Citing a need to "provide access to the curb for taxi and paratransit van customers with disabilities" the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has announced that taxi cabs can now pick up and drop off passengers while parked in a bike lane without fear of getting a ticket.
Parking Control Officers have been instructed not to issue citations on such occasions and taxis will receive bumper stickers indicating their new permissions. Drivers will also be given decals to place in their rear window that advise passengers to look for bicycles before exiting the vehicle. Additionally, new taxi drivers will be required to undergo "defensive driving" training on how to safely share the road with bicyclists.
Leah Shahum, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, views the additional training as positive but wishes the memo, which calls for taxi drivers to treat separated and non-separated bike lanes differently, was more clear.
"There are parts of the memo that I think folks will find confusing and even conflicting," said Shahum. "This really does seem to invite conflict and even unsafe conditions."
The majority of bike lanes are non-separated (see photo) -- they are merely delineated by a white line painted on the road. Taxis can enter these at any point to pick up or drop off disabled and non-disabled passengers. Separated bike lanes (see photo) are set off from the road by plastic posts; cabs can only enter this space if an elderly or disabled customer needs to be dropped off on the curb, or if disabled customers have indicated they need to be picked up there. Separated bike lanes may only be entered and exited at street corners.
The SFMTA's instructions to drivers also state: "It is important that you only use bike lanes for pick-ups or drop-offs upon customer request and only if there are no other safe locations nearby."
If the taxi-rule changes adds to your existing confusion about how best to ride a bike in the city (note: it's not on the sidewalk), you might want to take one of the urban riding workshops offered by the Bike Coalition. The classes are offered year round but are being offered throughout the city this week as part of the first ever Bicycle Safety and Education Week, co-sponsored by the SFBC and the SFMTA. You can see a full schedule of classes at www.sfbike.org.