Saturday, March 02, 2013

Big Lie on safety to justify screwing up Masonic


Is it really fair to call Supervisors Mar, Farrell, and Breed liars because of their letter to the SFCTA? Why not just say that they're mistaken? Because all three are political figures with years of experience in city politics and on city issues, and they ignore long-available evidence that contradicts their sloppily written letter about the safety of Masonic Avenue. Hard to believe that neither they nor any of their staff has read the MTA's 2010-2011 Collisions Report, from last July or the MTA's Masonic Avenue Street Redesign Study, released way back in January, 2011.

I first wrote about the misguided notion of "fixing" Masonic Ave. in July, 2007, and since then have posted 60 more times about Masonic. I understand that reading my blog is painful for these folks and/or their assistants. Maybe I should just accuse them of political/intellectual negligence or plain old stupidity. Maybe calling them liars gives them too much credit, since it implies that they are deliberately ignoring evidence that they're aware of.

From the letter:

The [Masonic]project will rectify what is now a fundamentally unsafe street design. It will also improve transit on a major north-south corridor, reduce environmental impact, and increase livability, thus meeting all the criteria established in the Transportation Plan.

There are three falsehoods in those two sentences, four if you count the "increase livability" baloney. The evidence from the MTA's documents referred to above shows that Masonic isn't unsafe at all, especially considering that it handles more than 32,000 vehicles every day. The bike lane project will not "improve transit" or "reduce environmental impact." On the contrary, it will delay the #43 Muni line (12,765 passengers a day) along with all the other traffic on Masonic.

The sidewalk bulb-outs, grade-separated bikeways, and tree-lined median are desperately needed on Masonic Avenue. There have been a number of high-profile collisions and fatalities on this route in recent years, and something must be done to make it safer for people biking, walking and driving. Masonic is the only north-south bike route in the area, but is currently very unsafe and unappealing for most [bicycle]riders. We must act fast to improve this corridor.

A "tree-lined median" is "desperately needed"? Silly, sloppy writing. You'd think that at least one of their assistants could write a sensible one-page letter, or that one of the supervisors themselves would have noticed that before signing it. The fatalities on Masonic referred to were a cyclist and a pedestrian, both killed by drunk drivers late at night in accidents that had nothing to do with street design.

In the MTA's latest  Collisions Report---on the most problematic streets and intersections in the city---Masonic Avenue is only mentioned about the Fell/Masonic intersection as one of the highest collision intersections (page 8) because of a spike in accidents there in 2011. Otherwise, the number of injury accidents at that intersection has been remarkably steady over the years---averaging six a year since 2001---with an occasional spike in accidents (page 11):

Short-term annual increases in collisions at any one intersection or the city as a whole could be partly the result of random yearly variations. Out of the thousands of intersections in San Francisco, in any one year some will have more or fewer collisions than the expected annual average, even if the underlying conditions of the location have not changed. Focusing on multi-year trends can help reduce the effects of short-term fluctuations (page 3).

A number of changes have already been made at the Fell/Masonic intersection: a left-turn lane on Fell Street for those turning onto Masonic, a new traffic signal, and pedestrians and cyclists no longer share the traffic light with motorists. Still, some people---whether on foot, on bikes, or in motor vehicles---will recklessly try to beat the light and/or simply won't see someone in the intersection. There don't seem to be any more design changes that can make the intersection any safer than it is now.

The claim in the supervisors' letter, however, is that Masonic as a whole is unsafe, even though the numbers to support that claim are simply non-existent. On page 13 of the MTA's Masonic Redesign Study we learn that there have been 12 injury accidents to pedestrians on Masonic Avenue in the six years from 2004 to 2009, an average of only two accidents a year on a street that carries 32,165 vehicles a day (page 14):

According to recent counts, the intersection of Masonic at Fulton Street has the highest volume of pedestrian traffic with an average of 1,013 people counted between 5-7pm. Masonic at Geary had the second highest volume, with 938 people.

Even with all that foot-traffic at Fulton and Masonic, there was only one pedestrian injury accident there in six years and only three at Geary and Masonic! Seems fair to conclude that for pedestrians Masonic Avenue has a remarkably good safety record.


