Friday, November 20, 2009

NOPA Meets: Yes on Sunday Streets, No on SFgo, Let's Talk on Fell/ARCO Tangle

A North Panhandle view: a balance to the streets talk at NOPNA meeting.

More than 60 NOPA neighbors gathered last night
to consider a range of livability and transportation issues. The bottom line on the hot agenda items:
  • enthusiastic support to bring next year's Sunday Streets celebration into the neighborhood
  • big thumbs down to the SFgo signs, both of the freeway-style signs on Fell and Oak
  • "not so sure with so many options" judgment on MTA's plans for the Fell/ARCO traffic mess
The November meeting of the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA) offered a packed agenda for members, visitors from the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association (ASNA), and reps from city agencies and various non-profits.

Deemed the big draw of the evening, Cheryl Brinkman of Livable City graciously awaited her last-on-the-agenda speaking slot. She told the audiience how much Sunday Streets organizers are looking forward to having a route through NOPA next year. Although it's too early to confirm actual streets and dates for the walk-bike-enjoy-the-streets celebration, Brinkman did confirm September was the month for the NOPA area ride. "Yours will get the best weather." A call for how much support exists for the proposal brought a round of applause.

The unpopular SFgo signs discussed extensively here already (search "SFgo") received little attention, but NOPNA Board President Kevin Rafter restated the association's stance. After confirming that the Oak Street sign will come down, he commented on the Fell sign. "NOPNA's position is that we should not have a sign there at all." Can't get much more clear than that.

Mike Sallaberry, Associate Traffic Engineer for the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) tackled the problems with Fell Street at the ARCO station. Sallaberry and his MTA colleague, traffic engineer James Shahamiri, distributed a two-page list of eight different options (with pros and cons for each!) for how to manage the often conflicting needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists at this busy spot. Sallaberry first developed these options more than two years ago -- an indication of MTA's awareness of the conflicts here on Fell. None of the eight options are clear and obvious standouts for implementation, but even in an imperfect traffic engineering world, choices must be made with the daily safety risks at the site.

Sallaberry emphasized two important considerations for any discussion of this block of Fell Street:
  • nearly every width on that block is already at its minimum, so there is no chance to narrow -- or widen -- a travel lane, a bike lane, a parking lane, or a sidewalk.
  • immediate implementation of several possible options must wait until after the court injunction against the Bicycle Plan is lifted.
He also noted, in a handout, that the long-term option might be "to encourage a different land use on that lot with a different (or no) driveway design." The other short-term possibilities include the three that received the most attention:
  • Remove three or more parking spaces in front of the ARCO driveway "to create a lane for ARCO-users to wait to the left of the bike lane". The pros: motorists would be more likely to wait outside the bike lane as well as the travel lane and it would be cheap and easy to install. The cons: residents may oppose and the parking lane would be more narrow than ideal for turn lanes and motorists would likely move into the bike lane to make the turn into ARCO.
  • Create a two-way bike lane along the curb by moving parked cars away from the curb by 5 feet, or, alternately, remove all parking on southside Fell and build a two-way bike path. Pros: cars would block the vehicle lane and not the bike path; cyclists might feel safer with this physical separation from moving vehicles; and a two-way path also improves the east-bound bike traffic, encouraging cyclists to use it rather than Oak Street. But the cons: two-way paths "have design and safety challenges" (the handout did not explain these further); parking changes would likely be opposed but might be mitigated by opening other nearby spaces; and motorists still might block the driveway at ARCO.
Michael Smithwick of ASNA strongly encouraged MTA to devise a plan that was equally sensitive to pedestrians and bicyclists. Smithwick's proposal was featured in this earlier post; it entails (a) a bike lane where it is now but with a permanent structure (a tree, a bike rack) right before the ARCO driveway blocking any passage by vehicles, and (b) flexible barriers separating bike and vehicle traffic. Motorists awaiting their turn at ARCO would have to remain in the travel lane. MTA suggests that the trouble with a proposal like this is that motorists might still block the driveway and barriers make it more difficult for cyclists to leave the lane when necessary.

Almost everyone agreed that signs advising motorists to do or not do something at this location would be ineffective. The deft phrasing of traffic engineer suggests, "The effect of signage on adusting behavior is limited."

Next steps: MTA reps will consider the input from the NOPNA meeting and then propose further discussion with "stakeholders" before settling on a final plan. The fact that MTA originally proposed bringing one proposal to the NOPNA meeting and then presented a review of eight without stating their own strong preference suggests that they clearly listened to the concerns and ideas put forward by NOPNA, ASNA, and SFBC. Marc Caswell, SFBC Program Manager and NOPA resident, is the Bike Coalition's point person on the Fell Street challenge. We look forward to updates from him and the MTA to move the Eight Options to One Solution.

For those readers who want even more detail, check here for a PDF of the full document of various options. Note: this is not an official MTA document and is not posted on the MTA web site. But, after distribution last night at the NOPNA meeting, it's now public. (And, it presents a good overall analysis).

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