Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Beyond NOPA: SFgo Signs Across the City; Mirkarimi Worked to Get Fell Sign Placed

NOPA and Alamo Square aren't the only neighborhoods slated to get SFgo signs.
Franklin and Gough are next in line for the freeway-style SFgo standards and LED message displays, according to Cathal Hennessy, deputy manager of the traffic management program of the Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA). During last week's North Panhandle neighborhood meeting, Hennessy told the audience that the signs currently operating in SOMA as well as the not-yet-operational Fell and Oak signs are simply the "first installment."

"In time, yes, there will be other streets," Hennessy responded to an inquiry from the audience. "We're barely ten years into the project. Next to get fiber and signs are Franklin and Gough." The SFgo rep was referring to the underground fiber optics that link upgraded traffic signals and new above-ground traffic cameras with a traffic communication center. Asked whether Pine and Bush would also get signs, he replied, "We already have fiber on Bush."

SFgo signs are already up and operating in SOMA at four locations: on 9th near Howard, on 10th at Mission, on the Embarcadero just south of Mission, and on King east of 2nd. In an email to a NOPA neighbor, SFgo director Cheryl Liu wrote, "The signs in SOMA have been well-received."

Also from the NOPNA meeting:

The money game. The city's current infrastructure (signal lights, traffic cameras) date from the 1950s. Jack Fleck, San Francisco traffic engineer, explained the financial aspect of the SFgo program: "To get federal funding for transit and other projects, we have to use cutting-edge technology, not our 1950s system." He added, "SFgo allows us to apply for funding; it helps us get in the money game." Current funding for SFgo comes from Prop K, the ballot measure approved by city voters in 2003 to fund transportation improvements.


Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi's office helped get the SFgo sign placed on Fell Street. Vallie Brown, an aide to Mirkarimi, told the audience at last week's North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA) meeting, that the District 5 supervisor has been working with Inner Richmond, Inner Sunset, and Haight residents since 2006 to address the impact of motorists seeking on-street parking when the underground garage at the Golden Gate Park Concourse is full. "The motorists seeking parking in the neighborhoods - when the garage is full - causes safety hazards because drivers are not paying attention as they drive the streets," Brown said. She referred to the 2006 Concourse Traffic Calming Plan that detailed neighbors' request for one sign on Fell and another on 19th Street.

Fell at Masonic was the first choice for an SFgo sign to alert museum visitors with a "garage is full" message, according to Brown, but the neighbors later decided it should be placed in NOPA at Divisadero because "that's where the bottlenecking starts."

Brown said Mirkarimi convened a town hall meeting four months ago. "They discussed having one electric sign close to Divisadero, but the only messages could be the garage is full and safety messages like 'watch for bikes' and 'watch for pedestrians.'" Brown concluded, "Our office has been working on that basis since 2006." In response to criticism about the signs at the NOPNA meeting, Brown said other locations for the Fell sign might be possible but "a huge number of neighbors have worked on this for several years."
While Supervisor Mirkarimi's office worked closely with his westernmost constituency on this issue, his staff apparently neglected to inform his NOPA and Alamo Square constituents about plans for the SFgo sign in their neighborhood. Neither NOPNA nor the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association (ASNA) were notified by Mirkarimi's office, according to NOPNA president Kevin Rafter and ASNA Transportation Committee Chair Michael Smithwick. MTA also did not inform the two associations; instead, as required, notices of a hearing were posted near the new signs, but the obscure description -- "variable message displays" -- hardly informed residents of the actual structures proposed.

As noted in our previous post, a solution to this traffic calming conflict was proposed at the NOPNA meeting. Inner Richmond, Inner Sunset, Haight, NOPA, and Alamo Square residents might all support a display sign if the standard were placed at the end of the Central Freeway to alert museum visitors of the status of the garage in Golden Gate Park. ASNA's Michael Smithwick suggested the freeway sign was not only more appropriate at the freeway but that location is where the information would be most helpful to motorists on their way to the park.

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