Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Implementing Bicycle Plan "improvements"

The Bicycle Coalition is urging its membership "to make sure that all 56 projects of the Bike Plan get approved":

At long last, the environmental impact report (EIR) for the SF Bicycle Plan is approaching completion and the injunction which has stopped physical improvements for bicycle traffic in the city since June 2006 is nearing its end. But just because the Bike Plan will soon be re-adopted, spelling out 56 great bike network projects, doesn't mean the City will go ahead and implement these improvements quickly, or at all. We'll need your grassroots help and energy to move all 56 Bike Network projects forward (

It's hard to say what the zealots at the SFBC understand, but they insult the intelligence of their membership with this call to action. What the draft EIR of the latest version of the Bicycle Plan really does is offer the city's decision-makers---ultimately the Board of Supervisors---different options for many of the bicycle "improvements" it recommends for city streets.

For example, on Masonic Ave. the DEIR breaks that major North/South traffic artery into different segments, taking away street parking and traffic lanes here and there to make bike lanes between Fell Street and Geary Blvd. On Segment 1 (between Fell and Hayes), Option 1 would create a bike lane by "removing one travel lane in the northbound direction, and two travel lanes the southbound direction." Since Masonic now has four lanes---two in both directions---removing both southbound lanes would seem to be impossible. Maybe this is a typo. Option 2 for that segment of Masonic would remove "a travel lane in both directions." Which of these options for this part of Masonic should the membership of the SFBC be supporting?

And there's this for the segment of Masonic between Hayes and Grove:

Segment II Option 1 would install a center turn lane with floating bicycle lanes in both directions. During off-peak hours, there would be one travel lane in both directions. During the AM peak, there would be two travel lanes in the northbound direction, and one travel lane in the southbound direction. During the PM peak, there would be two travel lanes in the southbound direction, and one travel lane in the northbound direction.

(This paragraph is on page IV.B-23 of the DEIR. That page "number" is a clue to how baroque and hard to read the massive document is.) If you know how heavy traffic is already on Masonic during commute hours, imagine how bad it's going to be when some blocks will only have one traffic lane going in a single direction.

On McAllister Street---the street I live on---the choice is much simpler, since the DEIR is recommending mostly that sharrows be painted on the street between Gough and Masonic, with no street parking or traffic lanes---the street has only two lanes---to be removed.

The DEIR continues to maintain the city's long-held legal fiction that parking is not part of the permanent physical environment under CEQA:

In San Francisco, parking deficits are considered to be social effects, rather than impacts on the physical environment as defined by CEQA. Under CEQA, a project's social effects need not be treated as significant impacts on the environment...The social inconvenience of parking deficits, such as having to hunt for scarce parking spaces, is not an environmental impact, but there may be secondary physical environmental impacts, such as increased traffic congestion at intersections, air quality impacts, safety impacts, or noise impacts caused by congestion...[T]he secondary impacts effects of drivers searching for parking is typically offset by a reduction of vehicle trips due to others who are aware of constrained parking conditions in a given area.

In other words, it will just be tough shit for people who now park on Masonic Ave. As drivers look for increasingly scarce parking in that area, they'll have to console themselves with the thought that what they are experiencing is nothing but "a social effect." This is both legally dubious---there's CEQA case law on parking that says differently---and contemptuous of people who drive in SF, since hundreds of parking spaces may be lost on Masonic Ave., depending on which options in the Bicycle Plan the city chooses to implement.

On all the options for Masonic Ave., the DEIR admits that there will be a "Significant Unavoidable Impact" on traffic on that busy street, including a negative impact on the much-used #43 Masonic Muni line that travels the length of Masonic between Geary Blvd. and Fell Street.

Hence, the question is, Who is going to take political responsibility for screwing up traffic on Masonic Ave.---and all the other city streets slated for bicycle "improvements," including Second Street, Fifth Street, and Cesar Chavez? The SFBC doesn't seem to mind being on the political cutting edge---after all, it lists Critical Mass on its online calendar every month---but even our "progressive" Board of Supervisors may hesitate about implementing many of the projects in the EIR on the Bicycle Plan, especially if, like Supervisor Mirkarimi, they want to run for Mayor of San Francisco someday.

