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.

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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."