Tow Trucks And Bike Lanes: A Closer Look At Fell Street

Tow Trucks And Bike Lanes: A Closer Look At Fell Street
Photo: Andrew Dudley / Hoodline
By Nuala Sawyer - Published on August 25, 2014.
Over the past few months, our inbox has seen a regular issue come in again and again from readers: What's the deal with tow trucks blocking the Fell Street bike lane? 
Bike lanes first came to Fell Street in 2011, linking together the popular Wiggle route with the Panhandle. In 2013, the lanes were given a revamp with the removal of parking spots and a widened buffer between the bike lane and the cars. Future plans involve installing concrete planters as aesthetic buffers between bikes and cars, and should begin later this year. 

So what's going on with the tow trucks? Walk by Ted & Al's Towing and you might see multiple tow trucks blocking the bike lane (we recently spotted three, pictured above). Anyone who bikes along Fell regularly may have encountered the tricky choice to either a) yield to the high-speed lane of car traffic and squeeze past a parked tow truck, or b) get off the bike and walk around the tow truck on the sidewalk.

 As one tipster stated, "it's basically turned into their private parking lot." Curious what the laws were regarding when it's okay to idle in the bike lane and when it's not, we did some research. 

When asked, both SFMTA and SF Bicycle Coalition pointed us to the same place: V C Section 21211:

21211. (a) No person may stop, stand, sit, or loiter upon any class I bikeway, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 890.4 of the Streets and Highways Code, or any other public or private bicycle path or trail, if the stopping, standing, sitting, or loitering impedes or blocks the normal and reasonable movement of any bicyclist.

(f) This section does not apply to the driver or owner of a tow vehicle while actually engaged in the towing of a vehicle if the front turn signal lamps at each side of the vehicle are being flashed simultaneously and the rear turn signal lamps at each side of the vehicle are being flashed simultaneously.

There are many vehicles that are allowed to idle in the bike lane—delivery trucks, utility vehicles, and garbage trucks, to name a few.  Tow trucks are included on this list, but only if they are in the act of towing a vehicle. This means that unless the tow trucks parked in the bike lane on Fell are in the process of towing a vehicle, they are parking illegally.

We reached out to Ted & Al's, but they have so far declined to comment on the issue. 

The installation of concrete planters between the bike lane and car lanes later this year will not block Ted & Al's (or anyone else's) driveway, but may make it clearer that the bike lane is for bikes only. In the meantime, SF Bicycle Coalition contacts Ted & Al's regularly, but despite their efforts tow trucks remain a daily sight in Fell's bike lane. 

In the meantime,  if you're struggling with getting around tow trucks or anything else blocking the bike lane, 311 offers a temporary solution. Next time you see a tow truck illegally blocking a bike lane on Fell (or anywhere else for that matter), you can call (415) 553-1200 to report a "Blocked Public Right of Way." 

We'll keep you up to date on future bike lane developments on Fell Street.