Saturday, June 22, 2013

Oppose funds for the Masonic Avenue bicycle project

From: Howard Chabner
Sent: Friday, June 21, 2013
To:[Board of Supervisors, SFCTA] 
Subject: meeting, Masonic project, Please Disapprove Funding

Dear SFCTA Board Chair, Members and Executives:

I’ve lived on Fell near Clayton since 1988. I cross Masonic as a pedestrian in my electric wheelchair at least twice weekly, and frequently roll along Masonic between Fell and Geary. Personally, I don’t feel unsafe. I also ride along and across Masonic several times a week as a passenger in my van  and did so as a driver when I used to drive. In the 25 years I’ve lived in the neighborhood, I’ve probably been across and along Masonic as a pedestrian, passenger and driver at least 5,000 times.

Please disapprove funding for the Masonic bicycle track project (the “Project”). As currently envisioned and as approved by the MTA Board, the Project would be dangerous to drivers and cyclists, increase congestion and pollution, create a hardship for residents, visitors, businesses and employees, jeopardize public safety by slowing emergency response  time, and be a poor use of $21 million of taxpayer money. The parking loss would especially harm disabled people and seniors. Adequate studies have not been done about many aspects of the Project. The Project is unlikely to solve the safety concerns cited as justification for it. Masonic can be improved with more limited, targeted measures. A better bike route can be created using Baker. Finally, neighborhood residents were not given fair, detailed advance notice about the Project and a meaningful opportunity to express their opinions, and the Project doesn’t have “overwhelming community support.”

Collision Danger. There are dozens of driveways along Masonic. The Project would increase potential conflict between cyclists and drivers pulling out of driveways. Drivers’ ability to see cyclists will be limited. Also, cars pulling out of driveways on a busy street such as Masonic can only do so when motor vehicle traffic is stopped by a red light. Some cyclists don’t obey traffic signals, and vehicles could be pulling out of driveways when they don’t expect any traffic, only to hit an unexpected cyclist. Because many cyclists don’t use lights, this will be even more dangerous at night. 

Instead of encouraging more cyclists to use Masonic, one of the busiest North-South streets in San Francisco, a safer alternative would be to create a bike route that includes the existing bike paths on Baker, which has much less volume, slower moving traffic and no buses. Many cyclists already use Baker.

Congestion. Motor vehicle traffic on Masonic was over 32,000 vehicles daily in 2010, per MTA. Yet the Project would eliminate the extra travel lanes at rush hour, reducing the number of travel lanes to two in each direction at all times. There is already gridlock at rush hour (for example, there is major Southbound backup on Masonic around Grove, Hayes and Fell during evening rush hour); the Project would make this even worse. And because of the bus boarding platforms, only one travel lane will be moving when buses stop to load/unload passengers. Consider how this will impact traffic when several passengers are getting on and off---vehicles will pile up behind the bus, and some will hastily and dangerously try to go around it. Conflicts among vehicles, buses and cyclists will increase. The delay and congestion will be even greater when the lift is deployed for disabled passengers, which can sometimes take several minutes.

Not only will Masonic become more congested, so will the side streets and cross streets, both because of the reduced traffic capacity of Masonic itself and because drivers will have to circle further and longer to find parking. I frequent the cafés on Hayes/Ashbury and Hayes/Central. Over many years I’ve spent a lot of time on Hayes, Ashbury, Clayton and Central; they are pleasant, safe and uncongested but are unlikely to remain that way if the Project is implemented.

Importantly, MTA did no analysis of the cumulative impact of the Project combined with the loss of parking on nearby Fell and Oak streets, and the reduction in travel lanes on Oak during morning rush hour, that are part of the Fell/Oak bike lane project. These cumulative impacts will further increase congestion.

With the new Target store at Masonic and Geary, traffic volume will increase significantly. But MTA admitted, in response to a Sunshine request, that it didn’t do any studies on the impact of the Target store on the Project. (Not only was there no study about Target’s impact on the Project, there was no study about the traffic impact of Target at all. Per an e-mail dated August 31, 2011 from Jerry Robbins of MTA to other MTA staff, received in response to a Sunshine request, “There was no transportation impact study on [sic---Chabner note---“on” probably should be “or”] environmental review for Target as it was not a change of use (former retail use to new retail use).”)

Besides the overall increased traffic volume Target will generate on Masonic, one of the potential specific traffic impacts of Target is that, because the store has several separate, disconnected parking lots, getting from one to another requires exiting the lot and driving on the street. According to an MTA staff e-mail received in response to a Sunshine request, “We really won’t know how the public will choose to park each of the lots and what issues this may raise on city streets until Target opens...We will have to do post opening observations and analysis.” (E-mail dated August 31, 2011 from Ricardo Olea of MTA to other MTA staff.)

With increased congestion will come increased pollution.

As the agency charged with managing congestion, SFCTA has a duty not to approve this project, because it would increase congestion.

