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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rest in peace, Amelie.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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?
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.
After living and biking in San Francisco for a good amount of time, we will undoubtedly hear at some point, “I crashed SF train tracks!” or we will ourselves succumb to the treachery of the tracks.
I casually surveyed 20 folks that I know that ride bikes including Nellie and myself, and about 8 have been victims of accidents on SF’s train tracks. Albeit a small sample size, that’s a 40% rate!
How could this be possible?
Well, if there are 72 miles (116 km) of light rail tracks in a 49 sq. mile (127 sq. km) city and the main artery is like Market Street, a major corridor for bike commuters with rail tracks throughout, it is very likely anyone who rides a bike more than a mile on any given day will have to cross a train track.
These tracks are very treacherous in that the size between them is just enough for a bike tire to fit, not to mention their surface is very slippery. So if a bike tire is not getting caught in them, the tire is gliding on them. Cyclists have to try to cross them perpendicularly, which is not always easy to do and on wet days, they must ride slowly and cautiously to ensure their tires don’t lose traction as they cross them.
Here is an example of the kind of tracks we have in SF. The photo above was taken at the corner of 25th St. and 3rd St. in the Central Waterfront neighborhood. Those myriad of rails just makes my heart beat 10 times faster whenever I cross them. What if you have to make a right or left turn there, your turned front wheels could easily become aligned with the angle of the curved tracks.
Then there is this sort of infrastructure where a cyclist has to share the vehicle lane with light rails and vehicles. What do you think are your chances of getting your bike’s front wheel caught in the tracks? Riding between the tracks is like a balancing act. I have seen a few that crashed, especially at Critical Mass (this is usually the route Critical Mass takes when first starting out from their meetup spot). The gaps for light rail tracks are about 1.5 in/38 mm (on the straights) to 2.0 in/51 mm (on the curves) wide, so most tires on bicycles of SF would get caught in them.
Furthermore, you know it’s a pretty common occurrence in San Francisco when shops sell t-shirts and stickers that come with this phrase/symbol (see images above). (The t-shirt used to belong to Nellie until I started wearing it when I crashed about 6 weeks ago… my right wrist hasn’t completely recovered yet.)
As much as I do not want to encounter train tracks when riding a bike, if I want to live in a city with good public transportation I will have to accept it. However, train tracks that are actually still being used are not as problematic. It is the train tracks that have been abandoned but still left in place that need to be removed. They pose a great deal of hazard to many cyclists for a couple of reasons. They were put down before bike lanes and sometimes even before proper paved streets were put in. Secondly, because they have been abandoned, they are left to die (eroded) creating more dangerous hazards adjacent to the such as eroded asphalt and potholes. I don’t know how many cyclists have crashed on abandoned tracks versus active tracks but both Nellie and I have been victims of the abandoned variety.
One of the major routes for bike commuters to get from the central neighborhoods to the Caltrain Station and Embarcadero is Townsend St. Recently, I counted about 13-45 bike commuters every 5 minutes during peak hours on Townsend St. heading in the direction the photo (see above) is taken. You can see that the track is located only a few inches from the bike lane. A group of cyclists arriving together to a red traffic light can force anyone of them onto the rail.
Also, there is not one street lamp on the right hand-side of the sidewalk. It is pretty dim at night at that section. Fortunately, bike commuters that come home at night usually go in opposite direction where there are street lamps and no tracks to worry about.
Unfortunately, Nellie took that direction one night riding home. It was about midnight and it was dark along that stretch. She crossed the first track fine to merge into the right turn lane (see photo above) but the eroded pothole next to the track caught her front tire and she fell flat on her face. She was completely dazed, and I didn’t want to take any chances so an ambulance was called and she was driven to the ER. Yep, she got a loose tooth, a few stitches on her upper lip, plenty of road rash, and a bruised forehead.
Just looking at that stretch, it would take an experienced rider with a little luck on his side to cross those double tracks with little room to straighten your bike out again. I think probably it’s best to slow down as much as possible to a walking speed to merge, or to make a sharp right turn at the crosswalk so you go more perpendicularly over them, but you’ve got to watch out for autos behind you in the right turn lane.
