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Friday, February 25, 2011

San Francycle: City Aims to Turn Mean Streets into Fabulous Cycle Tracks

Posted By on Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 7:30 AM

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Because we can't all just hop on a plane and fly to Amsterdam, let's instead bring Amsterdam to us. Cycle tracks are the wave of the future (or of the past few decades, if you live in Europe). They're like a cross between sidewalks and bike lanes: They're physically separated from the roadway, but they're dedicated to pedal power rather than foot traffic.

Anyone who's ridden a bike down the physically separated lanes on Market or Division or Laguna Honda will tell you that it's a great feeling. You're free to go at a comfortable speed, and you're protected from cars.

Bicycles only: That's the idea. - TANYA DUERI
  • Tanya Dueri
  • Bicycles only: That's the idea.
So how come we have so few of them? For the answer to that, look no further than an organization with the beguiling name The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
Really?
  • Really?
AASHTO has nothing to say about cycle tracks, but it does discourage sidewalk bikeways (which we do not have in SF) and mixed-use paths (such as in the Pandhandle). According to the association, cyclists should be treated like cars, even though they are not each encased in a giant metal cage, are they not capable of going 100 mph, and even though they require physical exertion to operate.

But now a survey says, "hey, wait." Published in the journal Injury Prevention, which sounds like a fun read, the study challenged AASHTO by comparing injury rates on streets that have cycle tracks with streets that have no bike accommodations. You will never guess the shocking conclusion!

Okay, obviously cycle tracks are safer than streets intended solely for cars. The big question is, are we going to see more of them here in SF?

"I have a small group called the Innovation Team," says Heath Maddox, a sustainable streets planner with the S.F. Municipal Transportation Agency. "Cycle tracks are high up there on the list. We've heard loud and clear from the public that they want more of these."

Keep an eye on JFK Drive, part of the Bike Coalition's Connecting the City plan. But also, don't hold your breath: It could be anywhere from a few months to two years before JFK's cycle track is done. It all depends on the quality of the asphalt, which may need some extra treatments before getting stripped of its markings. That process would require a contractor and a lot more money, and that would mean delays delays delays.

But JFK Drive is still an attractive place to do a robust test of Cycle Tracks, because it has few intersections.

"That's where things get dicey, is intersections," Maddox says.

And nobody likes dicey.

The city's current plan for JFK has two cycle tracks: one on each side of the road, with vehicular traffic in the middle. Two rows of parked cars would separate auto traffic from bike traffic. Sustainable Streets is seeking some funding from the S.F. County Transportation Authority for further planning work, which would consider the bike coalition's preferred layout with both bike lanes next to each other. Unfortunately, that plan makes intersections much more complicated.

Cycle tracks are also planned for Alemany Boulevard, Great Highway, John Muir Drive, Portola Drive, Cargo Way, and Innes Avenue. If you're like us, you had to look some of those places up on a map. What, you mean you don't regularly head down to Cargo Way for a delightful Sunday picnic? It's right next to Lash Lighter Basin, you know.

But in all of these projects, the important thing is to make sure they're "done right," says Maddox. What does "done right" mean?

"'Done right' design is a complicated thing," he says. "It means, set up so you are avoiding unexpected conflicts."

Avoiding unexpected conflicts? Why, that sounds downright un-San-Franciscan.

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Matt Baume

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