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Set to start construction in June, Fell Street bike lane now has no firm timeline [Updated]

Photos: Teresa Hammerl/Hoodline
By Teresa Hammerl - Published on July 09, 2020.

In mid-May, after pressure from District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) proposed a new parking-protected bikeway on Fell Street.

The bikeway would run alongside the Panhandle path from Baker to Shrader streets, to alleviate traffic in a space that's also used by pedestrians. 

"[It's] a long-due solution," San Francisco Bicycle Coalition executive director Brian Wiedenmeier told Hoodline, noting that the increase in traffic during shelter-in-place “has created crowded and unsafe conditions” in the Panhandle. 

Construction on the bikeway was anticipated to begin in June. But there's been no progress so far.

"We are working to get necessary project approvals, including addressing emergency access challenges," SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato said in an email to Hoodline on June 26.

Three days ago, the agency published a tweet with the same statement. It's still unclear when construction will start.

Sup. Preston's legislative aide, Preston Kilgore, said in May that the project will be "a temporary emergency response to COVID-19," allowing westbound cyclists to fully bypass the interior of the Panhandle.

Kilgore said the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) and the SFMTA conducted a site visit last week, and that SFFD raised some questions about the project. Asked why the process was taking longer than expected, he noted that "we are in a pandemic." 

SFFD did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

According to the SFMTA's website, the southernmost of Fell Street's four travel lanes, which borders the Panhandle, will be given over to the curb-adjacent bikeway. The bikeway will be designated with paint and protected with collapsible bollards. 

Fell, a one-way street, has both northern and southern parking lanes. The southern lane will be moved away from the curb, with approximately 12 of the 136 parking spaces on that side removed. The spaces are needed to create turning lanes and visibility zones. 

Kilgore said he still believes the introduction of the new bike lane will help with the response to congestion, and that Preston's office remains supportive of it. But bicycle advocates are frustrated by the delay. 

“We are calling on the city to resolve any issues that exist,” the SFBC's Wiedenmeier said, nothing that it's currently very difficult to maintain six feet of social distancing on the Panhandle paths.

“Each day that this project is delayed increases the risk of negative outcomes,” he said.

Neither the Mayor's office nor San Francisco Rec & Park would say whether any additional measures are planned to allow for better social distancing along the Panhandle until the new bike lane is complete.

A spokesperson for Rec & Park noted that "fortunately, the Panhandle leads directly into the 1,017-acre Golden Gate Park."

The spokesperson added that JFK Drive will remain closed to vehicle traffic while the shelter-in-place order is in effect, to ensure people can get their outside recreation time while socially distancing.

Update 7/15: On Wednesday, Preston announced on Facebook that “the lane is expected to be open for use in the first week of August.”

He added that the SFMTA will track traffic volumes, traffic speeds and emergency response times, and will consult with SFFD about the pilot project after it has operated for a month.

“Our office wishes to express our appreciation to the MTA and SFFD for working collaboratively to reach an agreement that allows this pilot project forward,” Preston wrote.

"Thank you Supervisor Dean Preston for your ongoing support as we dealt with delays from SFFD," representatives of the Bicycle Coalition added on Twitter.

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