If You Build It, Cars Will Come and Require Traffic Lights

Presidio_small.jpgPresidio parking lot. Photo, Sue Vaughan
The possibility that traffic lights may be installed in and around San Francisco’s Presidio National Park – in order to manage increased traffic drawn to attractions such as the proposed Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio (the CAMP) and a lodge at the Main Post – has neighbors, environmentalists, and preservationists blinking red.

“Traffic lights in a national historic preservation district are like canaries in a coal mine,” said Lori Brooke, president of the Cow Hollow Association, at a meeting in the Presidio April 22nd to discuss transportation issues, noting that they threaten the historic landmark status of the Presidio, the former army base that is being converted into a national park.

She was speaking to a panel of representatives from the Presidio Trust and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) who met with members of the public to clarify transportation issues in and around the Presidio, and the Main Post.

As required by law, traffic engineers have evaluated intersections in the Presidio for level of service – or the amount of time that it takes for a vehicle to pass through an intersection due to congestion – for the Presidio’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  They have determined that, due to projected increases in daily one-way vehicle trips from roughly 35,000 today to 53,000 in 2030 in the Presidio as a whole – and from 7,500 one-way vehicle trips to 16,765 in the Main Post alone – certain intersections may require traffic mitigation measures, including traffic lights.

According to Presidio Trust Transportation Program Manager Mark Helmbrecht, lights could be installed within the Presidio at five different intersections in and around the Main Post, and at the Lombard Gate at Lyon Street.  Outside the Presidio traffic lights could be installed along Presidio Avenue leading up to the Presidio Gate at Pacific, Jackson, Washington, and on Arguello at Washington, one block away from the Arguello Gate.

Any decision to install traffic signals, however, would be made by city government through the MTA – and those proposed for the Presidio would have to pass National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) reviews, according to MTA Traffic Engineer Jerry Robbins and Presidio transportation engineer Amy Marshall.  The city only approves funding for two to three new traffic lights per year on average, added Robbins.

In terms of funding for signals in the Presidio, the city and the Presidio would “would sit down and have a discussion about the fare share of the cost the signals,” said Marshall.

However, said Helmbrecht, “It’s our intent that we’re not going to have signals here in the Presidio.”

“The intent,” he said, “is to mitigate the number of vehicle trips that are produced and the mode.  More people will take transit.  More people will walk.  More people will bike.”

Doubtful public

According to Helmbrecht, the EIS study correlated projected traffic to the CAMP with its square foot capacity – 100,000 – to two other major institutions, the de Young at 300,000 square feet and the Legion of Honor at 100,000.

“The California Academy of Sciences has at times 10,000 visitors a day.  The number of visitors is not related to square footage but to the novelty of the project,” responded a skeptical Richard Emerson, a Presidio Heights resident and a member of the board of California Academy of Sciences.  “There are times when we get five times the number of visitors expected per square foot.  The academy has exceeded expectations.”

Members of the public also voiced concerns about increased opportunities for cut through traffic from one side of the Presidio to another because of the rebuilt Doyle Drive, which will include an exit right to the Main Post at Girard.  In particular, they were concerned that the amount of traffic going through the Lombard Gate would increase.

“Make traffic [coming off the exit] turn right,” suggested Bill Hudson.  “Make people go to the Presidio.”

Hudson also suggested that the Presidio create a remote parking lot near Fort Scott, just as motorists are exiting the Golden Gate Bridge.  From there, visitors could take the PresidiGo Shuttle to the Main Post attractions.

According to Helmbrecht, the PresidiGo Shuttle now carries 300,000 people annually.  Acknowledging that Muni is unlikely to ever meet the needs of the Presidio, he said the Presidio Trust was “well on its way to increasing” shuttle ridership.

Not good enough

“The Trust is proposing something that is causing all these adverse effects,” said Becky Evans, a long-time member of the Sierra Club in reference to the CAMP.  “The easiest way to stop them is to withdraw the proposal.”

"The Trust has acknowledged that there will be severe congestion, " added Don Green, chairman of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Presidio Neighborhood Working Group.  "the best way to avoid that is to reduce the planned level of development and to put [the CAMP] in the city and to reduce if not eliminate the new lodge that is proposed."

According to Green, suggestions have recently floated that Fisher could site his museum at the Giants ballpark parking lot, where it would be easily accessible from downtown and near the T-Line.

Public comment on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Main Post of the Presidio has been extended until June 1, 2009.