In a closed meeting of agency staff this morning, the DPW agreed to delay the construction of a median fence on Potrero Avenue between 25th Street and Cesar Chavez until they conduct further community outreach in conjunction with Supervisor David Campos’ office.
As the DPW and MTA told Streetsblog yesterday in a conference call, they think the fence is needed "to prevent people from making an illegal and unsafe crossing" in the middle of the block. DPW spokesperson Christine Falvey said there were serious safety concerns and the near-term options were to build the fence or do nothing, and hope for the best. The latter was not a real consideration for DPW, she said.
Falvey said they had received complaints about pedestrian safety at the median a year ago and presented their project to the East Mission Improvement Association and the Lower 24th Street Merchants Association in January. There has been a tremendous increase in pedestrian and recreational activity since the reopening of Rolph Playground and Potrero del Sol Park.
"It is a little disconcerting that they would not do outreach to groups that are specifically concerned about pedestrian safety like CC Puede and Walk San Francisco," said Walk San Francisco Director Manish Champsee. "I’m just talking about a simple email saying here’s what we are thinking, what are your thoughts?"
Fran Taylor of CC Puede echoed the concern that community outreach was inadequate:
Many neighborhood groups concerned with safety in this area had no input into this decision: Rolph Park Neighbors and CC Puede, for example, as well as the park users, including the skateboarders themselves. As with several issues in the neighborhood, such as the proposed helipad at San Francisco General Hospital, different groups may be in direct opposition to one another. Such limited outreach — not even posting flyers on poles where the affected parties could see them — biases decision making unfairly.
The fence would be similar to the median fences on Van Ness in front of City Hall and on Geary in front of the Kaiser facility, both of which Falvey said were effective at stopping mid-block crossings. The proposed fence would be five feet tall (one foot taller than the fence at Van Ness) and would not be a chain link fence or similar quality.
Supervisor Campos’ legislative aide Sheila Chung Hagen said their office had received numerous calls from residents in the area who were concerned about the lack of public comment permitted by DPW. She also said that it was clear there hadn’t been good communication within DPW, given that CC Puede, the group who had initially voiced safety concerns to the agency a year ago, was not part of subsequent outreach.
She said that the Planning Department would share its list of community groups from the outreach it had done on the Mission Streetscape plan to be sure stakeholders could attend the community meeting.
"Even if the fence goes in," said Hagen, "everybody thinks it needs to be a temporary solution. By having a community meeting, it gives an opportunity for neighbors who are willing to put in sweat equity to come up with short-term and long-term solutions.
Some advocates and community members living on Potrero were doubtful the DPW and MTA would follow through with long-term traffic calming. Resident Shannon Dodge and Livable City Director Tom Radulovich told Streetsblog that the MTA added traffic calming to Potrero Avenue between 17th Street and 24th Street after four-year-old Elizabeth Dominguez was killed in 2003 by a Muni truck that ran the red light there.
Radulovich said that the MTA had pledged to find additional grant money to continue traffic calming north of 17th Street and south of 25th Street, but had never completed the work. "We wouldn’t be here with the emergency pedestrian fence if MTA had followed through on its commitment. They don’t keep promises and let everything get to crisis mode before acting."
CC Puede’s Taylor was grateful the community outreach would be more extensive. She hoped to be inclusive of as many neighborhood groups as possible and suggested reaching out to many of the skateboarders at the new skate park in Potrero del Sol.
Building on other mid-block crosswalks, such as the 3rd Street crosswalk by the Yerba Buena Center, she suggested that:
On Potrero, the light could be timed with the one at 25th St, so only the turning traffic and laggards would be caught, southbound at least. Traffic is often backed up down the on-ramp at least as far as a light would go, and this does affect the crosswalk at 25th already, so a light may not make this any worse (in fact, just the other night, I saw several crossers going right through the stopped cars at the foot of the on-ramp). Northbound is another thing, but these cars are mostly coming off the freeway and need to be slowed down anyway.
The community meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 19th, 6:30 p.m. at the Rolph Playground Community Room. DPW will explain its rationale for the fence, which will likely still be installed shortly after the meeting, and the Planning Department will coordinate a visioning process to determine what long-term solutions the neighborhood would want to see implemented.
Photo: Matthew Roth