Friday, September 23, 2011

Meeting on plans to screw up Panhandle traffic

Photo by Scott James

Like the meetings last year on the city's plan to redesign Masonic Avenue so cyclists will be "comfortable" riding on it, plans to screw up traffic on the nearby Fell Street to do the same were discussed in a September 13 MTA meeting. (A reader has submitted notes---below in italics---on that meeting).

The MTA's Luis Montoya is in charge of plans to screw up traffic on Fell and Oak Streets by taking away traffic lanes and/or street parking to make bike lanes: "Fell St. is a major arterial road. During peak hours it carries around 2000 vehicles and 200 bicycles per hour. Bicyclists are uncomfortable riding in single file during a peak hour. Oak St. carries about the same traffic load as Fell St." 

But the "peak hour" number isn't really an adequate account of the "existing conditions" on Fell Street, since Montoya's Powerpoint presentation didn't provide traffic volumes for Fell and Oak Streets, unlike last year's presentation on Masonic Avenue, which included a detailed traffic count the city had done a month before showing that Masonic carries more than 32,000 vehicles a day (page 26).

How many vehicles a day use Fell Street? A Bay Citizen story in July reported that Fell and Oak Streets together handle 67,000 vehicles a day, which means that those major East/West streets have about the same traffic volume as the nearby Masonic Avenue.

Montoya quotes the City Charter's "Transit First" definition: “Bicycling shall be promoted by encouraging safe streets for riding, convenient access to transit, bicycle lanes, and secure bicycle parking” (page 4). You probably thought "transit" referred to buses, trains, and streetcars. Here in Progressive Land, however, the Bicycle Coalition's many enablers in City Hall have rewritten that definition to include bicycles as per the above.

I learned this when I complained that implementing the Bicycle Plan was going to delay a number of Muni lines. How was that "transit first"? I naively asked. A cyclist commented that the definition of transit first in the City Charter now includes bicycles. Hence, no matter how badly the bicycle "improvements" delay Muni lines, the city can say that those traffic-snarling projects fit the definition of Transit First.

Montoya has a bar chart on page 6 with numbers from the city's annual bicycle count with the claim that "Bicycle Use [is]Growing Citywide," though, as I pointed out in my analysis of that report, the numbers for the past two years show very small increases, suggesting that bike use in the city may have peaked.

"MTA hasn't studied the impact of spillage onto surrounding streets if a car lane is removed."

That's why the city needs to do a comprehensive traffic study of that part of town before they implement this project, particularly since City Hall is already going to screw up traffic on nearby Masonic Avenue sometime next year. Once you take away traffic lanes and/or street parking on either Fell or Oak Streets, you're going to make traffic worse in that neighborhood, with spillover traffic and/or motorists circling around the neighborhood looking for increasingly scarce street parking.

The next MTA public meeting on Screwing Up Traffic on Oak and Fell Streets is December 2.

The MTA's website on Screwing Up Traffic on Oak and Fell Streets

Sept.13, 2011 MTA held a meeting to show plans for the Fell and Oak St. bike lanes. Around 50 people and 10 MTA staff attended.

Luis Montoya (project manager) gave a powerpoint presentation. The city charter says SF is a transit first city. Today about 3% of all trips are with bicycles. The goal is to have 20% bicycle trips by 2020. To meet the goal they need to improve streets making it safer for bicyclists.

Fell St. is a major arterial road. During peak hours it carries around 2000 vehicles and 200 bicycles per hour. Bicyclists are uncomfortable riding in single file during a peak hour. Oak St. carries about the same traffic load as Fell St.

Using The Wiggle, bicyclists reach Fell St and Scott St. The goal is to have a  separated bike lane on Fell St and Oak St that is wider and safer with a buffer.

Montoya showed several design options:

1) Adding a single cycle track (bike lane + buffer) on Fell St or Oak St. can be done by removing curbside parking on one side of the street; removing one car lane while keeping curbside parking.
MTA hasn't studied the impact of spillage onto surrounding streets if a car lane is removed.

2) Have a tow-away lane during specific hours like on Masonic Avenue

3) Adding two bike lanes side by side in opposite directions only on Fell St or Oak St. This requires removing curbside parking. For example, if 2 bike lanes are added to Fell St., Oak St parking is not affected. And vice versa. Montoya asked to hold our questions for later. Someone asked "Can bicyclists use Page St," to which Luis didn't respond. He pointed to 6-7 tables, each with MTA staff and maps. We were instructed to break up into small groups at each table and brainstorm. MTA staff would write down concerns, comments, answer specific questions. 20 minutes later everyone returned to their seats. Each MTA staff gave a summary of the main issues from their table. For example, safety, accessibility...

Montoya opened the floor for questions:

Q: I ride a bicycle. When I back out my car from my Oak St. garage, I look out for bicyclists. I've had many close calls. Bicyclists perform acrobatics to dodge cars on Oak St. They also ride on the sidewalk. Can anything be done?

Montoya: We'll look into this.

Q: Bicyclists run stop signs, red traffic lights causing problems at intersections and are unpredictable. Any way to enforce traffic laws?

Montoya: We are working with the traffic enforcement dept.

Q: Since you'll remove street parking, can DMV let people use their parking lot after hours?

Montoya: We'll have to discuss that with DMV.

Q: Where is the funding for this project coming from?

Montoya: We have funds for the research, draft plans. But no funds yet to complete the project.

Q: What is the cost to finish the project?

Montoya: Don't have exact figures.

Q: Any ballpark estimates?

Montoya: Possibly in the range of $200,000-$300,000.
MTA staff (annoyed): This project may not materialize. Management can decide to stop the project for many reasons. Then the project goes away.

Q: Can the bike lane be on the right side of the street?

Montoya: We are considering all options.

Q: Lets say MTA removes street parking. Where does a service truck park to do repairs for few hours for a Fell/Oak St. client?

Montoya: We'll have to think about that.

Q: Will you inform each resident of Fell St. that parking will be removed?

Montoya: We have public meetings, hearings where people can raise issues, complaints. We might poll residents door to door.

MTA will study input from tonight. Next meeting December 2.

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