to another kiosk at Market and Sansome St. We stick our credit cards into the machine to get the 5 digits code again to get the bikes. That is about the only hassle we experienced all day – swiping our credit cards to get the 5 digits code and entering on the keypads.

A BABS staff was there on the first day to show how bike shares work.

A BABS staff was at Market and 2nd St on the first day of the launch to show how bike shares work.

Then we rode for a few blocks to Union Square for shopping. We docked the bikes at Market and 4th St. We usually don’t take our bikes to Union Square because of bad experiences. I have two friends that got their saddles stolen. Also in our first few months living in SF our bikes were stolen in the vicinity, albeit we used cable locks. Even though now we have u-locks, but we still don’t want to take any chance.

Almost empty at Howard and 3rd station

Almost empty at Howard and 3rd kiosk on the first day!

After shopping we walked to Howard and 3rd St to get some photos for this blog. We wanted to get some cool looking people and their bikes going home from a long day’s work. Howard St is a one way thoroughfare going from east to west, and it has a high volume of bicycle commuters. Then we rented the bike again to get dinner at Tin’s (our favorite Vietnamese restaurant in the city). It was pretty cool to ride down on Howard St with a bunch of bike commuters.

I love it when car space are removed for bike facilities.

I love it when car space are removed for bike facilities.

Tin’s is located on Howard between 5th and 6th and guess what, a BABS kiosk was nearby. Wonderful! Dropped off the bike at Howard and 5th St, and walked half a block. After dinner it got dark, so we returned to the same station, picked up the bikes and rode almost 2 miles (3.2 km) home passing one other bike share station on the way.

pretty bright front LED headlights

Every bike is equipped with bright front LED headlights.

Flashing rear LED lights.

Flashing rear LED lights.

26 inch x 1.95 inch, are comfortable and wide enough to slide over active light rail tracks.

26 in (660 mm) x 1.95 in (50 mm) tires, are comfortable and wide enough to slide over active light rail tracks.

It was such an easy and pleasant experience with the bike shares at our finger tips. Most bike share stations are located in SOMA (and Market St.) which I think is wonderful. SOMA is such a large neighborhood with some sketchy areas and shops/eateries that are located far apart. Walking could be long and dangerous, so bike shares help in these kind of situations. Moreover, these bikes are available 24/7 any time you need to be transported. You can’t count on taxis and buses during odd hours. Now you may not need to buy a new bike since these bikes are available. It’s almost like you have your own bike but without any maintenance to worry about. Pretty cool, eh!

Even though we didn’t encounter many issues with the system as would be expected at its start, the BABS system can certainly be improved. Here are some of the things that may help:

- There must be a way for kids younger than 18 y.o. to use them besides having their parents or guardians be around to borrow them for them.

- I find the process of checking out bikes for the short-term 24 hour or 3 day memberships to be inconvenient as I explained above. Since it’s part of the public transit system, I think it would be great to be able to use the Clipper card with it.

- Why do all bike shares weigh so much? Nellie has a hard time picking up the bike onto the sidewalk.

- Having a built-in lock would be a nice addition I think. What if you need to make a quick stop in between stations, like for a quick coffee? Maybe, a cup holder to go with your coffee?

- They should put a map near the handlebars visible from the seat of the bike that shows where the locations of the kiosks or a smartphone app to display availability of bikes.

- When they expand this next year, hopefully they will put a few stations in other neighborhoods such as the Mission District, Dog Patch, and Mission Bay.

- In addition to SF and the cities on the peninsula having bike share stations, Oakland should have them too!

Happy pedaling!

More related posts:

BABS launch ceremony (8/29/13)

Bay Area Bike Share launching this August

BABS Launch Ceremony (8/29/13)

Finally today is the day the bicycle community feels some legitimacy! I feel so proud that a bicycle is incorporated into the public transit system.

