Streetscast: An Interview with District 4 Supervisor Carmen Chu

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San Francisco Supervisor Carmen Chu represents the Sunset District, which includes some of the city’s major thoroughfares: the Great Highway, 19th and Sunset avenues and Sloat Boulevard. She was appointed to her post by the Mayor in 2007 and elected last November.

Chu’s main mode of travel tends to shape her views on transportation issues. She gets around mostly by car and only rides Muni a few times a month.  In a lengthy interview in her City Hall office, she expressed tepid support for studying a car-free Market Street, said she needs to study the Bicycle Plan before she "wholeheartedly" supports it, but hopes the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) will help overhaul Muni.

"I’m very, very happy that we were able to embark on the TEP process, the Transit Effectiveness Project.  We have for a very long time had a transit system that truly wasn’t reflecting what the changes in the demographics of this city were."

At the same time, Chu believes there is a parking shortage in the city. She recently voted to support a conditional use permit for a developer who wants underground parking for a condo complex at 299 Valencia above the ratio set in the Market/Octavia neighborhood plan, a sustainable blueprint that took ten years to craft.

"In San Francisco we do have a parking issue, whether people want to say that we can just ignore the parking issue and that people will eventually choose public transportation, there truly is a parking shortage, where people are kind of fighting for spaces.  In a situation where the parking was all underground…I didn’t see a problem with adding the additional parking spaces underground."

Chu also outlined some of the initiatives she has undertaken to improve streets and sidewalks in her district, particularly along corridors that have seen a high number of fatal pedestrian crashes.

The interview with me and reporter Matthew Roth was recorded on February 26, 2009.

[audio:http://sf.streetsblog.org/wp-content/upload1/CarmenChuInterview.mp3]

Other highlights:

  • On pedestrian safety in District 4: "We do face the challenges of how do you try to create an environment that is good for pedestrians when there are so many cars moving at high speeds.  On 19th Avenue we’ve worked very much in partnership with the state to try to provide additional benefits, making sure that we have pedestrian count down signals at some of our very, very busy intersections.  Providing for mass arms, which are basically more visible street lights so people can actually see it and stop, because there have been a number of fatalities that have occurred from collisions, people and car collisions, on 19th Avenue.  We’ve installed a left-hand turn signal on Sloat, which has been good to help facilitate car traffic there."
  • On a car-free Market Street: "I would definitely consider it.  I think we need to take a look and see where we’re going to be diverting traffic otherwise.  So does it mean when we say ‘car free Market Street’ that that’s going to leave the Muni lines continuing to go through there, or does it mean no Muni line at all?  Does it mean cabs can go there, or cannot?  Private vehicles, does that mean that they get routed off to Mission Street, or other places, what is that traffic pattern going to look like?  I think that’s important to consider before just saying that you’re going to go on board with it. But we all know that Market Street is very congested, very many people already avoid Market Street to begin with if they are driving their own vehicles.  And so it’s worth taking a look at."
  • On denser development in the Sunset: "I know that there has been some conversations about transit-oriented development that would mean higher density along the transit areas.  I would say that for me there would be a very big concern with moving forward with some of that, because I do know that if you were to have more dense development along say the two major corridors in our district, which would be the N Judah and the Taraval line, there are also residential spaces abutting. How do you deal with the increased amount of individuals who’d be living there?  What would you do with a lot of the parking issues that are already exacerbated?  To be frank, we see a lot of individuals right now who are driving out to the Sunset, parking their cars there to take the transit line. We see a lot of neighborhood concern with regard to that issue."
  • On the Bicycle Plan: "I would say that I’m not as familiar with all the details of what the bike plan would entail, so before I would say that I’m wholeheartedly for the bike plan, I would like to take a look at all those details. But I would say in general I am supportive of being able to improve the safety experience of bicyclists.  I think that we are also very, very concerned with improving the safety for pedestrians, it’s just a different mode of travel.  And so how is it that we provide for sort of a more integrated, a more thoughtful, a more safe environment for a pedestrian, for a bicyclist, for automobiles."
  • “So does it mean when we say ‘car free Market Street’ that that’s going to leave the Muni lines continuing to go through there, or does it mean no Muni line at all? Does it mean cabs can go there, or cannot?”

    Seems like Carmen is a little out of touch…

  • PaulCJr

    I would have to agree with Murphstahoe. Ms. Chu does sound a little out of touch. How can she call herself a Supervisor and not know anything about the bike master plan??? Does she not read the legislation that goes through city hall. Ms. Chu knowing nothing about the bike plan makes me wonder about her. As a resident of the Parkside, allowing more parking garages will only case there to be more traffic out in the avenues. I understand she might not have an idea that traffic and parking are connected, but if you provide more parking you encourage more driving and more congestion. We live in San Francisco, not San Jose. We live here because we like a dense city. Those that don’t like density or want more parking and driving should move out to those suburbs where they can find that.

