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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Bike lane for West span of Bay Bridge

Here's another Whether-You-Like-It-Or-Not item: a bike lane for the West span of the Bay Bridge is moving inexorably through the system. Looks pretty sharp, doesn't it? It should, since it's going to cost at least $178 million, which is the low-end estimate. The high-end estimate: $428 million. Guess which estimate will end up being closest to the real cost?

From the KALW website:

On Monday June 7, the California Senate passed Bill 1061, sponsored by State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), which will allow toll revenues to fund the West Span Pathway, a proposed bicycle-pedestrian-maintenance route over the western span of the bridge.

According to Andrew Casteel, the Executive Director of the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition, the bill is a victory, but there are still more financial hurdles to overcome. The bill puts the West Span Pathway “on a list of projects that are eligible to use toll funding,” but that doesn’t guarantee the money will be allocated.

A 2001 Feasibility Study by the California Department of Transportation proposed two design alternatives for the construction of the West Span Pathway, but the price difference is significant. One alternative came in at $178 million while the other alternative was $428 million. As Casteel explains, “The Project Study Report that is underway should give new costs estimates once it is completed.” Like the eastern span, there would be two pathways on either side of the upper deck.

Casteel stresses that there is a “growing population of folks in the Bay Area willing to commute by bike.” He says the path would reduce car traffic congestion by providing an alternative to driving and by providing an access route for slow maintenance vehicles.

Now the bill needs to be reviewed and passed by the State Assembly. The Assembly Committee on Transportation will vote on the bill June 21.

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