The Bay Area Bike-Share ceremony started at 10:30 am today at 4th and King St. Caltrain station. Here are some photos from today’s ceremony. It wasn’t until noon that the bike shares could be used by the public.

bike share celebrity

She was the celebrity of the day. Our celeste green Bay Area Bike Share. She got so much attention, deservingly.

bay area bikeshare refreshments

Mayor Lee speaking

Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco was there to speak at the ceremony with Jane Kim, Scott Wiener and John Avalos (3 of our Supervisors) in attendance.

Jared Blumfield

Jared Blumenfeld, a bike commuter and an EPA official (appointed by President Obama) spoke convincingly of why bicycle is good for transportation, good for business, good for livability, etc.

bike share ribbon cutting

little girl on bikeshare

Mayor Lee on bikeshare

Mayor Ed Lee leading the bike share caravan back to City Hall.

Police chief Greg Suhr

Our police chief, Greg Suhr on a bike? Maybe now he can understand how it feels to be a bicyclist. I would love to see more cops on bikes.

bike share dispatcher

First customer at Caltrain station

Right at noon time is this first happy customer at the Townsend and 4th St. station.

bike shares already in use

By riding around town today, I can already tell bike shares are going to be very popular.

Happy Bike-Sharing!

25% jump in the bicycling rate on Market Street!

Bike counter on Market Street on a Sunday afternoon.

Bike counter on Market Street on a Sunday afternoon.

SF’s very own bicycle counter Eco Counter was unveiled on Bike to Work Day which was May 9th of this year. It was a perfect day to celebrate biking to work with the counter running.

For those of you who don’t know what’s the point of having a bike counter- well, it’s the same thing as doing a survey/poll. After data collection, Market Street may be justified in getting more bike infrastructure investment (crossing fingers) and a traffic mobility reassessment. Plus, it’s cool to see the numbers increase in real-time for all those bicycle boosters and data geeks out there.

Location of the bike counter. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

Location of the bike counter. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

The bicycle counter is located on the south side of Market St. between 9th and 10th Sts. to count bicyclists heading eastbound. Market Street has the highest amount of bicycle traffic in San Francisco, so it’s a no brainer to have it there.

Let’s take a look at the historical data on bicycling in SF and then at the numbers coming from the counter:

SF boasted an increase of 71% in bicyclist counts between 2006 and 2010. Unfortunately, in the last 5 years SF saw the same rate in bicycle theft. These two data sets sort of correlate with each other.

Additionally, bicycle trips account for 3.5% of all trips in 2010, an increase from 2% in the year 2000. But have these numbers gone up since 2010? I am still waiting and eager to see data showing that jump because everywhere I ride, I see a lot more bicyclists.

But it’s also possible that the percentage of trips made by bicycle remained the same even as the number of bicycle trips went up, because it also seems like there has been a large uptick in car trips (and congestion) which many have observed in the city. So after accounting for that, the percentage of bike trips may sadly still remain at 3.5%.

Now let’s take a look at the numbers coming from the bike counter:

Data from bike counter for since May 9. Image courtesy of SFMTA.

Data collected from bike counter since May 9. Image courtesy of SFMTA.

First, the counter only collects data on Market St. and possibly has some glitches. It’s been reported that not every bicyclist gets counted, that vehicles are sometimes counted, and that there’s a 5% error rate (source).

Nevertheless, according to the bike counter posted on the SFMTA’s website, the number of bicyclists that were registered has jumped from an average of 2,032 per day in May to 2,715 in August (excluding outliers) within 4 months. Although the number of daily riders is small, that’s a 25% increase! In addition, the August weekday count of 3,132 almost tied with Bike to Work Day’s count of 3,231 which is incredible! Many people that came out to ride for BTWD are not regular bicycle commuters and perhaps now, these occasional riders have become regulars!

The increase could have also been due to the warmer months. But I doubt it has much to do with that because the climate in SF is pretty mild all year round, and it’s been especially warm throughout this year so far.

