Friday, April 2, 2010

Fell/Arco Plan Delayed for Further Study; MTA to Consider Mitigating Measures

Signing in at MTA Parking Hearing Friday morning

MTA plan would remove two parking spaces between driveways among others

Current traffic design allows blocked traffic lane, bike lane, and sidewalk

The dangerous traffic tangle on Fell Street near the Arco service station will receive further study by order of an SFMTA Hearing Officer this morning. City traffic engineers had proposed a set of traffic safety measures for the block between Scott and Divisadero including the removal of six parking spaces to establish a curbside queue for motorists awaiting entry to the gas station. SFMTA anticipated that the trial measures would keep the far left traffic lane open to motorists rather than blocking passage as now happens while drivers line-up for Arco. The MTA proposal is also meant to direct motorists safely into the queue and not endanger bicyclists using the busy Fell Street bike lane. This morning's decision does not derail the proposal; instead it requires further analysis and possible adjustments to the plan.

Prior to this morning's hearing, MTA officials received forty-one letters of support* for the trial plan and no indications of opposition. The only public meeting to consider the plan was held last month by the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA). None of the 60 members in attendance objected to the measures, and the audience applauded at the conclusion of the MTA presentation. The NOPNA board later voted to support the plan and notified the MTA of its decision.

At the hearing 12 individuals spoke in favor of the plan and five registered their opposition. Janel Wong, a mother of two, told BIKE NOPA she was concerned for everyone's safety. "Something needs to be done for bicyclists and for drivers," she said. "I want my kids to be able to bike safely in the city." Kate Bowman lives in the Richmond; she uses Fell Street everyday. "It's real scary to deal with very fast traffic, opening car doors, and the blocked bike lane all in one block." Lynne Howe argued that safety must take precedence over parking convenience. "It's hazardous now in the traffic lane and in the bike lane and on the sidewalk." She asserted what several other speakers repeated, "Parking is not a right and safety is." Peter Pagnucco, a Scott Street resident, described the block of Fell as "probably the most dangerous in the city for cyclists."

Fell Street neighbors opposed to the MTA plan objected to removing on-street parking from a neighborhood that already has very little, but three of the five emphasized the inconvenience or danger they feared from such a plan. Valerie Hartwell owns property just east of Arco. She told BIKE NOPA that she already had problems using her driveway. "I wait 20 minutes now to get into my driveway; it's too difficult to get into into my driveway." One of her neighbors, whose name we wear unable to hear, stated that removing the six spaces would make it "impossible for anyone coming home late at night to find parking." Another nearby resident said her handicapped sister who lived with her could not walk long distances to reach her car. She added that "no one can afford to pay the parking meters across the street," and there was no residential parking zone to preserve spaces for neighbors. Dennis Breen, a Fell Street property owner, thought the proposal accommodated "the greed of one corporation." He thought the situation could be handled by enforcement: with motorists getting ticketed for blocking the traffic lane.

Following the testimony, Hearing Officer John Newlin said he was well aware of the traffic problems caused by Arco, an operation that "lacks control of its customers." (Several years ago Newman served as Captain of SFPD Park Station). However, he said he was not convinced that mitigating measures could not be undertaken to address the concerns raised in testimony.

Newlin slated the proposal for a continuance to allow MTA staff to consider five mitigations and perhaps others. Those he cited were:
  • a time limit for the no-parking period rather than 24/7 status
  • implementation of a Residential Parking Permit (RPP) area for that block
  • more outreach to Arco operators and management to engage them in a solution
  • elimination of the parking meters on the north side of Fell near Divisadero
  • closing access to Arco from Fell altogether and permitting the Divisadero access only
Once the meeting concluded, James Shahamiri, the MTA Traffic Engineer who is taking the lead on the proposal, said he preferred not to discuss the outcome at that time. He did allow, however, that with most proposed changes in traffic design "speed bumps happen along the way." Residents and other interested parties will be notified of the next hearing for the plan.


  1. Hi Mike! Thanks so much for keeping those of us who could not attend the meeting up-to-date on its outcome. It's a little disappointing to hear that the proposal was delayed, but at least it had strong support! It is frustrating to keep hearing "parking limitations" as a reason for not making our streets safer and more livable (although I can sympathize with someone not being able to enter their own garage or lack of access to handicap parking spaces).

  2. For the record, the Hearing Officer's name is John Newlin.

  3. Thanks, Doug, I hate messing up names! now corrected. Newlin is also a former executive director of the Department of Parking and Traffic.

  4. Great article, thanks for the update!

    Is this true or merely the opponents opinion?

    "a neighborhood that already has very little (parking)"

    I think it is opinion.