Alarmists Behind 'Homeless Haight Brigands' Myth Have a New Enemy: A Three-Block Bike Lane

Categories: bikes
Last year San Franciscans heard a repeated tale about a band of violent gutter punks who caused upstanding citizens to fear going out at night.

The story was bogus. Police were unable make a single case out of the supposed crime wave, despite blanketing the area for weeks.

The fabulists behind the story, the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, got what they wanted anyhow: Voters last November passed a law keeping people from sitting on the sidewalk.

Now, the owners of the $3 million mansions south of Haight Street are on to their next fictional scourge: Cyclists who are supposedly going to mangle Haight Ashbury traffic patterns if the Muncipal Transportation Agency goes through with plans for a three-block bike lane. 

"Impacting the commutes of thousands of San Franciscans to make more convenient the rides of an unknown number of bicycle commuters would be premature," the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association's Ted Loewenberg wrote in a recent letter to the Board of Supervisors. "MTA planners should not be simply promoting the wishes of a city group with an agenda, such as the SFBC."

The Municipal Transportation Agency has recently been holding community meetings to announce plans to create separated bike-ways intended to fill in gaps in the Wiggle route connecting the western neighborhoods to downtown. 

This is San Francisco's bike-commuting expressway, in theory: thousands of cyclists every day travel up Market, through the Lower Haight, up the Panhandle and into the Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods. Certain patches of the route are deadly, however. And one of the worst is the three-block stretch, where the DMV offices sit on the site of a former velodrome. Heading downtown from the Sunset and Richmond, travel east along the Panhandle until it ends, turn left onto four-lane Oak Street, and make their way down a street some motorists consider to be a high-speed freeway.

One would think that unobtrusive safety measures, implemented to make it easier for people to reduce congestion by switching from car to bike commuting, would be a snap.

And that's what the MTA has proposed: a three-block bike lane for this dangerous stretch of street.

But the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, fresh off successfully inciting panic over non-existent homeless brigands, has predicted that a bike lane might unleash fixie-fomented bedlam on streets around the Upper Haight.

Creating such a bike lane, Loewenberg wrote, would be tantamount to "launching an experiment that could prove to be a disaster."

The MTA's Mike Sallaberry was quoted on Streetsblog as saying that bike lane-striping may not occur for another year, so that the government can give a full hearing to alarmist scenarios such as Loewenberg's.

"We still want to do the outreach to the community, to do it correctly and diligently," Sallaberry was quoted as saying.

In the NIMBY preserve that is San Francisco, "correctly and dilligently" usually means years of stalling as hysterical homeowners grind everyone down, the public good is finally undermined, and the homeowners move on to the next bogus threat.

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As a community member and longtime Haight-Ashbury resident (1973 to 1994) who now lives in the Lower Haight, I will agree with Ted that Haight Street was a hostile environment and has now, partially because of sit-lie regulations, improved.  I again am happy to take friends to the H/A to stroll and shop with less fear of intimidation and threats.But the bike lane is something that has to happen.  The few blocks that connect the Panhandle and Scott Street are a hostile connection for the hundreds of commuters who use this connection daily.  The SFBC, with over 12,000 members, is not insisting on this connection because they can, but because they should.  Promoting safe cycling is an important element in the goal to get more commuters (and tourists) out of cars.  As a seasoned cyclist, I can handle negotiating the herds of cars to get from the Panhandle to my home, but one shouldn't need to be brave, or fast, or in good shape, to get around SF on a bike.  Confused tourists, children, seniors, and weekend cyclists also need safe passage.  SF won't achieve the status as a 'world class' bike-able city until all cyclists feel safe.



I used to think you were good at exposure journalism. With this piece of crap, I wonder how many other times you've made stuff up to suit your purpose. Perhaps creating fiction, and not checking out the sources is your preferred method of "reporting."

If had only bothered to talk to me, you would understand that:1. The violence on Haight St. in 2009 was not a myth, but an ugly reality. Brutal fights, death threats, extortion and intimidation and even spitting on babies were all real. I could not ignore this, and thus fought hard to get the police to act, which they did. Their action brought about a short term relief from a climate of fear and intimidation. I also fought hard to pass the Civil Sidewalks ordinance as a long term improvement, where those who pose a threat cannot expect to colonize City sidewalks as a base for their violent behavior. The result: the Haight, and other parts of San Francisco witnessed a marked improvement and a dramatic drop in street violence. HAIA's response was not myth and fear-mongering. We stepped up to the problem and brought about a viable solution that everyone agrees is working well.

2. The proposal to put a bike lane on Oak St. violates traffic engineering principles, by putting cyclists at risk on a busy corridor. It also suggests a change that comes at the expense of motor vehicle traffic, which will cause an increase in travel times in the city. We think there is a better solution that has none of the draw backs of the SFBC proposal. This has nothing to do with NIMBY-ism. It's hard to conceive of how you possibly came up with that tired, old allegation. Our concern is for safety, and how best to share the roads with minimal detriment to all forms of transportation.

