Public comment on proposed 13th Street "bikeway"
Mary Miles (SB #230395)
Attorney at Law
San Francisco, CA 94102
Edward Reiskin, Director
Roberta Boomer, Secretary, and
Members of the Board
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency ("MTA")
One S. Van Ness Ave., 7th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103
DATE: April 18, 2017
PUBLIC COMMENT, AGENDA ITEM 11, APRIL 18, 2017 MTA BOARD MEETING [“Approving a protected bikeway and parking and traffic modifications along eastbound 13th Street between Folsom Street and Bryant Street…”], aka “Eastbound 13th Street Safety Project,” aka “SFMTA – 13th Street Eastbound Bicycle Facility Project” (referred to in this Comment as the “Project”)
This is public Comment on Agenda Item 11 of the April 18, 2017 MTA Board meeting. Please provide a copy of this Comment to all MTA Board Members and place a copy in all applicable MTA files. As noted on the MTA Board Agenda, a determination under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) is subject to appeal to the Board of Supervisors within 30 days.
The Project will clearly have significant impacts under CEQA, including transportation, air quality, safety, and parking impacts, and the claimed "categorical exemptions" do not apply. The Project must also be rejected for the following reasons.
1. FAILURE TO PROVIDE PUBLIC NOTICE AND INFORMATION ON THE PROJECT VIOLATES CEQA'S REQUIREMENT OF INFORMED PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN THE DECISIONMAKING PROCESS, AS WELL AS OPEN MEETING AND INFORMATION REQUIREMENTS
There has been no outreach to the general public on this Project, only “stakeholder meetings” between the Project sponsor, the MTA's "Sustainable Streets" division, promoters of the Project, and a few local businesses. The claimed “public hearing” on March 17, 2017 was conducted by the Project sponsor, the MTA’s “Sustainable Streets,” the same entity that created the Project in private with no opportunity for input from the general public and then held the alleged "hearing" before its own "Engineering" subdivision. Even members of the public who requested public notice, including this Commenter, received no notice of this Project after submitting many requests to MTA for notices of proceedings on all bicycle projects in San Francisco.
Further, neither the MTA nor the lead agency conducting the alleged “environmental review,” the Planning Department, gave public notice of its Exemption dated April 10, 2017. That Exemption did not exist and was not publicly available at the time of the claimed “public hearing” on March 17, 2017, and it is not readily available today but instead requires complicated linking to documents not readily available to the general public or easily found by using the internet. Documents related to CEQA review should have been publicly noticed at least 72 hours in advance and placed on the March 17, 2017 “public hearing” agenda in a readily-accessible link so that the public could know what the Project Sponsor, the lead agency, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition were actually proposing. They were not.
The Project sponsor, the MTA's "Sustainable Streets" Division, claims that its "staff performed door-to-door outreach" to four businesses along eastbound 13th Street from January to March 2017. (MTA “Sustainable Streets” memorandum dated April 10, 2017 ["Project Sponsor’s Staff Report”], page 6.) That alleged "outreach" ignores that this Project is of citywide and regional importance, affecting traffic to and through the area by thousands of daily travelers, access to freeways, and travel to downtown, the train station, and the ballpark, as well as major shopping destinations.
