Could a protected bike lane on San Francisco’s busy four-lane Oak Street provide a safer and quicker cross-town route for cyclists? Would you give up parking spots in your neighborhood in exchange for a protected bikeway? Planners at the San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Authority (SFMTA) are considering a new bike route on Oak Street, just one block south of a busy bike lane on one-way Fell Street. Changes to urban infrastructure are nothing if not controversial, and this proposal is no exception, with motorists and residents up in arms at the potential loss of a travel lane or precious parking spots. With the number of San Franciscans choosing bikes as a mode of transit up 58% since 2006, urban planners will need to design streets to accommodate this development.

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While bikes are often touted as an eco-friendly mode of transit, traveling on two wheels can be a savvy commuter choice in congested urban areas like San Francisco. While bicycling is growing in popularity, safety is still a concern for many would-be commuters. Add to that the notoriously hilly landscape of the San Francisco peninsula and cycling can appear daunting. Luckily, San Francisco is involved in a number of forward-thinking projects that will make the city more sustainable in the future.  In addition to current Mayor Ed Lee’s vocal support of bicycling, city departments and community activists continually work to create environmentally-conscious public space innovations like “parklets” and sidewalk gardens.

The San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority is currently considering plans that could remove a parking lane or a travel lane on busy Oak Street in order to accommodate a safe thru-way for cyclists.  The plans also include upgrading an existing bike lane that heads westward on parallel Fell Street, and possibly creating a buffered bikeway along the Panhandle. The streets in question are along “The Wiggle” – the moniker given to the multi-turn route that many San Francisco cyclists take to wind their way around steep hills, busy streets, and other hazards. Fell and Oak streets are favored by motorists and cyclists seeking to avoid hillier side streets with multiple four-way stops. Additionally, cyclists using “The Wiggle” often end up on Oak Street for a dangerous three-block stretch before reaching Scott Street. There are several possible designs for the bike lane, and planners are currently gathering feedback from residents at community meetings.

In typical big-city fashion, controversy has been quick to develop. Some residents are hopeful that their neighborhoods will be quieter and safer for walking, while others express concern over loss of parking spots. Local residents and organizations like the SF Bike Coalition have long been pushing for improvements to this stretch of road along the Panhandle. Creating safe bikeways is an important step toward encouraging citizens of all ages to leave their cars parked in favor of a bicycle, leading to quieter, safer neighborhoods and cleaner air.

The option to create separated bikeways with a physical barrier, such as the planters in the concept images, could become a unique feature of the San Francisco urban streetscape and serve as inspiration for other cities as they strive to make public spaces more sustainable and beautiful.

+ San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority