By Ali Hart
Despite the quite vertical landscape of our city streets, San Francisco is an ideal place for cycling. Thanks to unreliable public transportation and a compact geography, biking is often the quickest, most efficient way to get from point A to point B. It also can be pretty dangerous without the appropriate infrastructure. Considering San Francisco’s environmental and livability goals, you would think that developing conditions for safe biking would be a top priority. Well – spoiler alert! – it’s not.
This year isn’t over yet, and already four cyclists have been struck and killed by vehicles – three by truck, one by Muni – all in SOMA, and not a single driver has been prosecuted. The city hasn’t seen this many cyclist fatalities since 2001. Based on the hearing held by the Board of Supervisors on October 3, 2013, it appears as though the SFPD isn’t shy about its disdain for cyclists. I was surprised to discover that the SFPD’s most recent publicly available data on cycling incidents is from 2011. So while I can’t tell you which city intersections are the most dangerous today, I can tell you what, if any, improvements have been done to the top five most perilous intersections of 2011 (those involving vehicles and vulnerable users), as compiled by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC). (I’ve reordered the locations to highlight those with the most crashes involving cyclists since the original ranking also includes pedestrians.) Not surprising, three of them are on Market Street.
Market and Octavia Streets (2011 data: 10 crashes, 9 involving cyclists)
Vehicles making illegal right turns onto 101 South cut right through a bike lane and pedestrian crosswalk.
Improvements: a red-light camera tracking the eastbound lane of Market at Octavia went into effect on November 1, 2013. Warnings will be given in November; ticketing will be enforced in December.
Market and Valencia Streets (2011 data: 9 crashes, 8 involving cyclists)
Merging from the bike lane to the vehicle left-turn lane across traffic while negotiating with Muni tracks is no safe feat.
Improvements: a left-turn bike lane and bike traffic signal were added in November 2012.
Divisadero and Oak Streets (2011 data: 9 crashes, 6 involving cyclists)
The lack of a bike lane on a busy, one-way, three-lane SF artery that feeds into the Wiggle had many cyclists riding on the sidewalk or riding alongside speeding vehicles.
Improvements: a bike lane and plastic posts were added on Oak Street between Baker and Scott Streets in May 2013. The SFMTA will install concrete planters to separate cyclists from motorists as well as bulb-outs for safer pedestrian crossing in early 2014.
8th and Market Streets (2011 data: 8 crashes, 5 involving cyclists)
Again, it’s unclear why this location is so high on the list, but according to the data, most accidents involving bicycles and vehicles occurred on the east side of this intersection.
Improvements: a buffered bike lane was installed on 8th Street in July 2012.
Mission Street and South Van Ness Avenue (2011 data: 8 crashes, 5 involving cyclists)
This is where about 21 lanes of traffic intersect. Seriously, have you been to this spot?
To be desired: This location falls under the Better Market Street project. Three proposals are beginning environmental review; the selected design will be implemented in 2017. One of the Better Market Street project proposals involves a buffered “cycle track” beginning at this intersection and ending at Embarcadero Street. Of course, this means that Mission Street would be the main drag for cyclists, and all transit would consequently move to Market, though there would still remain two lanes for vehicle traffic on Mission.
Want to see the city do more to protect cyclists? Write, call, Tweet, send a messenger pigeon, etc., to Mayor Ed Lee and your district supervisor, perhaps telling them how NYC’s bike lanes improved safety for cyclists and pedestrians as well as bolstered local businesses.
So now we know what the city has done and still needs to do, but the onus of safety is on us too – drivers and cyclists alike. Here’s how we can take matters into our own wheels:
– Don’t act entitled; obey traffic rules and don’t assume a car is giving you the right of way. Every time you blow a red light or a stop sign, you’ve given the drivers around you one more reason to hate on cyclists.
– Follow the rules of the road.
– Report any incidents – even if you’re not injured – so both the city and advocacy groups have an accurate picture of the state of cycling in San Francisco!
– Don’t assume all cyclists are assholes because of a few bad apples.
– Signal when you’re making turns, and know the etiquette of turning right.
– Repeat after me: “I will not honk when cyclists legally take the lane. I will not honk…”
We’re all trying to get somewhere (probably to a costume party). Let’s get there safely!
Had a crazy experience cycling in San Francisco? Please share it in the comments section!