SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Frustrated cyclists can’t take much more of what’s become the norm in San Francisco: Uber and Lyft drivers constantly blocking the bike lanes of the city’s most heavily-populated streets to drop off and pick up passengers.
But Lyft is making a major change following a slew of complaints that spanned two years.
The rideshare company is going to start geofencing — or creating a virtual perimeter — around the often busy and congested stretch of Valencia Street between 16th Street and 17th Street in the Mission District.
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition wants to prevent Uber and Lyft drivers from pulling over in the bike lane on busy streets like Valencia Street, which can potentially endanger bikers. During commute hours, cyclists often fight with cars for space on the road.
Recent city data showed that over a four year period, there were 268 reported bike crashes in the area around Valencia Street. Brian Wiedenmeier, the Executive Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, has been a main voice in pushing for the change.
“The fewer illegal pickups and drop offs there are on a busy bike route like Valencia Street, the safer people biking on Valencia are going to be,” said Wiedenmeier.
With the new changes, people will find that the Lyft app won’t allow them to have their driver pick them up in the busy area. Instead, they’ll have to walk to a side street.
“Within the app, they [drivers] can see where you are on the map and can tell you to go around the corner for your ride instead,” explained Wiedenmeier.
Lyft launched this pilot program in January after Wiedenmeier pushed for the changes to be made. He says the program has already made Valencia street safer.
A Lyft spokesperson told KPIX that in addition to the geofencing that’s happening on Valencia Street, the company is also geofencing pickups on Chestnut Street in the Marina between Fillmore Street and Scott Street.
Lyft also diverts pickups around busy events like concerts and sports games.
Wiedenmeier said that this is a great first step for increasing the safety of bikers in the city. Next, he wants to see rideshare drivers reduce the time they spend on their phones while driving.
“Currently, Uber and Lyft’s platforms and apps encourage drivers to do just that. So really, the next step we’re looking for is limiting access to those apps while cars are in motion and a driver should be paying attention to the road,” said Wiedenmeier.
Uber is also testing the geofencing function, and those changes should be expected to be seen on its own app soon.
It’s worth mentioning that Muni has had no part in the geofencing concept; it’s being executed completely voluntarily by Uber and Lyft.