I believe this is one of the potholes which Nellie’s bike tire got caught in that night. As you can see, my shoe size is 10.5 in (267 mm) and can easily fit into that pothole. You can cross the track but that pothole next to it can eat your bike alive.
Another part of town that has these abandoned tracks is Illinois St. that runs about 1 mile (1.6 km) long. Yep, that’s a mile in length that you need to keep paying attention to freight trucks, cars, large debris, construction detours, and these nagging tracks that do not need to be there. How inconvenient and dangerous is that? Oh, and Illinois St. is the flatest bike route to go through the eastern neighorhoods. During Bike to Work Day this May, I witnessed two colleagues who were riding down right in front of me on this very same route. Both of them were forced to cross the abandoned tracks due to a construction zone blocking the bike lane and both of them crashed.
Not even a typical fat tire from a Dutch city bike is going to save you from getting your front wheel jammed into it. If you’re going to get fat tires wider than 60 mm or so, you’re not going to have a good time riding in SF.
Well, knowing how SF crawls like a turtle when it comes to infrastructure maintenance and installation, here are some tips that I gathered and learned to avoid train track crashes. Please comment if you have other recommendations.
1. Rule of thumb, cross the tracks as perpendicularly as possible.
2. Do not lean on your bike when crossing. I leaned on my bike and that’s how my bike accident happened.
3. Try to sit upright as much as possible when crossing, even if you have low handlebars, so your center of gravity is more balanced and if you crash you are less likely to land on your head. Or better yet, get an upright or step-through bike.
4. If you ride at night often, invest in those super bright headlights so you can see the ground better.
5. Get wide tires that are at least 35 mm. 35 mm becomes wider when you are seated on your bike because it expands with your weight and that is wide enough to not lodge into active train tracks. Just be careful on the curved tracks because those are 51 mm wide.
But what about in the rain? The metal surface of the tracks gets even more slippery when wet. I don’t know except to use the above tips with very extra care and maybe buy some good tires made for rain.
SFMTA, you gotta remove those abandoned train tracks! Just want to say you can be sued.
Looking back, the much desired Better Market Street project was originally supposed to break ground this year and finally fix an important and congested street that badly needs an overhaul. It was later pushed to 2015. But now, the Better Market Street organizers (part of the SFMTA) want to further delay the project by another two years so they can study the Mission Street alternative (putting protected bike lanes onto nearby Mission Street instead of Market). That means that cyclists will have to wait until 2019 for completion. That means there will be another six years of having an insufficient bikeway on an important and increasingly congested corridor. That means that the cycling community may not get the kind of bike lanes they need and want on the street they need and want them to be on. This has members of the SFBC and bicycling community in SF concerned and even infuriated.
In response to the announcement to delay starting bicycle improvements on Market Street from 2015 to 2017, the SFBC organized a Market/Mission Survey Ride back on March 4th to take a closer look at the issue. With the SFBC’s Planning Director, Neal Patel and an SFMTA project manager, Andrew Lee and a dozen SFBC members, we rode around the area to survey both streets and share our thoughts.
The tour was very insightful and helped me form my opinion on which street would be the better alternative, Market Street or Mission. I started out in staunch support of bike improvements on Market, but must admit that after the tour, I wavered. It did seem that Mission was not as bad of an alternative as I thought. However, after more time considering, I returned back to the conclusion that Market Street would still be better, although Mission does have a lot going for it.
Market Street has more cyclists riding on it than any other street in this country, carrying an estimated 5,000 cyclists per day. Already, before any sort of bike facilities were put in, cyclists were already using the street, the shortest and most “natural” route to their destinations. Remember, two of the big reasons commuters cycle is because it is more convenient than taking public transit and it takes the stress out of owning a car in the city. So naturally, cyclists will want to take the shortest, most convenient route. Even if Mission Street is built for bicyclists, Market Street will probably still attract a large number of riders. I am no urban planner, but I do know that traffic engineers need to design streets according to how people naturally move about in the city.
4 Reasons Why Market Street is Preferred by Commuting Cyclists:
1. There are two dozen MUNI bus stops and four BART stations along the street that complement multi-modal transportation.
