Modal Priority Streets

My last post was about how self-driving busses would be the saving grace of public transportation.  However when I brought this idea up in person, most people were a little concerned about unmanned busses barreling down the same streets as cars, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians.  Which I guess is a good point.  So how does it all work together?

This is a problem civil engineers and designers have been struggling with for decades.  How do different sized modes of transportation that go differents speeds play well together?  My solution: they don’t.

You might have read about “complete streets”–a concept I support–which means a street should be designed so that the most vulnerable of society feels safe no matter what mode of transportation they use.  That’s all well and good, but in a city like San Francisco where space is at a premium, there’s only so much room you can take away from the road itself for wider sidewalks and bike lanes before there’s no room for cars or busses.  Trying to cram everything in is not a working solution either.

I say stop sharing the streets and divide priority.  For instance, take a neighborhood like the Mission.  It’s longer than it is wide, most major streets run north/south and it’s laid out in grid-like fashion.  Right now, both Mission street and Valencia street are impossible for anyone to get anywhere at a pace faster than a shuffle; because everyone else is trying to do the same across all types of travel.

My vision would be to give each street a different modal priority.  Mission street would be public transportation since they already have at least two bus lines and bart, Valencia would be bikes (because, duh) and Guerrero would be cars/private vehicles.  It’s more or less already worked out that way if you are familiar with the area.  Cars would still be allowed to drive down Mission or Valencia, just not encouraged; say for the instance that you need to drop someone off at a store on a bike priority street.  The ends of blocks could have divots where taxis or private cars could pull in and out of traffic to drop off or pick up passengers without gumming things up, or mowing over cyclists in the process.

If three blocks is a lot to ask for, then maybe only every other block could trade off and cars can be lumped in with transit.  (Since now, SF transit is the eighth wonder of the world remember?  And the demand for private cars has plummeted.)  As a cyclist myself, I don’t really want to share the street with transit whether manned or no, so human powered vehicles will still get a street unto themselves.

This makes most sense for parts of San Francisco that aren’t grid like, or for connecting different neighborhoods by bike thoroughfares.  For example, the wiggle, which is the most well known neighborhood traversing bike way.  It winds it’s way off of Market through the lower haight and out to the panhandle, finding the least steep route from downtown to the panhandle and beyond.  There are many other passes like this through the hills of San Francisco, but not nearly as well known–maybe yet undiscovered!–and if anything not nearly as well marked as the wiggle is.

The point being, if you’re trying to get anywhere fast in a car, you do not want to be driving through the wiggle.  Not only is it residential, but there is now hundreds of cycles that use it everyday.  (Yay!)  You want to use Fell/Oak or Turk/Golden Gate, because they are wide one way streets that will zip you downtown faster than you can roll down your window to yell someone.

The only time this becomes a problem is with streets like Divisadero.  Which, is the flattest route to take between Haight street and California street.  Which by my system would make it a bike priority street, and in real life it’s a car priority street.  No bike lane, no sharrows, nothing.  Just two lanes of traffic with barely a shoulder to squeeze into.  AND a bus line!  To make matters worse, it’s not even a fast street for cars to travel.  Everybody loses.

In order to fix this mess I would double the size of the sidewalk on Divis, (which is pitiful small, once again, everybody losing…), and would make the street one lane on each side, with priority for cyclists.  I would even keep street parking–you’re welcome.  The streets to the left and right of Divis would become one way streets to compensate for the bike thoroughfare.  (For the sake of brevity, we’ll just glance over how much construction that would be…)  Voilá.

Oneway Scott/Broderick
Scott and Broderick as oneway streets

My idea really isn’t all that original, since it seems to be the direction the city is kind of headed in.  Or was headed in at one point before complete streets became in vogue and they decided to  kind of head in another direction.  I suppose I’m just sick of city planners not having strong convictions.