Bike commuters heading home last week will have encountered a new set of obstructions as they huffed and puffed up Market Street past Octavia: a slew of orange cones. Unlike their vehicular counterparts, however, these temporary obstacles blocking the bike lane are harbingers of a positive change. It’s been years in the making, but last week ground finally broke: Upper Market is getting a much-needed protected bike lane.
Work on the first phase of the project — a bright, Kermit-the-Frog-green bike lane and a low, curb-height cement buffer — began last week, however the project won’t be totally done until early May. This week the SFMTA will finish adding the green paint along the stretch between Octavia Boulevard and Duboce Avenue, and will create some painted bike boxes at intersections, allowing cyclists to gather somewhere other than the tight space between cars and the curb.
In a lucky twist, the construction of the concrete “islands” (the aforementioned cement curbs separating the bike lane from car traffic) began a week ahead of schedule. The original plan was to finish one block of cement buffer each Sunday in time for Bike to Work Day on May 10, but it appears it might be done earlier than the deadline. Once the islands are done, signage will be installed directing drivers on how to navigate around the new infrastructure and safe-hit posts will be installed.
Finally, painted safety zones will be installed on the Laguna and Guerrero street approaches to Market, streamlining the passages of bicycles to and from the new bike lane.
“In order to make room for these safety zones, dedicated left-turn pockets will be combined with existing through lanes (since left-turn volumes are quite low) while dedicated right turn pockets will remain,” says Casey Hildreth, the SFMTA’s project manager for the new bike lane. “Of note, the Guerrero safety zone — while not the largest in the city — will be quite significant in size and ultimately built out into a concrete bulb out as part of the longer-term capital improvements currently in design.”
The new bike lane is a significant safety improvement that should be celebrated, but it didn’t come without a battle. After years of community meetings were held the entire project was threatened by the vocal opposition of the San Francisco Fire Department, who argued that the buffers would pose challenges for their firetruck ladders when fighting fires along Market.
“The design materially compromises the safety of firefighters and local residents,” Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White wrote in a letter to the SFMTA earlier this year.
For a while, it seemed like all the SFMTA hours spent on the project and the community’s input would be thrown out the window. But in the end, the protected bike lane moved forward.
“We’re thrilled to see these bike lanes finally under construction,” Brian Wiedenmeyer, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, tells SF Weekly. “Our members made their voices heard and held the city accountable in order to make it happen. Thanks to hundreds of people pulling together and speaking up, we’re on the verge of seeing physically protected bike lanes that will transform this stretch of Upper Market Street into a safer, more welcoming place to bike.”
Some heavy showers this week may deter cyclists from their regular pedal-powered commutes, but once the sky clears and the paint dries, Upper Market’s new infrastructure is going to be a welcome addition to the hilly commute home toward the city’s western neighborhoods.