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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