Bring on the cycle tracks - make Valencia safer

San Francisco installed its first true blue bicycle cycle track on JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park several months ago. Now that the "new" form of bike lane has been introduced and isn't thought of as "experimental" let's consider adding more cycle tracks on other streets. One street in San Francisco that could greatly benefit from one is Valencia Street.

Valencia Street with Potential Cycle Track

Post 2010 Valencia Street configuration.

Cycle tracks put bike lanes between the sidewalk and vehicular parking rather than between traffic lanes and vehicular parking. Bicyclists ride in safer conditions. Most of the dangers of classic bike lanes (sandwiched between traffic lanes and vehicular parking) are avoided or lessened. The need to avoid double parked vehicles, car doors opening, and evade exiting parked cars are all eliminated. True, some hazards remain and some new hazards come with cycle tracks. The dangers and conflicts at intersections remain, whether from left turning or right turning cars, although right turning car/straight bike conflicts are mitigated by having a right turn lane adjacent to the bike lane for over 30 feet.
Image: SFMTA

One critical element is creating a buffer between the parking lane and the bike lane. By having a buffer, people exiting cars are in a safe zone, not at risk of being hit by a bike. Likewise, the buffer allows cyclists to not have a car door open into the bike lane. At JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park, the buffer is only painted on the road surface, just as the parking lane, bike lane and traffic lanes are. To better ensure safety, the buffer should be some sort of a raised curb, 3 - 5 feet wide. That way cars cannot accidentally park in the buffer or the bike lane.  The raised curb also acts as a reminder to parkers exiting and entering their vehicle that they need to look for bike traffic when they step across the bike lane.

The new hazard comes from pedestrians coming and going to their parked cars across the bike lane. Although this is a real hazard, with education and more and more cycle tracks in place, the hazard is greatly reduced. It must also be said that a pedestrian-bike hazard is not nearly as dangerous as a vehicle-bike hazard.

JFK Drive cycle track in Golden Gate Park. Image:
Although Valencia Street was redesigned between 15th Street and 19th Street, it still essentially has traditional on-street bike lanes sandwiched between moving vehicular traffic and vehicular parking. As has been noted in many places, including SF Chronicle, KRON 4's People Behaving Badly, KTVU Channel 2, the classic bike lane configuration has some problems, especially due to many cars parking, double parking, and cars just looking for parking in the popular commercial district.

Cycle track with raised curb between parked cars and bike lane, Avenue d'Italie, Paris, France
The remaining portions of Valencia Street should have cycle tracks installed - between Market and 15th streets, and between 19th Street and Cesar Chavez Street and on to Mission Street. The street is ideal for improvement as the street has high pedestrian traffic and very high bicycle traffic. Vehicular traffic is relatively high, however alternate routes along Guerrero and Mission are available. In addition, the street has very few curb cuts to driveways. Fewer driveways mean fewer bike-car entering driveway conflicts.

The key area to investigate would be the two intersections (15th Street and 19th Street) where bike traffic would transition from the traditional bike lane to new cycle tracks. Although some conflicts may exist, they are all likely much less than the current bike lane configurations with lanes beside vehicular traffic lanes.


  1. Some comments, Brian, first on the Valencia Street proposal then on Golden Gate.

    On Valencia, you shouldn't allow three lanes approaching an intersection: LT, through and RT. That RT lane allows for right-turning cars to make a wide turn on a big turn radius, and therefore a fast turn that reduces the safety. Better to have two ambiguous lanes so that cars can move around left turners and right turners as they see fit. You only have a jam when two are waiting to turn left and right at the same time.

    On Golden Gate Park, I don't think the current arrangement can be fixed through education. It's a failure of a cycle track, in my opinion. The safety hazard for bike riders is reduced because running into a pedestrian is not as bad as getting hit by a car, but what about the pedestrian?! And the conscientious bicycle rider who travels slowly prepared to stop for wayward pedestrians is hardly on a convenient, low-stress journey!

    If drivers wouldn't encroach on the buffers when they park it would be slightly improved, but that's unlikely to change; you can't put physical barriers to prevent cars from encroaching because you want the wide open expanse for recreation when the street is closed.

    The solution is to put a two-way cycle track on one side of the street. By so doing, you drastically increase the space for bike riding while also allowing for comfortable staging and unpacking by car passengers. Where today you have 18' to dedicate to the cycle tracks and it's divided into two 9 feet sections, the 9' feet with parking is terrible. Motorists encroach by 1-2' on the buffer and their passengers need at least three but preferably more to stage. 2' encroachment plus 4' staging leaves three feet of usable bike lane, and that includes the gutter.

    If you put all that on the other side, you could have 6 feet of bike lane on the curb side, 6 feet in the other direction, and a generous 6' of buffer for encroachment and staging.

    You would have to figure out how to deal with intersections, but there are few of those in GG Park. Traffic circles would do the job beautifully, and permit the cycle track to switch sides of the street to avoid intersections.


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