Monday, October 15, 2012

Oak/Fell bike lanes discriminate against disabled

Below is a comment by Howard Chabner on the proposed Fell and Oak bike lanes. Turns out that the project is not only against the interests of those who have to drive and park on neighborhood streets, but it's even worse for the disabled.

Dear Chairman Nolan and SFMTA Board Members:

I have lived on Fell Street across from the Panhandle since 1988. The importance of promoting bicycle safety and encouraging bicycling is undeniable. I urge you not to approve the proposed Oak and Fell Street cycle track for the following reasons:

Putting an increased volume of bicycle traffic on these streets (especially Oak), which already have a heavy volume of fast-moving motor vehicles (around 30,000 vehicles daily on each of Fell and Oak, according to a presentation from SFMTA staff) and timed traffic signals, will greatly increase safety risks for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.

This is especially true given the large number of residential and commercial driveways on these blocks, and the large number of motor vehicles turning into and out of them. Many of the garages are narrow, and visibility is limited for drivers pulling out of them; with a cycle track it would be difficult for drivers and cyclists to see each other. There is a heavy volume of motorists turning off of and onto Oak and Fell, Divisadero and the side streets; even with traffic signal improvements, cycle tracks will create more conflicts among bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists. An already complex situation will be made even more complex and hectic.

Instead, using Hayes and Page, which have stop signs instead of traffic signals, and which have a much lower volume of motor vehicles, would be safer. I know experienced bicyclists who use Hayes and Page often and believe these routes are much safer than any cycle tracks on Oak and Fell would be. Installing cycle tracks along two of the fastest and busiest vehicular thoroughfares in San Francisco contradicts SF’s stated goal of encouraging novices to bicycle by providing safe spaces with no pressure to go fast.

The Haight Ashbury Improvement Association has proposed a safer alternative for cyclists, using Hayes and Page Streets, but SFMTA has not seriously considered it. Here is a link to the HAIA plan.

The loss of parking spaces on Oak and Fell would be a major blow to the neighborhood. Whether businesses, visitors, workers, new residents or those who have lived in the neighborhood for a long time and have invested their time, energy, sweat and money in improving the neighborhood, large numbers of people rely on street parking. The hardship for residents would be at its worst at night, when parking is the most scarce.

For businesses, the loss of parking would also be an extreme hardship; please listen to the business owners in the neighborhood who oppose this project. (To reduce the parking loss, SFMTA staff says they will add some spaces on side streets by converting parallel parking to perpendicular or angled, but this is problematic---see below---and unlikely to remain in the long run.)

Night and day, the proposed scheme would result in drivers circling the neighborhood much longer than presently in order to find parking. This would not only be a hardship for those for whom it will be more difficult---sometimes nearly impossible at night---to find parking, but it would greatly increase traffic on Fell, Oak and the side streets. It would increase pollution as more cars drive around for longer, and the increased pollution would be emitted in a dense residential neighborhood. (Increased traffic and increased pollution happened with the disastrous Page Street traffic circle project in 2003/2004, and although this consequence was entirely predictable, the Department of Parking and Traffic refused to acknowledge that it was likely to happen, and then, during the project, refused to acknowledge that it was happening.)

SFMTA staff wrongly claims this project this exempt from environmental review. On pages 16 and 17 of the Exemption from Environmental Review document (in the sections "Parking" and "Conclusion"), it is claimed that loss of parking spaces is not an environmental impact and, anyway, "The transportation analysis accounts for potential secondary effects, such as cars circling looking for a parking space in areas of limited parking supply, by assuming that all drivers would attempt to find parking at or near the project site and then seek parking further away if convenient parking is available. Moreover, the secondary effects of drivers searching for parking is [sic] typically offset by a reduction in vehicle trips due to others who are aware of constrained parking conditions in a given area."

Similarly, they claim that fewer parking spaces will induce many drivers to shift to other modes of travel or change their overall travel habits. But no factual basis is stated for these conclusory assertions---no statistics, no studies, no analysis of the particular conditions in this particular neighborhood---just the "experience of San Francisco transportation planners…". Moreover, the statement quoted is internally inconsistent: if drivers seek parking further away from the project site, then they would be driving further, therefore causing more traffic and more pollution.

Establishing residential parking permit requirements in the area would do nothing to mitigate the parking problem at night, when parking is the scarcest. Also, it would impose a hardship on employees and business owners who work in the Divisadero corridor during the day and drive to work.

Although the loss of parking would be a hardship for the large numbers of people who live and work in the neighborhood, it would disproportionately impact people with major mobility disabilities---wheelchair users and slow walkers. Many people with mobility disabilities rely heavily on private vehicles. Disabled people park in regular street parking spaces far more often than in designated accessible street parking spaces (blue zones). If he or she owns a vehicle, almost everyone who uses an electric wheelchair, and many who use scooters and manual wheelchairs, have either a lowered floor minivan or a full-size van. By far the most common configuration for these vehicles is a side ramp (for minivans) or a lift on the side (for full-size vans). 

Many wheelchair users own these vehicles even if they don’t drive and are always passengers. Whether drivers or passengers, people in wheelchairs deploy their side ramps or lifts directly onto the sidewalk and roll right onto it. In effect, all street parking spaces (except perpendicular and angled spaces and, sometimes, those with sidewalk obstructions such as garbage cans or trees in the exact location of the ramp or lift) are van accessible spaces, even though not technically designated as such.

The proposed cycle track would be on the South side of Oak, which means that all of the disabled accessible parking spaces would be eliminated for those three blocks. The parking spaces on the North side of Oak would remain, but it would be extremely dangerous for disabled people to use them because the ramp or lift would be deployed into the moving lane. Some desperate disabled people might attempt this, which would be potentially disastrous, but most would not. One of the measures being proposed to mitigate the parking loss is to convert parking spaces on some of the side streets, which are currently parallel parking, into perpendicular or angled parking spaces. This also would eliminate spaces that are currently usable by disabled people in accessible minivans and vans, because perpendicular and angled parking spaces are inaccessible. For disabled people, it would add to the parking loss along Oak instead of mitigating it.

People who walk slowly and with difficulty would also be harmed by the loss of parking spaces on Oak and by the elimination of parallel parking on the side streets. In sum, eliminating the disabled accessible parking spaces on Oak and the side streets would discriminate against people with mobility disabilities.The cycle track would also make it much more difficult and dangerous for disabled people to be picked up and dropped off in this area.

On streets that already have angled or perpendicular parking on one side, converting the second side to angled or perpendicular parking would be dangerous and complicated because it would be much more difficult for anyone pulling out of a parking space to see when the coast is clear---they would have to look not only at the traffic lanes, but at the parking lane on the opposite side of the street. Also, traffic would have to come to a halt whenever someone on either side of the street was pulling out of a parking space.

The proposed plan would negatively impact safety, parking, traffic, air quality and disability rights; it should not be adopted.

Thank you very much for considering this e-mail.
Howard Chabner

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