Mission Neighbors Upset Over Proposed Pedestrian Fence

Skaters-on-median_1.jpgA group of skaters stopped on the Potrero Avenue median half-way between 26th and Cesar Chavez

Some community members in the Mission are upset that the MTA has proposed building a fence along a median on Potrero Avenue between Cesar Chavez and 25th Street to prevent jaywalking.  

Owing to the success of the recently reopened Rolph Playground and Potrero del Sol Park in the Mission, the first with playing fields and basketball courts, the second with a popular skateboard park, pedestrian traffic has burgeoned. Though the closest crosswalks are a block in either direction, the most direct route between the two destinations is a straight line across six lanes of traffic, some of which speeds as it enters the Highway 101 on-ramp.

The MTA, the Department of Public Works (DPW), and several other agencies will discuss the proposal  Thursday at a meeting of the Transportation Advisory Staff Committee (TASC), which serves to resolve transportation issues across multiple agency jurisdictions.

Fran Taylor of the community group CC Puede sent out an alert to the group’s listserv asking why the MTA doesn’t transform the de facto crossing point into a formal crosswalk with a pedestrian signal.  

“It’s a long distance between the crossings at Cesar and 25th, so people are crossing at the point where 26th Street would be,” Taylor said. “Instead of helping people cross by doing a crosswalk, the response by Jack Fleck is to build a fence.  It seems more like pedestrian apartheid, rather than making it easier for pedestrians.”

Median.jpgThe Potrero Ave. median was recently lengthened

Taylor sent a letter to Fleck pointing out that the pedestrian activated signal at Cesar Chavez doesn’t work all the time and pedestrians still have to cross a freeway off-ramp with limited visibility and hope vehicles slow down for them.  She also said the median doesn’t extend all the way north to 25th Street to enable emergency vehicles to make U-turns, and contends the fence would just move foot traffic further down the line without resolving the problem.

Several other factors complicate the crossing at 25th Street, according to neighbors, particularly as eastbound drivers on 25th Street make a right turn onto Potrero and look for to their left for southbound traffic, routinely ignoring pedestrians to their right.  

One neighbor, Shannon Dodge, sent a letter to the MTA pleading for a mid-block crosswalk and traffic calming:

Please consider installing a new, safe and legal pedestrian crossing here (such as a red light triggered by a pedestran pushing a button) instead of a fence, which is not an improvement at all.  The slower traffic resulting from a pedestrian crossing would also calm our neighborhood street, reducing noise and making the parks pleasanter places to be.

Walk SF director Manish Champsee was not convinced the proposal would satisfy the city’s commitment to its Transit First policy, which should prioritize pedestrian safety before vehicles.  “We’re all concerned about keeping people safe, but we shouldn’t stop people from walking.”   

And in his formal letter to Fleck, Champsee pointed out a disturbing fact: “As we both are aware, crossing at a signalized intersection is no guarantee of safety, especially in a city where the largest cause of pedestrian crashes is drivers failing to yield to the pedestrian’s right-of-way.”

MTA Spokesman Judson True said the agency typically avoids mid-block pedestrian crossings because he says they promote a false sense of confidence and drivers routinely ignore them.  He also said a signal would cost around $300,000 and that Proposition K money only affords six new signals annually.

Within ten minutes of taking pictures of the median, I witnessed more than ten jaywalkers, many of them young skateboarders, riding their boards or darting across the street.  When I asked one skater what he thought of the fence, he said, “what, they’re trying to make us cross the street at the intersections?  That’s a bunch of bullshit!  Why don’t they make a crosswalk?”

A group of three boys who were stranded on the median for more than a minute while cars sped past were equally defiant.  When asked what they would do with a new fence, one started to say he’d go around, then changed his mind.  “I’ll just run out and hop it.”

Correction: The TASC meeting is not open to the public, but is a closed meeting of agency staff.

Photo: Matthew Roth

  • This is a very interesting article. It would benefit from a map showing exactly where the park is and where the fence would be and where the crosswalk might be placed.

    That said, it seems like building a fence is not the answer. This is similar to Mr. Fleck’s proposal for removing the bike lane at Market & Octavia in that in both cases, cars rule over pedestrians and bicycles.

  • The answer to any question that starts “Why would they” is always “money.” If the community wants to have a crosswalk installed, they better start holding bake sales.

    I’m sympathetic to the argument that a mid-block crossing can make pedestrians overconfident. But that still seems less dangerous than putting up a fence that kids are guaranteed to run out and jump over.

  • This is where the notion of one academically correct answer learned in traffic engineering school collides with the notion of balancing competing interests towards the most politically supported solution.

    The only balancing act going here is the needs of motorists for an extra second or two at speed on the backs of Mission park goers.

    The techies at the MTA are insulated from political pressure on this because some thought it a good idea 10 years ago to insulate Muni funding from cavalier pilfering.

    -marc

  • Peter

    the whole area is a disaster. we need to end the direct freeway access in both directions, take away at least one lane in either direction, knock down all those flyover onramps, add full bike cycletracks on Potrero and Cesar Chavez Avenues, lay some rail on both avenues for a future streetcar lines, etc.

    there’s no reason in the world to tolerate the massive volumes of traffic coming into and through that part of town. make the cars go around. this is san francisco — people live here.

  • Gillian Gillett

    This situation reminds me of Ashland Park in Chicago. When I was a kid going to Gale Elementary School, every year or so one of my classmates was hit by a car while trying to cross Ashland from our school to what was then the playground across the street. A few years ago, Mayor Daley the Younger had the City of Chicago vacate that block of Ashland Avenue altogether as a roadway – so Gale Elementary School and Ashland Park are a continuous expanse that vehicles navigate around instead of through. A very people-friendly solution.

    It’s passive/aggressive to divide two recreational facilities aimed at youth across freeway ramps. Kids are well-known to be poor judges of speed – even to the point of trying to outrun trains. A mid-block crosswalk would help only if pedestrians cross only at that point.

    This situation is another reason why we need to find money to redesign and rebuild the Hairball. But in the meantime, what’s the right solution? This is a very unsafe situation – in plain view of a toddler playground. What are we teaching the next generation?

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    If the city can only afford to install 6 signals a year, then they need to learn to prioritize. One of this year’s six signals is at Stevenson and 3rd, the intersection of a major one-way road with a minor dead-end alleyway. The only conceivable beneficiary of this signal is the Four Seasons Hotel whose porte cochere is at the end of the block.

  • mcas

    If the is money for only 6 pedestrian signals a year, then why, as a transit-first city, didn’t we ask for more money for pedestrian improvements from the Fed’s stimulus package..?

    Instead, we got Gavin & Pelosi grandstanding under a freeway at Doyle Drive… http://sfgov.org/site/mayor_index.asp?id=99944

  • Add a crosswalk, and add speed humps on Portrero to slow down traffic. You need maybe three speed humps on either side of the crosswalk to slow traffic; six speed humps all together, which should cost $12,000 to $20,000.

    If they are serious about safety, they should be slowing down the traffic entering and exiting the freeway – since those drivers tend to treat the city streets where children play as if they were an extension of the freeway.

  • Hey Jeffrey,
    I asked the MTA about that signal at 3rd and Stevenson. They said that it was not Prop K money, but was paid for by the Westfield developers. Apparently there are a few mid-block crosswalks around the Embarcadero Center that were also paid for by the developers.

    thanks for pointing that out.

  • I share Peter’s beautiful vision of the Army/Potrero interchange becoming a verdant walkable/bikeable area with children laughing & playing, but the reason I know the interchange well is that I grew up in the cab industry. I think it deserves recognition that a great deal of speedy auto traffic on CC, Potrero, the freeway ramps and Bayshore is taxicabs to and from yards changing shifts, going in for maintenance and gassing up.

    Most of the taxi lots are located in the CC/Bayshore/Evans/Industrial vicinity and those are their fastest arteries out onto the streets. Slowing down that access costs already-strapped drivers in lost time, which would probably render most speed-checking attempts ineffectual anyway. I know it seems an insignificant factor, but at heavy demand times the wait for available cabs is already enough to make most of the citizenry go crying to the mayor. I think traffic calming attempts here are needed, but also need to serve all stakeholders with some other high speed route in & out of the area for cabs, or else the good people of Bernal Heights & Potrero Hill will probably see some unsafe speeds on residential streets.

  • Megan: What you say makes sense, but note that speed humps can be designed for a variety of speeds. It would be possible to put speed humps in here that just keep drivers down to the legal speed limit, which I think would be a reasonable compromise between the needs of cab drivers and the safety of residents.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Matthew Roth: Thanks for looking into it. I happen to have enough money to pay for one of those signals. Can I also erect one on the 3rd busiest bus corridor in the city? Just asking.

    If I wanted to paint a bike lane on 3rd St there would be endless EIRs. But apparently if you want to erect a stop light so people can drive to the mall, no problem.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    I’d like to expand on that point, if I may hold the floor for a few more sentences. They built a mall without any or much new parking. It’s served by a major subway. That’s cool. Props to them.

    But the mall also induces some auto traffic, so they want to change the signals. I get that too. Even though they eliminated two crosswalks, I’m still OK with it, if it solves a problem.

    Now look at the subject of this article. They built a new park amenity, which has induced pedestrian traffic. Following the Stevenson St example, the right thing to do would be to accommodate the new induced traffic. But because these people are unadorned with steel cages, Fleck’s position is to put up a fence. The equivalent in the other situation would be if Fleck proposed dropping sandbags on Stevenson to stop people from driving to the mall.

    I can think of another place where new pedestrian traffic has been induced. On Mission between 1st and 2nd there are two new public outdoor spaces. One is at 555 Mission and the other is across the street at 580 Mission. There are lots of restaurants and cafes here, so people spend their afternoons in these outdoor spaces. It would make sense to install a crosswalk across mission to connect the two spaces. I assume if I brought it to the attention of Fleck, he’s just put in a barrier.

  • I don’t think that the MTA just allows people to show up with a wheelbarrow full of money and have a mid block crossing installed.

    Usually these project based streetscape improvements are either part of the community benefits zoning or of mitigations to “environmental” impacts, so they are all bundled up in environmental review.

    The WSOMA draft plan calls for greatly increasing the number of mid block crossings in that part of SOMA, but the current draft plan does not come nearly close enough in the exaction and community benefit department to build but a small handful over the lifetime of the plan, as the city leadership feels that developers need to be zoned to build irrespective of whether the developer pays the freight of the impacts of that construction, that is, doesn’t out source the costs of development to the community through higher taxes or more dangerous streetscapes.

    The goal was to reduce the granularity of the streetscape from one designed for trucks to one that looks and feels more like a human scaled former industrial, now mixed used neighborhood.

    I guess the issue is one of tradeoffs on where you throw the cement and the hardware. Would you rather have planted medians or would you rather have mid block crossings and traffic calming?

    -marc

  • StuartH

    @Peter: The idea of eliminating the 101/CC interchange has got to be one of the weirdest ideas I have heard in a long time. “Just go around” you say; in other words, traffic should go to another neighborhood — NIMBYism at its best. And furthermore, the effect would be that the cars that are forced to detour would spend more time on city streets in order to circle back to their destination. Brilliant!

    The fact is that the CC/101 interchange is used extensively by Mission/Bernal residents. Just because you don’t use it, doesn’t mean it isn’t vital to the rest of the neighborhood.

  • Nonsense, StuartH.

    The Mission and SoMa are already over-freewayed and serve as entrance ramps for the rest of the City.

    What do we get in return for taking those hits, air quality, noise and collisions from the rest of the City?

    Nothing, absolutely nothing.

    Apparently its all the rage in this town to bend over backwards to care for the children, that is, unless they are black or brown kids, in which case shaving seconds off of trip times for commuters and taxi drivers is more important.

    The freeway was blasted through our neighborhoods with little concern to the consequences of those impacts, designed in a day when values and considerations were much different.

    If Hayes Valley gets to “repair the urban fabric” of the disastrous exercise in freeway constuction, that after it is bleached out to be lily white in a previous wave of gentrification, then what does it take for the Mission and SoMa to get some consideration as well?

    -marc

  • CBrinkman

    Renegade crossing guards anyone? Orange vests, hard hats, or maybe bunny suits and big car wacking sticks. When oh when will the MTA start to care about non car drivers first. Or even second after transit?

  • StuartH

    @Marcos: What is nonsense about what I said? I stated the truth; many, many residents of Mission/Bernal/Noe use that interchange every day. Eliminating it would be a nightmare and just create more traffic on Mission streets.

    And please don’t play the race card, that is really pathetic. An uncalled for accusation of racism like that just shows how weak your arguments are.

  • StuartH,

    When Judy Berkowitz at the EMIA, a member of the CSFN, a “neighborhood organization” that is known citywide for the predominance of better off white people whose kids, if any, have grown and left home, calls the MTA and complains about crossers, MTA hups to and imposes a fence. That is because the EMIA and CSFN support Gavin Newsom politically and Newsom appoints the MTA Board.

    There is pervasive racism in this city as to the allocation of all sorts of city services moneys. Whiter and yellower neighborhoods tend to fare better than blacker and browner neighborhoods.

    Did anyone mention closing down the interchange, or did Gillian suggest a planning process to change a horrible design, a relic of a bygone era, with something more in keeping with contemporary San Francisco values.

    For so many motorists, a proposal for a few monents delay might seem like a proposal to eliminate an interchange but that does not make it so.

    -marc

  • StuartH

    @marcos: Ummm, maybe you should read my post more closely. I wasn’t discussing the crossing, I was responding to Peter’s post which did indeed seem to talk about eliminating the interchange (though it is a bit unclear, maybe he meant something different). And just because the City responds to a concern of citizen who happens to be white does not mean it is racist.

  • StuartH,

    “And just because the City responds to a concern of citizen who happens to be white does not mean it is racist.”

    I’m not saying that because the City responds to an effective advocate like Judy that they’re racist. But that would be the case if the City responded to concerns of citizens, and by that I mean residents, taxpayers, families of color similarly as they’ve responded to Judy given that constituents of color with kids are in the majority in that part of D9.

    And like Judy personally and don’t begrudge her anything, but I want government to respond equitably to all comers as to her.

    In this case, given how rabid government gets about wanting to coddle white kids through an expensive array of policies which we childless San Franciscans tend to support because it is the right thing to do, and given how the immediate response to bridging the parks has been to inconvenience kids of color in favor of commuters, the racist bias of city government in action is clear. Some fairer skinned kids who get carted around in SUVs are more equal than other darker skinned kids who needs to sk8 across Potrero.

    I’m a white guy who’s lived in the Mission for 20 years and we’re undergoing intensified, rampaging, ethinic cleansing here based on the consumption of rental units for TIC and condo ownership. My tiny block has been clearcut of affordable rental over the past 3years.

    Racism in real estate and planning in San Francisco is alive and well.

    -marc

  • Judy B

    No one from EMIA complained to the MTA — or to anyone — about the Potrero Ave / del Sol Park crossing situation.
    No one.

    EMIA is quite pleased that the park renovations are so successful. It is unfortunate that they also brought dangerous unintended consequences.

    EMIA was informed of the plan for a median fence by DPW in January.
    EMIA had no input whatsoever into any of the decision-making prior to the pronouncement.

    In January we were informed that the decision was a done deal.
    When we later found it was not, we then began a dialogue with DPW.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    marc-

    Neither CSFN nor EMIA support either side of the second floor of City Hall:
    not the Mayor, not the Supervisors.

    In general we believe that each part of an issue must be considered without reference as to who brought the matter forth.

    -Judy B

  • Was this article edited? I seem to recall a quote from Fleck to the effect that a local neighborhood group has complained, and there is only one that gets listened to down that way. This was certainly the case in Eastern Neighborhoods, and as Newsom operates City government as a political instrument, it is not a far fetched assumption to assume that Planning’s approach to politics is similar to Muni’s because they all consider the Mayor to be their boss.

    Otherwise, crossed wires on my part.

    -marc

  • Judy B

    I’m not sure if that was an apology, but I am going to assume it was because it had apologetic overtones. Kind of.
    So: Thank you, Marc.
    Apology accepted.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    FWIW:
    There are two other extant and viable neighborhood associations in that immediate area:
    Lower 24th St Neighbors & Merchants Assn
    and
    Rolph Park Neighbors

  • John Wilson

    Judy Berkowitz is correct that the East Mission Improvement Assoc. was informed by DPW (at an EMIA meeting) of what was, already decided and in motion. EMIA had raised concerns about the obvious dangers associated with putting a skate park next to a freeway off ramp and on ramp with six traffic lanes between the skate park and a ball field. Park and Rec proceeded with full knowledge of the hazards.

    Before you launch support for a mid block cross walk you might consider that on the north bound side you would be congesting an off ramp with the resulting potential for rear enders pushing stopped cars into the crosswalk and that on both north and south lanes a mid block signal and crosswalk would be unexpected and generate accidental running of the signal and endangering pedestrians as is already the case with the mid block cross walk three blocks north between 23rd St and 22nd St.

    The Potrero exit off SB 101 carries a significant number of emergency vehicles traveling to SF General and the Paramedic facility on 25th and Potrero.

    As to the issue of race by far the majority of skate park users are not minorities or children and also clearly at street level those most endangered by the present situation are the very young kids from public housing. They represent a very small number of users and are significantly younger and smaller than the typical skate board rider. They also show far less awareness of the danger and are, because of their stature more likely to be deterred to a crosswalk by a barrier.

    John Wilson
    President EMIA

  • Hey Judy and John,
    My apologies for confusing the details of this. I’ve subsequently changed the second article to reflect what DPW confirms was their outreach to you to discuss the fence.

    I didn’t mean to instigate any personal criticisms that may have occurred from the comments here.

    -Matthew Roth

  • Judy B

    Ah yes, and thank you, Matthew.

    The original text carries quite a different flavor than your current (revised) reportage.

    As John Wilson pointed out, EMIA voiced concern about safety at the time plans for the current adult skate park were announced.

    The *original* skate park plan was for a little kids’ skate park; an area for small children *with adult supervision*.

    That plan was replaced with the plan for the adult skate park, which was eventually built. At the time of the introduction of the adult skate park replacement plan EMIA cautioned the city “…about the obvious dangers associated with putting a skate park next to a freeway off ramp and on ramp with six traffic lanes between the skate park and a ball field. Park and Rec proceeded with full knowledge of the hazards.”

  • Belgand

    How about just telling your kids not to cross in the middle of the street? It’s free, it’s sensible, it’s the law, and we’ve already been doing it for years. I don’t jaywalk because I don’t want to get run over and when I was growing up my parents told me that if I didn’t want to get run over I’d cross at the crosswalk or intersection.

    If you’re crossing a busy street and freeway onramp in the middle of the block to avoid having to walk down to the intersection and you get hit it’s entirely your own fault.

    We should try to make improvements, certainly, but seriously there’s a really simple solution to this problem. Just like not speeding and always waiting for the walk signal (or a green light) and looking both ways before crossing the street the common sense solution is usually the easiest and best.

  • John Wilson

    Belgand

    I can appreciate your survival of the fittest approach and no plaintiff’s attorney will ever leave me on a jury.

    However since the city knowingly placed a facility designed to attract children in a location exposing them to a hazard, the fact that an eight year old kid doesn’t share your understanding of the dangers of jay walking presents both a real danger to safety of the eight year old kid and liability likely greater than the cost of the park rebuild, to the city. Read “city” as you and me as tax payers. We’re on the hook, and acting before a kid and a car get together and make us all losers, seems prudent.

    btw I did tell my kids to use the cross walks.

    John

  • Crossing at the crosswalks seems like a commonsense solution until you try to actually use the crosswalks in question. 25th St is much improved from the days it had no Walk/Don’t Walk signal or median (2005), but Cesar Chavez, which is closer, is still a nightmare for pedestrians. Some of us have been yelling for years at the City to make the signal there work consistently and to do something about that offramp with poor sightlines that walkers must dash across, with no ADA accommodation and no attempt to slow drivers. I’m sincerely glad to learn of this concern for pedestrians from folks who had opposed the reconfiguration of Potrero and hope they can add their voices to the call to fix the crossings at Cesar Chavez/Bayshore.

    I also think a fence will make Potrero more dangerous. Now, at least jaywalkers can wait on the very narrow median. If a fence runs down the middle of it, they’ll have even less space. If they go around the fence, they’ll be jaywalking where no median exists at all.

  • Crossing at the crosswalk seems like a commonsense solution until you actually use those crosswalks, at least the closer one at Cesar Chavez. Many of us have been yelling at the city for years to make this safer, from fixing the signal to redesigning the place where you have to run across a curving off ramp with poor sight lines. ADA accommodations are totally lacking.

    Crossing at 25th is much better than it was before the 2005 redesign of Potrero, but it still has problems with turning southbound cars. I’m glad that folks who had opposed the Potrero changes are expressing concern for pedestrian safety, but I hope this concern extends to fixing these crosswalk problems.

    I think the proposed fence will actually make Potrero more dangerous, as it will slice in half the width of the median that now provides some refuge and send other jaywalkers around to where there is no median at all.

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