Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Funds Approved for Masonic Avenue Environmental Review

This morning the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) Board approved funding for an environmental review of the Masonic Streetscape Improvement Project. None of the board members expressed hesitation or concern with the proposal to transform Masonic with a "Complete Streets" re-design, including a landscaped median and landscaped sidewalks, bus bulbouts, and a pair of raised, separate bike lanes.

A few audience members -- including Andy Thornley of the SF Bicycle Coalition -- were ready to testify to the merits of the proposal and affirm the extensive public outreach that accompanied the project design process, but none seemed necessary. None of the board members commented on the project and no audience members expressed opposition. Although he raised concerns a week earlier -- possibly due to a lack of briefing about the project -- Supervisor Scott Weiner supported the project this morning. He responded by email to BIKE NOPA yesterday afternoon, writing that he that he thought Masonic was "a good project."

As a result of today's vote, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) will receive $41,000 to oversee and fund the environmental review which will mostly be conducted by the city's Planning Department. The study will be underway for six months, according to SFMTA staff. In June 2012 staff expect the proposal to be submitted to the SFMTA Board of Commissioners with a recommendation for approval.

For more stories about the Masonic project, check here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

County Transportation Authority Board To Consider Funds for Masonic Project

Masonic residents favor a safer, more user-friendly corridor for all
Photo: Michael Helquist

The re-design of Masonic Avenue could move one step closer to implementation Tuesday morning depending on the vote of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA). The Authority's board will consider approving $41,000 of Prop K funds for an environmental review study for the Masonic Streetscape Improvement Project. The board will consider the proposal without a recommendation for action from a committee that reviewed the measure earlier. (The full San Francisco Board of Supervisors serve as the SFCTA Board).

Last week two members of the SFCTA Plans and Programs Committee -- Supervisors Scott Weiner and Carmen Chu -- expressed considerable concern about the removal of parking from Masonic as part of the design plan. They also questioned whether the public had been adequately notified of the project and whether the public was engaged in the planning process. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi assured them of the comprehensive outreach undertaken, but the two supervisors apparently remained unconvinced and the committee sent the funding request to the full Authority board without recommendation.

Questioning whether the public has been adequately informed can be a legitimate inquiry from someone unfamiliar with developments for a major transportation corridor. Or it can be a knee-jerk reaction to any alteration to public use of public space, especially when parking is involved. For the Masonic improvements, the record of public outreach and notification is so overwhelming that the full Board has little reason to repeat the hesitations of a few committee members.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) conducted one of the most thorough outreach efforts to date to engage the public with plans to make Masonic better and safer for all users. The MTA convened three community meetings over several months with attendance reaching more than 100 for the third one. Participants reviewed every facet of four different designs, refining some and rejecting others. For each meeting Masonic residents and those on nearby blocks were contact door-by-door. For the last meeting the MTA also mailed notices to more than 1400 Masonic households and to those who reside one block away.

The previous Masonic project manager, Javad Mirabdal, now retired, met personally with each of the nearby neighborhood associations to discuss the project. Members from the Ewing Terrace, University Terrace, Anza Vista, and North of the Panhandle groups all discussed with him the impact of design changes -- including removal of parking.

The neighborhood associations also got the word out. The North Panhandle's NOPNA distributes its newsletter to the more than 3500 households located between Masonic and Divisadero, Turk and Fell. Several issues provided updates on the Masonic proposals. Advocacy organizations like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition with 12,000 members, WalkSF, Fix Masonic and others repeatedly informed its membership of the design options.

Various websites tracked each development of the Masonic plan, including Streetsblog and BIKE NOPA. This site alone published more than a dozen articles about the planning process -- as well as covering the pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities that occurred on Masonic in the last two years.

In addition to neighborhood associations, the Masonic plan received a vote of support from the San Francisco Day School, located at Masonic and Golden Gate, and the Blood Centers of the Pacific at Masonic and Turk.

The degree of public engagement with the Masonic proposal has been remarkable and a testament to the public's desire for safer, traffic-calmed, user-friendly thoroughfares. The SFCTA staff has recommended approval of the funding request and has submitted a full accounting of public outreach at tomorrow's meeting. The argument for approval is persuasive.

San Francisco County Transportation Authority
Tuesday, 11 am
City Hall, Room 250

Check here for the series of articles on A Better Masonic.

Correction: The earlier version of this story mistakenly listed Supervisor Jane Kim as one of the committee members who voiced concerns about the Masonic Project. My apologies to Supervisor Kim.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's Gone At Last: Lyon Street Eyesore Removed after 3+ Years

The NE corner of Lyon and Golden Gate hasn't been clear like this for a very long time

Just after the morning downpour, the scaffolding was dismantled

New and nearly completed emergency exits on Golden Gate side of building

All this structure for a fire escape the last three years

At the end of the day it was simple: remove the ungainly, ill-suited scaffolding eyesore and replace it with standard regulation fire escapes. For NOPA neighbors it was the blight that wouldn't go away. Until today. Now at last the Lyon and Golden Gate corner is clear of the obstruction. The sidewalk is safer for pedestrians, two spaces are open for street parking, and, most importantly, the apartment building residents have a safer exit from the building should a fire strike.

BIKE NOPA has been covering this story for more than a year, beginning with a post in January of 2010. Three more followed to urge a resolution and mobilize neighbors who had really had enough of what came to represent frustrations with the city's permit approval process and, apparently, reluctance of the owner to foot the bill and do the right thing.

Sometimes a more livable street comes about from what's removed, not what's added. Time for a celebration all around.