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Dialogue on the Geary BRT

murphstahoe wrote:
The primary problems on the last [downtown] part of the [#38 Geary]run are 1) too many stops 2) traffic, especially double parked cars or cars parked in bus stops. Combine those 2 and you have a big problem. The city spent quite a bit of money to have a transit expert "figure this out," his recommendation to remove stops was not received well by anyone whose stop was on the chopping block. One other amusing issue is that there is a bus only lane on Geary, near downtown, which is frequently used by cars who ignore the restriction. Anecdotally the google street view of that stretch of road shows 3 cars in the bus only lane.

Anonymous wrote:
Geary is a near-total disaster. Any improvement to this street is likely to take lots of work and lots of time. I see older folks getting caught in the middle of Geary because they can't make it across the entire street during the pedestrian crossing cycle. Geary is the traffic world, but it slices right though the urban world (kind of like 19th avenue, Van Ness, Fell, Oak, Divisadero, Guerrero, most of Soma, Lincoln and Fulton, King st, 3rd st, Ceasar Chavez, etc). This is why pedestrians are often killed by motor vehicles.

Rob Anderson wrote:
The question is, What constitutes an "improvement" to Geary? Will the $200 million BRT be what the doctor ordered? I don't believe it. I'm 66 years old, and I never have trouble getting across Geary during the light cycle, but I do see older people who, for various reasons, can't move very fast and struggle to do so. Like the old guy who jaywalked with his walker and got run over recently, this raises a different question, which is, At what point do people become too old to be out on their own on the streets of the city? The old man killed on Geary ignored the pedestrian overpass nearby, which, though it requires pedestrians to walk up some stairs, makes it perfectly safe to cross Geary at that point. If someone is unable to even make that kind of physical effort to ensure his safety, he probably shouldn't be in that situation in the first place. As the caretaker of my 93-year-old mother, one thing I've observed about her is that her everyday judgment is much sketchier than it was even a few years ago. Trying to cross Geary with a walker where there is no crosswalk or pedestrian overpass is a good example of fatally flawed judgment common among seniors. It seems unreasonable to assume that the city is obligated to make it safe for everyone under all possible circumstances.

Anonymous wrote:
No, it is not possible to make the city safe for everybody in all possible circumstances. It is possible, however, to make the city safer for most people in most circumstances. Enforcing speed limits, for example, would be a good place for us to start, and if we are unable, for whatever reason, to uphold the traffic safety laws, we should redesign the physical environment to make things safer.

murphstahoe wrote:
Parking impacts of bus lanes less than feared.

Anonymous wrote:

Two things which slow down the 38: 1) Badly timed lights. 2) Pulling in and out of traffic lanes to board at the side of the road. Since the bus stops are at the corners, if there is a backup in traffic then buses can't get close enough to pull into the stop. Likewise, if there are cars using the bus stop as a turn lane and stuck waiting to turn the bus can't pull in. At a lot of stops, it takes just long enough to board people on the bus, that the light turns red and the bus is left sitting through the next cycle. Putting buses in their own lanes will get them out of traffic (and open up all those bus stops for up to 150 parking spaces, but that's just a bonus compared to the 50,000 riders who get a faster bus).

Rob Anderson wrote:
Instead of spending $200 million and digging up Geary for years, why not simply install a system to allow buses to change traffic lights in their favor?

Anonymous wrote:
Turning the center lanes into a dedicated busway is not the same as tearing up the streets to put down rail. The center running lanes would be separated by a curb, and bigger concrete pads for the stops, making it more than just a resurfacing, but no more disruptive than rebuilding a sidewalk. Because the entire thing doesn't have to be finished like a rail line, buses could start using each new block of busway as soon as it's finished. Geary would not suffer the same kind of disruption as Third Street did because each block would only take a week or two (or more likely a month or two if it's run by Muni) and the merchants will even get more parking out of it right in front of their stores because the bus pockets on the sides will be converted to parking spaces once the buses are running in the middle lanes.

Rob Anderson wrote:
That makes the project sound almost reasonable.

Lots of information on the MTA's BRT site.

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