Parking Loss. The loss of all street parking on Masonic from Fell to Geary---at least 167 spaces---would be a major blow to the neighborhoods. Large numbers of residents, visitors, employees, businesses, students and service providers rely on street parking. The hardship would be at its worst at night, when parking is scarcest. My wife and I don’t have a garage, so we know from personal experience how difficult it is to find parking in our neighborhood at night, especially on weekends. We know firsthand that all of the street parking on Masonic from Fulton to Fell is usually occupied at night.

The actual number of parking spaces lost may be more than 167 because MTA counts 20 linear feet as a parking space, but some of the parking spaces along Masonic between driveways are less than 20 feet and may not be included in the count. Also, residents of Masonic will no longer be able to park across their driveways;this loss should also be acknowledged.

According to MTA documents received in response to a Sunshine request, MTA didn’t study overnight or weekend parking. (Also, it appears from the documents that most of the parking study was conducted on one day.) Moreover, the on-street parking analysis in the Masonic Avenue Street Redesign Study Final Report, dated January 2011 (the report on which the MTA Board based its approval of the Project) is seriously flawed in what it does cover. It aggregates data for the entire length of Masonic from Geary all the way to Fell, disaggregating only the East and West sides. But the Project area includes more than one neighborhood, each of which has separate conditions. The area from McAllister to Fell is more purely residential and denser than the area North of Turk, which includes single-family homes with garages on Ewing Terrace, and institutions that are closed at night, including schools and a blood bank. This presentation vastly understates the parking shortage from McAllister to Fell. It’s also important to recognize that removing all street parking will have a major impact even in an area that may have less than 100% utilization, because all capacity will have been removed, not merely “excess” capacity.

Regarding parking near the Target, staff e-mails provided by MTA include statements such as “The assumption is that Masonic will not be significantly impacted.” [by the Target]. (Emphasis added; e-mail dated September 1, 2011 from Ricardo Olea to other MTA staff.) Also, “We really won’t know how the public will choose to park each of the lots [at Target] and what issues this may raise on city streets until Target opens.” (E-mail dated August 31, 2011 from Ricardo Olea to other MTA staff.)

People with mobility disabilities and seniors rely heavily on automobiles, so we would be even more impacted by the parking loss than the general public. Many people with mobility disabilities and seniors are limited in how far they can walk or roll, so the parking loss caused by the Project not only will make it harder for us to find parking, but will require us to expend more energy getting from a parking space to our home, workplace and business, and to the stores and restaurants we patronize. It’s also relevant that San Francisco has fewer blue zones than legally required, and there are very few blue zones in the Project area. The parking loss will also make it more difficult for us to have home visits from therapists, caregivers, wheelchair repair companies and service providers.

Contrary to MTA’s position about Masonic and other projects involving the loss of large amounts of on-street parking, parking loss can and often does have a direct environmental impact that must be analyzed and considered. This was recognized most recently by the California Court of Appeals in Taxpayers for Accountable School Bond Spending v. San Diego Unified School District, 215 Cal. App. 4th 1013 (2013). The court held: “Therefore, as a general rule, we believe CEQA considers a project’s impact on parking of vehicles to be a physical impact that could constitute a significant effect on the environment.”

Removing parking spaces and making existing parking deficits worse are significant impacts that must be analyzed and mitigated under CEQA; Land Value 77 v. Board of Trustees of the California State University (2011) 193 Cal. App. 4th 675, 679-680. Traffic analysis that failed to analyze impacts caused by eliminating parking was held inadequate; Sacramento Old City Assn. v. City Council of Sacramento (1991) 229 Cal. App. 3d 1011, 1028. Also, “Traffic and parking have the potential…of causing serious environmental problems”; Sacramento Old City. Loss of street parking “indicated that a finding of significant environmental effect was mandatory,” Friends of “B” Street v. City of Hayward (1980) 106 Cal. App. 3rd 988, 1003.

The Project relies heavily on MTA’s unsubstantiated assertion that the loss of at least 167 street parking spaces will have no environmental impact. No factual basis is stated for this conclusory assertion---just the “experience of San Francisco transportation planners…” 

MTA claims that removing parking has no impact because, in response to fewer spaces, fewer people drive. But this claim is belied by MTA’s actions throughout San Francisco in adding parking meters, expanding payment hours, imposing payment on Sundays, and increasing prices and fines, all in the name of demand management because they say demand is too great and there is a shortage of parking.

Removing such a large number of parking spaces will create a personal hardship for many people, will increase congestion, and will have an adverse environmental impact.

Emergency Response. In an emergency, one minute of additional response time can literally be the difference between life and death. The congestion described above will slow down emergency vehicles, especially when buses are present. The bus boarding platforms will present obstacles. The five-foot wide median strip will make it impossible for emergency vehicles to drive on the opposite side of the street, as they sometimes do now for brief but critical moments, and harder to execute fast left turns.

I requested from the San Francisco Fire Department all documents reflecting analyses, investigations, reports, etc. of the impact of the Masonic project on firefighting and other emergency response. The response I received indicates that the Fire Department didn’t do any analysis of the impact of the Project on firefighting and other emergency response, at least none that was memorialized in writing. It is quite likely that the Fire Department was under intense political pressure not to analyze the Project and not to raise any objections. Many firefighters stationed in the area were not even aware of the Project until they were notified by residents opposed to it.

