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Fell And Oak Bikeway Plan Pits Bike Safety Against Parking Spaces

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A design of what the Fell/Oak Bikeway is project to look like.
A design of what the Fell/Oak Bikeway is project to look like.

Only in San Francisco could there be multiple controversies about something so simple as a bike lane.

The iconic Wiggle route between downtown and the Panhandle is famous for being a welcome haven for cyclists looking to avoid steep hill climbs on their daily commute.

Of late, not only has the Wiggle the been the subject of debate over the alleged misbehavior of its riders, but there's also been a multi-year fight over the creation of a bikeway protecting cyclists along Fell and Oak streets--the Wiggle's two most highly-trafficked segments.

After a long, $165,000 study and outreach process conducted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the city finally revealed its plan for an expanded bikeway this weekend. The agency hopes the new design will increase safety along the route and thereby encourage more San Franciscans to ride their bikes--a goal enshrined in the city charter decades ago after San Francisco declared itself a "transit first" city.

The new bikeway will be just over seven feet wide and separated from automobile traffic by a five foot buffer zone dotted with raised planters. These paths will be significantly wider than most bike lanes throughout the city due to the high volume of cycling traffic the bikeway is expected to receive.

The timing of the stop lights along Oak Street will be reset to 20 mph, giving priority to cyclists instead of the faster-moving automobiles. (Story continues below.)

Opponents of the bikeway plan are concerned it would eliminate parking spaces, something that even many bikeway proponents admit are a relatively scare commodity in the densely populated, mixed residential and commercial neighborhood. While SFMTA's plan will end up ditching 103 spots along Fell and Oak streets, just over half that number of spaces will be added to surrounding roads.

A residential permit parking area will also be instituted surrounding the Divisadero corridor between Haight and McAllister Streets. The change is intended to free up more parking spaces for area residents.

This final plan wasn't the only one SFMTA considered as a way to improve bicycle access between the Wiggle and the Panhandle.

Other ideas were to carve the expanded bikeway out of a full lane of traffic instead of a row of parking spaces or divert bike traffic to Hayes and Page streets. The former was rejected out of the fear that increased congestion on one of the city's main east-west throughways would result in traffic spillover to surrounding streets ill-equipped to handle the additional flow. SFMTA dismissed the latter suggestion because both Page and Hayes streets boast significantly steeper grades and lack a direct connection to the Panhandle.

Streetsblog reported:

Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, said the organization is "encouraged to see the city officially proposing wider, physically separated bikeways on Fell and Oak Streets" and "grateful to see that the design includes many new corner, sidewalk bulbouts that will make it easier and safer for people to walk across these intimidating streets.

"We believe the designs shared at the community workshop should move forward and be implemented to make it safer for the thousands of people who bike this corridor every day," she added.

Initially, SFMTA hoped to install the bikeways by this spring; however, due to numerous delays in planning, full implementation has been pushed back nearly a full year.

The next step in the process is a public hearing on traffic issues, which is expected to be held sometime in May.

On a related note, some have recently grumbled that the Wiggle might be overrated. SF Citizen recommends instead taking an alternative route called the Snickerdoodle that winds from the Panhandle to McAllister Street, eventually leading all the way down to the Financial District.

While the Snickerdoodle is about a third of a mile shorter, it is a bit steeper. Like with almost everything in life (take bikeways and parking spaces, for example), there are often tradeoffs.

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