SFMTA Considering New Bike Lanes to Prevent Car Doors From Hitting Cyclists
Without question, biking is a big part of transportation in San Francisco. According to the SFMTA, there are 8,713 weekday bicyclists in San Francisco, with an estimated 6% of all trips made in San Francisco by bike.
As bike ridership has increased in San Francisco, so too has the rate of bike accidents. According to a 2008 San Francisco Bicycle Coalition survey, 27% of coalition members reported that they had been in a collision with a car within the last two years. According to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, “dooring” (when a car door is opened into a bicyclist) is the #1 injury for motorist-caused bike accidents in San Francisco. Ouch!
But dooring isn’t just painful - it’s dangerous. Dooring can throw riders from their bikes or force them to swerve into traffic.
SFMTA Working to Design Safer Bike Lanes
Education and caution alone won't prevent unsafe biking conditions; the city must do more to change how our streets are designed. Conventional bike lanes do not leave much room between cars and bikes. San Francisco parking lanes are typically 8 feet wide; bike lanes are 5 feet wide. To address dooring, the SFMTA has painted in a number of T’s – which are intended to show the safe space for bicyclists when car doors open in bike lanes – on sections of Polk Street aimed at guiding bicyclists away from door zones. However, many bicyclists feel the T’s are too similar to regular parking space designations and do not clearly indicate safe bike zones.
The SFMTA is also experimenting with a crosshatch, diagonal design to keep bicyclists out of the door zone on 17th Street between Dolores and Guerrero streets. The SFMTA hopes these efforts will encourage cyclists to ride outside of potential dooring zones.
Yet Buffered Bike Lanes Are Safer
While these are encouraging first steps, buffered bike lanes remain the safest way to prevent bike and car collisions and dooring. The image above (generated by SF.Streetsblog) illustrates how much real space bicyclists have if you consider the door zone in a five foot standard bike lane – which is actually only about one to two feet. Partitions protect cyclists by physically buffering portions of street routes so that cyclists are separated and protected from traffic.
San Francisco already has a handful of partitioned bike lanes, located on Market Street, Division Street and Laguna Honda Boulevard. And the SFMTA is currently considering proposals for separated bikeways on Fell and Oak Streets between Scott and Baker Streets.
While buffered bike lanes are time-consuming and costly to roll out, the city needs to consider the long-term civic return on investment of these buffered bike lanes because they are one of the best ways to keep our bicyclists safe. If San Franciscans feel safe riding their bikes to work or school, or just for recreation, then more of them may feel encouraged to get out of their cars and into the bike lanes.