Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pedestrians Deserve A Better Masonic: Look What They Have Now

Pedestrians must cross several lanes of traffic on Masonic today

Crossing Masonic can be better than this

Critics of street design changes like those recommended for Masonic Avenue often charge that the proposals punish motorists or favor bicyclists. They fail to recognize that the “Complete Streets” standard established by local, state, and federal agencies addresses the needs of all users of a thoroughfare. The Boulevard option preferred by a majority of Masonic area residents is a good example of changes intended to benefit everyone, whatever means of transportation an individual chooses. But since public discussions often focus on people who drive or bike, this article considers people who walk at least some of the time.

In the final report of the Masonic Avenue Street Redesign Study, city planners describe the pedestrian experience. Most blocks between Fell and Geary offer an expansive 22 foot width, but the “pedestrian experience is degraded by wide crossings across multiple lanes of motor traffic” on Masonic and on east-west cross streets. With the frequency of speeding on the corridor, pedestrians must judge the time needed for crossing as well as determine whether approaching drivers are slowing to a stop. There are no medians to give them safe refuge part-way.

People with physical challenges find 29 corners along Masonic without any curb ramps or with sub-standard centered curb ramps. Few benches or any kind of outdoor seating exist along the corridor. Anyone strolling in the evening – although it’s difficult to imagine anyone choosing to stroll along Masonic – takes place under the glare of tall, cobra-head lighting designed to illuminate the roadway.

With so few amenities for pedestrians, it’s surprising that Masonic has such high volumes of people walking and crossing the street. According to the Masonic report, a recent count of pedestrians found an average of 1,013 people at the Masonic and Fulton intersection between 5-7pm. The next highest volume was at Masonic and Geary with 938 people.

The number of collisions on Masonic involving motorists and pedestrians is high enough for concern and adoption of risk-reduction measures. Between 2004 and 2009, 12 collisions involving motorists and pedestrians were recorded. These aren't the highest collision statistics for pedestrians in San Francisco, but the livability of city streets is not determined solely by the numbers of injuries or deaths. The perception of risk takes its own toll. As mentioned in yesterday’s article about the Masonic study, a father of two young sons thought even the sidewalk outside their residence on Masonic was to too risky for his kids. A neighbor on Golden Gate at Central told BIKE NOPA a few months ago that he chose to drive the three blocks to the USF gym rather than risk crossing Masonic on foot. For these neighbors, the danger posed by the corridor greatly diminishes their sense of the neighborhood’s livability.

More people will likely choose to walk along Masonic -- and enjoy it -- when the changes included in the Boulevard proposal are implemented. A landscaped median with street trees will run the length of Masonic between Fell and Geary and make crossing the street easier and safer. Removal of street parking and tow-away zones will increase visibility for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. Bulb-outs will make access to buses easier. Benches, landscaped sidewalks, and a mini-park at Geary and Masonic will make the street more attractive and user-friendly. And pedestrian-scale lighting will create a more pleasant experience for strollers.

The Boulevard plan will transform Masonic into a street that works for everyone. Motorists who keep to the speed limit will find a smooth, steady traffic flow on the corridor. Bicyclists will have a much safer route. Muni riders will get easier access. And people who walk will finally receive equal consideration with a Complete Streets design.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment