One of the sketchiest and scariest sections for pedestrian and bike commuters across the city is about to become a lot safer, after the SFMTA Board of Directors unanimously approved (7-0) the Oak Street and Fell Street Pedestrian and Bike Safety Project on Oct. 16 at City Hall.
The public hearing was overflowing with both enthusiastic supporters and local residents opposed to the project. The proposal was presented by SFMTA project manager Luis Montoya, who stressed the need to create conditions more comfortable for walking and cycling in the dense and heavily populated target area, with the primary goal being safety.
The proposed changes are focused on a three-block section of Oak and Fell, between Scott and Baker. If you've ever ridden your bike to and from Golden Gate Park, then you know this area well. People for and against the project called this area a "highway," known particularly for the high speeds of cars roaring up and down the one way roads connecting the east and west neighborhoods of the city.
The changes include the removal of a section of the roads currently dedicated to (free) parking and the installation of a protected bike lane, complete with 12 "bulb outs" (sidewalk extensions) and greenery to separate bikes from traffic and increase visibility. Traffic signals and light timing will also be altered to aid the flow of both bikes and cars using the streets.
What many people in the neighborhood weren't happy about was the planned removal of 100 parking spaces. Mr. Montoya addressed this by explaining how 45 more spaces would in effect be added to the surrounding area with the addition of perpendicular street parking and the removal of two largely unused bus stops on the nearby 22 Fillmore line, at Scott and Broderick.
Neal Patel, Community Planner for the SF Bike Coalition, discussed receiving over 350 letters of support from the community and also cited the Board's own goal of 20 percent of all trips by bicycle by 2020, stating that the "ambitious goals will only be met with the approval of projects like this."
The bike lanes on Page and Hayes, parallel to the target area, were also a topic of discussion, as some residents couldn't understand why making changes to the busier streets of Oak and Fell were necessary. One commenter claimed the project wasn't balancing the needs of the community, but instead was "balancing the convenience of bicycles for the inconvenience of the neighborhoods." Other cyclists commented that the steep hills on Page and Hayes deterred them from using the bike lanes on those streets.
The Board brought up a number of questions about the project, and the largest topic of discussion was about the need for a neighborhood parking permit in the area. It had been proposed in the past but failed, and Board members suggested revisiting this after the project has been implemented to console residents who were upset about losing their free and hard to come by parking spots.
"As a driver, I support this" said a man who asked to comment, also citing the Valencia Street corridor as an example of how an area redesigned for bike travel experienced a commercial boom and revitalization.
Expect to see changes and construction in the area soon: Fell Street will be receiving a makeover in just a few short weeks, followed by the Oak Street bike lane this winter. The bulb outs, greenery, and other modifications will follow later this spring and into the summer.