San Francisco and its cycletracks lead the way toward safer biking statewide

Cycletracks on Market Street have helped more cyclists feel safer.
Mike Koozmin/SF Print Media Co.

San Francisco has been blazing the trail toward safer cycling with innovative designs such as cycletracks, or bike lanes that are physically separated from cars, which have been installed on Market Street and JFK Drive. But cycletracks aren’t legal under state law, something that a San Francisco lawmaker and activist are trying to solve so that other California cities can more easily build them.

“Right now, many cities are not putting in cycletracks for fear they don’t conform to the Caltrans manual,” says Assemblymember Phil Ting, whose Assembly Bill 1193 — which would legalize and set design standards for cycletracks — cleared the Assembly yesterday [Wed/29] and is now awaiting action by the Senate.

Ting is working on the issue with the California Bicycle Coalition, whose executive director Dave Snyder is a longtime San Francisco bike activist. Snyder says Caltrans doesn’t allow bike lanes that include physical barriers against traffic, even though they are widely used in other countries and states and considered to be safest design for cyclists.

“San Francisco is technically breaking the law because they have the best traffic engineers in the state and a good City Attorney’s Office and they know they can defend it in court if they have to,” Snyder said. “Most places in the state won’t do that.”

In addition to the direct benefits of the legislation in San Francisco and other cities, Snyder said the legislation seems to be triggering a long-overdue discussion at Caltrans and other agencies about how to encourage more people to see cycling as an attractive transportation option, with all the environmental, public health, and traffic alleviation benefits that brings.

“It’s opened up a conversation about bike lane design and Caltrans’ role in encouraging safe cycling,” Snyder told the Guardian, praising Ting for championing the legislation. “It’s having an impact beyond its immediate impact.”

The Guardian is waiting for a reponse from Caltrans and we’ll update this post if and when we hear back. [UPDATE 1/31: A Caltrans spokesperson got back to us and said, "It's our policy not to comment on pending legislation."]

Surveys by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition have shown safety is the top concern of those considering riding to work or school more often. Ting said he hopes this legislation will address that concern: “By building more cycletracks in California, there will be increased ridership.”


causes more congestion. It's not like putting in a bike lane, or a bigger bike lane, is a free lunch. The costs are simply projected out onto the other classes of road user.

What works in a dense urban environment is probably not suitable state-wide.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 12:42 pm

Give people safe alternatives to driving cars, and traffic will be less of a problem.

Posted by Rocket on Feb. 01, 2014 @ 12:17 am

Is it to give safe alternatives, or to make driving so inconvenient that people do less of it?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 04, 2014 @ 2:12 pm

nothing less than banning private vehicles from the city.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 04, 2014 @ 3:35 pm

There are no cycle tracks in San Francisco, just double wide bike lanes with intermittent poles segregating bikes from cars, a pilot project.

Cycle tracks are "grade separated" from car lanes with concrete. There are more considerations, such as handling the dangers at intersections, that need to be ironed out before real bike tracks go prime time.

It is good that the City is pushing the boundaries on new bike facilities, but we need to resist the temptation of group think and demand an honest and full assessment of the implications of untested things.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 1:23 pm

Drastically diminishing the effective width of a street to install some luxury bike lane just to save one life for every billion bike miles traveled might be seen by some as excessive.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 2:41 pm

No, the luxury bike lane would be the one where you pedal my bike for me. And I'd sure love a mocha when you swing around to pick me up.

Posted by Rocket on Feb. 01, 2014 @ 12:22 am

Toll bike lanes are next. I guess the bicycle ski lifts on the front of each Muni bus are kinda that.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 01, 2014 @ 8:38 am

that it is OK to break the law if it works to his advantage?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 1:59 pm

It's the author's position that sometimes laws take awhile to catch up to society's needs and norms. Antiquated laws governing cycling need to be modernized if we're going to encourage it and make it safer, from street design to differentiating between automobiles and cyclists at intersections. San Francisco should be a leader in changing the transportation paradigm and laws.

More broadly speaking, if you want to create a respect for the law, which I think is a good goal, then you need just laws that conform to human behaviors. Drug laws are another good example of this. As to the inevitable response that I'll get criticizing me advocating law breaking, I don't think laws are the final word on morality or progress. In this case, state law just needs to catch up to San Francisco's progress.  

Posted by steven on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

human behavior then it is bad law? And that therefore that law may and should be disobeyed?

So if lots of people practice tax evasion then the tax laws clearly should not be "respected"? If the DBI laws are ignored by property owners then those laws are "antiquated"?

I think you're essentially trying to rationalize the fact that you only want to obey laws that you personally happen to agree with. We all feel that way to an extent, but most of us stop short of not obeying a law just because it is inconvenient or irritating.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 2:53 pm

You forget Steven's incident with the cop on the Wiggle. Let me refresh your memory. Steven ran a stop sign and was pulled over by a motorcycle cop. Steven then proceeded to chew the cop out because he was enforcing a law that Steven disagrees with. The hell of it is, the cop was giving him only a warning and a reminder that it's a safety issue when Steven decided to go off on his tirade.

Apparently he feels he should only obey laws that he approves of. Well I don't approve of how this city refuses to issue concealed carry permits to regular citizens. By Steven's logic I should be able to carry my .45 whenever I want.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 10:54 pm

Thinkers from St. Augustine to Martin Luther King Jr. understood and discussed the concept of just and unjust laws, and they each said that we have no duty to obey the latter. Just laws see to the greater good and protect the weak from the strong or wicked. So tax laws, building codes, and gun control laws are just laws, while laws that discriminate against a certain class of people out of ignorance or malice are unjust laws. Laws that inhibit cycling may not be on par with basic human rights conflicts like laws that discriminate based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, but doctrinaire thinking about the law belongs more in a police state that free society. 

