Thursday, June 17, 2010

Masonic Avenue: 32,165 vehicles a day

The first of several city-sponsored public meetings about "fixing" Masonic Avenue was held last Tuesday evening. I was there: In BikeNopa's picture above, I'm the bald guy with the white socks in the front row.

Michael Helquist (above) of BikeNopa was there.

Marc Caswell (above in another BikeNopa picture) of the SF Bicycle Coalition was there in his self-appointed role as grassroots leader of Fix Masonic, now an official front group for the Bicycle Coalition.

Jim Herd of San Francisco Citizen was there, too. I don't have a picture of Herd, because he keeps a low profile; he doesn't even put his name on his blog. But he gets points for at least recognizing that the new Octavia Blvd. is a traffic fiasco:

I’ll tell you, what happened last night in the West of the Western Addition must have been just like the meetings that created the public policy disaster known as Octavia Boulevard, just like those meetings populated by Hayes Valley landed gentry and assorted NIMBY’s that spun out of control to create a traffic-choked “boulevard” that’s three medians and four traffic lanes (two just for parked cars!) too wide.

As a bike guy, Herd isn't ready to acknowledge---or maybe he doesn't know about---the role that the city's bike people, like Jason Henderson, Robin Levitt and the Bicycle Coalition, have played in the Octavia Blvd. fiasco. NIMBYism had nothing to do with it. After city voters chose in 1998 to not authorize Caltrans to rebuild the Central Freeway, they passed Proposition I in 1999, which was the Octavia Boulevard Plan.

The delusional folks at the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association apparently thought they were going to get a great new "boulevard" for their neighborhood. What they got instead is a landscaped, six-lane expressway that now carries a lot of the old freeway traffic through the heart of the Hayes Valley neighborhood. Herd is concerned that, since the same folks who designed Octavia Blvd. are contributing to the effort to "fix" Masonic, they'll turn it too into a perpetual traffic jam. 

His concern---and the potential blame---is misplaced, since if that happens it will be the city that does it, not the designers. And the city will do it on behalf of the bike people, who hate any street like Masonic---they call them "traffic sewers"---in the city where motor vehicle traffic moves well.

Maybe those of us worried about the city screwing up Masonic can prevent that from happening.

At my request, Javad Mirabdal ( was kind enough to email me a PDF of Tuesday night's Powerpoint presentation, which had some interesting traffic numbers. On the "Traffic Volume" page, we learn that MTA did a 24-hour traffic count on Masonic for both Northbound and Southbound traffic during the week of May 20 to May 26. There were on average 15,989 Northbound motor vehicles and 16,176 Southbound vehicles every day over a 24-hour period, which is a total of 32,165 vehicles a day using Masonic Ave.

On the "Transit Operation and Amenities" page, we learn that the #43 Masonic line has a "total daily ridership" of 12,765 passengers. Like the rest of the motor traffic on Masonic, the #43 moves well between Haight Street and Geary Blvd. Even though one of the "Project Objectives" is to "improve transit operation," there's no need to "improve" the #43 line; it does very well now, thank you very much. 

That "objective" is nothing but flim-flam to maintain the illusion that anyone but the bike people is interested in "fixing" Masonic, which, if you go by the city's own numbers, is working just fine for 44,930 people every day, and that includes almost everyone.

But what about cyclists on Masonic? Turns out they don't use it much. The city was probably embarrassed by the low numbers, since they don't provide a 24-hour total for cyclists. Instead, we get a "PM peak hour" volume of 31 cyclists for Golden Gate and Masonic and 294 cyclists at Fell and Masonic. Cyclists apparently don't like to use Masonic because the traffic moves too fast.

The question then is, Are we expected to allow the city to slow down/screw up traffic on Masonic---the bike people call it "calming"---so that cyclists will be more comfortable using it? Removing traffic lanes as per the Bicycle Plan would effectively jam up Masonic [Later: Instead of removing traffic lanes, the city is going to remove all the street parking between Fell St. and Geary Blvd]

I of course think that's nutty. Masonic Ave. is a major North/South traffic artery for the middle of San Francisco. Jamming it up on behalf of cyclists---and making it worse for the 44,930 people who use it every day---is a terrible idea, and the political blowback would, I suspect, be negative.

What about all the accidents and the injuries on Masonic? According to the city's own numbers, it turns out that Masonic isn't very dangerous at all. The "Bicycle Collisions" page tells us that there were a total of only 28 cycling accidents at Masonic's "Top Ten Collision Locations" in the six years between 2004 and 2009. 

They get this total even after inflating the numbers by including Haight and Masonic and Pine and Presidio, both intersections that are outside the project area. Divide 28 by six and you get fewer than five accidents a year on Masonic Ave., which is a low number when you consider that, according to the city, Masonic carries 32,165 vehicles a day (which is 225,155 vehicles a week, and 6,754,650 for a 30-day month!).

The same calculations show that pedestrians are in little danger on Masonic Ave. The "Pedestrian Volumes" page tells us that the pedestrian count at six busy intersections between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. is 3,306, and the Pedestrian Injury page tells us that for the same six-year period there were only 18 pedestrian injury accidents, a grand total of three a year. 

Again the city tries to puff up these numbers by including Masonic and Haight, Masonic and Page, and Masonic and Waller, but that doesn't help much in portraying Masonic as dangerous, since there was only one pedestrian injury accident at each of those intersections.

There's no indication of who was responsible for these accidents, but the inference that the city and the bike people want us to make is that drivers of motor vehicles are the problem.