On page 12 of the Masonic Redesign Study, we learn that there have been 19 injury accidents to cyclists on Masonic between 2004 and 2009, an average of 3 a year for that six-year period. But the study fudges the numbers for Masonic overall by including 11 cycling accidents at the Fell/Masonic intersection, which, as discussed above, is really a separate issue---an intersection issue---and not because Masonic between Fell and Geary is poorly designed and unsafe. Without those 11 accidents, the total would be only 8 cycling accidents on Masonic in six years!

Not to mention that there's no information on who was responsible for those accidents, though the Collisions Report (page 25) does tell us that "Fault for collisions seems to be evenly split among bicycle riders and motorists according to the SFPD collision reports."

How many cyclists actually use Masonic now? Apparently the numbers are so low that the city didn't bother to do an overall count like they did with motor vehicles. On page 12 we learn that "The current PM peak volume was counted as 20 bikes per hour at Masonic and Golden Gate Avenue and 32 bikes per hour at Masonic and Fell Street." Those sound like east/west numbers, not north/south numbers, but there's no additional explanation. It's fair to conclude---and undisputed---that few cyclists now use Masonic Ave.

How many cyclists will use Masonic after this project is implemented? The city has no idea. A street that now safely and efficiently carries more than 32,000 vehicles a day and more than 12,000 people a day on the #43 line is going to be completely redesigned on behalf of an unknown number of future cyclists:

Bike parking is scarce along the corridor, with no bike racks on the street itself and only a handful in front of City Center Mall on Geary and Lucky’s on Fulton.

To someone unfamiliar with Masonic, this sounds like a serious shortcoming, but the reality is that there are very few buildings on Masonic between Fell and Geary where bike parking makes any sense. There's only a corner store at Fulton and Masonic, a Starbucks across the street, a coffee house at Hayes and Masonic, and the Lucky's complex.

The project will take away all the street parking on both sides of Masonic---167 spaces between Fell and Geary---to make separated bike lanes. Those parking lanes are now converted into traffic lanes during commute hours, which will of course no longer be possible after the project is implemented. Will this delay traffic on Masonic overall? Not according to the Redesign Study. On page 14 we have a chart of the "Estimated Southbound Signal Delay in Seconds" with only two traffic lanes that tells us that future delays will be minimal.

That's simply not credible. Since the city now uses those parking lanes to help Masonic handle all the commute traffic in the morning and the evening, how can eliminating those traffic lanes do anything but significantly delay traffic---and the #43 line---on Masonic?

The project also includes "Bus Bulb Plazas," which is PlanSpeak for a design that has the #43 bus simply stopping in the right lane for passengers, thus blocking traffic behind the bus:

...the "Bus Bulb Plaza" proposal seeks to separate bike and bus traffic at stops and eliminate this challenging conflict. Instead of having bus and bike traffic merge in front of bus stops, bikes instead would be directed behind an 8-foot wide boarding island for bus riders.

This design is already in place on Divisadero Street, and the #24 bus now often traps unwary motorists in the intersection when it pulls over at bus stops. You then see the drivers looking nervously around to see if they can get out of the intersection before the light changes. This is not considered a "challenging conflict" to the anti-car bobbleheads in the MTA. In a street redesign that benefits only cyclists, jamming up those wicked motor vehicles is apparently not a serious consideration, though it creates a potential safety problem every time that happens, as the trapped motorist considers whether he/she can safely change lanes and get out of the intersection.

It's not surprising that our new supervisor supports this stupidity, since she warned us on her campaign site that she supports both the Fell/Oak bike lane project (eliminating 100 parking spaces) and the Masonic project (eliminating 167 parking spaces). Like all the District 5 candidates, Breed also groveled before the Bicycle Coalition on every single issue.

Supervisor Breed, alas, will continue to give District 5 the same politically correct anti-car policies on traffic policy that her two predecessors provided.

Naturally Streetsblog thinks the Masonic Avenue project is great, that the supervisors' semi-literate, fact-free letter is evidence of good government, that Masonic is now "deadly," and that the project will include "pedestrian safety upgrades." All of this is completely untrue---even the opposite of the truth.

It's fair to call the city's approval of a project to completely redesign a major north/south traffic artery in the city---a street of regional traffic significance---is based on nothing but lies.

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1 Comments:

At 10:07 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Interesting to see that this post has no comments from the usual suspects about either the facts or my interpretation of those facts.

 

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