Lack of Fair Notice and Outreach. I never received notice from MTA (nor from the Planning Department or any other City department or agency) about the Project---no notice of community workshops or any MTA Board meetings or hearings, or of any other meetings. I learned of the MTA Board’s approval from SF Gate, after it happened. I’ve spoken with dozens of people in my neighborhood, and almost none of them (and, on my block, literally nobody with whom I’ve spoken) received notice. Yet MTA claims the Project has “overwhelming community support.” At a meeting at City Hall on March 13, 2013 with Ahmad El-Najjar (Supervisor Breed’s Legislative Aide), James Shahamiri (an MTA engineer working on the Project), and a group of neighborhood residents opposed to the project, Mr. Shahamiri went so far as to claim that notice and outreach to the neighborhood not only were extensive and fair, but were the “gold standard” for MTA projects. His statement shocked those of us present, most or all of whom received no notice.

In fact, however, MTA outreach and notice were deficient, and skewed heavily toward supporters and likely supporters. Documents received in response to a Sunshine request confirm that MTA coordinated with the SF Bicycle Coalition, Fix Masonic and other supporters in conducting outreach. One of the only people I know in my neighborhood who received notice is a member of the SF Bicycle Coalition and a strong supporter of the Project.

If it truly believes the Project has “overwhelming community support,” MTA should agree to a nonbinding, advisory vote (with one person-one vote, and voting to be conducted by an independent third-party) by notifying all residents, in writing, within a specified area of Masonic about the Project and giving them an opportunity to vote on it. There is precedent for such a vote---in 2004 the Department of Parking and Traffic (MTA’s predecessor) held a vote about the Page Street traffic circles. Residents opposed that project 77% to 23%. Yet MTA has refused to allow even a nonbinding, advisory vote.

It is wrong and undemocratic for a major project that will affect the daily lives of thousands of people for decades to come to be imposed without fair notice to those people and without providing them a meaningful opportunity to be heard before decisions are made. MTA’s actions foster cynicism, distrust and alienation from government. By disapproving funding for a project developed and promoted in such an undemocratic way, you would be sending an important message about open government. The converse is also true.

A Poorly Conceived Experiment. The Project would involve a raised, sloped concrete cycle track, above street level and below sidewalk level, a type of design never before used in San Francisco or any comparable American city. In response to inquiries about use of this design in other cities, MTA staff provided a photo of a raised cycle track in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. This photo is attached to this e-mail. As you can see, the photo is of a suburban style area with shopping malls, few driveways, a sidewalk devoid of pedestrians, and a raised concrete structure high above the sidewalk---nothing at all like Masonic. The fact that this is the closest example MTA could find indicates just how experimental and inappropriate a raised cycle track design would be for Masonic.

Alternatives. $21 million is a huge amount of taxpayer money to spend on a project that has not been adequately analyzed and will have so many harmful consequences. Many of the collisions on Masonic occurred at night; lighting along Masonic should be improved. Some cars ran into fixed objects; this can be mitigated by redesigning and/or moving street furniture and signal poles. MTA should analyze whether left turns off of Masonic should be further restricted, especially at Turk, and should consider how to improve traffic signal timing and configuration.

One of the two fatalities frequently cited in support of redesigning Masonic was caused by a drunk driver; the Project will not prevent deaths and injuries caused by drunk driving. (Supervisor Mar and some other proponents of the Project claim there have been seven deaths, but some of the other five were not on Masonic and the others were on Masonic North of the Project area; these fatalities would not have been prevented by the Project. Promoting such an inflated figure is disingenuous fear mongering, especially when done repeatedly.) It also must be recognized that many of the collisions were the fault of the pedestrian or cyclist, and that collisions will occur when people act carelessly, especially on a major thoroughfare. For example, the Project would not have prevented the tragic death of the pedestrian who jaywalked across from the Trader Joe’s, well North of the Project area. This is not to argue that Masonic can’t and shouldn’t be improved, but to recognize that there is a limit to what can be accomplished by street and traffic design.

Many of the bus stops on Masonic need new shelters. The street surface is in terrible shape and desperately needs fixing. Many of the corners in the Project area have steep, dangerous curb ramps that are in poor condition, lack textured domed warning surfaces, and are only on one side of a corner, forcing disabled pedestrians into the street. I, and perhaps others, requested new, legally required curb ramps at these intersections years ago. All of these improvements should be made ASAP, and they can all be done without implementing the Project and without spending anywhere near $21 million.

Please don’t experiment with our neighborhood and our daily lives. In 2003/2004, MTA’s predecessor DPT installed traffic circles along Page Street without thoroughly analyzing the particular conditions and without fair notice to the people affected. DPT engineers insisted, and insisted again and again, that these would calm traffic, but the opposite happened. Fortunately, the traffic circles were temporary, inexpensive and easy to remove. But with the Masonic Project, the collateral damage from the trial and error method won’t be so easy to reverse. 

Thank you for considering this e-mail.

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