There's also an "Intersection Collision Summary" for the "Top 10 Collision Locations" for motor vehicles, which tells us that one of the worst intersections is Masonic and Fell, with 19 collisions between motor vehicles between 2004 and 2009. 

Compare that number with the small numbers for cyclists (only 11) and pedestrians (only one) at that intersection during the same period, and you can draw only one conclusion: Masonic and Fell is more dangerous for drivers than for anyone else.

We have some time to mull over these facts, since the next community workshop on Masonic will be sometime in August.

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At 10:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yay, D5 Diary now has pictures! I'm never leaving.

At 12:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Rob has to find a new trick since the sell by date on his old trick is in FOUR DAYS

At 1:51 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Typical bike moron comment, which of course doesn't address the substance of the post. You know nothing about the legal system if you're assuming that Judge Busch is going to render an immediate verdict on the case on June 22. If the past is any guide, he probably won't issue a verdict until a few weeks after the hearing at the earliest. In any event, the city has already hinted that they are going to appeal if he rules against them. We also have that option if we think he's made a mistake with the law. Until the appeals are exhausted, the injunction will stay in place.

At 5:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Masonic and Fell is more dangerous for drivers than for anyone else.

Either that or they just don't know how to frickin drive...

At 6:22 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The point of the post---you did read it, right?---is that, based on the city's own numbers, Masonic doesn't seem dangerous for anyone, including drivers. Is the traffic volume and the accident rate on Masonic (32,000 vehicles a day) higher than Octavia Blvd. (45,000 cars a day in 2005), or Park Presidio (I don't have the number, but it must be higher than the other streets, since most of those who use it are bypassing the city entirely)?

The Masonic and Fell intersection is a special case, because of the left-turn from Fell onto Masonic. Still, are 19 accidents really that many, considering the traffic volume?

At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, I appreciate that you believe you're doing what's right, trying to protect the "rights" of the greatest number of people. But the entire crux of your argument, of your philosophy, rests on a misunderstanding of cause and effect. All the statistics you cite to say that Masonic is perfect as it is, they can easily be read to say that something is deeply wrong with Masonic. The whole point is that if you create an urban infrastructure built only for cars, then only cars will use it, and it encourages car use in general. Your argument could easily be used against Times Square in New York: now, zero cars are driving down Broadway, compared to however many thousand that did before. According to your statistical analysis, the rights of those thousands of car-driving citizens have been trampled on. But please, look at what's been gained: one of America's greatest public spaces has been massively improved for pedestrians, with social, economic and environmental benefits that are too numerous to mention. Your arguments are based on the misconception that the current balance of cars-vs-bicycles-and-pedestrians is permanent, unchangeable. But it's not! Building safe, comfortable, infrastructure for bicycles creates more bicycle use. Your misguided attempts to preserve the car-centric status quo are part of the problem -- you're treating car drivers as an "oppressed minority" just like the supposed homeless advocates you decry. Those of us advocating better bike and ped. infrasturcture aren't trying to ban cars or ignore traffic. It's just that we've been to Copenhagen or Munich, with their lovely, friendly pedestrian-and-bike-appropriate infrastructure, and we just think a little bit of that would be awesome in San Francisco, for the environment, for tourists, for the city's social fabric. Please, I beg you to stop fighting us.

At 4:30 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I'm not saying that "Masonic is perfect as it is"---is there a perfect street anywhere?---but that the city's own numbers show that it now works well for almost everyone who uses it---more than 32,000 vehicle drivers and 12,000 passengers on the #43 line. The accident numbers also show that Masonic isn't particularly dangerous for anyone, given the volume of traffic using the street.

I read about the Times Square project, but evidently traffic has been diverted to other nearby streets. Masonic, on the other hand, is the primary North/South traffic artery between Van Ness and Park Presidio. Besides, no one is seriously considering closing down Masonic entirely like NYC shut down motor traffic on Times Square. Instead, the aim seems to be slow traffic down to the point where more cyclists will feel comfortable using it. Like the Bicycle Plan itself, that idea benefits no one but cyclists to the detriment of everyone else---44,000 people---that now uses Masonic.

It's not a matter of rights or of anyone being an "oppressed minority"---cyclists are the ones who seem to feel that they are oppressed---but of a sense of proportion. You propose "calming"---that is, slowing down---traffic on Masonic for 44,000 people on behalf of exactly how many cyclists? There's absolutely no evidence that there would be enough of a "mode" shift to justify screwing up traffic on that street for everyone else. No doubt more cyclists would use that street if you created a perpetual traffic jam, but that's just an astonishingly unfair---and probably politically imposssible---proposal.

You folks seem to think that you are visionaries and that History is on your side. I disagree. My assumption is that SF is a major American city where cyclists will always be a small minority. It's not just a matter of cars, either. It's the aforementioned Muni line and trucks---all goods in the city are delivered by trucks.

Millions of people visit SF every year in cars. There are 1,000 Muni vehicles on our streets. There are 1,500 taxicabs. What you propose doing to Masonic would not only be a massive inconvenience to thousands of people but it would damage our economy, which requires the reasonable movement of people and goods through city streets. Tourism is our largest industry. Why would anyone visit SF if they encountered gridlock on main traffic arteries when they tried to visit different parts of the city?

Your vision is simply very shortsighted and only considers our streets from the perspective of cyclists, not the overwhelming majority who don't use bicycles.

At 12:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pathetic. If some giant Critical Mass rolled through there all day long, Masonic avenue would be wide enough to move 288,000 cyclists every day.


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