Bernal and Glen Park Neighbors Seek Traffic Calming in “The Cut”

The_Cut_1.jpgLooking south on San Jose Avenue from Randall Street. The southbound direction narrows to two lanes, but the northbound direction remains three. Photos: Matthew Roth

By the time the political tides had turned against ripping up neighborhoods to make way for freeways in the late 1950s, the result of the San Francisco freeway revolt, many areas had already been substantially altered to make room for the footprint of enormous future roadways.

The remnants of one of the more significant proposed freeway routes, The Mission Freeway from I-280 to Cesar Chavez (where it would have met up with a spur of the 101), has left wide city streets that essentially function like urban freeways, inviting motorists to speed through them and create hazards for pedestrians, cyclists and anyone who doesn’t want to use a street as a speedway.

One of those streets is San Jose Avenue north of Randall Street. Residents like Gillian Gillett of Greening Guerrero have mobilized to reduce the number of lanes on San Jose while adding bike lanes and now the trial plaza at San Jose and Guerrero.

The more troubling problem is the portion of San Jose south of Randall that essentially serves as an on-ramp or off-ramp to the freeway. It runs for nearly one mile with two and three lanes depending on the direction with no traffic signals and speeding traffic that neighbors report often hits sixty miles per hour or higher.

This stretch of San Jose is nicknamed "The Cut" for the channel that was originally sliced between
the two hills to make way for the railroad. At one point it even had housing along it, though that was removed to make way for the planned freeway.

Efforts to calm the traffic there have been unsuccessful for numerous reasons, from two supervisorial district boundaries splitting control of the street in half between the J-Church Muni tracks, to large neighborhood plans like the Glen Park Community Plan focusing attention on the BART station, to the section of San Jose Avenue south of Rousseau being controlled by Caltrans, an agency notoriously resistant to calming traffic if it reduces vehicular throughput.

Rick Mordesovich, a resident living on the Bernal Heights side of San Jose, has been trying to get the attention of traffic planners and politicians for over a year to find a resolution to the speeding problem. Short of significant engineering changes, like reducing lanes or adding a buffered bike lane, Mordesovich would like to see more speed limit signs at a minimum, or speed boards that show drivers how fast they are going.

"There are no speed limit signs until you get to the Shell Station on Randall," said Mordesovich, describing the conditions from the I-280 San Jose off-ramp up to Randall Street. "It feels like a freeway."

The_cut_2.jpgThe DPH signs in English and Chinese along San Jose southbound, asking drivers to slow down.

Mordesovich cites two incidents that galvanized some of his neighbors. The first happened when one neighbor ran across San Jose after his dog had escaped and was killed by a northbound J-Church train on the tracks in the middle of The Cut. The second was a vehicle making an illegal turn up a one-way street, where it crashed into a parked car and sent it into the side of a house.

Mordesovich said his neighbors shuddered to think what could have happened to their children had they been out playing that weekend day. 

In the planning process for the Glen Park Plan, various options for major engineering changes were brought to the community, including one option that transforms San Jose Avenue into a boulevard with fewer lanes,  landscaping and a physically separated bicycle lane. Much to the chagrin of some neighbors, the Planning Department is not currently looking at the boulevard option because of the prohibitive cost for constructing it.

Mordesovich understood the street wouldn’t be transformed completely, but said he only wanted small fixes that were entirely in the realm of possibility.

"We understand that the city is under budget constraints. We came up
with
reasonable solutions," he said. 

The neighbors sent a proposal to the San Francisco Municipal Transporation Agency (SFMTA), which manages the portion of the San Jose Avenue north of Rousseau, including flashing yellow signs, speed boards to indicate driver speed, rumble strips in the pavement and street trees to narrow the freeway feel of the route, and a reduction in northbound lanes from three to two, as happened in the southbound direction.

The SFMTA has said it is preparing a detailed response to the neighbors’ concerns and will present it to them this week. SFMTA spokesperson Kristen Holland was spare on details, saying she wanted the neighbors to hear from them first and not read about it in the media, but she confirmed that they were considering each of the requests made by the community.

"The primary issue is there is [the Glen Park Plan] for the neighborhood. Our staff thought [San Jose Avenue] was part of that," said Holland. "They went back through with the Planning Department to be sure the various things the community has asked for won’t interfere with the environmental review process."

One concern with eliminating a lane is the cost of conducting full environmental review for reducing capacity, said Holland, though she said the SFMTA would do an internal study on the feasibility of lane removal.

As for the portion of the street controlled by Caltrans south of Rousseau, Holland said they would follow up with Caltrans to discuss the matter. "We have an ongoing relationship with them," she said.

One of the simpler solutions, and one Mordesovich said his neighbors were intrigued by, are signs produced by the Department of Public Health lining street lamp poles on the southbound side of San Jose with photos and lettering that reads, "We Live Here, Please Slow Down."

like_a_freeway_small.jpgAnother view of the city street engineered like a freeway. Photo: Rick Mordesovich.

Ana Validzic, a Pedestrian Project Coordinator for the San Francisco
Department of Public Health (DPH), said the signs were the continuation
of a project started in 2004, when the DPH and the SFMTA received a
Caltrans grant to address pedestrian safety in the Mission and the
Tenderloin. The signs were one piece of a larger plan and their value, according to Validzic, is as much a tool for the community as it is an effective method for reducing speeding.

"What I find is that this is a really good community organizing tool," said Validzic. "It
brings community members together to address the issues of speeding and
that brings about the longer-term infrastructure changes."

Gillian Gillett, who fought a protracted battle to reduce street capacity and add a bike lane on San Jose Avenue north of Randall Street and who used the "We Live Here" signs along Guerrero, said in her experience signage is less effective than engineering solutions.

"It’s signed like a freeway; it smells like a freeway; it must be a
freeway," said Gillett.

"That’s way too much right-of-way," she said about the three lanes northbound on San Jose. "It was down to two lanes for a couple of months in 2003 [for construction]," she noted, and there was no traffic chaos as a result.

Gillett worried that the failure to remediate speeding would not only conflict with efforts upstream to make the neighborhood more livable, including the objective to make the intersection of Randall Street and San Jose Avenue safer for children walking to Fairmont Elementary School.

Gillett and Mordesovich were happy to meet as a result of this proposal, however, and intend to conduct community meetings and potentially bring in Supervisors Bevan Dufty and David Campos to find more funding for improving the roadway.

Mordesovich said the neighborhoods around San Jose are only going to add population with time, and the city has purported to improve its streets and promote transit, pedestrian safety and bicycle connectivity. Without a significant change to San Jose, he said, they will not succeed in their goals.

"They are adding more pedestrians and children in the neighborhood,"
said Mordesovich, "but they’re not doing anything to keep us safe."

San_Jose_in_GP_Plan_small.jpgClick image to enlarge: a proposal in the Glen Park Community Plan to transform San Jose Avenue into a boulevard that slows traffic. This proposal is not in the current EIR for the plan due to construction costs. Image: Planning Department.
trash_dump_2_small.jpgAnother problem with the street is dumping, which neighbors say happens routinely and requires a weekly DPW trash run. Photo: Rick Mordesovich.
  • If two shifts of one motorcycle patrol each were dedicated to that dangerous stretch where cars are traveling 60 in a 45 zone, those shifts would both pay for themselves, lower the risk from speeding, and possibly generate enough extra revenue for the requested improvements.

  • “All over the city, you will see how when freeways run out into regular streets, those streets need to be faster and higher volume e.g. 101 into Octavia/Fell, or further south into Army/Potrero.”

    Anyone still calling it Army Street I will immediately dismiss from serious discussion.

  • EH

    How about reducing San Jose to one lane in each direction and instead of housing, create some parkland on the reclaimed ROW?

    The evening commute would back up to Ocean.

  • As a car driver, San Jose is great. It’s basically a freeway that extends right up to 30th street. Yes, people do routinely go 50, 60, 70 mph because it looks and feels just like the freeway they were just on. The very design of San Jose Ave encourages high speeds and will continue to do so whatever the signage or enforcement.

    On another thread someone wisely observed that if you need enforcement, it’s because the infrastructure isn’t correct. If the city seriously wanted to reduce speed on San Jose, it could do any number of things, but the most effective would be physical changes such as narrowing the lanes, adding speed bumps, or putting in an intermediate stop sign or stop light to break speed in the middle of the stretch. Though I like the “We Live Here” banners, I agree that they are largely ineffective.

  • RICK MORDESOVICH

    REDUCING SPEED ALONG SAN JOSE AVE FROM 55 MPH TO 35 MPH ALONG THAT 2-MILE STRETCH WILL ADD APPROX. 30 SECONDS TO 2 MINUTES ONTO COMUTER DRIVE TIME.

    IS THIS UNREASONABLE??

    BTW, I LOVE CARS! WE ALL NEED TO THINK BEFORE WE SPEED DOWN ANY CITY STREET.

    SAN JOSE AVE IS A CITY STREET NOT A FREEWAY !!!

    THANK YOU.

  • Correction, the freeway extends all the way to Randall Street, not 30th.

  • Willow

    Long term it makes sense to connect Arlington and Bosworth streets and tear down the overpasses. I would think making the J church more accessible to pedestrians could be a logical starting point. Currently the Glen Park stop is in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps MUNI could move the current stop to where Rousseau and San Jose intersect on the Bernal side and create a path on the Glen Park side from Arlington. Installing traffic lights at that location would allow for better pedestrian access and give vehicle traffic coming from the 280 ample time to slow down. It would also better manage the freeway traffic that spills onto Bosworth during peak hours.

  • michmill

    @Rob — You argue that slowing cars on this street would create traffic on side streets. That would only happen if side streets went the same way–they don’t. This is a street that’s relatively unique to the SF grid, in that there’s not an obvious alternative for cars or bikes, at least without a hill. Right now the most dangerous part is the northbound freeway exit to Bosworth. It involves many cars suddenly slowing and turning right coming off a freeway. Very dangerous considering that bikes are supposed to merge (from Monterey) at the same time, and cars continuing to Randall fly by going straight.

    In this case, a colored bike lane with signage would make much sense and would be super-easy to implement.

  • RICK MORDESOVICH

    CORRECTION — the freeway exit ramp ENDS at Rousseau and then San Jose Avenue is a CITY STREET.

    IT FEELS LIKE A FREEWAY TO 30TH STREET, HOWEVER, IT IS NOT.

  • Rob

    @michmill: I agree that there are solutions that are smart, safe, and effective for all parties involved, but still recognize that there is a need to move cars through that space.

    Every time I read the phrase “traffic calming” the people saying it don’t seem to fully understand what that creates on side streets. Whether direct routes are available or not, driving quickly down a side street that takes you out of your way still gives you the impression you are moving, so drivers will like it. When we craft solutions that are designed to punish car drivers and not help them get safely and effectively through our neighborhood and on their way, we may end up losing too.

    I think we need some safe bike lanes, good pedestrian options, a smart and effective re-routes when necessary, and then get those cars onto the freeway and out of our evenings.

  • Elizabeth Creely

    Great article. I bike this every day on my way to SFSU andit’s always a bit nuts.

  • It is not a bike path, get over it. It is a useful street leading to the freeway. Ride over the hill, and leave the cars their road.

  • SFGoth

    San Jose Ave. is awesome as is. Finally, I can actually get somewhere at a decent rate and not have to creep along at 25.

  • RICK MORDESOVICH

    SFGOTH,

    Do you think it prudent to let cars drive 55 – 70 MPH in residential areas of the city to that drivers can get to a destination faster?

    Do you think it prudent to have cars turning corners onto side streets at high speeds (Rousseau) a blind turn?

    Do you think it prudent to continue to allow cars to speed the WRONG WAY down a ONE WAY residential street where children play because it is more convenient and drivers can get to their destination faster?

    I HOPE YOU SAY NO TO ALL THREE.

    Reducing SPEED on San Jose Avenue from hight speed (55-70 MPH) down to 35 MPH will add 2 minutes onto drive time and save lives and property damage.

    Something MUST BE DONE !!!!

  • RICK MORDESOVICH

    EASY MATH PROBLEM:

    SAN JOSE AVENUE IS 2 MILES FROM I-280 TO RANDALL STREET STOP LIGHT.

    AT 60 MPH IT WILL TAKE A DRIVER 2 MINUTES TO REACH RANDALL.

    AT 30 MPH IT WILL TAKE A DRIVER 4 MINUTES TO REACH RANDALL.

    IF DRIVER MISSES THE LIGHT MAY ADD ANOTHER 2 MINUTES ON.

    ANSWER: LEAVE YOUR HOME 6 MINUTES EARLY AND DRIVE SLOWER AND SAFER ON OUR CITY STREETS.

    SOMETHING MUST BE DONE SOON.

    THANK YOU.

  • a biker/driver/walker

    @Rick M: I’m sure you’re proud of your math skills, but unfortunately your “easy” solution has no actual real-world application. We are not talking about a 2 mile stretch of one road; this is about the bigger picture: moving traffic through a city. Those “little” minutes, i.e., adding 6 minutes for 2 miles, when applied to an actual commute which extends more than 2 miles (all or nearly all commutes) will potentially add an additional 30 minutes (that’s one half hour) to a ten mile commute. And all because you and most of the posters prefer to bike, walk or work from home so you’re not interested in the real life of those of us who have no choice but to commute in cars. I love so many bikers’ attitudes: Get out of your cars and onto a bike! Save our City! Perfect as long as you’re not required to dress for your job, are under 40 and have no physical limitations. I just don’t get how you all really think that you can morph a 49-square-mile city of 850,000 into a no-car zone where pedestrians and bicyclists are royalty and car-owners are considered sub-humans, intent on nothing more than injuring as many people as possible with our “killing machines”… Really.

