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Raised Bike Lanes Offer Space-Saving Safety to San Fran Riders

Many municipalities are promoting bicycling as an environmentally friendly way to get around that doesn't require them to invest money in much new infrastructure. Bike lanes have become part and parcel of this movement, varying in design from a stripe on the side of the road to a fully protected pathway beside parked cars.

But a little-used design that might better protect cyclists while taking up less room is receiving consideration by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and the SF Public Utilities Commission: a raised bike lane, which aside from being protected provides a built-in 'speed bump' that keeps motorists from straying into cyclists' territory.

The lane, which runs alongside the curb, will be raised about two inches above the road surface, and will be 11 feet wide between the lane itself (six feet wide) and an additional five-foot "buffer zone" on the traffic side of the road. If this sounds wide, it doesn't take up nearly as much space as more typical forms of "protected" bike lanes that include obstacles like bollards.

"While the specific design is not yet complete, normally the raised bike lane will lower back down to roadway level as it approaches or reaches the intersection to allow for seamless turns for people biking," adds Community Organizer Chema Hernández Gil of advocacy group the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

The raised bike lane is currently being pioneered on a single-block stretch of the hip Valencia Street in San Francisco's Mission district. But the city is eager to add these lanes to areas of the city with high rates of bicycle injuries.

"We're really excited about bringing [the lanes] to San Francisco," says Tyler Frisbee, policy director at the coalition. "Like all protective bike lanes, they help people feel safe on the road, create more predictable traffic patterns, and encourage people who otherwise might be nervous to ride on busy streets."

Raised bike lanes have proved their mettle in European cities, where bicycling culture is a little more relaxed, as well as Chicago, Milwaukee, and Bend, Oregon. San Francisco is eager to catch up with its neighbors to the east, and it's doing pretty well; in 2010, 3.5 percent of the population was cycling, and it hopes to reach 10 percent by 2018.


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