2. FAILURE TO ACCURATELY STATE EXISTING CONDITIONS AND TO IDENTIFY AND MITIGATE THE PROJECT’S SIGNIFICANT IMPACTS VIOLATES CEQA
The proposed Project, part of the “Vision Zero” Project, removes two heavily used travel lanes and at least 35 parking spaces on eastbound 13th Street, reducing traffic capacity on this major traffic corridor from three existing lanes to one lane in the eastbound direction. (San Francisco Planning Department: Certificate of Determination Exemption from Environmental Review, Case No. 2017-001180ENV, April 10, 2017 [“Exemption”], pages 2-3, 5, 9-13) That proposed capacity reduction will bottleneck and back up the already heavy traffic on eastbound 13th Street to outside the immediate Project area, affecting major intersections at South Van Ness Avenue, Folsom Street, Bryant Street, Harrison Street, and 11th/13th/Bryant/ Division Streets. (Exemption, page 5)
Traffic volumes allegedly measured in 2015 are out of date, and in any event contain no supporting evidence, including the dates they were taken, the time of day, or who took them. Even so, the Exemption admits that traffic capacity on eastbound 13th Street will be reduced from the existing roadway capacity of 5,700 vehicles per hour to 3,800 vehicles per hour. Both the vehicle volume and the reduction attest to the regional importance of this corridor, and the failure to identify and mitigate the impacts of delaying 1,900 vehicles per hour. (Exemption, page 5)
The Exemption document fails to establish the cumulative area affected by the Project, and fails to state that the City and the Project Sponsor, City and its MTA "Sustainable Streets" Department, have already provided bicycle lanes on 14th Street, 15th Street, 16th Street, and 17th Street in City's 2009 Bicycle Plan Project, and a dedicated 12-foot-wide bicycle lane with buffer on westbound 13th Street, removing hundreds of parking spaces and traffic lane capacity in nearby corridors. The failure to accurately state existing conditions results in an inaccurate baseline for analyzing impacts in violation of CEQA. The figures in the Exemption document and the obvious direct impacts from delaying 1,900 vehicles per hour show that the claim of no direct and cumulative significant impacts is false.
In addition to the proposed drastic capacity reduction, which it terms a "road diet," the Project also proposes forced turns from existing through lanes and installing "painted bicycle boxes at the intersections of Folsom Street/13th Street, and Bryant Street/13th Street to construct a “new bicycle facility on eastbound 13th Street.” (Exemption, page 1) The Project also proposes prohibiting right turns at red traffic signals at northbound Harrison Street approaching 13th Street and a special "two-stage" left turn box to enable bicyclists to turn left from the right lane to "make an intersection more inviting for…bicycles." (Project Sponsor's Staff Report, page 5) The Project will also introduce time limits for whatever parking remains on 13th Street. (Id.)
No evidence supports the Project sponsor's spurious claim that this is a “high injury corridor for bicycling” or establishes justification for the significant adverse impacts this Project will cause on traffic, air quality, noise, and safety. The "high injury corridor for bicycling" fiction is irrelevant to establishing baseline existing conditions for analyzing the impacts caused by the proposed Project. Claims that there have been “a total of 57 traffic collisions along 13th Street between Folsom Street and Bryant Street" are unsubstantiated, with no documentation showing the circumstances of such alleged “collisions” or that this is a “high injury corridor for bicycling.” (Project Sponsor's Staff Report, page 1) Indeed, the fictitious “high injury corridors” created by City’s “Vision Zero” Project include the Project Sponsor’s extensive wish list to create adverse traffic conditions for vehicles throughout San Francisco and extend the already-expansive Bicycle Plan agenda that benefits less than 4% of travelers and adversely affects the other 96%.
The Project Sponsor's Staff Report also contradicts the lead agency's Exemption document and misstates existing conditions and the Project description, including falsely stating that the Project would only remove one eastbound traffic lane, when in fact it proposes removing two traffic lanes on eastbound 13th Street. (Project Sponsor's Staff Report, page 3) That document also misstates the number of eastbound vehicles on 13th Street, which is 5,700 counted vehicles per hour per the Exemption document. Conveying false and misleading information to the public violates CEQA. Both the Exemption and the Project Sponsor's Staff Report ignore that City’s 2009 Bicycle Plan Project also provided bicycle lanes on 14th Street, 15th Street, 16th Street, and 17th Street, removing hundreds of parking spaces and traffic lane capacity in nearby corridors, along with creating the dedicated 12-foot-wide bicycle lane with buffer on westbound 13th Street.
