Cesar Chavez Street Redesign a Test Case For Better Agency Coordination

Cesar Chavez Mission image small_1.jpgConcept for Mission and Cesar Chavez intersection redesign. Image: Planning Department

It appears 2010 is the year the stewards of San Francisco’s streets have marked to figure out how to cooperate with each other to design and build a better realm. While the much touted Better Streets Plan
synthesizes best practice principles and standards for street design,
the release of a new City Controller report (weeks early!) outlined
how the city family has historically failed to work together to better our streets [PDF], reminding us of the distance each agency has to
bridge before the public sees any concrete improvements.

The Controller’s report recommended the city shoul "create and institute an efficient and thorough project design process to increase the consistency of proactive outreach by project managers to City experts and public stakeholders during the project concept phase." The report also recommends consolidating streetscape planning and delivery resources to inform developers and community partners.

Perhaps anticipating the Controller’s study, project managers from the Planning Department, MTA, Department of Public Works (DPW) and Public Utilities Commission (PUC) yesterday gave a progress report at SPUR’s weekly lunchtime forum on the redesign of Cesar Chavez Street
between Guerrero and Highway 101, arguing that the past two years of coordination on the project was the new standard for designing, funding, and building a world class street.

"Each agency has its charge and our projects get programmed that way,
they get planned that way with that mission in mind," said Kris
Opbroek, project manager for the DPW. "One of the things that’s
shifting is all the agencies are thinking of the public right-of-way as a whole,
not just a sewer project, or just a transit project."

Staff reiterated that the process of reconstructing Cesar Chavez, the first phase of which begins later this year with drainage and sewer renovation under the street, had taught the city valuable lessons in cooperation between agencies that seldom look to each other for advice in project design. This coordination, according to the Planning Department’s Andres Power, enabled the project to go after more grant funding that each individual agency would have been unable to secure on its own, including a recent $1.2 million grant from the EPA for innovative greenstreet treatments meant to capture runoff at the street level.

That the street is currently a disgrace is beyond question, particularly for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders. As the MTA’s Mike Salaberry said, "If you like barren streetscapes only good at one thing, then you probably have no problem with Cesar Chavez."

The six-lane street moves between 30,000 and 50,000 cars daily and is designed to meet level-of-service capacity during the evening rush hour. Essentially, said Salaberry, Cesar Chavez is optimized for two hours of traffic each weekday, which is roughly 6 percent of a week. This privileging of peak-period traffic over all other users for the rest of the week is a relic of a different era, when traffic engineers expected to convert the street and neighboring Guerrero into freeway feeders.

For pedestrians, the primary issue is crossing Cesar Chavez in the north-south direction, given the width of the street. At Mission and Cesar Chavez, for instance, pedestrians have to cross seven lanes with numerous turning vehicles, many of which don’t slow down to make the turn. The new plan for the intersection, paid for in part with developer fees from the 555 Bartlett condo building and Walgreens, will include pedestrian refuges in the new median island and bulbouts that will cut down the crossing distance. Similar treatments will run the length of the proposed reconstruction in an attempt to mitigate the barrier that the street is currently, dividing the neighborhoods on either side of it.

Another concern during the redesign is accommodation of day laborers, who routinely line Cesar Chavez sidewalks
waiting for work from passing vehicles exiting Highway 101. One option being considered by the city would move the Day Labor Program office from its current location just off Cesar Chavez to a new building on Bayshore Boulevard, near the Lowes. While the proposal could improve safety for both day laborers and drivers by preventing unsafe stops on the busy Chavez corridor, some neighbors say the new location is not ideal.

Fran Taylor of the community group CC Puede pointed out that the city’s plan for the new site by the Lowes would require a shuttle bus from the Mission, where many of the day laborers live, in no small part because it is nearly impossible to walk through the Highway 101 and Cesar Chavez interchange nicknamed the "hairball."

While applauding the agency efforts for the street redesign, Taylor reminded the audience that she and her neighbors had been agitating for
changes to the street since 2005, well before the city came around to
the prospect of rethinking the street. Taylor noted that they had
collected more than 600 signatures in favor of traffic calming and
street improvements and that they had conducted numerous outreach
meetings to respond to concerns about lane reductions and cut-through
traffic on residential streets in the Mission and Precita.

  • I don’t know why it should be impossible to walk from eastbound Cesar Chavez to southbound Bayshore. There is a way for pedestrians that includes a stoplight crosswalk — which exists only to safeguard pedestrians who have to cross the traffic lanes coming from northbound Bayshore and the northbound Cesar Chavez exit from 101. From there, the pedestrians walk on a dedicated pedestrian bridge over another rampy thing to a sidewalk that leads to the east side of Bayshore.

    The idea that day laborers would be unable to walk from the Mission District to Bayshore Blvd. is a little silly.

  • David K

    It’s not impossible, but it sure is a mess. Traffic is flying in all directions , and while there’s a signal across one part of NB Bayshore (the light takes forever), there is no signal on the other side of the path. Cars are exiting the freeway there at very high speed, with no signal and no intention of slowing for pedestrians. From there you must share a narrow sidewalk with bicyclists (this must also be changed, what a ridiculous bike route), and two more intersections where drivers making right turns cut off the crosswalks. It’s not really safe, and definitely not a preferable route to that part of town.

  • ZA

    Truthfully, while the concrete flyover they added for pedestrians and bicycles has finally connected CC to Bayshore through that mess, it’s FAAAAR from optimal, let alone safe. Non-vehicular traffic using the designated crossing points have to cross at least two lanes of traffic, coming from nearly 270 degrees of approaches, AND be obscured from drivers by shadowing highway overpasses and concrete columns.

    To say nothing of the resident homeless camped out at either end of the connection, and historically at the mid-point of turning traffic under the overpass.

    Ironically, the ‘best route’ is to go north, to 23rd Street, cross Potrero, and go to De Haro and go all the way around via Connecticut and Jerrold to get onto Bayshore. Yes, 5 sides of a hexagon are ‘better’ than the direct route.

    Of course, I’ll pay in for a catapult and net contraption if necessary.

  • Terrrie Frye

    And this is the intersection they expect sick and infirmed and seniors to traverse on their way to St. Luke’s since the elimination of the 26 Valencia!

  • Cesar Chavez is a death trap and as big a danger if not worse to the health of its current and would-be users as some other spots in the city where ‘exemptions’ to the injunction have been used to make interventions–namely the bikes-only light on the panhandle path. With at least a two-year delay on the bike lanes and parking removal on Cesar chavez between 101 and 280 I honestly think it is time to start asking Judge Busch for an exemption to implement changes on such sections of road. The use of Chavez is no where near as high as the panhandle, but it’s level of risk is likely even higher for its users.

    I am disheartened and sickened to think that the changes to Chavez are still years away.

    In a related note, I think it would be very helpful for SB to do a story on the possibilities of failure in the EIR hearings come June. What are the chances that Busch is going to rule in favor of the city? Isn’t it true that a judge ruled against the bike plan EIR in Oakland, resulting in a blockage of a bike lane on Telegraph? I cannot take much of the rhetoric about bike planning in the city seriously sometimes when I consider the real possibility that we could lose, and lose big, come June. Am I just paranoid?

  • i’m ecstatic that we’re finally carving out some space on cesar chavez for living things — trees. after all, they have a calming effect. for instance, if you happen to be a biker, and you get run down, you can have the sunlight filtered onto your face as the remaining blood pours out of your body and down into the new sewage system. your face may or may not still be attached to the rest of your body, but nonetheless, your face will enjoy the filtered sunlight – with or without ‘you’. it’s gonna be awesome. i can’t wait.

  • seems my comment was none too soon — a state farm agent in a blue-lettered, white station wagon almost ripped my face off by buzzing me three times because i had the audacity to take the lane. after he saw me finally start chasing him — hey, i was tired of being terrorized — he took off, ran through reds, jumped into suicide lane to pass other cars, and eventually busted off into noe from valencia — got away. i didn’t get the plates. darn. have to remember that next time — sometimes they get away if they’re willing to break every law in the books.

    but remember, cesar chavez must be protected for trees, bikers need to stop at stop signs, and critical mass sucks.

  • localgrrrl

    i agree with peter smith wholeheartedly when he cautions us to “remember, cesar chavez must be protected for trees, bikers need to stop at stop signs, and critical mass sucks.”

    and, peter, i can give you the name of a good bail bondsman should your next vindictive chase end catastrophically for another.

  • Jessie

    Cesar Chavez and Mission Street intersection in San Francisco , ca is usually fatal for pedestrians because the Department Of Motors Vehicles truck driving test to get truck driving license is conducted at that intersection . If you see any Truck nearby that intersection it will be wise to go to the side like the ambulance or fire trucks .were passing. .

    Another risky intersection used by DMV to test truck drivers is the intersection by Mission street and Persia street . It is also wise to stay as far away as possible specially when trucks are present from that busy intersection .

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