Friday, March 5, 2010

2010 to be Good Year for Masonic Avenue: Traffic Calming, More Enforcement for Safe Driving

Southbound on Masonic Avenue at Fell Street

A collaboration to succeed? SFMTA, DPW, SFPD, SFBC, and Fix Masonic Renew Campaign

New initiatives this year promise to jump-start efforts to bring traffic calming and safer street use to Masonic Avenue. After nearly a year-long delay, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is about to implement comprehensive outreach to nearby residents and other interested parties in a redesign of Masonic from Fell to Geary Streets. In addition, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) has received a grant to help prepare for that community process. As reported earlier, SFPD Park Station for its part has stepped up enforcement to provide pedestrians and bicyclists with safer crosswalks, especially at Fell and Masonic Streets.

The SFMTA received a $120,000 grant from the SF County Transportation Authority last February for a "Masonic Avenue Traffic Calming Project." Although the project identified three specific goals -- to increase speed of Muni's 43 Masonic bus, improve safety conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists, and reduce collisions -- the undertaking was intended to include significant outreach to community members to discuss possible changes. "We want to take a comprehensive approach to Masonic with input from all stakeholders," Judson True, SFMTA spokesperson, told the Examiner at the time. The project was supposed to begin last April, but the operation was placed on hold due to staff changes, implementation of the Bicycle Plan once the bike injunction was partly lifted, and, perhaps, an overload of other SFMTA projects with inadequate staffing and management. Until now.

This month SFMTA is expected to announce staff to lead the Masonic project and a timeline for its implementation. To help the effort transition from low to high gear, the SFBC received a $15,000 short-term"Pedestrian Safety" grant from the Department of Public Health (DPH). SFBC Project Manager Marc Caswell will coordinate the effort for the SFBC, and the funds will cover a portion of his time along with initial outreach materials. Caswell wrote in an email that he expects his role will "continue laying the groundwork for change before the MTA comes in with their outreach." Caswell will also help recruit a new community leader for the grassroots group FIX Masonic, now that founder Mark Christiansen has relocated and undertaken new pursuits after several years of pivotal leadership.

Yesterday SFPD announced a year-long pedestrian safety program to reduce the number of injuries and deaths on city streets. A police traffic detail will work with a civilian crime prevention unit to to educate road and crosswalk users about safe passage measures and to enforce red light runners and drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. That program will begin in Chinatown. But SFPD Park Station has already initiated a series of pedestrian stings and citations for motorists who run red lights on Fell Street and make left turns on Masonic against the red turn signal. Captain Teresa Barrett reported that district officers have cited 21 motorists, and one bicyclist, for the traffic infractions at Fell and Masonic over the last two weeks. On Wednesday of this week Barrett met with SFBC's Caswell and SFPD Program Director Andy Thornley to increase their collaboration for safer streets in the district. After the meeting, Caswell confirmed that Capt. Barrett planned to continue the pedestrian stings and red light citations on Masonic and Fell.

University of California Berkeley students have also contributed to the planning for a better Masonic. With the direction of Elizabeth McDonald, PhD, Associate Professor of the Department of City and Regional Planning and Urban Design, students this semester have interviewed dozens of neighbors, community organizers, and city planners about how Masonic affects the daily lives of residents and users of Masonic Avenue. One of McDonald's previous and much-lauded projects was the redesign of Octavia Boulevard in San Francisco.

Later this month on March 18th SFMTA Traffic Engineer Jack Fleck will update neighbors on the agency's plans for the Masonic corridor, and other NOPA area issues, at the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association meeting (location info here). In addition to the Traffic Calming Project, other concerns are the much-discussed shield for the bike light at Fell and Masonic (intended to reduce confusion among motorists waiting for a green light when the bike light turns green for the crosswalk) and a timeline for installation of the red light camera on Fell at Masonic.

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