The Project Sponsor's Staff Report claims that, "146 people were counted bicycling in the morning and 50 people in the evening peak hour periods along eastbound 13th Street." (Project Sponsor's Staff Report, page 3) That means that bicyclists are less than three percent of travelers in the immediate Project area. Further, the Exemption states that "The proposed project would not generate new bicycle trips…" (Exemption, page 6) The insular special interests evident from these figures do not justify the extensive significant impacts on transportation, air quality, parking, public safety, and human impacts caused by the proposed Project on the other 97% of the traveling public.
The Project will clearly have significant direct and cumulative impacts on transportation throughout the area, and significant impacts on air quality, public safety, including emergency vehicle movement, noise, and human impacts that must be identified, analyzed, and mitigated under CEQA.
3. THE PROJECT IS NOT CATEGORICALLY EXEMPT FROM CEQA
The Project will clearly have significant impacts on the environment, and therefore is not categorically exempt. (See, e.g., 14 Cal. Code Regs. ["Guidelines"] §§15064, 15065(a)(3), 15300, 15300.2, 15301, 15304)
The exemptions invoked, i.e., Guidelines §§15301 and 15304, do not apply (Exemption, page 3) Guidelines §15301(c) does not apply because the Project does not propose "minor alterations" of "[e]xisting highways and streets, sidewalks gutters, bicycle and pedestrian trails." Both the Project Sponsor's Staff Report and the Exemption admit that there are no existing bicycle lanes on eastbound 13th Street. (Project Sponsor's Staff Report, page 3; Exemption, page 4) Further, the Project does not propose "minor alterations," but proposes major changes affecting and significantly impacting transportation, air quality, parking, noise, and public safety, both in the immediate and cumulative areas. Guidelines §15301 explicitly states that in determining the types of "existing facilities" subject to such an exemption, "The key consideration is whether the project involves negligible or no expansion of an existing use." Far from being negligible or no expansion, the Project proposes usurping two-thirds of the existing roadway capacity and parking for a currently non-existent use of that corridor.
The Guidelines section 15304(h) exemption invoked (Exemption, page 3) also does not apply to the proposed Project, because bicycle lanes do not currently exist on 13th Street, and because the Project does not propose minor "alterations in the conditions of land, water, and/or vegetation which do not involve removal of healthy, mature, scenic trees except for forestry and agricultural purposes." (Guidelines §15304) The Project instead proposes major alterations to a heavily traveled urban corridor causing significant impacts.
The Exemption's unsupported conclusory statement, "None of the established exceptions applies to the proposed project" under Guidelines §15300.2, is also false, as are the claims that the Project will have no cumulative impacts, and that no "unusual circumstances" are presented by the Project.
There is no adequate analysis of cumulative impacts in the Exemption, with that document claiming with no supporting evidence that the Project sponsor's staff found "projected growth in vehicle traffic volumes" between now and 2040 to be "approximately 15 percent." Cumulative impacts must also measure "successive project of the same type in the same place, over time." (Guidelines §15300.2). This Project, moreover, has "possible environmental effects" that are "cumulatively considerable," meaning "that the incremental effects of an individual project are significant when viewed in connection with the effects of past projects, the effects of other current projects, and the effects of probable future projects." (Guidelines §15065(a)(3).)
The City's past, present, and planned future incursions onto City's roadways to impede vehicle transportation, remove parking, force turns, and otherwise adversely impact traffic include past extensive transportation impacts due to the Bicycle Plan, "Sustainable Streets," "Vision Zero," and other Projects that, combined with the present Project, clearly have cumulative impacts on transportation, air quality, parking, and public safety that cannot be considered in a vacuum and are plainly significant cumulative impacts.
Further, in this instance, the very large traffic volumes and the proposed drastic reduction in street capacity constitute unusual circumstances. (Guidelines, §15300.2(c).)
For the above reasons, the proposed 13th Street Project is not exempt, and it has significant impacts that must be analyzed and mitigated under CEQA. The MTA Board must therefore reject the proposed approval of the Project at Item 11.