Creating a Safer Valencia Street
San Francisco is known for its famous neighborhoods and commercial corridors — and the Mission District’s Valencia Street takes it to the next level. For Lyft, Valencia Street is filled with top destinations that our passengers frequent: trendy cafes, hipster clothing stores, bars, and live music.
To put it simply, there’s a lot happening along Valencia Street. Besides the foot traffic, many of its restaurants are popular choices on the city’s growing network of courier services, providing on-demand food delivery via cars and bicycles. Residents of the Mission are increasingly relying on FedEx, Amazon, and UPS for stuff. Merchants welcome commercial trucks to deliver their goods. In light of a recent road diet on Mission Street to create much needed dedicated lanes to improve MUNI bus service, many vehicles have been re-routed to parallel streets like Valencia. And of course, Valencia Street is also one of the most heavily trafficked bicycling corridors in the City, with 2,100 cyclists commuting along Valencia Street each day.
With so many different users of the street and a street design that has largely remained unchanged, it’s no surprise that the corridor has experienced growing safety concerns — particularly around increased traffic, double parking, and bicycle dooring.
Valencia Street is part of the City’s Vision Zero High-Injury Network, the 13% of city streets that account for 75% of severe and fatal collisions. From January 2012 to December 2016, there were 204 people injured and 268 reported collisions along the corridor, of which one was fatal.
As the street has become more popular and the need to act has become more apparent, community organizers have played an important role in rallying City forces to commit to a redesign. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has been a steadfast advocate for the cycling community’s needs: going back to the 1990s when they helped bring painted bike lanes to the corridor, to today’s efforts to upgrade to a protected bike lane. The People Protected Bike Lane Protests have helped catalyze the urgency of finding a solution. And elected officials, including Supervisor Ronen and former Supervisor Sheehy have been vocal about the need for change.
Earlier this spring, encouraged by the SFMTA’s first steps in bringing new, much-needed infrastructure to the corridor, we began conducting an experiment to leverage our technology as part of the solution. As we continue to partner closely with the SFMTA as they work on a new design for the street, we want to report back what we’ve learned.
As we began our pilot, we set out with the following goals:
- Promote safety on the busiest parts of Valencia Street for the most vulnerable users by helping minimize conflict for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders.
- Continue to provide a good experience for drivers and passengers to help ensure overall compliance with the pilot.
- Understand the effectiveness of geofencing as a tool to manage pickup activity.
- Work collaboratively with city officials and the community to improve Valencia Street.
To meet these goals, we first examined Lyft ride activity in the 30-block project area: Valencia Street between Market Street and Cesar Chavez.
Within this project area, we found that the most heavily traveled corridors were Valencia between 16th and 17th Street, 17th and 18th Street, and 18th and 19th Street. We found that these three blocks make up 27% of total Lyft rides along the Valencia corridor.
We also wanted to understand the top destinations along the corridor. To do this, we looked at ride history where passengers typed in the location they wanted to get picked up from.
Next, we looked at how demand for Lyft changed over time of day and over the course of the week. This would help answer questions such as “how does demand for Lyft differ on weekends vs. weeknights” or “what times of day do people use Lyft to access the Valencia corridor?”
We found that Lyft activity on Valencia Street was highest on weekends and in the evenings. Demand is fairly consistent on weekdays, with major spikes of activity on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The nighttime hours of 8 PM to 2 AM are also the busiest time for trips, making up 44% of all rides. These findings suggest the important role Lyft plays as a reliable option when transit service doesn’t run as frequently, or as a safe alternative to driving under the influence (a phenomenon we are observing around the country).
Our hypothesis was that because of the increased need for curb space between multiple on-demand services, as well as the the unsafe experience of double parking or crossing over the bike lane to reach passengers, improvements in the Lyft app could help create a better experience for everyone.
To test this, our curb access pilot program was conducted as an “A/B experiment”, where subjects were randomly assigned to a control or treatment group, and statistical analysis is used to determine which variation performs better. 50% of riders continued to have the same experience requesting rides within the pilot area: able to get picked up wherever they wanted. The other 50% of Lyft passengers requesting rides within the pilot zone were shown the experiment scenario, which asked them to walk to a dedicated pickup spot.
Geofencing and Venues
Our pilot was built using a Lyft feature called “Venues”, a geospatial tool designed to recommend pre-set pickup locations to passengers. When a user tries to request a ride from an area that has been mapped with a Venue, they are unable to manually control the area in which they’d like to be picked up. Rather, the Venue feature automatically redirects them to a pre-established location. This forced geofencing feature helps ensure that passengers are requesting rides from safe locations and build reliability and predictability for both passengers and drivers as they find each other.
Given our understanding of ride activity and demand, we decided to create Venues on Valencia Street between 16th Street and 19th Street. We prioritized creating pickup zones along side streets in areas of lower traffic. Where possible, we tried to route pickups to existing loading zones: however, a major finding of the pilot was that existing curb space is insufficient and that the city needs more loading zones. To support better routing and reduce midblock u-turns or other unsafe driving behavior, we tried to put pickup spots on side streets that allowed for both westbound and eastbound directionality.
Our pilot ran for three months, from March 2018 to June 2018. Although our initial research focused on rideshare activity during hours of peak demand (i.e. nights and weekends), to support our project goals of increasing overall safety along the corridor and to create an easy and intuitive experience for passengers, we ultimately decided to run the experiments 24/7.
The graphic below illustrates where passengers were standing when they requested a ride, and which hotspot they were redirected to. We found that the top hot spots were on 16th Street. This finding suggests the need for continued coordination with the City to make sure that the dedicated pickup spots to protect cyclists on Valencia Street don’t interrupt on-time performance for the 55–16th Street or 22–Fillmore Muni bus routes.
Loading time, when a driver has pulled over to wait for a passenger to arrive or exit their car, was important for us to look at in terms of traffic flow. This is a similar metric to the transportation planning metric, dwell time.
Currently, our metric for loading time looks at the time between when a driver arrives at the pickup location and when they press the “I have picked up my passenger” button. However, this is an imperfect measurement for dwell time, as drivers may press the button before the passenger gets in the vehicle. Based on our pilot, we have identified this as an area for further research.
Going into our experiment, we expected to see a slight increase in loading time, as passengers would need to get used to walking to the pickup spot. This hypothesis was correct: during the pilot, we saw loading time increased from an average of 25 seconds per ride to 28 seconds. To help speed up the process of drivers and passengers finding each other, we recommend the addition of wayfinding and signage in popular loading areas.
We also wanted to understand the difference between pickups and drop-offs. Generally, we found that pickups have a longer loading time than a drop-off.
Post Pilot Recommendations
Ridesharing is one part of the puzzle to creating a more organized streetscape along the Valencia corridor, so sharing information and coordinating with city stakeholders was critical. After our experiment, we sat down with elected officials, project staff from the SFMTA, WalkSF, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to discuss the pilot findings and collaborate on how our work could support other initiatives underway across the city. We are now formally engaged with the SFMTA’s Valencia Bikeway Improvement Project and look forward to continuing to support this initiative.
Given the findings of this pilot program and our commitment to creating sustainable streets (including our acquisition of the leading bikeshare company Motivate and introduction of bike and scooter sharing to the Lyft platform), we decided to move our project from a pilot to a permanent feature within the Lyft app. This means that currently, anyone requesting a ride on Valencia Street between 16th Street and 19th Street will be redirected to a pickup spot on a side street.
Based on the learnings of our pilot, we recommend the following:
- The city needs more loading zones to support increased demand for curbside loading.
- Valencia Street can best support all users of the road by building infrastructure like protected bike lanes that offer physical separation from motor vehicle traffic.
- Ridesharing is one of many competing uses for curb space. The City needs to take a comprehensive approach to curb space management.
- Geofencing alone does not solve a space allocation problem. Lyft’s digital solutions are best leveraged when the necessary infrastructure (i.e. loading zones) are in place. The digital and physical environments should reinforce each other.
- Wayfinding and signage can inform a user’s trip-making process before someone opens their app. Having clear and concise information that directs both passengers and riders can help ensure greater compliance.
- Collaboration is key. Keeping various stakeholders (public agencies, the private sector, community and advocacy groups, merchants associations, etc.) aware and engaged in ongoing initiatives can help create better outcomes.
Technology is Not a Silver Bullet
We know that ridesharing is just one of the many competing uses of Valencia Street and technology alone will not solve the challenges of pickups and drop-offs: adequate infrastructure like protected bike lanes and loading zones will be necessary to achieving Vision Zero.
Looking ahead, we know there’s much to be done on this front. To start with, we are excited to partner with civic engagement leaders like Streetmix whose participatory tools ensure that public spaces and urban design support safe streets. By bringing infrastructure designs like parking protected bike lanes or ridesharing loading zones into Streetmix, planners can begin to have the tools to engage community groups on what they’d like to see their streets look like.
We’ve also begun partnering with Together for Safer Roads to support local bike and pedestrian advocacy groups and share Lyft performance data to help improve safety on some of the nation’s most dangerous street corridors. And finally, through our application to the SFMTA to become a permitted scooter operator in the City, we are committing $1 per day per scooter to support expansion of the City’s protected bike lane network. We know that this kind of infrastructure is critical to making safer streets for everyone.
Our work on Valencia Street is a continuation of our commitment to rebuild our transportation network and place people not cars at the center of our communities.
We know that this exciting work ahead cannot be done alone: we look forward to bringing this type of work to other cities around the country and to working together to achieve this vision.
Special thanks to my teammates Peter Day, Mike Xing, and Calli Cenizal for their assistance on this project. If you are interested in joining Lyft and working on exciting transportation issues in cities around North America, check out our jobs site.