Cyclists Say Homeless Encampment on “Hairball” Bike Path Is Unsafe

Cyclists from several neighborhoods in southeast San Francisco have recently expressed concern about the expansion of homeless encampments along the narrow bike lane through the Chavez/101 “Hairball” interchange. The bike path is the only safe route for cyclists who need to traverse 101, but today it’s nearly impassable.

Neighbor Angela from Prospect Ave. in Bernal Heights uses the bike path daily, and yesterday she sent this email to several local officials, including D9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen,  D10 Supervisor Malia Cohen,  Department of Public Works chief Mohammed Neru, and SFMTA chief Ed Reiskin.  Bernalwood was cc’d on the email as well.

Neighbor Angela writes:

Dear Supervisors and SF Public Works and CalTrans:

The bike path along Cesar Chavez St, under the 101 freeway (both eastbound and westbound) is nearly unpassable for bikes due to the tents, tarps, junk, garbage and animals that have taken it over.

This is a dangerous situation for the bicyclists, people and pets that are there.

There is no viable alternate route for bicyclists from the Mission/Bernal Heights/Glen Park/Noe Valley to CalTrain and eastern parts of the City. Riding on the street with cars under the overpass is also extremely dangerous.

I live in Bernal Heights and ride my bike every day to get to CalTrain to go to Palo Alto. This is what my morning commute is like:

What you don’t see is the big puff of crack smoke the first woman on the left exhaled just as I rode by.

I have registered requests for enforcement and complaints with different City services, but I find the cases get closed with no action taken.

While I do understand the complexities of the situation, leaving the bike path in this state is untenable. Please find a way to join forces to address this issue as soon as possible.

On behalf of all the bicyclists who just want to ride safely, thank you.

UPDATE 1:45 pm, 30 June: More than 24 hours after her note was sent, Neighbor Angela says she has yet to receive a response from any of the City officials addressed in it.

PHOTO: Screenshot from Neighbor Angela’s video of the bike route through the Hairball

47 thoughts on “Cyclists Say Homeless Encampment on “Hairball” Bike Path Is Unsafe

  1. The headline of this post is misleading. It should read, “Cyclist [singular] Says…Homeless Encampment… is Unsafe.”
    I live on the south slope of Bernal, I am a woman, I use my bike for transporation, and when I travel north, I frequently use the Hairball route. The encampment along the route has definitely grown over the past year, but I have NEVER felt unsafe along the route. The people who live there usually ignore me, or when I greet them, they say hello. Indeed, I do not see anything unsafe in the video provided. The cyclist has to slow down, but this is no different to me from the way I need to slow down to pass people walking their dogs along the path in St. Mary’s Park (instead of yelling “coming through” at them, she could say “good morning” — just saying). The mere presence of poor people does not equal danger. These people are our neighbors, the route is public space, and we can share.

    • @Rick the Bike Coalition had a walkthrough of that area (and along Bayshore Blvd) a few months back with city officials. They definitely know that this and the other more dangerous interchange South of Flowercraft with no protected lanes at all are in dire need of improvement.

    • Sorry Barbara, most do not agree with you that it is safe to have crack pipe smoke blown in your face. Enablers like you are how this problem got so bad in the first place

    • The bike paths were put in place to solve one problem: that it was unsafe in some places for bicycles to travel on the street with cars. Allowing people to camp on the path effectively reverses that solution.
      Even though it is a public space, it is designated for the safe travel of bikes. I can see that it could be shared for other uses, like walking, but not ones that prevent the path from being used for its main purpose.

    • “The mere presence of poor people does not equal danger. These people are our neighbors, the route is public space, and we can share.”
      Reminds me of the saying: “A conservative is a liberal that’s been mugged.”

    • Plus this is really prejudiced against people who enjoy a little toke of crack every now and then. She should be glad for the free contact high, not sober-splaining with such condescension.

  2. Not only is it dangerous for bicyclists, it’s dangerous for people walking (especially at night) and for drivers. Many times existing 101 onto Cesar Chavez (going west) I’ve seen things in the street that have clearly fallen from the bike path. If someone had been driving and was hit by falling debris it could cause an accident. I’ve also started seeing more and more cyclists stop using the path and ride on Cesar Chavez under the overpass, which is really dangerous for everyone. Something more permanent than a weekly steam clean needs to be done with that camp! As it currently stands it seems like the only thing the City is doing is trying to sanitize it…not trying to move people out.

