MTA Mulls Scenarios for Moving Bike Plan Forward

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The MTA is considering a number of scenarios for moving the Bicycle Plan forward when the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is finalized and the bike injunction lifted.  One being discussed is a rare joint meeting of the Planning Commission and MTA Board with an appearance by Mayor Gavin Newsom to certify and adopt the EIR along with the Bicycle Plan. 

Another strategy emerging would recommend immediately legislating up to 40 of the 56 projects and delaying at least 5, Streetsblog San Francisco has learned.  The five projects that wouldn't be acted on in the initial wave are Cesar Chavez/26th Street, Masonic Avenue, Broadway Street, Phelan Avenue and Innes Avenue. Sources say the hold list is only in draft form and nothing has been finalized for submission to the MTA Board.  The feeling is those five projects should be incorporated into the process for streetscape plans being developed for those neighborhoods.

Bill Wycko, the Planning Department's Environmental Review Officer, said the EIR won't be ready to take to the Planning Commission for certification until late June, but added, "it could be earlier."

The process for re-adopting the Bicycle Plan will play out like this:

  • Planning Department prepares responses to comments on DEIR, publishes comments and responses document (Final EIR), probably sometime in June
  • Planning Commission deliberates and certifies EIR 
  • MTA Board deliberates and adopts the Bicycle Plan 
  • City Attorney goes back to Judge Busch and asks him to lift the injunction
  • MTA Board deliberates and approves bike network improvement projects
  • MTA issues work orders and begins implementing new bicycle facilities and other improvements like bike racks and sharrows

"We're going to try to do as many (projects) as possible," Oliver Gajda, the MTA's bike program manager, said in a recent interview. "There's a range of projects that we're looking at and there is the potential of approving the bookends...the most impactful and the least impactful options."

There are also a number of projects in the Bike Plan that may not require legislation, such as the Broadway Tunnel signage improvements, the Page and Stanyan Street signal improvements, the 19th Avenue bike path, the Buckingham Way bike lanes  and JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park. 

High-level talks are also underway at the MTA on projects that present challenges to the agency for balancing the different transportation modes under the city's Transit First policy, like the proposed bike lanes for 2nd Street. It's unclear whether that project is on the list of those being pushed.

Here's a rundown of some of the projects likely to be delayed:

Masonic Avenue

Neighborhood residents fed up with noisy traffic congestion on the chaotic stretch of Masonic Avenue between between Presidio Avenue and Fell Street have long sought mitigation to the unsafe conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians. Motorists, as the group Fix Masonic points out, forget they are driving through a neighborhood. The intersection of Fell/Masonic is the second most dangerous intersection for bicyclists, and Masonic, as a recent TA report noted, is well known for speeding and reckless drivers, right light runners, confusing lane configurations, wide intersections and slow transit service. 

Last month, the TA Board approved allocating $120,000 in Prop. K funds for the MTA to undertake the "development of a comprehensive street design plan in collaboration with residents, community groups, and other departments/agencies and stakeholders for an Arterial Project on Masonic Avenue, from Geary Boulevard to Fell Street." The study came at the request of Fix Masonic, which gathered 550 signatures, and District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.

Masonic_sketch.jpgA preliminary concept for Masonic Avenue by Jeremy Nelson of Nelson/Nygaard.

The Bicycle Plan proposes a number of options for Masonic, including the installation of bike lanes in both directions, and a floating bike lane, similar to what's in place on the Embarcadero.

The MTA says delaying the Masonic bike project would allow it to be incorporated into the larger Masonic Avenue planning process, though that could take years. Bicycle advocates are asking what can be done in the interim.

"The bike coalition believes that it's worth putting in some sort of bike lane on Masonic and the floating bike lane concept seems worthy and should be done. The gap is too big to wait. We need to do something now," said Andy Thornley, the SFBC program manager. 

Mark Christianson with Fix Masonic is actually hoping something can be done on Masonic in the next 18 months that will benefit not just cyclists, but pedestrians and Muni. He isn't surprised Masonic is on the hold list.

"The projects that are hitting delays have real design challenges and they’re also risky. They have the potential to backfire if they’re not done properly," said Christianson. "The real question MTA has to answer is about traffic flow and reducing lane capacity for cars without such a huge blow back that the whole thing fails."

Cesar Chavez/26th Street

As we reported in a recent Love Your Lane story, bicycle advocates and neighborhood activists are excited about new bike lanes and sharrows that would be installed on Cesar Chavez, which bears many similarities to Masonic. On the eastern side, the lanes would be painted along Cesar Chavez/Army Street from Highway 101 to I-280. But the MTA will likely delay action on the western side, where bike lanes and sharrows would be installed from Sanchez to Hampshire Streets, under the assumption that it makes no sense to stripe new bike lanes when the corridor will be reconstructed next year as part of the Cesar Chavez Street Design and sewer replacement project. It's something bicycle advocates and neighborhood activists seem to agree on.

"Proponents of changes along Cesar Chavez are confident that the bike plan designs can be incorporated into a broader vision of a more pedestrian-friendly and neighborly street. We’re all itching to get out the paint can and start striping, but in the end I think it will be worth waiting for a more complete plan," said Fran Taylor of CC Puede.

Broadway Street

There continues to be strong opposition from parents who drop off their kids at school to a bike lane on Broadway Street between Polk and Webster Streets in Pacific Heights. That was clearly evident at an MTA community workshop last year, profiled by Jonathan Winston on his bikescape podcast:

We encountered vociferous opposition from parents at three schools on Broadway who feel they must drive their kids to school each day. This begs the question: Why are double parkers considered "stakeholders" and why are their dangerous and illegal actions considered a "reality we must deal with" while all the while demanding harsher enforcement for "scofflaw bicyclists?"

In a recent interview, District 2 Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier said she heard the project was taken off the list but then tacked back on. Our sources say it is currently on the hold list. She echoed the concerns aired at the MTA meeting.

"My main concern there is that we have five schools on Broadway Street.  We pick up and drop off hundreds of school children twice a day. So there are some safety concerns with that," said Alioto-Pier. 

But Thornley with the SFBC says the real danger to children is not bicyclists, it's cars.

"The safety concerns that exist on Broadway because of parents dropping off and picking up children are the parents dropping off and picking up the children. The danger to children in this city is motor vehicles and each of those parents who feels obliged to drive his or her child to school is adding danger."

Thornley said there are bicyclists who would cheer a bike lane on Broadway, but it has never been a real priority for the SFBC. He said it was thrown into the mix as a traffic calming project that added costs and expenses to the EIR.

Instead, he wonders what could be done on Pacific Street, just one block south. He thinks Pacific might be more ideal for bicyclists because it's a calmer neighborhood street. 

The other delayed projects are on Phelan Avenue, which is Route 770 in the bike network, and Innes Street in Hunter's Point.  Our sources say that Innis may actually come off the hold list. 

One big question remaining is how the MTA's projected budget deficit will affect the implementation of the Bicycle Plan. The result of a hiring freeze, according to the MTA, means the painting of some bike lanes will be delayed and the "bike program implementation slowed." The MTA has said it could take up to five years to implement. Still, the MTA's bicycle staff insists it is anxious to get things moving. 

"I think it's a real exciting time for San Francisco," said Gajda. "When all is said and done, we will have a lot more robust programs and policies. We're at the turning point." 

Flickr photo: Thomas Hawk