  • Peter

    the idea that Market Street should be ‘car-free’ remains, to me, an ongoing public relations/marketing disaster for the livable streets community. absolute debacle.

    other than that, if someone lives in Ms. Chu’s district, they need to set up a meeting with her stat and do some edumacation about livable streets. we need to start putting pressure on her to actually read some damn documents. this stuff is important. she acts all laissez faire about people in her own hood getting run down by motor vehicles. it’s not acceptable. if she was my rep i’d be on the phone already.

    and whatever is making someone drive a car 24×7 in San Francisco is a problem. she’s probably not an evil person – just a sane one. which means we need to give people real transit options. i know why most people don’t bike in the city — it’s absurd to even consider it in such inhospitable conditions. that being the case, how is Ms. Chu so ignorant of the great need for the most basic bike infrastructure? and if there is no real transit available to Ms. Chu, then we need to make that happen, and we need her help.

    it’s unbelievable that someone would be so completely noncommittal – almost flippant – on topics so urgent. forget global warming and sustainability and all that nonsense — how many people need to get run down before Ms. Chu thinks that transportation is important enough to take seriously? allowing more and faster cars in and through her hood is not going to make things safer – not for kids, not for the elderly, not for anyone.

  • mcas

    …seriously? I always knew Ed Jew was anti-transit, but Sup. Chu doesn’t even sound informed enough to have that solid of an opinion.

    Let’s paraphrase those last 4 quotes:

    ‘Pedestrian safety is impossible because cars need to move fast.’
    ‘I haven’t read a single word on a Car Free Market idea. Oh, and people will drive, regardless of how great our transportation could be.’
    ‘Supporting TOD means we need to worry about parking along the transit lines.’
    ‘I don’t know anything about the Bike Plan- even though it’s been available for over 6 months.’

  • theo

    Her view on TOD isn’t as incoherent as she makes it sound. But it is 100% NIMBY.

    Basically, there are too many cars in the Judah and Taraval areas for her constituents, who feel entitled to all the free parking they can use.

    So they’re already angry about people driving to the transit lines and parking, and they’re unlikely to accept any more development that increases the density of cars near those lines (i.e. development, because it’s just not reasonable to go car-free in the Outer Sunset).

  • “Seems like Carmen is a little out of touch…”

    Frighteningly so:

    “We’ve installed a left-hand turn signal on Sloat, which has been good to help facilitate car traffic there.”

    Sloat is in Elsbernd’s D7… did she actually mention any projects in her own district?

    “We do face the challenges of how do you try to create an environment that is good for pedestrians when there are so many cars moving at high speeds”

    You don’t; it’s either/or.

    “To be frank, we see a lot of individuals right now who are driving out to the Sunset, parking their cars there to take the transit line. We see a lot of neighborhood concern with regard to that issue.”

    The solution to this problem has existed in SF for over 30 years: parking permits! No wonder people drive there to park all day, look at all that free space: http://tinyurl.com/dnghf6

  • Supervisor Chu has lived in San Francisco for coming up on five years now, two of them as County Supervisor, courtesy Gavin Newsom.

    -marc

  • It’s always nice to see the anti-westsiderism of some folks come out whenever you start talking about the Sunset District. It gets a bit wearisome but it’s to be expected – some people have a vitriolic hatred of the west side and regularly take shots at it, because, well, they suck. (They’re just jealous we get to be near the Park, the Museums and the ocean!)

    Carmen Chu was re-elected by the voters, and clearly, no one provided an alternative plan for D4 that resonated with voters despite all the gimmicks of the local election process. I realize that because she’s not subscribing to a certain point of view 100% that’s going to upset some people, but I have to say she does represent a segment of the population and guess what – they get to have their say too. I don’t agree with ’em 100% myself, but that’s life in a diverse city – we’re not all cookie cutter people.

    I live in the inner Sunset and don’t agree with her 100% but throughout the campaign not one other candidate responded to my queries or bothered to even listen to anything related to MUNI or bikes for folks like me who do not own a car (and do not want to, either!).

    At least Carmen’s staff and Carmen pay attention when I bring up issues, and I’m technically in Ross Mirkarimi’s district (who also has tried to make MUNI do better with some great town hall meetings yay Ross).

    I guess before folks start getting out the judgment sticks they may want to step back, and ask “How can we find common cause with people in a part of town we technically despise, and yet need so that we can all move forward?”

    Try, people, to think positive. Throwing brickbats and the like make you feel great. They do not make for solutions that benefit the entire city. Choose-up-siderism never helped anyone ,and if people could put aside this irrational hatred of anyone west of the red line, we can ALL benefit. It’s not “us vs. them” , it’s “us.”

    (PS I know it’s fashionable to bash Carmen’s residency, but the fact is that most people in SF are from somewhere else. It sucks, I know, and I realize people who’ve lived her 10 years think they’re natives, but they’re not. It’s a cheap shot, and the fact is there are “progressives” who have lived in SF as long as she has and no one seems to mind them…or..?)

  • Thanks for the interview.

    Man, can you talk about transit with any less enthusiasm than Carmen Chu?

    Also: while she worked at City Hall not as a supervisor, she took Muni every day. Now that she works at City Hall as a supervisor, she is unable to take it more often than twice a month?

    Special thanks for the part about my pet peeve, sidewalk parking. District 11 resident here, and here too it is totally rampant. Chu is an unlikely one to do anything about it, but hey – no complaints here, if she does. I emailed my supe, John Avalos with a link to your blog entry about it. He replied, saying he is likely to support any proposal to reduce sidewalk parking.

  • Also: while she worked at City Hall not as a supervisor, she took Muni every day. Now that she works at City Hall as a supervisor, she is unable to take it more often than twice a month?

    1) Pay raise
    2) Free parking spot?

    Even David Chiu is talking about potentially needing to cave in – the supes are getting pulled every which way. Personally I think that can be done with a bike, BART, and a very quick trigger finger on NextBus and encyclopedic MUNI knowledge, but instead of buckling down and getting a car, it should be insisted that “normal people” can have a “reasonable existence” without a private vehicle. And “normal” can include a supe. At least if Chiu buckles, he’ll be buckling, rather than celebrating his newfound fortune.

    @GregDewar – how is it that the Sunset always get to claim victimhood? I mean, we didn’t elect Ed Jew, you guys did. North Beach denizens tell me I live on “The Peninsula” a.k.a. Noe Valley – no matter how many strollers we have. Being “A student of the city” it seems that the Excelsior is far more of an afterthought than the Sunset ever will be (teflon coating firmly in place). And yes, I have lived in the Avenues (of course I was looking down on y’all from 12th and Quintara).

  • I live in the Sunset and did not vote for Ms. Chu. She is a conservative who was appointed by Mayor Newsom. The only thing she does is vote down progressive initiatives, and vote for the conservative ones. We really need to kick her out!

  • CBrinkman

    Find the common ground: She supports Sunday Streets in her district. It’s a non-threatening step which allows people to experience what a reduced traffic environment is like – and like it, love it, want more of it.

  • zig

    “Her view on TOD isn’t as incoherent as she makes it sound. But it is 100% NIMBY.

    Basically, there are too many cars in the Judah and Taraval areas for her constituents, who feel entitled to all the free parking they can use.”

    Well this is the desired result of district elections isn’t it? A true reflection of the median voter of a small section of a small city.

    Just happens to be in a moderate district who like their cars.

  • theo

    Well this is the desired result of district elections isn’t it? A true reflection of the median voter of a small section of a small city.

    Sure, I don’t think their views are completely illegitimate. But they are very NIMBY, and I’m not going to mince words about that.

    They’re also self-defeating. There’s never any parking on the Chinatown Westside stretch of Irving St, yet residents still insist on driving everywhere.

    As usual the only solution is to provide options that will take people out of their cars.

    1. Increase development on the major transit arteries so residents don’t have to drive.

    2. Promote and/or subsidize car-sharing to get casual errand-running vehicles off the streets. Have you looked at the maps for Zipcar and City CarShare in the Sunset? There’s almost nothing. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem.

    3. Give people an incentive to clean the crap out of their garages and start parking in them. Charge a fee for curb cut maintenance and rebate it on the property tax. Or offer a one-time, subsidized and expedited dumpster service to property owners with a currently inoperative garage.

    I’d like to see Supervisor Chu come up with creative solutions, not just the usual lame status quo, and that’s why this interview was so disappointing.

  • yup

    …so, via SF Examiner, turns out Chu’s predecessor, Ed Jew ‘deserves a break for several reasons, including “the diminished capacity under which Jew was operating, stemming from the severe brain injury,” Hanlon said in the legal filing.

    …what’s Sup. Chu’s excuse…?

    link: http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/Ed-Jew-asks-judge-for-one-year-sentence-42235227.html

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