You’ll notice that there is no data for the months of June and July. It’s possible that when the counter was shut down for the Market St. repaving back in June, the counter was also re-calibrated and fine-tuned (we don’t know for sure) affecting the counts for May. So the count could have already been at the same level as in August and there might not have been an actual increase.

It’s too bad that during the months of June and July, there was no data input. If it wasn’t turned off for the re-pavement, it would have told us more about the change. For example, a slow increase would confirm the 25% increase from May to August.

If there really was an increase, it would be great to see it continue in this upward trend. Maybe this road will soon eventually outdo Portland’s Hawthorne Bridge as the busiest bicycle corridor in the nation.

One of nine bike share stations on Market St next to bike counter.

One of nine bike share stations on Market St. next to the bike counter. Bay Area Bike Share will launch on Thursday, 8/29.

Amelie’s death: last of five tragic deaths involving truck drivers.

Amelie Le Moullac, 24.  Image courtesy of Voce Communications.

Amelie Le Moullac, 24. Image courtesy of Voce Communications.

What a very sad last week it was for the bicycle community. Amelie Le Moullac of 24, was on her way to work last Wednesday morning. She was riding her bike on a striped bike lane going straight on Folsom St. in the SOMA neighborhood when a truck driver made a right turn on 6th St. and killed her. It was the driver’s fault but of course he wasn’t cited.

Amelie's bike.  Image courtesy of SFGate.

Amelie’s bike. Image courtesy of SFGate.

Since 2011, the last five bicyclists’ deaths had all resulted from colliding with truck drivers at intersections in San Francisco. This seems like a common theme here.  This is all too familiar when cycle tracks are not put in.  I hear these kinds of stories coming from London as well. 50% of cyclists’s deaths in London involve trucks. The reason I think is that cities like London and San Francisco are very auto-centric and both have a rapidly growing bicycle culture. However, both have dysfunctional bike infrastructure which is composed of striped bike lanes.  As a result, cyclists are forced to share roads with motorists. In just about any city with this kind of set-up, tragic fatalities with motorists are bound to happen.

Bike lane on the right on Folsom St. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

Bike lane on the right on Folsom St. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

The street Amelie was a riding on is a one way thoroughfare with 4 lanes. This is one of many streets (pretty ridiculous for such a small and dense city) in SF which are very suitable for large trucks to be on.  The construction frenzy in the city has also brought in dozens and dozens of these trucks. Add to the fact that truck drivers can’t see you because they sit 8 ft/2.4 m above ground with a huge blind-spot on the driver’s right side.

Either reduce speed limits on these kind of roads (and enforce it), ban all right turns on red lights, or put in real bike infrastructure. Bicycle commuters are going to take this route because it is one of 2 routes (from the central neighborhoods) with some sort of bike facility that leads to downtown. It’s unfortunate that we have a long way to go to have safe streets throughout SF for bicyclists. Since our city is not going to implement any of these soon, the responsibility to be safe is on us bicyclists. Below are some tips that may help you to be safe.

1. Always look over your left shoulder moments beforehand when crossing an intersection.

2. Don’t speed through intersections, prepare to stop.

3. Be visible to drivers by being out in front at a junction when waiting for a green light.

4. Listen for loud trucks if you can. I know the city can be very loud a lot of times.

5. Be assertive and take the whole lane if you have to. You have the legal right to.

6. And always pass to the left of a vehicle to avoid a right hook, this is when a car merges suddenly to the right to make a right turn sandwiching the bike rider between the car and the curb.

Amelie's memorial at 6th and Folsom St.

Amelie’s memorial at 6th and Folsom St.

Rest in peace, Amelie.

Read also:
In Memory of Diana Sullivan, Ghost Bike Memorial

Let’s have “crossbikes” at major intersections…

I have ridden most if not all of SF major streets and they always require my full attention. When you are riding into a major intersection, you have no protection. The only protection you have are the red traffic lights on either side of you. You hope that the stacked cars on both sides are aware of the red lights or the car next to you doesn’t right-hook you. You feel almost naked and you need to hurry across. What a scary moment.

