Saturday, May 02, 2015

The Masonic Avenue Derangement Syndrome #1


What is it about Masonic Avenue that encourages people to do and say foolish things? Let's call it the Masonic Avenue Derangement Syndrome. The head of the city's transportation system suffers from this malady like he does with the Bicycle Derangement Syndrome. The two are related, since, after a ten-year campaign of lies and hysteria by the Bicycle Coalition and their enablers in City Hall, the MTA is going to redesign Masonic Avenue on behalf of cyclists against the interests of everyone else who now uses that major north-south city street---32,000 vehicles a day and 12,000 passengers on Muni's #43 line.

Few cyclists now use Masonic, and the city has no idea how many will use it after this project is implemented.

This SF Examiner story last Tuesday reads like an MTA press release. The writer, Joe Rodriguez, used to write for the defunct Bay Guardian, which is where he learned how to toe a party line. (Does anyone really miss the Guardian? Those that do can still get the "progressive" political line at Tim Redmond's blog.)

The party line here is from the Bicycle Coalition and the MTA, which provide the only quotes for the story. Rodriguez even adopts the MTA's terminology: whatever that agency plans to do to our streets are "improvements":

And even if you are not a cyclist, there is still plenty to like in these projects, as some also include pedestrian safety improvements. Work on Masonic Avenue, for instance, will include enhanced bike lanes and could feature safer, wider sidewalks, bulb-out sidewalk corners (for better visibility when pedestrians cross the street), better lighting, new trees, and a plaza with plants and public artwork. The improvements will run on Masonic Avenue from Geary Boulevard to Fell Street and are estimated to cost $18 million, according to documents from the Department of Public Works.

"Enhanced bike lanes"? The Masonic project is in fact essentially a bike project. All the rest---the landscaping, the lighting, the plaza with the crappy art, etc.---is just window dressing to pretend that this is a "streetscape" project, not a bike project. 

The two parking lanes---167 parking spaces between Fell and Geary---on either side of Masonic will be eliminated to make separated bike lanes. Those parking lanes are now converted to traffic lanes during commute hours in the morning and the evening to handle the extra traffic. Hence, after all those "improvements" are made, all that traffic will be funneled into fewer traffic lanes.

Rodriguez parrots the MTA's lie about the lack of safety on Masonic:

Masonic Avenue has long been one of the most dangerous streets in San Francisco. From 2007 to 2012, according to the SFMTA, 117 people were injured and two people were killed in traffic collisions. “It’s like a minifreeway,” Reiskin said. “It’s really uninviting [to bicyclists]. Even crossing Masonic on foot is not a great experience.”

I often cross Masonic on foot. I don't expect that to be "a great experience," but it's always been a safe one. Speaking of pedestrian safety, look at page 12 of the city's study on Masonic:

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.

Fulton and Masonic is where I usually cross Masonic. On the same page we learn how many pedestrian accidents happened there over a six-year period: a grand total of one! And the Geary Street[sic] and Masonic Avenue intersection had only three! Not a "great experience" for thousands of pedestrians every day but evidently a safe one.

Where did Rodriguez get the 117 injuries number? From the MTA, of course, though those numbers aren't included in the only real study the city has done on the street, The Masonic Avenue Street Redesign Study. The MTA now provides accident numbers to credulous journalists to justify projects it really wants to do, like it did on the Polk Street bike project.

Those two people were killed by drunk drivers late at night, fatalities that had nothing to do with street design. (See this and this.) Invoking those deaths is just routine demagoguery by the MTA that won't be challenged by housebroken journalists like Rodriguez.

Reiskin's "uninviting" terminology is similar to that used by the MTA to justify the bike project on Fell and Oak Streets: cyclists must be made "comfortable" riding on city streets when the phony safety argument is clearly unconvincing.

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