Slowly but surely, bicyclists are winning more space on San Francisco's crowded streets. And just as surely, we are protecting that space as something sacred. Nowhere is that effort more viable than on the city's newest bike lanes on Valencia Street.
In March, volunteers teamed up to combat double parking in Valencia's bike lanes through the V.I.A.B.L.E. (Valencia Insurrection Against Bike Lane Encroachment) campaign. Donning bright vests and jackets, flashlights, and clipboards, bicyclists politely reminded motorists of the dangers Ñ and illegality Ñ of double parking in bike lanes.
"Drivers already have a lot of room throughout the city," says Joe Speaks, who led the effort. "Bicyclists are simply standing up to protect what little space we're getting."
Double parking is rampant along parts of Valencia Street, particularly between 16th and 17th Streets, forcing cyclists to swerve dangerously into the traffic lane.
"Although the bike lane is finally there, some motorists just disregard it or don't realize that parking in it affects bicyclists negatively," says V.I.A.B.L.E. volunteer Stephanie Alvarez.
V.I.A.B.L.E. patrollers suggest to drivers that they find an open parking space. Some drivers, especially of delivery trucks, are using the median for double parking. Most people comply, especially upon hearing that the fine for double parking has doubled to $100.
"We're not interested in creating conflict," says Speaks, who helped organize the HUMBLE (Helpful Upper Market Bike Lane Enforcers) effort in 1996. "We're interested in showing a presence and starting a dialogue. We appreciate that drivers may be frustrated at first, but we're all frustrated with the lack of transportation facilities to meet our needs."
SFBC members flooded the Dept. of Parking and Traffic last month with postcards asking for stronger enforcement of double parking laws in bike lanes. We are also working with local businesses to convert more parking along Valencia to short-term spaces.
The community's response to the new bike lanes has been overwhelmingly positive. "They're definitely helping my commute feel a lot safer and easier," says Stephanie Alvarez, who bikes to her job in the Mission every day.
Help ensure that the new bike lanes (which are a one-year trial) keep working. Let Valencia merchants know that you're a bicyclist and a customer and that you support the lanes. Call the DPT's Valencia hotline at 415-554-2351 and the Mayor's Office at 415-554-6141 to register your support. Report cars in the bike lanes at 415-553-1631. Contact the SFBC to join another volunteer bike patrol.
"The city is finally admitting that we cannot rely solely on the car for our transportation system," says Speaks. "Now it is important for citizens like us to support the city in that logistically obvious but politically difficult move."