You aren’t over-analyzing in these situations because almost 50% of all crashes happen at intersections in urban areas. Most of these accidents involve motorist-pedestrian and motorist-bicyclist, and of course they usually result in fatal injuries. In addition, 3 of the 5 most dangerous intersections in San Francisco for cyclists are located on Market St., a major corridor for all modes of transportation.

Market and Octavia. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

Market St. and Octavia Blvd. (Westbound). Image courtesy of Google Maps.

The most dangerous intersection in the city is at Market St. and Octavia Blvd. which had 10 pedestrian or cyclist accidents last year. The reason is that there’s a wide 101/80 freeway ramp to the left with very heavy traffic.

Market and Octavia

Market St. and bike path on the right. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

At the bottom right corner (see image above) is a bicycle path and that is where drivers make illegal right turns onto the freeway ignoring the no left turn sign and concrete island, resulting in many pedestrians/bicyclists crashes.

In April of this year, a couple of green bike sharrows were installed here. A nice improvement but it is not visible enough to motorists. Green crossing also needs to be installed on the opposite side of the street. Recently, a red light camera was approved to be installed there as well. I hope these measures will help.

Bicyclists are as vulnerable as pedestrians and pedestrians get crosswalks, but I don’t see why bicyclists do not get their own “crossbikes”? Even better if crossbikes come with their own traffic lights, but that is wishful thinking.

Market St. and Van Ness Ave. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

Market St. and Van Ness Ave. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

Let’s take a look at another major intersection on Market St. This stretch has 6 car lanes, while Van Ness Ave. (cross street) has up to 7 car lanes and again leads to the 101 freeway a few blocks away. So by any definition, this is another dangerous intersection for cyclists. This section has a green protected bike path on Market St. and it disappears for a long distance of 75 ft./23 m. You feel safe until you enter into this no man’s zone.

SFMTA is not going to install bicycle traffic lights anytime soon, SFPD doesn’t enforce traffic violations, and red-light camera installations require a lot of money and state approval. So what would be a simple and cost-effective measure to implement? Similar to the concept of green painted bike lanes- cyclists need to maximize their visibility on the roads.

Look to Copenhagen for that easy fix. All you need is paint and a bike stencil. No parking removal, road dieting or traffic reconfiguration to worry about- and you wonder why the SFMTA still hasn’t implemented this in all major intersections.

H. C. Andersons Blvd and Vester Farimagsgade intersection. Image courtesty of Google Maps.

H. C. Andersons Blvd and Vester Farimagsgade intersection in Copenhagen. Image courtesty of Google Maps.

H. C. Andersons Blvd (west to east), a 10 lane boulevard intersecting a 5 lane street, is a huge crossing in Copenhagen. It is common to see blue paint “crossbikes” at large intersections such as these. Would you feel safer riding through this intersection with blue paint the entire way through?

Dunsmuir St. and Seymour St., Vancouver BC.

Dunsmuir St. and Seymour St. in Vancouver BC. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

If you don’t believe this measure could work because it is in Europe. Well here is an example closer to home: A 2-hour plane flight north of us, Vancouver, Canada is doing this exact thing. On Dunsmuir St., it has a true bi-directional cycle track and when it meets a wide cross street such as Seymour St. (image above), a green “crossbike” is marked at the intersection. This green paint is to alert drivers to pay attention to bicyclists and the green marking also guides bicyclists through safely. This measure also makes pedestrians safer.

This is a cost-effective safety measure to implement and I hope the SFMTA is working to install these on every intersection with a wide crossing.

Bay Area Bike Share Launching this August

Finally, San Francisco is getting a bike share program which is launching next month. Hooray! You can now go online to purchase your membership.