    • That is true, I ride east bound Cesar Chavez under the the overpass to work. Then I ride with traffic on Jerrold crossing the on ramp to 101, to get to Cesar Chavez west bound. I just feel that it is overall safer. I don’t care what others thing or believe. When the pathways are cleared, I will continue to use them.

  3. Using the path at night is also pretty bad since the lighting there is either very dim or non existent. It’s easy to collide with stuff, off leash pets, and of course people.

  4. I have just experienced this myself for the first time over the last few days since this is the only viable bike route from where I live in Vis Valley to get to my kid’s summer camp in the Mission. I can’t imagine having to try to get through there every day.

    Before we go down that inevitable road of every comment section involving bike lanes, it is important to remember that this isn’t just an issue of rich “techies” wanting a safe path to get to Caltrain.

    Biking is by far the least expensive way to get around the city, and many of the people who use our cities bike paths are not doing it for exercise, but because that $4.50 round trip bus fare to work or school is just too much for their daily budget. You see a whole different set of people biking over here on the South and East sides of the city than you see on Valencia street.

    • Completely agree. I use this path 2x per day and have for the last 6 years. There really is a cross section of people using the bike paths and I think it’s obvious that people saying that the only people using the paths are rich with $3,000 bicycles don’t use the path regularly if at all.

  5. Very dangerous to bike on the path along the on ramp to 101! City doesn’t seem concerned for our safety.

  6. This stretch has been unsafe for years. My husband commuted to work from BH to Yellow Cab by bike. One fine day the bicyclists were confronted by the campers , knocked down and my husband cold cocked resulting in a long gash and stitches. It needs to be made uncampable.

  7. Has the Bicycle Coalition weighed in on this? If not, why not? If so, boy does that say something about who really has political power in this city.

  8. I noticed it’s really out of control and called 311. Hopefully others will also complain. It’s a health and safety issue, not to mention the drugs and bike chop shop.

  9. Clearly not acceptable. The path was not designed to function as a campsite. While sympathetic to the needs of the homeless, this video clearly demonstrates how turning a blind eye can make a problem multiply. Once an area has been designated by the homeless as a place to put down stakes, its seem to take an act of God to find an appropriate resolution to the festering growth. In the meantime, they – as well as others – are put in a dangerous situation…one that was not meant to exist. Anyone who has experienced this should also send out a correspondence as Angela did (with an additional CC to the Bicycle Coalition. Remember, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets oiled…

  10. I take this route most mornings to get down to Caltrain and while yes, it’s tricky, I would never hit it at the speeds Angela is cruising. I’m not sure why the folks camped there couldn’t move to the dirt on the other side of the fence. It makes me think that the path is some kind of loophole and they have been chased off the dirt. It’s tough, I agree it’s unsafe but I also don’t think we need to call the cops and be a jerk about it. Can’t we all just get along?

    • Her letter is addressed to the Board of Supes, Public Works and Caltrans. I think she is definitely trying to get along and inform the proper agencies and persons. Between the three, there should come some consensus on how this could best be managed. It is they who may or may not involve SFPD. I believe everyone would love to see a solution to homelessness and the encampments that move from neighborhood to neighborhood, and from place to place. It is sadly a bleak existence…

    • The path to the right that goes towards Bayshore is even smaller though. That one is trickier to me than the one going towards Caltrain.

  11. Pingback: ‘Gut-wrenching’ videos of SF bike route populated by homeless spur debate - by j_rodriguez - June 30, 2017 - The San Francisco Examiner

  12. I have biked there myself in the last month and I agree that it’s unsafe due to the campers. It could also stand to be better lit at night. There is no excuse for people to camp anywhere in SF. I am not averse to arresting and jailing those people and confiscating their stuff. I have no problem with camping in public areas in general, but do it in RURAL areas where it has minimal impact. I know of people camping in various areas in the town of Brisbane, and they have such little impact people don’t mess with them. In fact there’s a parking area next to the lagoon where people park all night. But again, it has no impact except a full trash can and the need to empty the outhouse once in awhile. But on a busy city thoroughfare, especially the only viable bike route along the treacherous Cesar Chavez route? No. Get them OUT, jail them, take their stuff.

