Monday, September 14, 2009

SFMTA Outreach on SFgo: Difficult to Do Less

SFMTA likely fulfilled the minimum requirement for informing the public of its intent to install "variable message sign displays" along the Fell and Oak corridor. If the requirement allows obscure descriptions that fail to adequately advise the public (and gives them little reason to attend hearings), then SFMTA's public notices cannot be faulted on content.

From the sidewalk on Fell street looking up at the towering signpost that arches over the street, "variable message sign displays" reads a bit differently. Let's be more clear. These displays are the planned 5 ft high by 9 ft wide LED yellow light signs that will be perched 17.5 feet above ground for a total height of 22.5 feet. Power boxes will be installed behind the LED panel. And as the photo indicates, the new displays are part of "freeway-style" standards erected on the sidewalk along Oak and Fell just west of Divisadero.

The limited description SFMTA used for the freeway-style signs is important because these were the words used in the public notices posted near the Fell and Oak SFgo locations. Perhaps NOPA and Alamo Square neighbors might have attended the the public hearing convened by the Director of the Dept. of Parking and Traffic on January 30, 2009 if the notices actually described what was planned. (First they would have had to notice the 8.5" x 14" public notices posted on a few sites on Fell and Oak for these sufficed for "outreach" to the neighborhoods).

But even if neighbors had attended the January hearing, they would have read in the agenda that the "variable message sign displays" were intended for a "parking guidance system project" on seven streets including Fell and Oak. Today SFMTA staff present the project as "traffic management" or "traffic calming" measures. Are they talking about SFgo or SFpark or something else? It's difficult for neighbors to be clear on the concept with such obscure, limited, and conflicting descriptions. (The SFMTA Board of Directors also held a hearing on January 6, 2009, but notices and descriptions for the public were similar to those for the later hearing).

About six years ago, the Dept. of Parking and Traffic conducted some real public outreach about SFgo with a specially convened meeting attended by representatives of various neighborhood organizations. The program was explained, its merits were described, and the audience provided its feedback. Michael Smithwick, long-time Alamo Square resident and chair of the Transportation Committee of the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association, attended the focus group session with DPT. "Most in the group gave it a big thumbs down," he recalls. And he was more than a little surprised by the DPT publication following the session that described the wide support from neighborhood reps.

SFMTA and SFgo did not initiate the public discussion planned for this upcoming Thursday as part of the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA) meeting, but neighbors will now have the opportunity for the discussion that many feel should have occurred before the signs were erected.

Now that we know what "variable message sign displays" would actualy look like in our neighborhood, let's consider with SFgo whether NOPA and Alamo Square are a good fit for the program.

Note the new location for the NOPNA meeting:
Poleng Lounge, 1751 Fulton, between Central and Masonic, across from Lucky's.
The #5 Fulton stops 1/2 block away from Poleng.
Be creative for bike parking (the lack thereof is not SFMTA's fault).
7 pm meet and greet; 7:30 pm meeting starts.
Everyone welcome and Poleng is always a treat.

Blog note: Tomorrow's post will be "Ten Questions for SFgo" (no time for more writing tonight).

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