Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Boulevard...and You Can Too

I'm already there with support for the Boulevard proposal to transform Masonic Avenue into a safer transportation corridor. After seven months of attending community meetings, studying options developed by city planners, discussing concerns with neighbors and traffic engineers, I'm confident that the make-over will be become something accepted by neighbors and valued by future generations of Masonic residents.

There's a lot to like about the Boulevard plan:
  • a landscaped median running from Geary to Fell
  • 200 additional street trees
  • bus bulb-outs at select intersections for easier access and more reliable, on-time buses
  • new paving for a street that hasn't been re-surfaced for so long no one can remember when
  • new signal lights and lane re-design to keep traffic flowing steady but safely within the speed limit
  • a separated bicycle track that will making biking safe for anyone aged 8 to 80
  • and, often overlooked, a chance to link neighborhoods along Masonic
I'm not alone. A majority of the hundreds of Masonic residents who accepted repeated invitations to express their opinions believe the Boulevard option will suit them better, as reported here.

Others aren't so sure. Below are responses to questions most often posed by neighbors concerned about the Masonic proposal:
  • What's the source of money for this project and why should we decide its merits before funds are secured? People involved with the Divisadero revitalization project remember that the city set a limit on the funds available and advised neighbors to plan accordingly. The Masonic project is different. The money for it will likely be a mix of regional, state and federal funds. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission bundles financing for projects like these from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to special grants received for categories like Safe Routes to Transit, Safe Routes to School, and others. A percentage of sales tax that is designated for bike improvements will be another source, but very little "car money" will go to the Masonic project. Why support now? The strongest proposal competes the best for limited transportation funds, and universal support from the community makes a proposal more competitive. Divisadero itself benefited from being "shovel-ready" when federal stimulus funds became available. Waiting to design or deferring support weakens the chance for obtaining funds.
  • Why is the Boulevard proposal so expensive? Each of the preferred proposals is expensive, and they're both complicated, significantly more so than Divisadero. Much of the expense will go to underground improvements from sewer upgrades to roadway base reconstruction. On the surface, a new wide median, the landscaping, new trees, widened sidewalks, bulb outs, lighting and signal upgrades, and the cycle track all add up. Plus at $20 million, this project is actually cheap compared to many other road projects like the $1 billion Doyle Drive replacement or the Geary Bus Rapid Transit project at about $200 million.
  • Why do bicycle lanes need to be on busy streets? Why can't cyclists use a different route? When it comes to Masonic, bicyclists want to ride on it for the same reason motorists do: it's the only direct north-south route between Stanyan and Divisadero. It's the flattest, most direct way to get from our neighborhood to the Presidio or Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco officially encourages alternate transportation including biking. Opponents can mount a campaign to change the city's Transit First policy, but it's our guide now.
  • Why not rely on enforcement to stop speeding instead? There's no way SFPD could afford to monitor traffic and issue tickets along Masonic to the degree required to change motorists' speeding. Former Capt. Teresa Barrett of SFPD Park Station agreed when asked about enforcement for this previous report.
  • Why doesn't the MTA install more traffic calming to stop speeding instead of redesigning traffic and removing parking? There are a few more measures the MTA can and should adopt (reported here), but most of the traffic calming tools have already been used or aren't possible on a road like Masonic. The reason the city has worked with the community on this proposal is mostly because the current traffic calming simply has not reduced collisions, red light running, and injuries.
  • Won't the proposed Target store at Geary and Masonic bring motorists who will occupy street parking in the Anza Vista neighborhood? No one wants to park on the street when there are six large parking lots positioned much closer to the stores at the San Francisco Center. The whole point of driving to Target will be for convenience and proximity of parking in the several hundred spaces in the lots.
  • Won't the Masonic project make it harder to enter and exit Ewing Terrace? No, it will become easier because the MTA agreed to add a new signal at this intersection at the request of Ewing Terrace residents who attended the community meetings.
  • Why haven't the neighbors and residents most affected by the removal of parking on Masonic been heard? They have. As previously reported here with a residency map, over 100 neighbors attended the community meetings, and a majority of them live on Masonic or within one block of the corridor. Nearby residents were invited to the meetings repeatedly by the MTA, NOPNA, Fix Masonic, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition with fliers and emails. They were also encouraged to contact the MTA directly. We don't force people to vote in this country.
  • Why can't the proposals make Masonic safer without removing parking? The first goal of a street should be to move people in a safe, efficient manner. Parking should come second to safety and traffic flow. Masonic is a very tight space and to make it safer for all users, something has to give. But the MTA has also indicated a willingness to consider new parking on nearby streets to alleviate the changes on Masonic, possibly with angled parking along the north side of Turk. At some point, advocacy for a safer Masonic coupled with a refusal to make inconvenient changes become nothing more than empty, feel-good lip service. Do those who resist the changes want to tell the families of people killed or injured from collisions on Masonic that safety on the corridor is not important enough to walk an extra 100 steps for parking?
For previous articles in the A Better Masonic series, check here.

A nod to Stanley Kubrick for Dr. Strangelove.


  1. Turk doesn't need to be as wide as it is. In fact, people drive too fast on Turk and adding angled parking for greater capacity would calm the traffic, too.

  2. Your point about street purpose (moving people from one place to another) is critical to understanding the redesign. Neighbors acquiesced the removal parking several times, but they truly accepted that something has to give. And parking is a privilege, not a right. Don't like the lack of spaces, call the city, just like I do when there's no bike parking available on a crucial block. Turk's lanes could really be narrowed and have diagonal parking, I like that.

  3. A lot of the avenues are very wide. I wonder what people think of adding diagonal parking? Maybe it could be done as part of a plan which adds separated bike routes elsewhere.