Friday, July 26, 2013

Eliminating Geary/Fillmore underpass: Worst Idea of 2008, Worst Idea of 2013

Photo by Mike Koozmin for the Examiner

I was surprised when I saw the story in yesterday's Examiner (Geary Boulevard's underpass days could be over) about a proposal to fill in the underpass at Geary Blvd. and Fillmore Street. Not again! This is a good example of what Paul Krugman calls "zombie ideas" ("beliefs about policy that have been repeatedly refuted with evidence and analysis but refuse to die").

I wrote about this back in 2011, when it was last proposed by Supervisor Mirkarimi, when he was reported to have said that

the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency’s’s prior control of the neighborhoods in the area led to, in his opinion, poor choices about how it would be laid out, including a historical separation between the largely black Fillmore district and Japantown. “Those times are changing now,” Mirkarimi said. “We want people to really have greater connectivity between the adjacent neighborhoods, so that it helps vitalize the merchant community, and the communities that really play together and live together.”

Supervisors Mar and Breed are picking up where Mirkarimi left off. According to Supervisor Mar's aide, Peter Lauterborn, "It's really about closing the divide in these two communities."

As I pointed out at the time, there are already more black people living on the Japantown side of Geary than there are Japanese, not to mention the fact that, according to the Japantown Task Force, there are more white people living in that neighborhood than either Japanese or blacks.

Since the idea that this is about knitting together two ethnic neighborhoods is clearly bullshit, what's really going on with this proposal? It's apparently a pre-emptive policy strike in the future debate about the configuration of the Geary Bus Rapid Transit project:

Several long-awaited revamps for Geary Boulevard are finally making progress, including the Geary Corridor Bus Rapid Transit project. Part of that project could fund the infill of the underpass at Geary Boulevard and Fillmore Street.

Which seems to mean that Supervisors Mar and Breed want to get this done before the rest of the Geary BRT project is even begun. Fresh off endorsing the Masonic Avenue bike project---that will screw up traffic on behalf of cyclists on that major North/South city street---Breed and Mar now propose screwing up traffic on the city's most important East/West street:

"We need people to start looking at and thinking about it," said Peter Lauterborn, a legislative aide in Mar's office. "The Geary project has taken forever. Now, not only do we have a feasible path forward, but we have the means to get it done."

Lauterborn's statement is clearly untrue, since the city evidently doesn't have the $40 million "means" to pay for the project. What Mar and Breed are apparently trying to do is make that "feasible path forward" to get it done.

When Mirkarimi first proposed this idea back in January, 2008, the Examiner correctly called it The Worst Idea of 2008:

This year is still young, but the potential squandering of a yet-undetermined sum of millions of dollars that The City does not have in order to raise Japantown's Geary Boulevard underpass to street level must be the early front-runner for worst municipal idea of 2008. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who represents the Japantown and Fillmore neighborhoods, said Geary Boulevard has been an "invisible Berlin Wall" separating the two portions of his bailiwick.

The Examiner reporter provides some dubious context for the project:

The Geary Corridor Bus Rapid Transit project is aimed at improving Muni service along the heavily traveled corridor, according to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. The agency estimates 50,000 people ride the 38-Geary bus line daily, but the street is also clogged with cars and other obstacles, making the bus route crowded and unreliable. The project would dedicate bus lanes and improve sidewalk bus shelters in hopes of speeding up service.

The #38 Geary line is usually "crowded," but it runs often and is not at all "unreliable." The real problem with that Muni line is what could be called "other obstacles," as I pointed out back in 2009:

The big problem the Geary BRT proposal is trying to address is essentially the stretch of Geary between 33rd Avenue and Masonic Avenue, where there are stoplights and stop signs at nearly every intersection to allow north-south traffic to cross Geary. That's what's slowing the #38 line down, along with the stretch between Van Ness and the terminal on First Street, which goes through a very densely populated part of the city. How exactly would a Geary BRT deal with the cross-streets problem? Just giving the bus line its own lane doesn't automatically provide a solution. And what about the intersections at Fillmore and Masonic?

And there's the well-founded suspicion in the avenues that the Geary BRT is essentially a project to get that part of town ready for City Hall's version  of "smart growth" and "transit-oriented" development.

A meeting on the Geary BRT project will be on Wednesday, July 31, at the Richmond District YMCA, located at 360 18th St.

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At 1:59 PM, Blogger Mark Kaepplein said...

Proposals to "flatten" overpasses and underpasses exist throughout the country wherever prog societal engineers (planners) are entrenched. Reasons are as specious as Earth being flat. Overpasses and underpasses allow easier movement for all travel modes without having to wait half the time at traffic lights for a turn to cross another street. Overpasses increase safety also - better than having a train line or busy roadway crossing at grade. Overpasses link neighborhoods otherwise severed by train tracks or highways, and the more the better!

At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait a minute! The Polk Street and Masonic projects are all about separating bikes from auto traffic and the removal of this underpass would now have bikes next to cars? I would imagine the next step after the underpass was removed would be for the bike people to demand parking and traffic lanes be removed so that they can feel comfortable riding on Geary.

At 10:10 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes. Are Gough and Franklin next in line to be redesigned as per the cyclists' "comfort" specifications?

When you look at Geary Blvd. and the amount of traffic it carries every day and the #38 line, the busiest bus line East of the Mississippi with 50,000 boardings a day, you realize how trivial the whole bike trip is in relation to the rest of city traffic.

It's no coincidence that this initiative is sponsored by Mar and Breed, who are also eager to transform Masonic Avenue, a major regional North/South street, on behalf of a small minority of future cyclists.

Like City Hall in general, Mar and Breed are seemingly indifferent to dealing with the reality of the actual traffic on our streets. Instead, they seem to think that impairing the movement of that traffic will somehow reduce the volume of traffic, that people who now drive in San Francisco will go away and start riding bikes...or something.

City traffic policy is now being made by people who are essentially fantasists.

At 9:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would imagine the next step after the underpass was removed would be for the bike people to demand parking and traffic lanes be removed so that they can feel comfortable riding on Geary.

Nope. Having a traffic lane removed for MUNI, so it can move faster. But it's all about bikes to you anti-bike people, you could not give a shit about MUNI.

At 9:59 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

As I point out, it's not the other East/West traffic that slows down the #38 line; it's the North/South cross streets in the avenues. Giving the #38 its own lane doesn't address that issue.


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