Posted by steven on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 10:20 am

later seen to be bad does not mean that the laws you oppose will be changed or will ever seen to be bad.

You seem to assume that you are the arbiter of good and bad. But then my view of good and bad laws is different from yours, so clearly there is a huge amount of subjectivity in any assessment of the law.

Ultimately you have to obey all laws and not just the ones you like. That's the whole point of laws, otherwise rich folks would just not obey the tax laws because they don't agree with them.

You can work to change the law, and you might even sometimes succeed. But until then, you obey them like everyone else, or face the consequences.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 11:01 am

I think it's unjust that I, as a law-abiding San Franciscan, will not be issued a CCW. If I, or someone I care about or any innocent citizen for that matter, gets attacked by three 200 LB. guys, why would you deny me the only option of evening out the odds and saving my life? Why should you be able to not obey laws you don't feel are right, but I can't? Are you that much better and smarter than everyone else that you get to decide what is a just or unjust law?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

they have a more ethically attuned sensibility than you or I have, enabling them to assert which laws are appropriate to obey, and which can be ignored. solely by reference to their elevated moral code.

I hear that Steven is preparing a little red book of his sayings, to be raised aloft by his disciples at every opportunity. It's called "charity is bourgois (sic)"

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 3:35 pm

Steven, segregated bike lanes are Jim Crow, separate but "equal."

Posted by marcos on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 7:54 pm

Good law - a law that Steven agrees with.

Bad law - a law that Steven disagrees with.

Happy to lend a hand.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 2:58 pm

following the law so they are bad. Cyclists who break the law are good. Drivers who break the law are bad.

Remember comrades - all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than other animals.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 3:06 pm

There is a process for changing CalTrans state transportation standards and any governing statute that is well established. The City is well within those standards as well as within CEQA by doing pilot projects. The data gathered from those pilot projects is going where it is supposed to, to Sacramento, to inform possible revisions to the standards and statute.

There is nothing illegal or improper going on here, "the system is working."

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 6:48 pm

The city will not. Ask anyone who has been Ellis evicted contrary to the city's will.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 8:56 pm

You need to tweak yer bot.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 9:39 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 8:12 am

When is SF's "system" going to even acknowledge the UC study that shows that cycling accidents---and presumably other kinds of accidents---are being significantly under-counted in San Francisco?

Posted by Rob Anderson on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 1:13 pm

Putting up things that might not conform to caltrans is a "who really cares" type thing.

It is interesting how these things always work out to your advantage, as if you have this entitlement to decide what is good and bad for everyone. In this case you ride a bike so whatever you get that works out for you personally is good for all it seems.

This isn't even a moral or progress issue, it's just an issue where you want something and you get to ignore the law because it works out for you. Why the state is so much up in everyones business around these things is a mystery, but then our progressives want to micro manage everything, so you would understand that bureaucratic mentality better than most.

The state has a law that doesn't work out to your advantage so ignore the law, the city doesn't coerce people enough around what they eat, we need more laws on McDonalds.

Posted by guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 1:03 am

They want zero tolerance towards the tax rules for AirBnB, for instance, even though the courts have not yet even validated SF's tax law on that matter.

But if it is a matter of a protester charged with damage or trespass, or a cyclist blowing through a red or stop, then that is perfectly OK.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 2:39 pm

When I moved to SF I was taught that residents believed in People over Profits.

Thus, in the case of a protester contesting an injustice, the protester has full protection as long as they don't hurt anyone or cause significant property damage.

In the case of a company scamming the tax system to cheat the community, we demand full compliance with all laws, if not more than the law requires to show the company's social value to community welfare.

Companies can always move to Aspen if they don't like following the local laws and customs here.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 3:26 pm

Most people came to SF to make a buck and don't give a crap about other people. This is the most tribal place I've lived.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

Who "taught" you that residents of SF were in unanimous agreement on any subject? I'm very, very curious where and when you received your indoctrination on the subject. Do share.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 4:42 pm

The ability to speak for the people when they vote against you.

Posted by guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 12:48 am

"people over profit"
"speaking truth to power"
"community welfare"
"open minded and tolerant"


Posted by guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 12:36 am

San Francisco is leading the way in adopting sustainable transportation policies.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

Congrats to SF activists, traffic engineers and CA's Office for leading the way on this. I had no idea the bike traffic separators were skirting the law.

Caltrans is the one of most significant transportation agencies in the country, if not world. If they can start adopting smart design improvements that encourage significantly safe biking routes throughout the state, that could start a huge trend everywhere. Congrats again to everyone working on the issue.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 3:35 pm

If you object to changing the state law let your representatives know:

And let your city officials know by signing this petition and leaving comments.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 12:17 pm

In fact, state law is generally more sensible than SF law.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 12:37 pm

Under the provisions for pilot projects, these bike lanes are perfectly legal, not against the law. The Guardian makes a cottage industry out of reporting in ways that are easily used against the constituencies they claim. They do this because they choose to do this. The question is, why does a "progressive" "news" outlet that claims activist cred publish material that paints its activist base as law breakers?

Posted by marcos on Feb. 01, 2014 @ 11:44 am

Mandatory Bike Helmet Laws! How many people need to die before the Supervisors act?

Posted by Richmondman on Feb. 01, 2014 @ 3:36 pm

I suggested this to Sup. Wiener, who replied he didn't think it was politically expedient.

For him.

Posted by TrollKiller on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 7:52 am

accident then the cyclists waives all rights to compensation if he was not wearing a helmet.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 06, 2014 @ 8:17 am

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.