San Francisco’s traffic managers last week approved a trial closure of one block of Mason Street in North Beach from August 1st to September 27th to test what their models tell them: that they can close the street permanently to allow expansion of the North Beach Branch Public Library and the park at Joe DiMaggio Playground. Mason Street currently serves as a direct route to Fisherman’s Wharf from Columbus Avenue and detractors are concerned that traffic will worsen on adjacent streets and that drivers will have difficulty understanding the change.
Despite the protestation from a few community members at last week’s ISCOTT meeting and concern from Fisherman’s Wharf businesses that the timing could be better, the city decided to test the closure at the height of tourist season to measure peak traffic rather than waiting for an off-peak period when results might not represent similar travel demand.
"The whole point of this analysis is to demonstrate the worst-case scenario, traffic at peak periods," said the Planning Department’s Andres Power, who was responsible for ushering the trial through the city’s maze of agencies responsible for street closures. "Ultimately it would be a disservice to do it in November. If the catastrophic failure [some are predicting] happens now, it would be better to know."
The redesign of the North Beach Library, which is part of the the larger Branch Library Improvement Project (BLIP) funded by a voter referendum from 2000, will involve relocating the library from where it currently resides in Joe DiMaggio playground to the triangular parking lot across Mason Street, which is owned by the Department of Parks and Recreation, one of the project’s sponsors.
"Historically, the playground was there long before the library," said Mindy Linetzky, BLIP Bond Program Administrator for the DPW. "Mayor Christopher in the 1950s put the library on top of a tennis court. We’re trying to remedy what was done 50 years ago to take the library out of the park."
The library will be constructed on the triangle regardless of whether
or not the city closes Mason Street to traffic permanently, said Linetzky.
Prior to the ISCOTT meeting, the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Betterment District (CBD) sent a letter to members saying that Executive Director Kevin Carroll would speak out against the trial because of its impacts to traffic during the busiest period of the year. After discussions with the Planning Department and other agencies to explain that the peak-period closure would give definitive data, Carroll’s opposition was blunted.
"Our original thought would be to try to do the timing outside of the busiest tourist time," said Carroll, who noted that his constituents didn’t want to stand in the way of the trial but wanted to be active partners in understanding how the traffic data would be conducted. "We wanted to express our concerns and be involved in how the measurements are done, look at the results."
The trial closure data will be aggregated with other traffic studies in the environmental review (EIR) that the city expects to complete in early 2010. Even if the EIR shows degradation of Vehicular Level of Service with a permanent closure of Mason Street, said Power, the Board of Supervisors could decide to override the concern, arguing that the improved green space trumps the convenience to motorists accessing Fisherman’s Wharf.