A Vancouver B.C. street with raised and tinted bikeway Flickr Photo by Bejan
Market Street's separated bike lane with soft-hit posts
The North Panhandle and adjacent neighborhoods will experience a huge boost to their overall livability when the city installs separated bikeways, also known as cycle tracks, along busy east-west and north-south traffic corridors. NOPA's most intractable traffic and street problems could be resolved, and tensions among people walking, biking, or driving would be greatly reduced. The risks for cyclists on Fell at the Arco station could be minimized. The narrow Fell bike lane could be widened for safety. The multi-use Panhandle Path could be improved for people walking, running, or biking more slowly and become more family-friendly. The bike-risky stretch of Oak between Baker and Scott (now without a bike lane) could be avoided or equipped with a safer biking facility.
Separated bikeways would also accommodate the many NOPA residents who want to bike for everyday transportation but are reluctant to ride along fast-moving vehicles. The new-style bike lanes would also serve the thousands of people who commute by bike everyday. With more people on bikes there would be fewer in cars, opening up the streets and parking spaces and reducing oil consumption. Cyclists with a safe on-road route would have little reason to bike on sidewalks.
Separated bikeways in NOPA will bring an innovation in traffic design to a residential neighborhood in the city. So far only Market Street features green-painted bike lanes with soft-hit posts for a degree of separation.
Other cities initiated the new bikeways and have since added enhancements for greater safety. Many of these designs separate the bikeways vertically and horizontally from walkways and traffic lanes. The tracks are raised two to three inches higher than the street level for a greater sense of safety for cyclists, and parking lanes or landscaped medians create buffers between people on bikes or those walking or driving.
In NOPA Fell and Oak streets are the most obvious sites for this "next generation" of bike lanes, although installation of a two-way track on just one of the streets will likely be more feasible than a one-way treatment on both. Fell street receives more attention from cyclists and traffic engineers due to the existing bike lane from Scott to Baker and the risks along the Arco station at Divisadero. However, the north side of Oak from Scott to Stanyan may be the better choice.Whichever street is selected for the new bikeway will present challenges, including the gas stations along both streets.
Masonic Avenue is currently a designated bike route, but most bicyclists avoid the risks from speeding traffic and narrow lanes. Many ride the extra-wide sidewalks as a safer choice. Since Masonic is the only direct north-south route in the area, the city needs to accommodate the people who want to bike the street safely. The Municipal Transportation Agency has initiated a community planning process to bring traffic calming to Masonic, and a separated bike lane may be presented as a strategy at the next neighborhood meeting.*
Changes to the traffic system always appear daunting at the onset, but Fell, Oak, Masonic and the Panhandle Path have been reconfigured during previous decades to accommodate new traffic realities. One of the most significant developments for San Francisco streets in recent years has been the 50% surge in the number of bicyclists. Most NOPA residents have noticed far more people biking on neighborhood streets.
How likely are cycle tracks for NOPA? City planners and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition staff already target separated bikeways as the next step for a more livable city. Due to the city's bike and vehicle traffic flow, NOPA's corridors are on the short list of candidates.
Take a look at Vancouver's experience with separated bikeways in the video below: