Posted by: mixed terrain. | May 16, 2009

Mission Bay, San Francisco–A Livable Streets Failure

A lot of San Franciscans are upset about Mission Bay–many of them because of the perception that something better could be done with this part of the city, something that would be more beneficial and with a lot less corporate money (i.e. the GAP, BoA, Genentech, etc.). Unfortunately this point is moot–you can now enjoy the Bank of America Terrace and eat a cafe payed for by Don Fisher at the Mission Bay Community Center.

What still nags me though, and perhaps is not a moot point, is the incredible and surprising failure of Mission Bay to be planned with complete and livable streets in mind.

Sure, more than enough lip service is there in the university’s plans.  The core, common areas of the new campus are rather nice, feature numerous bike racks, and are calm places to be.  The problem is that there is no easy, inviting way to make it to the campus by bike or on foot conveniently and safely.

Site of UCSF Mission Bay Research and Hospital Campus, from SFBC map

Site of UCSF Mission Bay Research and Hospital Campus, from SFBC map

This is a travesty for a development in such a flat and centrally-located area of the city with a high proportion of environmentally-conscious students, faculty, and staff people commuting to it everyday.  Sure, this is a hospital, not just a university development, and many people are going to be coming to UCSF Mission Bay in ambulances, cars, and even helicopters because they have no other choice.  But let’s say you’re fortunate enough to not have to be life-flighted into the area, your options for entering the campus include:

from the Mission and Potrero, other points West of campus:  East on 16th St (bike lanes), except for when travelling under the 280 bridge and across the Caltrain tracks where cyclists are squeezed into a very narrow right-hand lane (where there is a sharrow).

from the Financial district, South Beach, SOMA, other points north: South, SE on 4th Street or 3rd Street, both of which have heavy traffic, include bridge crossings, and feature a complete lack of bicycle infrastructure, with narrow and tight-lanes to boot.  Third Street in particular is very scary to ride.  (The reason for the terrible situation on Third Street seems to be that the planning was done before the SFBC became the force that it is today, and complete streets were not considered in the planning.)*  Terry A. Francois Blvd. is a waste for Mission Bay-bound commuters, out-of-the-way and disconnected from campus.

from Bayview, Dogpatch, other points south:  this way is a little better, and here Illinois Street is a decent option, requring a a short jog west on 16th St to the campus without a bike lane (filling in this small gap is part of the SFBC’s 56 bike projects action right now).

For many would-be cyclists to Mission Bay, 16th Street would seem to be the best option coming and going.  Hell, it’s got a bike lane.  The problem is that the skinny, narrow lane has not calmed this road’s appetite–and it’s only going to get worse.  According to UCSF’s traffic studies, traffic counts are anticipated to rise quite a bit between now and the full ‘buildout’ of the project.  This means that with 16th St’s proximity to the 280 and the traffic sewer of 3rd St, cars will be flowing at even faster speeds and even greater numbers than currently.  It is already very difficult to make a left turn into the campus via Owens Ave off of 16th Street and will surely become more difficult.

Leaving the campus via 16th Street and heading West, towards Potrero and the Mission is perhaps the biggest disaster-area of the entire route–the bike lane makes an unnatural and hard-to-see sharp jump to the left, putting cyclists between a straight lane and a right-hand-turn lane, often with high speed traffic on both sides.  [Full disclosure:  I’ve almost been killed several times in this intersection due to the poor design, despite my extreme caution, proper signalling, etc. etc.]

Eastbound on 16th Street (280 stub overhead)

Eastbound on 16th Street (280 stub overhead), dashed lines show where lanes diverge to make right-hand turn lane. Jack Fleck & Co. propose a similar 'solution' for Market & Ocatvia.

This is a shameful state of affairs for public space in a city that boasts 6% bicycle rideshare.  With missed opportunities like the street design and planning of Mission Bay, we’re doomed to keep that rideshare percentage in single digits for a longtime to come.

Sure, I can get there, and I’ll keep biking to Mission Bay.  I’m used to all the constant, ‘soft’ harassment of vehicles in San Francisco and the risk of getting run over at what should be a simple ride home–but who the hell besides 6% of us is really willing to deal with that kind shit on a daily basis?  If we allow such bad designs to satisfy us, we’ll be stuck at 6% and 10,000 strong for a long time.

*There is a chance that this kind of bad planning will repeat itself soon, with some, even including some bike advocates, suggesting that instead of putting bike lanes on Cesar Chavez Street between San Jose Avenue and the 101 hairball, we should just make do with 26th St, a parallel residential street,–a ‘compromise’ that would prelude eastbound cyclists from continuing on Cesar Chavez toward the waterfront or the train in any kind of timely or dignified way.  The hairball and its interaction with Potrero Avenue in the city has recently been the site of an injustice to children in the surrounding neighorhood, as documented here by Streetsblog.



  1. thanks for this, i work in the mission and my son goes to school in the castro. we’re moving to mission bay and I was hoping we could bike commute most of the time. maybe we’ll cut over left to a side street to avoid that merge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: