Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Another Neighborhood Says No to SFgo: Hayes Valley agrees with NOPA and Alamo Square (But Will Consider More Modest Design)

SFgo sign standard formerly on Oak Street, now in storage

SFgo wants to erect signs on Gough and Franklin to direct drivers to parking garages

Hayes Valley neighbors want more of this, less of speeding motorists

Hayes Valley residents oppose placing "freeway-style" SFgo signs on Gough and Franklin Streets with arguments similar to those cited earlier by North Panhandle and Alamo Square residents. In an April 2nd letter to the Municipal Transportation Agency's (MTA) SFgo managers, the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association (HVNA) presented six objections to the proposed "changeable message signs":
  • the signs would cement Franklin and Gough as "one-way couplets moving cars swiftly" when the city's Market and Octavia plan as well as the Hayes community's vision for the streets includes greater shared spaces and possibly two-way traffic
  • the main purpose of the SFgo signs appears to be suggesting that parking will be easy in the neighborhood; HVNA prefers people not getting in their cars at all and instead walking, bicycling and using public transportation
  • the signs (with messages about parking) would be most relevant during events -- brief periods that do not justify placing permanent fixtures on local streets
  • the size and style of the signs "look like freeway signs meant to be viewed by motorists speeding at 45 mph or greater"
  • a parking sign for the Civic Center Garage should be placed closer to the Performing Arts Garage with a more modest and less imposing scale and design
  • rather than a single focus on parking availability, the signs should also advise motorists to slow down and recognize that people on foot and bike are using the streets
Jason Henderson, Chair of the HVNA Transportation and Planning Committee, drafted the letter to SFgo following a March presentation to the group by SFgo Assistant Manager Cathal Hennessey. Like the North Panhandle and Alamo Square neighborhood associations earlier this year, Henderson expressed his organization's support for the MTA's Integrated Transportation System (ITS) with upgrades to the city's traffic signal network by laying fiber optics underground. Nevertheless, he wrote, "I must inform you that HVNA overwhelmingly objects to the changeable messaging sign SFgo is proposing." He concluded, "We envision a longer term deployment of ITS that integrates transit first policies, cordon congestion pricing, and traffic calming rather than one that indirectly or unwittingly encourages driving."

SFgo managers undertook the March and April outreach to Hayes Valley residents, businesses, and arts organizations as a result of the project's experience in the NOPA and Alamo Square neighborhoods. Last August the freeway-style signs (without the message boards) were erected on Oak and Fell Streets near Divisadero with minimal notice to residents or to Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi's office. The sign standards met with immediate protests and a campaign to bring them down. Neighbors believed the signs gave a "freeway driving" message, negated the traffic-calming improvements underway on Divisadero, and would distract drivers more than inform them, thus creating more risk for people on foot and bicycles. The North Panhandle Neighborhood Association and the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association voted to oppose the SFgo signs and took their message to Mirkarimi's office and to MTA's Executive Director Nathaniel (Nat) P. Ford. In late February of this year SFgo removed the Oak and Fell signs. A street-level, portable message sign was proposed for Fell Street to direct drivers to Concourse Authority Garage in Golden Gate Park but to date nothing has come of the idea.

Cheryl Liu, SFgo Manager, told BIKE NOPA, "We learned about doing outreach, and we will go back to the Hayes Valley group with new options." She said SFgo was receiving design assistance from SFPark -- another MTA program -- and two sign variations will likely result. "One will be somewhat like the current ones in SOMA and another will be a smaller, lower sign for other areas." Liu was encouraged by the option that HVNA proposed: a lower standard placed on a bulbout without an arm reaching over the street.

Arts organizations in the Civic Center and Hayes Valley area are especially interested in SFgo signs, according to Liu. "They want the signs to display parking messages, giving motorists updates on the number of available spaces in nearby garages." But HVNA member Henderson said his group has something more in mind in addition to parking updates. "We do see some use for the variable message signs," he wrote in an email. "For example, signs that say "next time take transit" or "congestion is here everyday, please take transit" or bicyclists have right to full lane" and "watch for pedestrians." SFgo will present the new design to HVNA later this month. Henderson is taking a "wait and see" position, but Liu concluded, "It's likely the signs will happen."

After NOPA, Alamo Square, and now Hayes Valley, Liu said they're not looking to other neighborhoods, "We learned our lesson." Yet SFgo will consider erecting a sign to direct motorists to the Japantown garage, and the program hopes to place eleven message boards north and south of Market Streets.

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