One lane on two busy SF streets could be removed to make way for bikes 

A proposal to close one lane of busy Oak Street to accommodate bicyclists coming from the Panhandle has critics predicting a parking and traffic nightmare along a stretch of road that drivers from the western part of The City use to reach the freeway.

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The plan to reduce auto lanes from three to two along a three-block stretch of the eastbound artery — one of three ideas under consideration — is part of a larger effort to increase bike lanes across The City. If successful, a lane on a corresponding stretch of westbound Fell Street also could be given to cyclists.

Supporters of the Oak plan say it will create a safe route for bicyclists. But opponents question the location, saying parallel streets will achieve the same goal without disrupting traffic and endangering cyclists.

Many bicyclists currently leave the Panhandle on a series of streets known collectively as “the Wiggle,” but there are no designated bike lanes in the three-block stretch from the end of the Panhandle to Scott Street. Once on Oak Street, cyclists must compete with vehicles to get downtown.

Adding a bike lane to Oak Street and expanding the current bike lane on Fell Street would connect the Panhandle’s bike path to the Wiggle at Scott Street.

Leah Shahum of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition said the overall goal is to create a “safe and inviting environment for cyclists.” She said the coalition told neighbors it would support slowing down traffic barreling through the area.

But Ted Loewenberg, president of the Haight-Ashbury Improvement Association, said turning a traffic lane into a bike lane with barriers to separate cyclists and cars is an expensive alternative that would create a bottleneck.

“It’s going to be more dangerous than beneficial,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to put bikes and cars next to each other when the speed difference between them is so significant.”

Aside from removing a lane of traffic, two other design options are being considered for both streets. They would eliminate parking from one side of the street to create a bike lane, or create a tow-away zone during commute hours, according to plans from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Loewenberg, a cyclist, said all the options are hazardous and will create traffic nightmares. He and other association members favor routing bicyclists onto Page or Hayes streets, which flank Oak and Fell.

“We’re really trying to apply good traffic engineering principles to this,” he said. “Hayes and Page are much safer routes; they’re more lightly traveled.”

But Shahum said Oak and Fell streets are flatter and connect more naturally to the Panhandle.

“Like water, bike traffic flows on flat areas,” she said. “Fell and Oak are flat and direct routes around the hills.”

The SFMTA has not made any decisions on the proposal, but plans to hold community meetings later this month and in December. A final design is expected in the spring.

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