Good traffic engineering practice dictates that traffic of significantly different speeds should be kept separate as much as possible. That's why bikes are not allowed on freeways. Secondly, moving slow moving bike traffic across Oak St. from the Panhandle, such that it can make a right hand turn into the Wiggle, can be quite dangerous. As the SFBC explained to me, their concept was to put the bike lane on the NORTH side of Oak, until it gets to Scott, and then somehow cross over 3 lanes of car traffic (moving at 3 to 4 times the rate of speed of bikes) to accomplish the right turn on Scott. Crazy, yes?  If the lane is on the SOUTH side of Oak, then it has to be brought across Oak, probably at Baker. The lane would have to wide enough to allow 3 bikes abreast to handle the variation in bike traffic, so passing can occur. (Currently on Fell, a faster bike has to move out into a car lane to overtake someone plodding along in that narrow atrocity that passes as a left hand bike lane on Fell. It's a miracle that no one has been killed there, yet.) Further, displacing parking on Oak introduces new problems, as the people who claim that Oak is dangerous today will be forced to cross Oak to get to the new location where they might park their cars. Trading pedestrian hazards for bike convenience is a bad bargain.

Instead, a better and less expensive solution would be to bring traffic out of the Panhandle at Baker and Fell, on to Baker, and go north to Hayes. Right on Hayes (right turns are always safer for bikes than left turns) across the major intersection at Divis and on to Scott. Right again to a traffic light controlled intersection at Fell, and another at Oak. Going ACROSS heavy traffic arteries under control of a traffic light is the safest means of traversing such traffic. Once across, the Wiggle is at hand.

This path is only one block longer, remains flat enough for even the heaviest of cyclists, and puts bikes on a street with much less traffic. The lane on Hayes does not have to be singled off with planters or other such street furniture. Likewise, the westbound lane on Fell can be moved to Hayes to improve the safety of that.

Finally, bike traffic that uses the Panhandle to go eastbound, comes primarily from the western part of the city, and north of the Park / Panhandle. Those of us south of it use Page St., as we wouldn't dream of going on a bike on Oak. That's true for the westbound run as well. So, it would be smart to move that Richmond / North of Panhandle bike traffic to Hayes sooner, if possible.

What is of paramount importance is to keep everyone safe. The SFBC plan does a poor job of that. It also attempts to improve their constituents' problems at the expense of others. That's not good public policy.

Cycling works in Europe because it is not done on this exclude one for the other manner. I know, as I've cycled thousands of miles there. I put in about 40K miles on my bike in at least 8 countries, and I cycle every day without incident with cars. HAIA members strongly support a more reasonable approach (above) to moving cyclists on a path across San Francisco. We refuse to accept the idea that caution should be thrown to the wind, as you also suggest.

Next time, before you launch an attack on me or HAIA, please check with me first, to be sure you're not jumping to conclusions that exist only in your mind.

Ted LoewenbergPresident, HAIA


 A few points:

Crossing over Oak is trivial: just wait for the light to change. If the lane is on the north side, bikers wait at Scott and cross with the N-S light. If it's on the south side, they cross with the N-S light on Baker.

Meanwhile, your plan trades a left turn on the low-traffic Baker onto Oak (when Oak traffic is stopped), for a left turn on Fell. And this is supposed to be safer?

Also, "only one block longer"? If you go one block in the opposite direction of your destination, you're going to add a second block when you backtrack, obviously. The Hayes route is two blocks longer.

Here is a plot of the elevation profiles of the Oak vs Hayes vs Page routes: You can see that Hayes is, in addition to being longer, a lot hillier. The graph is the clearest explanation I've seen of why Oak is by far the best route.

Finally, the following is just unbelievable: "Further, displacing parking on Oak introduces new problems, as the people who claim that Oak is dangerous today will be forced to cross Oak to get to the new location where they might park their cars. Trading pedestrian hazards for bike convenience is a bad bargain."

Right: because the best way to improve pedestrian safety is to reduce the number of people walking. Hey, maybe if we build a bunch of parking garages, no one will ever have to cross Oak on foot, and we'll have the world's safest street for pedestrians!

Aaron Bialick
Aaron Bialick

Just a factual correction: The SFMTA is currently choosing from a few different design alternatives, none of which include a bike lane on the north side of Oak.

Cities Progress
Cities Progress

The route that you are suggesting (using Hayes between Baker and Scott instead of Fell and/or Oak) is not a good option because it involves inclines, especially for westbound cyclists.  The MTA is developing a proposal using the topographically most appropriate route.  Topography or a lack of hills is important for the majority of cylcists.  Please promote sharing our roads.  There is room for all users.

Regarding Whole Foods on Haight, it is unfortunate that a suburban style supermarket was allowed to (re-) open,  The proposal to include housing upstairs with the store at ground level should have been modified to appease all parties.  More housing and less automobile usage are needed to improve SF and improve Muni.

Jym Dyer
Jym Dyer

So the guy who wanted tons of additional parking and cars for Whole Foods is now presuming to dictate to us where and how we should ride our bikes.  Freedom and taxpayer-funded infrastructure for corporate chains!  For us little people, not so much.

(Brotip: that line of thinking isn't particularly representative of the Haight. But then again, Ted toiled for years as the loyal opposition at HANC before discovering that the corporate media pays better attention to him when he put a "neighborhood group" letterhead atop his Randroid rants.)


fuck you jerkoff


Although, I do not agree with all/any of Ted's points...Kesey_prankster's comment is counterproductive and frankly helps no one. 

Also, be a bit more clever if you're going to use that name.

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