Monday, January 31, 2011

City Completes Final Masonic Report, Proposes Bold Changes to Reduce Risks and Increase Neighborhood Livability

Final report contains images of each block with proposed new features
(note: the directional arrow should indicate right-to-left for North)

A possible re-design of Masonic Avenue for safer use by everyone took a significant step forward last week when city planners completed the final report for the corridor. The account follows a six-month community planning process that included three public meetings attended by more than 200 Masonic area residents. Participants evaluated various options for a better Masonic and narrowed their preference to one dubbed the Boulevard as the best value for a complete set of traffic calming improvements. Features of the proposal include a landscaped median, bus bulb-outs, 200 new street trees, a new plaza at Geary, and separated bike lanes. City planners previously described the Boulevard option as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Mark Christiansen, a former Masonic resident and founder of the grassroots group Fix Masonic, has worked on getting a better, safer street since 2003. He dreamed of a green median the length of the corridor with no speeding. Back then, he decided, “That’s never gonna happen.” When Christiansen sold his house a few years ago, he told potential buyers that the neighborhood was one of the safest in the city – “except if you try to navigate that street!” His daily experience of going out onto Masonic motivated him to seek changes. “Every time I thought, ‘It doesn’t have to be like this.’”

Christiansen concluded at the time that Masonic had all the design features that promote speeding and risky street use:
  • Lanes that merge mid-block
  • Wide intersections
  • Tow-away zones along the curb that open the street even wider
  • Blind turns against uphill traffic
  • A posted bike route with no striped bicycle lanes
He foresees a “quieter, calmer Masonic” if the Boulevard proposal is implemented. “I think it may be an amazing change. We’ve seen other streets in this city take on a completely different feel after being revamped. We know from the plans we see that it will happen here.”

Safety has been a primary concern for many Masonic residents. One father of two young sons told BIKE NOPA last summer that he never allowed his boys to play or stay on the sidewalk outside their residence. When they walked out the front door, he immediately ushered them into the family car. Several months earlier his Cherokee Jeep was parked in front of the house on Masonic. A speeding driver struck it with enough force to push it more than 100 feet into the intersection. Another resident said a motorist struck her car while she was nearing her home at Golden Gate and Masonic. The car was totaled; she was fortunate to have sustained few physical injuries. That collision occurred just one week before Yannick Linke was allegedly struck and killed by a motorist at Masonic and Turk.

The 63-page Masonic report details the process used by city planners* to reduce the street’s traffic risks and transform the corridor into a more livable space. They considered various design options that would help the city meet numerous local, state, and federal standards for “complete streets” that serve all users and enhance community life. The goals and objectives of the process were ambitious and appear to reflect residents’ complaints about the current street design:
  • Improve transit
  • Enhance pedestrian access to transit
  • Make crosswalks safer for pedestrians
  • Increase compliance by motorists of rules and regulations
  • Reduce the number of vehicular collisions, especially with pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Increase quality-of-life features to make Masonic more inviting and accommodating
Leah Shahum, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, believes the new Masonic proposal is one that community members and city staff “should feel really proud of.”
“It prioritizes neighborhood safety, livability, and mobility. Thanks to these efforts, families will be able to move around more safely and enjoy their neighborhood more fully. This is a good example of the community speaking up for better streets and the City listening and responding.”
The next steps for the Masonic proposal involve ensuring that it meets environmental requirements, conducting a public hearing, and presenting the recommended design to the SFMTA Board of Directors. Staff will also seek funding and complete the project design. Javad Mirabdal, SFMTA Project Manager for the Masonic study, said “all the next steps will move forward at the same time.” The most optimistic estimate for taking the proposal to a public hearing is by the end of June this year. (The SFMTA will provide a two-week notice prior to the public hearing).

Even those who have followed Masonic developments closely will find the report enlightening. One new feature is a detailed illustration of the traffic calming measures for each block of Masonic between Fell and Geary. Individual addresses are noted along with location of new street trees, new sidewalk landscaping, bulb-outs, and separated bicycle lanes. (See pages 41-48 of report).

* The Masonic Avenue Street Design Study is an undertaking of the San Francisco Planning Department, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), and the San Francisco Department of Public Works.

