Thursday, January 8, 2009

Removing Market/Octavia bike lane.

I kept thinking about doing some 2008 re-cap blog post, but now it's the 8th day of the new year, and we're pretty much over talking about that transition. A friend of mine asked the other night when the last day you could wish someone a happy new year was, and I think we can all agree that we're starting to push the limits. So, I'm done. 2008 was full of a lot of great moments, but overall was a pretty terrible year. Notable: re-connected with The Roommate after four years of not seeing one another, made some amazing new friends, graduated, moved to San Francisco. Those are the good things, and they are what I hope to remember years down the line. Done. 2009, you need to be better. You should be my first full year in San Francisco, and now that I've gotten better at riding a bike again, we're going to explore the hell out of this place together.

The road to recovery after the collar bone incident has been a terrible one. The physical limitations were pretty awful for awhile, but they're mostly over. The ones that have still lingered are the mental ones. As in I had a pavlovian response every time I heard a bicycle changing gears, because when I geared up, I broke my collar bone. So I was completely unable to change gears for a solid two months after getting back on a bicycle. Yes, I am serious; yes, I know that's really pathetic. 

But lo and behold, The Roommate went out of town for most of December, and I didn't have anyone to try and show off for, so I very slowly learned how to switch gears again. That meant I could finally ride up the massive hill I live on. It was a pretty major breakthrough. And now? Well, now, the world is my fucking oyster. Riding up Guerrero to Market? Hard when you're geared high. Magnificent on a geared bike. So now new places are in my range (please note, anyone unfamiliar with the area: this is seriously an intersection that's just over a mile from me). I've been getting a lot more exposure to the upper Market area. 

It is for this reason that I'm all fired up about the impending removal of the bike lane at Market & Octavia. Let's start out by watching this video.

In that video, you can observe a few things. You can also feel free to look up the intersection of Market & Octavia at Google Maps or something so you grasp the layout, but the gist is this: the entrance ramp to the highway is on the right. Making a right turn from Market onto said highway is illegal. It is very clearly marked that you cannot make a right turn there. Market Street, at this point, is a downhill slope where it's fairly easy to build up a little bit of speed. The bike lane is separated by a small divider in-between the lanes. There is also a sign warning bicyclists to watch for cars turning illegally. You know when you have to warn someone to watch for idiots doing something illegal that you've got a somewhat large problem.

The problem is that people in cars want to get on the highway, and they can't do it there, but other than a sign telling them not to, there are absolutely no barriers. So people do it anyway. And the cyclists are in their lane, going straight, and people turn illegally without looking and hit cyclists. So the problem is people doing something illegal. Done. The city's solution to it? Remove the bike lane, which was put there with the intention of protecting cyclists.

When there are issues of cyclist safety in San Francisco, it's really easy to shake your fist and blame the damn kids. Damn kids, with their disregard for laws, not watching where they're going, riding on the sidewalk, not wearing helmets, riding fixies without brakes, etc. And, fair enough. There are a lot of incidents that CAN be attributed to cyclists breaking the law. But this is not one of those things. Sure, if someone was riding a bike wearing a helmet, and their bike had brakes, it would be easier for them to stop and not get so injured if someone turned illegally in front of them. But the fact remains that none of this would be a problem if people weren't turning illegally.

There's a lot of debate about this subject, and I really wish the solution could just be education. Educate drivers and cyclists about how to get along. Unfortunately, that just doesn't work. There are signs on major streets around here reminding people to share the road, reminding people that bicycles are allowed to take up an entire lane. That certainly doesn't keep cars from passing too close in the same lane. Cars want to go 40 miles an hour, and most cyclists can't. So the solution is to pass them. I get that. I pass cyclists that are going too slow in front of me when I'm on a bike, so I get it. 

But every single day I have to deal with the honking, and people passing too close, and drivers generally acting like assholes because I have the nerve to be on the road. Removing this bike lane on Market means I'm now going to have to try and take up the whole lane. I don't have a problem doing that, but it certainly isn't going to keep anyone from speeding up behind me, swerving around me on the left, and cutting me off to turn there illegally. The only thing it will do is make cyclists have to watch traffic more. It is making us the problem, when we really just want to ride bikes. 

It's easy to say "well, do you have a better idea?" in these situations, and the truth is that I don't. I don't have a degree in transportation and city planning, and I certainly don't get paid to sit in an office every day and come up with solutions that cater to a host of different people. So I certainly don't understand all the challenges this task faces. All I know is that I ride a bike, and I'd really appreciate not getting hit by a car. I think it's pathetic to say "the bike lane isn't working, so let's remove the bike lane", rather than coming up with a different solution. I can't blame someone for not wanting to ride a bicycle considering how people react to cyclists in this town. It was easier in the midwest when you just knew everyone hated you and no one was looking, ever. Now you have to consider whether or not someone's looking and whether or not they hate cyclists that day. The "are you going to kill me" dance is the least pleasant thing about my daily commute.

I'm interested to see what the SFBC's official statement is going to be on this. I hope they come up with a better solution and push for it. They're much better at all of this than I am.

Oh, and even though we might be past the time where it's okay - Happy New Year, everyone. I rang in midnight at my favorite bar in the city, Inner Mission. Dave and Tom poured champagne for everyone, I got a kiss from The Roommate, and slammed a Young's Double Chocolate after they flipped the lights on. It was a good way to ring in 2009. Hope yours were equally fantastic.

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