It’s a pilot program starting with 700 bikes at 70 stations in SF and along the Peninsula- or to be more precise it is actually just in 5 cities (San Francisco, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose). But SF gets half of all of the bikes and half of all of the stations. That comes out to roughly 10 bikes per station. If successful, it’s going to expand to other cities including expanding to more stations and bikes in SF for a total of 1,000 bikes (still too small!) in the future.

Here are some characteristics of the bike they are using that have struck me. I like the Celeste green color (easy to spot and gets motorist’s attention) and it’s refreshing. It has a step-through frame so both sexes and elders can get on the saddle easier. It looks like it may come with 7 speeds which I think is good for SF’s hills. It also comes with front and rear lights which are powered by pedaling, fenders for rain and chain guard to keep your pants clean. All in all, a typical bike-share bike which has been shown to work in other North American cities. Aside from the color, this bike is identical to the ones from Capital bikeshare in DC, Citi-Bikes in NYC, Hubway bikes in Boston, and Divvy bikes in Chicago.

Celeste Green Bay Area Bike Share

Celeste Green Bay Area Bike Share.

The location of the stations are very good, all on flat land, and in high density areas where high tourism and business districts are. So, it looks like it aims to get visitors and workers to use them. It’s a great way to get people that are on the fence about riding a bike to actually ride one and good for short bicycle trips like running errands.

It also serves as a missing link in the public transit system. I am hoping that more people coming into SF to work or play will use the Caltrain/BART and pick one of these bikes to get to their designated spot. It looks like there is one docking station at the Caltrain station and one pretty close by as well, but by going with the assumption that there are 10 bikes per station, there would only be 20 bikes. This is clearly not enough. You may become reliant on bike shares, and one day you are stuck without one. I see thousands of Caltrain riders getting off at 4th and King St. and anyone of them can use them up fairly quickly. It needs at least 40 – 100 bikes at those two locations. As for the commuters coming into the Ferry Building and Transbay Terminal, I think they also deserve more than just one station each.

However, in other parts of the city, I think it will just about fulfill the level of need initially. For example, there are 9 docking pods on Market St. with a few other ones a block or two away. I think the spacing between pods are appropriate too. This area will serve the riders coming out of the BART stations well which are located along Market St. Moreover, there are people that don’t like to lug around a bike and a heavy lock, especially when they have to take them on MUNI buses. These bike shares would nicely fit the bill.

In addition, these bike shares can benefit cyclists who own expensive bikes that they don’t want to risk getting stolen when locking their bikes outside. I usually don’t like taking my bike (even my cheapee one) to the Metreon to watch a movie or to go to the Westfield mall where I won’t see my bike for hours, so this would be beneficial for people like me.

SF stations map

Map of bike-share stations in SF.

Regarding the pricing scale, it is a little expensive if you’re getting the 24 hours or 3 days membership. It comes out to be more expensive than riding MUNI. The unlimited 30 minutes free trips I think it’s kind of a short time span, especially when you only have 35 stations around and not one in every location. It will be a hassle if you want to go more than 2 miles which could take more than 30 minutes. And what if you need to make multiple errands in one trip.

pricing scale

Pricing for annual and short term memberships.

Surely, the overtime fees are pretty expensive at $4 for the second 30 minutes and $7 for each additional 30 minutes. They definitely want you to return the bike. This is not meant for you to rent it for the weekend or a day. In those situations, it’s best to rent from a regular bike rental shop.

overtime pricing

Overtime fees if you don’t return the bike within 30 minutes.

Bike shares usually don’t come with helmets. So it will be up to riders to bring their own, but I don’t expect many to do so based on observations from other American cities that have bike share programs.

It’s going to be nice to see people in regular clothing riding them as opposed to people in spandex and athletic wear. They will be “upright and helmetless.” I think this is going to change the image of cyclists and the convenience that the bike share will provide is going to increase the cycling rate. Yay for bike share!