  • EJ

    From Randall to Lyell is only 0.7 miles.

  • RICK MORDESOVICH

    a Biker/Driver/Walker,

    With all due respect I LOVE my cars! I dress for work AND I am over 40. I need to correct you and let you know that the article written above IS about a 2-mile stretch of black top in San Francisco known as San Jose Avenue.

    We believe that cars, bikes, and walkers, runners, strollers, can all exist together in one happy city know to us as San Francisco.

    Why do you need to drive to work at 60 MPH down a city street that residents object to? We live here. And how does driving 30 MPH for 2 miles add 30 minutes onto your commute?

    Please explain WHY you can’t drive 30 or 35 MPH. I just don’t understand.

  • Scott GP

    Please slow things down. A little slower and some narrowing would make a huge difference for safety, the neighborhood and not cost anyone more than 2-3 minutes.

  • Patrick

    Living in this area, my biggest concern is that there several city streets that intersect this “freeway”, creating a dangerous situation. On Northbound San Jose Avenue after the 280 exit, you have 60+mph traffic meeting cars at a full stop coming to and from side streets. A recipe for nasty accidents.

    I want the city to decide what it wants this stretch of San Jose Avenue to be. Is it supposed to be a freeway (as it seems most of the comments assume)? If so, then there need to be several on/off ramps to this “freeway” that make it easy for motorists to slow down to get off, and speed up to get on (and may as well remove the bike lane too). If the city does not want this to be a freeway, then traffic needs to slow down – as most commenters on this blog think that it is a freeway.

    My preference is something simple to start – maintain (and enforce) a 35mph speed limit, shift from 3 lanes to 2 between Rouseau and St Marys, and have dedicated lanes to go on and off those city streets.

  • Tommy

    Patrick

    Yes, this needs to be either one thing or the other.

    We need fast stretches of highway and we need safe passage for bikes and pedestrians.

    Given how few fast stretches of highway there are in the City, I’d prefer to see alternate provision for non-vehicular traffic here, for the safety of the more vulnerable users of our roads and paths.

  • CR

    San Jose Avenue lacks the attention it deserves. It frames a unique part of town and it is a stretch of road that is in need of repair. The speed limit should be reduced at once and the surrounding areas need more respect by City Officials and those that live in, and drive through the neighborhood.

  • GSBMER

    Actually I measured the exit ramp from I-280 onto San Jose Ave to Randall today.

    It is only 1.1 mile long. Slowing traffic from 55 MPH to 35 MPH would be insignificant to drive time and would make the street much much more safe for bikers and walkers.

    Let’s stop speeding cars immediately and reduce the speed limit to 30 or 35 MPH as soon as possible.

    Thank you.

  • San Jose is an interesting street, in much the same way that Fell and Oak streets are- they all become the lightening rods of strange, reactive and nonproductive thinking. For reasons i do not understand, the conversation moves from “How do we design and plan streets for the safe use of the broadest cross section of people?” to ” How do we move the most vehicles through, fast?”. If anyone takes the knee jerk out of the conversation, it starts to become more clear that all streets in the City should be designed for the purpose of living, not speeding.

    San Jose Ave is a hazard to the people who live near it (how many times has the house at San Jose and Rousseau been smashed into by out of control traffic making the right turn?) and becomes worse with each passing year. As it continues to deteriorate, people who pass through take less and less consideration of it and it becomes more and more of a traffic sewer because no one can imagine it doing anything other than rot and move cars.

    It isn’t just about calming car traffic on San Jose. It is also about increasing pedestrian and bicycle usage, decreasing noise and pollution, improving safety for the neighborhood, utilizing the space for improved public transportation… San Jose needs to become fully utilized space that benefits all.

  • RICK MORDESOVICH

    Adrienne,

    Very well put !!!

    San Francisco is a WORLD CLASS CITY. What makes San Francisco great is the collections of unique neighborhoods. Each neighborhood collectively comes together to design a place that is better and safer to live, work, shop, eat, green space, bike lanes, etc etc….

    Here in South Bernal Heights the neighbors have come together to improve this small slice of San Francisco. We need help of our city officials to get involved and to help us start the ball rolling. We are realists and know that the city is swimming in RED INK, however, we need FIVE “35 MPH” speed limit signs and TWO “Children at Play” signs as soon as possible. Small steps toward the master plan that was designed 7-years ago.

    May next year we can work with CalTrans and get flashing yellow light, rumble strips, and lane reduction. We can continue to work with Friends of the Urban Forest and get more trees.

    Get a larger bike lane, get a safer sidewalk, etc etc.

    Final goal, making San Jose Avenue a grand entrance from I-280 as a gateway into our amazing city!!

    Thank you.

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