SAN FRANCISCO -- After the city introduced center bike lanes meant to improve safety on Valencia Street in the Mission District, many small business owners say the design has driven away customers.
The dining room was nearly empty during peak dinner hours Friday at Yasmin, a Mediterranean cafe on the corner of 19th and Valencia streets.
It's an area popular for its nightlife where business at bars and restaurants was bustling pre-COVID.
Owner Eiad Eltawil said business is down at least 30 percent to 40 percent since the city installed the Valencia Street bike lanes from 15th to 23rd streets. He says the unusual design meant to improve safety limited parking in the area, changed traffic patterns and caused a downturn in sales.
"It takes me about, sometimes, an hour, an hour and a half to find parking. There is no parking on Valencia Street," Eltawil said. "The enforcement's been really, really tough on people, even businesses. They don't allow you to unload your food, they don't allow you to do anything."
Several longtime businesses in the area have closed this year. Eltawil said a huge factor has been the controversial yearlong pilot program for the center bike lane.
"A lot of my other neighbors about to close. There is no help from the city or anybody. They're just going to allow us to leave, basically," he added.
Kevin Ortiz, co-president of the S.F. Latinx Democratic Club is organizing a press conference in the bike lane on Tuesday at 11 a.m. to raise concerns linked to small business closures, a drop in foot traffic and an increase in traffic accidents.
Ortiz, a cyclist himself, said the lanes actually create more danger.
"I usually take Folsom because I get really scared going down Valencia. Drivers don't know what they're doing because there's a lot of confusion that's going on. For me, I'd rather not risk it and go down a bike lane that I know is safe," he said.
SFMTA said in a statement to KPIX:
The SFMTA is committed to making Valencia Street a safe and inviting place for everyone and that includes businesses, residents, those who drive in the area and those who walk, bike and roll. The corridor is a dynamic and culturally important part of our city, and we want it to prosper both now and for years to come.
We want businesses on the Valencia corridor to thrive, and we want to do everything we can to support them. That's why last week, we temporarily adjusted the type and duration of many of the loading zones on Valencia Street between 15th and 23rd streets and on several side streets (18th, 19th, 20th, 22nd) to create more general parking availability in the neighborhood.
These changes will help customers who drive patronize Valencia businesses while keeping the street safe for people on foot, bicycles and scooters. Small businesses are an important part of all that makes San Francisco the incredibly special city that it is, and we all benefit when they succeed.
These temporary changes will be in effect while the project team evaluates permanent curb changes that would be made in early 2024.
- We turned just over a third (34%) of the loading zones that we recently installed into general parking after 12 noon.
- We turned the vast majority (82%) of the new loading zones into general parking after 6 p.m. Previously they ended at 10 p.m.
The reason there are fewer parking spaces on the street is because there's more competition for curb space. Shared Spaces parklets, which have been a lifeline for struggling businesses, are taking up some of the curb space that was previously general parking. And some other parking spaces had to be turned into loading zones. Without the loading zones, delivery drivers double park, which creates a dangerous situation for drivers as well as for people on bikes when someone has to veer around a double-parked vehicle.
In addition to on-street parking, the SFMTA also operates two garages in the neighborhood: the Mission-Bartlet garage at 3255 21st Street and Hoff garage at 41 Hoff Street off of 16th Street. Garage pricing and up to date information is available on the Demand-Responsive Parking Pricing page on our website (SFMTA.com/ParkingRates).
"We want the city to remove the bike lane and we want them to start over and do a full community-based transportation plan, think about this strategically and actually involve the small businesses, involve the community members in an actual plan that's cohesive," Ortiz said.
SFMTA staff will update its board of directors on the pilot project's performance in early 2024.
In the meantime, Eltawil said he's just trying to survive.
"Sixteen hours, 18 hours a day, me and my wife and kids, just to survive. We're just trying to keep our workers. We're just trying to keep going," he said.
Following Tuesday's press conference, the group plans to show up at the MTA board of directors meeting later that day at 1 p.m. to voice their support for the removal of the center bike lane.
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