Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Better Masonic: MTA Can Act Now AND Later

Masonic and Turk: site of fatal collision August 13th

Risky riding without a separated bike lane

Removal of tow-away zones needed now

The tragic loss of the 21 year old bicyclist last Friday night has spurred already-restless advocates to call for what essentially would be a two-track planning and implementation approach to the Masonic corridor. Last week the SFMTA presented four options for Masonic traffic calming at a community meeting in a planning process expected to yield on-the-street changes in two to three years. Neighbors welcomed the stepped-up review and planning process, but many are stating the obvious: selected changes are needed now even while the full project moves forward. Several of these traffic modifications can be implemented without disrupting the eventual design and involve minimal-to-moderate expense.

With an ever-tight budget, city planners are reasonably reluctant to implement changes that involve hefty expenses and may need re-doing in the months ahead. And they must heed state standards for engineering modifications. But opportunities exist for the MTA to move forward without disrupting long-range planning or challenge current codes.

All four options that the MTA presented include two measures. One is to remove the tow-away zones from the several blocks of Masonic that act as third lanes during morning and evening commutes. MTA could do this now as a reasonable traffic calming measure that will bring safety and less confusion with the changing lane configurations. The four options also propose a bike lane, although different treatments are highlighted. One of these could be implemented now even if further study, neighborhood input, and public hearings later indicate a better configuration a year from now.

The changes to current conditions can be temporary and experimental with evaluation built into the plans. The city has recently side-stepped the logjam of multiple studies and hearings to give new ideas a try. Current successes include the several Pavement-to-Parks spaces, the parklets such as the popular seating area outside Mojo Bicycle Cafe on Divisadero, and the ongoing adjustments to the Fell street approach to Divisadero.

Re-timing the signals on Masonic to slow speeds is complicated by the two-way traffic and the differences in block length. An adjustment in one direction might not match the opposite flow of traffic as the blocks shift from shorter to longer. But SFMTA can take a closer look for re-timing signals for the series of blocks of similar length.

Other simple improvements involve striping. The crosswalks at Oak and Masonic have long needed new paint (or thermoplasty) for the risky crossing. Laddered stripes would make it even more visible. Several of the Masonic intersections need similar treatments. Advance stop lines can be added to the intersections to keep motorists from pushing into the crosswalks. The long-promised upgrading of the bike light at the Fell and Masonic could be implemented to be more visible but less confusing to left-turning drivers.

An array of other traffic calming measures are available to city engineers and planners including several that fit the temporary-and-experimental category. What's needed is a commitment to a complementary set of interventions: the long-term process underway and short-term experiments to inform the eventual larger project. The recommendation here is to undertake a bold review of all possible immediate changes that keep traffic flowing while improving safety for all road users.

This morning the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition announced its endorsement of the MTA's Option C with a message titled "Masonic Avenue Must Be Fixed NOW" sent to its 11,000 members. Option C involves a separated bikeway or cycletrack, removal of parking on Masonic, and a landscaped median to accompany four lanes of traffic. The SFBC post states, "We will be pushing the City to install temporary improvements to create a safe and comfortable space for people bicycling, while the community planning process on the overall redesign continues."

Neighbors and advocates can encourage immediate changes as well as the long-term process by contacting elected officials, including the Mayor and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi (already a strong supporter for Masonic changes), SFMTA executive director Nat Ford, and Masonic Traffic Calming Project Manager, Javad Mirabdal. Joining and supporting SFBC and the grassroots FIX Masonic spurs the momentum for a safer Masonic.

For other articles in the A Better Masonic series, check here.


  1. Everyone, this is a tragic incident. I hope the drunk driver receives the appropriate punishment so as to send the correct message to other reckless drives. Condolences and thoughts also to the family and friends of Nils Linke, who must be suffering so much.

    I'd like to add to the discussion a partial list of changes the SFMTA has made to Masonic Ave. While work on improving the street will continue with the planning and design process that started earlier this year, here's a list of changes the agency's made to the street in the past 5-6 years - this off the top of my head:

    - Lowered the speed limit from 30 to 25
    - Bikes Allowed Full Use of Lane signs installed
    - Yellpw ladder crosswalks at school crossings
    - Signal timing changes along the corridor (all-red added at Masonic and Turk in 2004, for instance)
    - Fell/Masonic signal modification for ped/bike safety
    - Removed double turn lane at Oak/Masonic
    - Clarified parking restrictions on SB Masonic at Fell to remove double turn lane during non-PM peak hours

  2. Thanks, Mike. Any urging for more action on Masonic is not meant to slight what MTA has already done -- all the measures you listed make the street much better than before. The tragedy prompts more urgency and before that there was, of course, pent-up need and demand while the bike injunction stalled improvements. We hope interim, experimental steps can be taken even while the well-thought-out community input and review process continues.