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Restaurant owner goes on hunger strike to protest cycle lane in San Francisco

Other business owners have claimed the cycling infrastructure has robbed the street of its "soul" and "culture" and is "killing business"...

The owner of a restaurant in San Francisco has begun a hunger strike in protest over a cycle lane that he and several other owners have blamed for a decline in customers and "killing business".

The protected cycle route in the centre of Valencia Street is 1.9 miles long and was installed last summer, following on from previous trials of a roadside bike lane, the city's Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) removing 71 parking spaces to build the infrastructure designed to make one of San Francisco's most important north-south routes safer for cyclists.

However, it has received an outspoken backlash from some business owners, many of whom believe customer volume has been negatively impacted by the scheme, especially because of the removal of on-street parking.

Valencia Street bike lane in San Francisco (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency)

Eiad Eltawil, the owner of Yasmin, a Syrian restaurant on Valencia Street, is now one week into a 30-day hunger strike, during which he is sleeping in a parklet in front of his business, drinking only water and handing out flyers to passers by. A sign on the business accuses the authorities of "unfair, racist and Islamophobic policies" and he told FOX that the cycle lane had caused the "complete destruction" of business on the street.

"Just 100 per cent destruction. At least 20 businesses are gone. Five businesses went out last week," he said. "At least thirty more businesses [are] about to go out. Seventy one parking is gone. They made it for commercial parking. I don't want the bike lanes to be responsible for so many people losing their business.

"I've already suffered so much. At least this way, maybe someone in power will see my struggle and make some changes. It's a last resort for me."

> "A pointless waste of time and taxpayers' money": Bike shop owner slams cycle lane claiming it forced him to shut down business

Other business owners say they have suffered as customers cancel reservations after trying and failing to find parking, the owner of a music venue that closed in November telling the San Francisco Chronicle the street "no longer has its culture" and has "no soul".

"It's just another quiet, whitewashed community," Dave Quinby said.

Likewise, the owner of a Tunisian restaurant that closed last spring claimed: "If I was in New York, I'd have lines around the block. But San Francisco is killing business, and it's as simple as that." Mr Quinby and Mr Bouzidi are two of 10 business owners threatening legal action over the negative impact of the bike lane on business.

In its most recent update on the scheme, the SFMTA said it is "happy to see people who live, work and travel on Valencia share feedback" and had "received hundreds of emails, phone calls and petitions".

"A customer survey showed that eight per cent of shoppers along Valencia arrived by bike and 38 per cent arrived by foot," the SFMTA explained. "Valencia's previous design was failing those customers in part due to a huge increase in delivery services using the bike lane. We need to make sure that customers feel welcome arriving to Valencia businesses on a bike.

"We can't go back to the way things were because it just wasn't safe — this stretch of Valencia had one of the highest collision rates in the city. However, we've heard a lot of feedback that the centre-running pilot isn't working for everyone either. We've recently made some adjustments to improve kerb space needs for merchants. While we still need to evaluate the pilot, we are simultaneously turning over every last stone as we look into design alternatives.

> "If they can't park outside, they can't stop here": Cycle lane has "killed" village, local businesses claim (despite project adding 80 off-street spaces)

"We are eager to study more ambitious ideas for Valencia, including pedestrianisation or making the street one-way for cars. However, all those options require significant capital investment. They also require working closely with merchants and residents to address access, loading and other needs. It will take years to get consensus on design and identify capital funding. While we do that long-term work, we want to make sure that we address immediate safety concerns, using quick-build techniques and a pilot approach."

The SFMTA has since shared data from the first months of the scheme, noting that there was a 26 per cent decrease in vehicle volumes during the first three months, but a significant increase in loading activity, suggesting an increase in taxi visits and food delivery couriers.

"Passenger drop-offs by ride-hail services and taxis have increased by 126 per cent on Fridays," they said, although daily bicycle or pedestrian volumes have not changed significantly.

The SFMTA addressed safety concerns about the design, admitting that "there were 11 collisions in the area of the pilot during the three-month study period" but stressed that half of those were "caused by illegal left or U-turns".

"We are taking immediate steps to address this, including installing additional turn restriction signage and coordinating with SFPD for additional enforcement," they said.

"The centre-running bikeway is a pilot, and pilots are meant to be evaluated and adjusted, or even redone if they're not working. But we cannot go back to unprotected bike lanes. They simply were not safe. While we're evaluating the pilot, we're also responding to immediate concerns and working on both short and long-term solutions," the SFMTA concluded.

Dan is the news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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Zjtm231 | 1 month ago
1 like

Cyclists are obviously famous for not eating in restaurants at all....

andystow | 1 month ago

Likewise, the owner of a Tunisian restaurant that closed last spring claimed: "If I was in New York, I'd have lines around the block. But San Francisco is killing business, and it's as simple as that."

New York, of course, being famous for not having any bike lanes.

But why would you have a line around the block, when from the back of the line would probably be too far for your customers to walk?

Andrewbanshee | 1 month ago

I spent a month based in San Fran staying with a friend who lived there. Majority of people seemed to use public transport and walk tbh which was easiest way to get to restaurants.

Wardy74 | 1 month ago

The width of these businesses looks to be one car length wide, this one car's occupant(s) must be spending a lot of money.

IanGlasgow | 1 month ago

And WHY is there no parking outside his business - The Rossi Mission?
Well, let's take a look and see... oh. Looks like the restaurants in that street have taken over the parking spaces. Nothing to do with a bike lane then.,-122.4214532,3a,75y,106.32h,83.29t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sgi7JkDGBxuL8txFcpAojRw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192?entry=ttu

So he's on hunger strike until he removes his own outdoor seating area so there's a parking space.

check12 | 1 month ago

GC riders have been on hunger strike for years... 

Muddy Ford | 1 month ago

Is he only interested in customers that drive? If these failing businesses found a way to encourage their customer base to cycle they might find that cyclists also like to eat out occasionally. 

IanGlasgow replied to Muddy Ford | 1 month ago
Muddy Ford wrote:

Is he only interested in customers that drive? If these failing businesses found a way to encourage their customer base to cycle they might find that cyclists also like to eat out occasionally. 

From the FOX article:
"So, the bikes have one lane each way and the vehicles have one lane each way."
Well, not quite. The cars also have two lanes to park in, but the restaurants (including his own) have filled those with "parklets" - which means covered outdoor dining areas.

"For 10 minutes, I did a count of both. And, it turns out, in that same period, there were 95 cars and just 32 bikes, three times the vehicles sharing the same number of lanes."
So 25% of the traffic is cyclists, 75% is drivers.
And which are more likely to stop?
Which can you get 10 of in the one space outside his restaurant (20, if he removed his "parklet")?
And which are more likely to be passing through on their way to somewhere else?

brooksby | 1 month ago
1 like

I wonder if that parklet outside his restaurant was there before they put in the cycle lane?

IanGlasgow replied to brooksby | 1 month ago

The "parklet" is a covered seating area for his restaurant - it's taking up a parking space.

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