2. Market Street is connected to the Wiggle which is the flattest way to get to Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach. Market Street combined with the Wiggle is the most direct, best and shortest route for cyclists from west to east and vice-versa.
3. It can bring you to important centers for jobs, commerce, and recreation such as City Hall, Union Square, Downtown and the Financial District, South of Market (SOMA), Ferry Building, and the Embarcadero to name a few.
4. It also has 3 miles (4.8 km) of shops, retail and eateries and for most of the street, car parking is not allowed. This kind of street scape sets up very well for both pedestrians and cyclists to frequent.
So the question is, “Why is Better Market Street still trying to reinvent the wheel by looking into Mission Street for the bike highway and in the process delaying the entire project?” Andrew from the SFMTA stated that it’s obviously the cost and the complexity involved of renovating Market Street to accomodate both bicycles and buses. The 1.5 mile (2.4 km) section between 8th Street and the Embarcadero currently does not have enough space for both. The sidewalk curbs would have to be scaled back a few feet all the way to the BART entrance to make room for a cycle track. The fire hydrants would need to be moved back affecting underground piping. So it would require a lot of major structural reconfigurations (see image below). More info on what would need to be done for this is here.
With the city’s population growing at 1% annually and the relocation of major company headquarters like Twitter and Dolby to Market Street, placing the bike highway on Market is going to not just accommodate current needs, but also prepare this city for the future. It may be an expensive project of $350 million USD, but investing in cycling infrastructure is the best return on investment this car-centric city can afford. To conclude, Market Street is and will continue to be the selected route cyclists will choose to ride despite its urban jungle of a mess. However, like I said, Mission Street does have something going for it which I will discuss in another post.
Market Street is the main artery of San Francisco running 3 miles (4.8 km) east and west and connecting many neighborhoods and sites from Twin Peaks to the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. In addition to the many pedestrians which can be found en masse on the street’s sidewalks, it is also a busy transit corridor for buses, light rail and street cars, and is dotted with Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations that serve the entire Bay Area. Despite its chaotic environs, it is a popular corridor for cyclists as well.
I ride through Market Street on a weekly basis, but it is never as comfortable as I would like and expect for this city. What makes up for the less desirable aspects of riding on Market Street is the great number of other cyclists that are riding there as well. When you are there with a group of fellow cyclists, you began to feel like you belong there as much as any other mode of transport and feel safer because you know that in a flock of cyclists, your visibility is increased to drivers.
But as all cyclists know who dare to ride on Market Street, it could use a whole lot of improvement. Here is what I think needs to be done:
The stretch from Castro to Octavia Street has striped bike lanes. I think this stretch needs to be buffered because it is a moderate downhill ride going eastbound. See image below.
Now from Octavia St. to 8th St., the bike lanes are separated and protected like the photo below shows. Protected bike lanes like those are what the cycling community is demanding to be implemented throughout Market St.
But of course, the cycle tracks between Octavia and 8th are not ideal. For example, there is one terrible 200 meter section between Van Ness and 10th St. in which cyclists have to intersect vehicles making right turns. Making right turns on 10th and 11th Streets should be illegal for cars for safety reasons, but they are not. See photos below.
From 8th St. to the Embarcadero, there are no dedicated bike lanes. The street is just marked with bike sharrows as seen in the photo below. It is pretty pathetic. As you can see, all modes of transportation are crammed into four vehicle lanes. You have streetcars running on light rail, buses and shuttles riding on either of the lanes, cars and large trucks making right turns at intersections and tons of pedestrians crossing the street. And if that is not occupying enough of your attention, cracked pavement and potholes are in abundant supply. This part of the street is not for every cyclist- it’s for the bravest souls with survival skills. I call it the urban jungle. Just looking at the image below, you can see a major overhaul needs to be implemented as soon as possible.
Another example of the urban jungle-ness are the shuttles and buses pulling next to the curbs to drop off passengers which force bicyclists to maneuver around them, as shown in the photo below. Very dangerous.
City planners have been talking about fixing Market Street for quite some time now, but now that has been hitting some roadblocks. I’ll talk more about that in another post.