  13. The video from the Examiner shows how much of the bike path/sidewalk is being used as a campground. I hate saying that seeing this surprises me, because these sorts of encampments are plentiful in SF, yet I am!

  14. I say toughen up and ride the underpass like me! Take the whole lane. Seems pretty douchey to cruise through the encampment yelling at people that you’re coming through and whining about crack smoke. Where else are people gonna smoke? Correct me if I’m wrong but last I checked that’s what the areas under/around freeways are for.

    • “Seems pretty douchey to cruise through the encampment yelling at people that you’re coming through and whining about crack smoke.”
      Seems pretty douchey to call someone douchey for what you call “whining”.
      Or you are just trolling.

    • RegularJoe ~ You seem like a nice
      regular guy. Why don’t you invite
      these crack smokers over to your
      place? They may be grateful.

  15. Our family also uses the bike route and it is getting really difficult to pass through the encampment. Thanks for sending he meaaage. I will do as well.

  16. Just used to the Cesar Chavez pass through today and noticed that they have cleared off the bike lane I fully agree that people do not belong camping out in the bike lane anymore than they do camping out directly in a traffic lane of Cesar Chavez itself. If I left my car parked there I’d be facing a $600 fine for blocking traffic and then getting towed by the evil San Francisco auto return who punishes people for things like having the temerity to get their car stolen. Oh – that’s a different subject. . I am not in favor of people having to camp out anywhere however, like many other citizens of San Francisco I’ve let it be if it’s not directly hindering other people’s safety I would note that they are still camping on the lane going the other direction and all around that area and they will probably be back on the bike lane within days. I’d recommend that everyone who is affected by this just call 311 and the police every time it happens to keep the lines clear.

  17. I have rode this section, both sides, for the past 4 years and frequently work out on the stairs there too. It’s not dangerous or scary. Seriously, grow a skin/some balls and be grateful that as you pass these poor wretches, you are on your way to a real home. And while you’re at it, try cheerfully greeting them as you pass by – or even better, slipping someone a meal or some cash. Bloody hell, you moaners sound like a bunch of spoiled little Trumpie babies. If you can’t handle the city and her grit, move to Burlingame where it’s “safe”.

    • You start your post by saying “it’s not dangerous or scary” and then end your post with “move to Burlingame where it’s safe.” (thereby admitting it’s dangerous)

      It’s nice to see someone come full circle on their thinking in one paragraph. Granted, I don’t think you realize how you’ve contradicted yourself, but in the end at least we all agree it’s dangerous and scary.

    • They have stacks of chopped up bicycles that have obviously been stolen, lots of barrel BBQs going, dogs off leash running all around, poop and pee everywhere…. Definitely a safety hazard.

  18. Saw the interview on the CBS5 news. The woman being interviewed was spot on. This stretch of road besides being dangerous, is a garbage dump and is getting worse. It is supposed to be a bike trail not a tent city. Supervisor Ronen is useless as far as cleaning up District 9. There are still large blocks that are not safe, day or night, to be around. Let’s see what she does on this continuing issue.

  19. I’ve been in Bernal for decades, and the only time that ‘Hairball’ area was consistently clear of homeless was in a brief period between 2006 and 2009 during Gavin Newsom’s Care Not Cash initiative. The current population of homeless there is significantly worse than just a few years ago, and I believe the new tall iron fence installed by Caltrans (in 2017?) is the immediate cause for displacing so many folks onto the bike path. Remember when those heavy rains hit us the winter of 2016, breaking our drought? The fences weren’t there then, and easily 80-100 people were huddled under the freeway for cover.

    Oh well, there’s always the pre-2003 (before there were even bike paths through the Hairball) option of taking the vehicle lane and riding your bike down the dip of Cesar Chavez.

    Short of getting people housing, treatment, and opportunities – every other tactic is displacement.

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