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.
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.