Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fell/ARCO Traffic Tangle Closer to Trial Solutions

SFMTA proposal to improve safety for users of Fell St at ARCO station

One enhancement suggested by Marc Caswell of SFBC

The Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) will implement traffic flow changes for bicyclists and motorists approaching Divisadero on Fell Street. The MTA hopes the trial improvements will resolve a raft of safety problems for street and sidewalk users at the Fell Street entry to the ARCO gas station at the corner of Divisadero. The proposed designs are expected to be implemented “fairly quickly.”

James Shahamiri, MTA Assistant Engineer for the Bike Program, told BIKE NOPA that he thinks a gradual approach will work best for the changes. “We’re trying to take experimental steps now and see how they work. Maybe we’ll enhance them later.” He emphasized that design changes have yet to be finalized but he expects plans to be approved “fairly quickly,” perhaps within the next two days. “But we’re not going to be making changes on the street tomorrow,” he cautioned. When pressed further about whether MTA will proceed before the bike injunction is fully lifted (which is not expected before June of this year), Shahamiri said, “We can definitely do this before June.”

The improvements will likely include “several small steps”
• Installation of four “soft-hit” posts along both sides of the bike lane near ARCO
• Transitioning the bike lane inward as it approaches ARCO (see diagram)
• Applying painted “hatching” on the street surfaces to guide traffic flow
• Posting “Keep Clear” signs to advise motorists
The MTA proposal will not remove parking spaces, change lane widths, or prevent access to driveways.

“The idea is that the posts would force any queuing vehicles in the bicycle lane to go back out into the travel lane to turn into the gas station,” Shahamiri wrote Tuesday to a “study group” of NOPA and Alamo Square neighbors and livability advocates. “This should make queuing in the bicycle lane pointless.

Members of the review group responded more positively to the latest MTA proposal than to a previous plan presented last September and reported in a BIKE NOPA post. Michael Smithwick, Transportation Chair for the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association (ASNA), wrote, “It is a sound plan” that keeps cars out of the bike lane up to the ARCO entry but does not keep them from blocking the bike lane at that point or keeping motorists off the sidewalk. He and Marc Caswell, Program Manager for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, proposed adding prominent signage and painting more hatching of the bike lane and sidewalk at the ARCO entry.

Caswell expressed concern that the MTA plan, while a good start, “dumps the bicyclist off” into the large space along the ARCO lot and should instead guide riders to Divisadero and through the intersection, preferably with a bike lane painted green. Janel Sterbentz of ASNA also encouraged a green-painted lane for safer passage at both the Scott and Divisadero intersections.

In a conversation this morning, Shahamiri said he was ready to incorporate some, but not all, of the proposed changes. “We can do the signage and the crosshatching on the streets, but I’m not sure if we can do the hatching on a sidewalk." Shahamiri advised that the MTA was not ready to paint the bike lane green. The agency is studying whether the Fell/ARCO traffic location fits the criteria for previous approval MTA received to experiment with green lanes at other “conflict areas” in the city.

Shahamiri and study group members all agreed that enforcement would be required for the proposed changes to work. “I’d like to see SFPD out there citing drivers,” he said. The MTA proposal will continue to be reviewed in the days ahead. Shahamiri emphasized, "Our intention is to work with the community in an ongoing process.”

4pm update: More on the MTA proposal with additional comments on Streetsblog this afternoon.


  1. I see both those diagrams above as worse than the current situation.

    Consider the case where there is congestion. In this case, there will be cars blocking both the sidewalk and bike lane perpendicular to the flow of traffic. Bikes will have to stop, then veer far out into the street to the right to get around the blocking, or ride on the sidewalk. Both options will involve cutting in front of a car that's edging forward as much as they can because they're trying to avoid blocking traffic on Fell.

    But much worse is the case when there is no congestion. Those soft hit posts will force the cars to do a fast left 'hook' turn. Those same soft hit posts will force the bikes right where they don't want to be - directly in the path of that driver that forgets their turn signal!

    Currently, it's possible as a bike to merge in with the left lane of traffic on Fell to avoid that danger zone. This is made easier by the cars merging to the left, into the bike lane, to turn into the gas station. The soft hit posts will prevent cars from doing this, which will in turn make it much more difficult for a bike to safely merge with traffic in advance of the intersection.

    However, the alternative (staying between the soft hit posts) puts you directly in the most dangerous spot of all: in the blind spot of the drivers who have to make a quick turn off a dense, fast-moving street.

    I know people have been working on this for a while, and there are no 'perfect' solutions. But this looks like a big mistake to me.

  2. I'm very concerned to hear that the SFMTA may not be able to paint hatch markings on the sidewalk. Failure to do so will ensure that the sidewalk continues to be impassible to pedestrians when the station is busy. In fact, hatching the street and not hatching the sidewalk will likely encourage cars to squeeze on to the sidewalk to escape the street hatch zone. The SFMTA needs to explore more thoroughly WHY hatching a sidewalk is a problem and remove the obstacle. Failing to do so simply denies the vulnerable pedestrian access to a most basic need: a sidewalk of minimum width for passage. Of course, the current situation is also a violation of federal disability access someone in a wheelchair simply cannot use the sidewalk there at all.

    Of course, the City Attorneys should also explore what responsibility to place on the owner of this property when they risk pedestrian and bike safety due to their business practices. They need to solve the problem they have created....and if that means spending some $ to hire a traffic manager, then so be it.

  3. @mfogel: Perhaps no "near perfect" solutions, either. With two parking lanes, 3 traffic lanes, 1 bike lane, and a business whose only customers arrive in vehicles...there aren't many safe options if all those elements remain. If MTA can muster necessary safeguards so that drivers don't use their vehicles to "body-block" the bike lane and sidewalk at the ARCO entrance, part of the problem will be addressed. But then there's the backed-up lane of traffic, which also sometimes exist now. I give MTA some credit for taking some risks here for the sake of safety of cyclists and pedestrians.

  4. @PedMan: Let's ask the MTA to explain any restrictions on hatching sidewalks -- and the process to overcome them for this location. To make this work,it seems to me, the MTA must commit to implementing necessary measures to keep vehicles in the traffic lane until motorists can enter the ARCO lot without straddling the sidewalk. For enforcement, MTA will have to obtain the cooperation of the SFPD. Supervisor Mirkarimi's insight and assistance will be helpful.

  5. I'm sure this has been considered, but why can't they just move the bike lane along the sidewalk and push the car parking onto the traffic side?

    I've seen it done in Montreal and it works nicely. See a pic here: