Most of Valencia Street Isn’t Safe for Cyclists, Yet

Two serious collisions along Valencia sent cyclists to the hospital last week. They occurred in less than 24 hours, on a two-block stretch of street with no protected bike lane — or a plan for one in sight.

William Bostwick was biking south along Valencia Street last Friday evening when he spotted a yellow cab pull into the bike lane ahead of him. He’d just passed 16th Street and was entering the corridor’s busiest stretch of shops, bars, and restaurants. As usual, the street was filled with people and cars, something that had worried him in the past.

“It’s really dangerous having the line of parked cars and then the bike lane, because people come out from between the cars without looking, and no one can see,” Bostwick tells SF Weekly.

On this night, that’s exactly what happened. As the driver of the cab pulled into the lane in front of him, two people dashed from the sidewalk into the street.

“I saw them out of the corner of my eye, and I shouted out, ‘Hey, hey, hey!’ ” he says. “But they opened the car door.”

Bostwick collided with it, hard. But what happened next was even more bizarre.

“As I was on the ground, the taxi and the couple both left,” he says.

Someone called an ambulance, and Bostwick was transferred to San Francisco General Hospital with a broken arm and leg. He was discharged Tuesday but has a long road of healing ahead. And that might be the easy part: So far, all attempts he’s made to contact SFPD’s Traffic Collision Investigation Unit have failed. No one picks up the phone, and the voicemail is full. He has yet to obtain a copy of the incident report. 

Sadly, his story is not unique. The day before Bostwick was sent to the hospital another cyclist was hit just one block away, on Valencia Street between 15th and 16th streets. Patrick Lindley was biking by on his way home from work and live-tweeted from the scene.

“I heard sirens, and the ambulance was just a few seconds ahead of me,” he tells SF Weekly. “I saw the cyclist who got hit by the car, injured on the ground.”

According to witnesses Lindley talked to at the scene, the collision occurred when an Uber or Lyft stopped in the unprotected bike lane. At the same time, a driver going the opposite direction attempted a U-turn, hitting the cyclist. The victim, a man Lindley presumed to be in his 20s, was taken away in an ambulance.

Valencia Street is Lindley’s regular commute, and while he’s happy with the new stretch of protected bike lane between Market and 15th streets — and is looking forward to the pending extension between 19th Street and Cesar Chavez — he’s not quite ready to celebrate yet.

“I always think that regardless of the projects that keep happening we need to continue asking for more until people stop getting hurt and dying,” he says. “I really wish there was a bike lane along the entire length of Valencia, preferably with some sort of harder barrier instead of safe-hit posts. I’m looking forward to any improvement over what we have, but I wish I wasn’t so piecemeal.”

The SFMTA approved the four blocks of protected bike lanes last December, and installed them earlier this year. The bright-green striping runs on both sides of Valencia from Market to 16th Street, with concrete curbs or parked cars acting as a buffer between bikes and vehicular traffic. It was a major win for cyclists who regularly use the corridor, which has seen a plethora of dangerous collisions. Thanks in part to its initial success, a similar bike lane will be installed along Valencia between 19th Street and Cesar Chavez next year.

But safe-streets advocates worry that the most dangerous stretch of Valencia — those busy blocks between 15th and 19th — will remain dangerous to use, something which eyewitness accounts and data have long proven.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition community organizer Kristen Leckie says there is an intention to bring a bike lane to that difficult stretch — but points out that the wider sidewalks, pedestrian bulb-outs, and subsequent narrower street create some logistical difficulties. The SFMTA confirmed to SF Weekly that there’s currently no timeline in designing a lane for that section.

It’s discouraging, but Lecke does have an idea for a temporary solution.

“In the immediate term, we need to get serious about curb management to stop double parking in bike lanes, particularly by Uber, Lyft and delivery vehicles,” they say. “Further delay in creating more loading zones is putting people’s lives in danger.”

Lindley agrees — but wants to take it a step further. 

“Any street in San Francisco with an active bike lane should be prohibited in [Lyft and Uber] apps,” he says, referencing the recent geofencing efforts Lyft has made to reduce pickups on Valencia Street. “They have the technology to do that. I think they have that responsibility, and city officials need to enforce it.”

It’s not a bad idea — but it does raise an important question: Which goal will San Francisco be able to achieve more quickly? Installing a tricky new bike lane, or successfully getting Lyft and Uber to adhere to city laws?

Unfortunately, in the case of the two cyclists who were injured last week, both options are too little, too late.

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