Thursday, May 26, 2016

Another Rodriguez puff-piece on Masonic Avenue

Courtesy rendering
Have to give the Examiner's Joe Rodriguez credit for consistency. When he writes about Masonic Avenue, he writes nothing but poorly-informed puff pieces that only cite supporters of the project. And he never questions the city's party line on the project spoon-fed to him by the MTA.

Taking the falsehoods in order in his latest on Masonic (After nearly a decade, Masonic Avenue streetscape project finally set to break ground):

The SFMTA is scheduled to break ground on the $18.2 million Masonic Streetscape Improvement Project next month, after more than eight years of outreach and four years after the project was approved.

Rodriguez always uses the MTA's terminology that calls this project the Masonic Avenue Streetscape Project, though it's essentially a bike project with some landscaping added. The same deception is applied to the Polk Street bike project, which the MTA calls the Polk Streetscape Project.

The "eight years of outreach" on the Masonic project featured a long campaign of lies and hysteria by the Bicycle Coalition and its City Hall allies:

The project will reshape Masonic Avenue between Geary Boulevard and Fell Street, a stretch identified among the The City’s “most dangerous” roadways.

That's the unexamined lie the MTA feeds Rodriguez, but there's no evidence that Masonic is particularly dangerous, especially considering the volume of traffic it carries. The only in-depth study the city did on Masonic---The Masonic Avenue Street Redesign Study---actually showed the opposite, as I pointed out in my analysis several years ago:

A lane of traffic each way, which operates only during peak commute hours, will be eliminated, as will 167 parking spaces. This will pave the way for wider, safer sidewalks, as well as a raised green cycleway in each direction and a center median with trees.

This muddled paragraph shows that Rodriguez still doesn't really understand what the project involves. Those traffic lanes that will be eliminated are in fact now parking lanes on both sides of Masonic that are converted into traffic lanes during the morning and evening commute. 

Anyone at all familiar with Masonic knows that its sidewalks between Fell and Geary are already among the widest in the city. There's no evidence that they now pose any safety problems, though the few cyclists that now use Masonic often ride on the sidewalks which endangers pedestrians:

The idea is to make Masonic Avenue safer to pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers, said Patrick Golier, a senior SFMTA planner. “Masonic is a mini-freeway,” he said Tuesday. “It has a dismal safety record.”

That's a lie that Rodriguez is clearly not equipped to challenge, since he hasn't read either the Redesign Study I linked above or my analysis. When I talked to him the other day, he claimed that he read my blog posts criticizing his reporting on Masonic, but that's apparently untrue, though his problem may be some kind of reading disorder:

A new public plaza with art influenced by the community will be created by local artist Scott Oliver at Geary Boulevard and Masonic Avenue.

What part of this "community" helped locate this garish art work there? This is a typical Rodriguez touch, as he routinely adopts the MTA's fatuous happy-talk terminology about "outreach" and "improvements." People in the city really should have the right to vote on this stuff, since they're going to have to look at it for years:

Michael Helquist, who wrote the blog BIKE NOPA and who lives a block away from Masonic Avenue, said his neighbors sometimes opt to drive distances as short as three blocks so they don’t have to cross the busy roadway by foot.

That's surely a lie, but Helquist is a pro-bike demagogue who has a sketchy relationship with the truth. (For more on Helquist's campaign to screw up Masonic, click on the "Michael Helquist" label below.): 

As many as 1,000 pedestrians cross Masonic Avenue during peak travel time, and 30,000 vehicles travel per day on the roadway, according to the SFMTA. Planners say this is a dangerous recipe, because there were as many as 113 traffic collisions on the corridor between 2009 and 2014.

The "collisions" terminology is part of the Vision Zero fantasy mindset at the MTA. We're now all supposed to pretend there's no such thing as "accidents." But the 113 number is in no public document I know of, though on page 14 of the Redesign Study there's a similar number for an earlier six-year interval. Not at all clear that this is a particularly big number for a street that carries more than 32,000 vehicles a day. 

But what we really need to know is exactly where and why those accidents happened---and how serious they were. Since the MTA now has 5,745 employees, surely it can spare a few people to do that and, while they're at it, analyze every traffic accident in the city so we can know what's really happening on our streets. The MTA used to do this kind of analysis in its annual Collisions Reports, but it doesn't issue those anymore. It is systematically limiting the information it provides the public, as it also no longer issues its informative Transportation Fact Sheet.

Instead, the MTA now simply hands out accident numbers to lazy, credulous reporters like Rodriguez to bolster its unsupported safety justification for this project (The MTA also used the safety lie to justify the Polk Street bike project):

Those collisions resulted in two fatalities. In 2010, 22-year-old German tourist Nils Linke was killed while cycling along Masonic Avenue. And in 2011, 61-year old James Hudson, of San Francisco, was fatally struck by a vehicle as he walked across the street.

Linke was hit by a drunk driver while riding a bike in the Turk and Masonic intersection, and Hudson was was hit by a drunk driver in the crosswalk of the same intersection

Nothing in the Masonic Avenue bike project will protect people in intersections from drunk drivers, whether they are on a bike or on foot. This is the kind of demagoguery typically used by project supporters like Helquist and Streetsblog:

Based on past similar projects, Golier said he expects the amount of cyclists to jump as much as 400 percent after the corridor is made safer.

Needless to say Rodriguez didn't press Golier for any specifics about "similar projects" and the 400 percent claim. The truth is that the city has no idea how many people will use the separated bike lanes after this project is completed. There's not any evidence that there are a significant number of cyclists who even want to use this North/South street.

For Rodriquez's other crappy stories on Masonic, see this, thisthis and this.

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