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


  1. Thank you very much for keeping us posted on this plan's development. The boulevard proposal looks great. The only imperfection is in the block between Hayes and Fell (especially in the southbound direction). As proposed, cycling in a southerly direction in that block would be pretty intimidating (especially for kids). Rather than the bike lane (or cycletrack) being on the right edge of the street it's in the midst of traffic lanes. Since this section of the Masonic bicycle infrastructure might very well be the most used (since it's the connection to the Panhandle paths and because it is flat), a better design would be preferable. (But by no means do I wish to have the process of improving Masonic for all users slowed down.)

  2. Sprague: Thanks for your comments. I will alert SFMTA with your suggestion and you can do so directly for this or other ideas: send to .

  3. To add my two cents to Sprague's comment: The bus transition from the bulb out at masonic and hayes has the bus crossing the two right hand turn lanes, AND the bike lane in order to use the lanes that go straight through the panhandle to the Haight. Right now the bus stop in front of John Adams allows the bus to use the intersection of Hayes and Masonic to make that transition, but under the plan, the bus stop moves to the other side of Hayes. Moving the bus stop to the other side of Hayes will force the bus to make a much more drastic move in a much shorter space, at the same time that traffic will be lining up for those right hand turns onto Fell. It will be difficult under normal conditions, but during the morning and evening commutes, this will be a huge mess.

  4. Thanks for catching that Grape. The SF Better Streets Plan expressly calls for removing -- or at least not re-striping -- double turn lanes since they are so dangerous for pedestrians. So, I'm not sure how that slipped the city staff's radar.

    The SF Bicycle Coalition will be bringing this minor tweak up to staff and maybe we can use that extra roadspace for a buffer to guide southbound cyclists easily through the intersection.

    This is exactly why it's great to have this document accessible to the public -- so they can help catch minor oversights!

  5. I have concerns about the bike lanes channeled behind the bus stop. As a daily rider on Duboce/Church, it's evident that disembarking MUNI passengers rarely look to see if there is bike cross traffic. Same with rushing-to-catch-the-bus people.
    I don't have a solution to provide, but I think this design will put cyclists (many who will be coming down hill at high speed)and transit riders at odds.

  6. I noticed that neither design proposed a 2-way, Class I bike path along one side of Masonic or the other. Seems like the street is plenty wide. Why not?

  7. Thanks for keeping us posted. I have a question about bus bulbs. If a bus stops at one then there is only one lane of traffic moving. And if someone is turning left there are no lanes moving. Why aren't the buses given a turn-out so traffic can move around them. Frustrated drivers drive fast and get angry and take it out on cyclists.

  8. The bus bulbs ensure that buses can get moving again, after picking up or dropping off passengers, without further delay. This is good for the riders (since they enjoy faster service), good for the transit agency and the taxpayer (since it's most cost effective to minimize time operators and buses idle) and good for automobile drivers (since faster public transit makes taking the bus a more attractive way of getting around thereby enticing some car drivers to take the bus instead, resulting in less congested roads). Improvements to transit service, like bus bulbs and bus lanes, enable transit to operate quicker. And with faster, more attractive transit, everyone benefits (even drivers) with improved air quality, less noise pollution, safer streets and less congestion. The occasional small sacrifice of being delayed behind a stopped bus is a small price for drivers to pay for the great benefits they're receiving of having others ride transit.

    Michael: Thank you for providing the contact info for the MTA and thank you again for doing so much to make the NOPA neighborhood and surroundings a more enjoyable, safer and more sustainable place to live and work.

  9. Yelapa Rob: Javad Mirabdal, Masonic project manager, offers this explanation in response to your inquiry re: 2-way bike lanes along one side of Masonic or another:

    "We would consider two-way paths along the bay or other waterfronts where intersections are minimized. The more intersections there are, the less desirable a two-way path would be.

    I think we would be hesitant to install 2-way on-street bicycle paths in San Francisco because they place bicycles in an unexpected place, leading to confusion and potential safety issues. The easiest way to mitigate these issues would be to provide signal phase separation for all movements at intersections, but this leads to a whole host of other issues, such as cost and delay."

  10. "...just one week before Yannick Linke was allegedly struck and killed by a motorist..."

    I think that is overdoing "allegedly" just a bit. There is no doubt he was struck and killed by a motorist.

    It is "alleged" that it was a specific motorist, that the motorist was intoxicated and that the motorist left the scene, but not that he was hit and died.

  11. TBC Curmudgeon: Fair enough. I had trouble with that description too, and your point is well taken.