Bicycle Facilities in San Francisco

Oliver Gajda, SFMTA Bicycle Program Manager

Mike Sallaberry, PE, SFMTA Traffic Calming

With a majority of trips in the US under 3 miles long (about 20 minutes by bike) and with the growing interest in sustainable and low impact systems, public health, the strained environment, and efficient transportation the bicycle is becoming increasingly popular as a transportation choice.  Though there are the classic “three E’s” to effective transportation systems: “engineering, enforcement, and education,” the engineering in bicycle transportation planning seems to have the most exciting potential for enabling the average person to feel comfortable using a bike.

Encouraging cycling in San Francisco is a multi-faceted program requiring the commitment of many agencies and groups to succeed.  This article focuses on some of the innovative traffic engineering work that the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Bicycle Program has completed.

Road Diets: San Francisco has completed more road diet projects (30) than any other city in North America.  Road diets are projects where excess travel lane space is removed and/or reallocated.  This generally results in slower, safer traffic, and allows space to be provided for bike lanes and/or pedestrian islands.

Shared Roadway Marking (“sharrow”): These markings are a relatively new tool for marking roadways that are shared by cyclists and motorists.  They can be used to encourage proper placement of cyclists and inform motorists that cyclists are allowed in the lane.  There are over a thousand sharrows in San Francisco, with many more to come.

Bicycle Signal: Recently two sets of bicycle signals were installed on the popular Panhandle Multi-Use Path, one at Fell/Masonic and the other at Fell/Shrader.  Both allow protected movements by cyclists using the path.


Signage: Current manuals in the US do not provide a complete toolbox for traffic engineers developing safe and attractive facilities for cyclists.  As with many of the bicycle facilities discussed here, signage options are often limited.  San Francisco uses existing sign designs and standards as much as possible as it creates new bicycle-specific signage.

“Floating Bike Lane” – On the Embarcadero there was a need for parking, an additional commute hour travel lane, and a continuous on-road bikeway.  The result was the “floating bike lane,” a design where space for cyclists shifts according to the time of day.

Contra-Flow Bike Lane – East Conservatory Drive in Golden Gate Park used to be a one-way road before it was converted to two-way for cyclists.  Prior to the conversion cyclists were riding illegally on pedestrian paths or against traffic or taking the long way around.  The street now functions as a two-way street with cars not allowed in one direction.

Bike Boxes – Bike boxes are advanced stop lines that provide space for cyclists to queue in front of motorists.  On Scott Street at Fell Street and on 14th Street at Folsom Street bike boxes are used to help cyclists position themselves for an upcoming left turn.

On-Street Bicycle Parking – In front of the Main Library in the Civic Center, what used to be about two car parking spaces is now parking for 38 bikes.  This frees up the sidewalk and creates a more welcoming parking area for cyclists.  The space protects bicycles from moving traffic and includes bollards, racks, and concrete scoring designed to match the design of the Main Library itself.

Colored Bike Lane Experiment San Francisco has an approved Request to Experiment from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the California Traffic Control Device Committee (CTCDC).  The elements of this experiment are unique to other colored bike lane experiments and should help inform policy makers of the best use of this promising approach.

One result of this work and related efforts has been a steady rise in the number of people bicycling.  Another effect is the designation of San Francisco as a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community, as determined by the League of American Bicyclists.  Plans are in place for much more bicycle related development in the next few years.

More details on some of these projects can be found at:

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