As we’ve documented over the course of a year, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has been toying with various treatments to minimize the conflicts between bicycles and cars queueing up on Fell Street near Divisadero Street to get gas at the Arco station on the corner there. The agency has eliminated several parking spaces to encourage motorists to line up at the curb, they’ve installed interns on the street to tell motorists not to block the bike lane and they’ve recently experimented with green paint in the lane to further demarcate the bicycle-only space.
At a recent protest there, San Francisco State Geography Professor Jason Henderson asked Streetsblog rhetorically what it would take to get the city to close the curb cut, arguing the risk to the public outweighed the benefit to the private gas station.
"This curb cut is a public health nuisance," said Henderson. "If this was a nightclub
that had operated for years and years and then got out of hand, the city
would shut it down, or tell it to clean up its act."
The city has jurisdiction to close the curb cut, or any for that matter, but city officials who spoke with Streetsblog were wary of the possibility, because litigation would very likely follow. Though the gas station and related garage would still have an entrance
on Divisadero Street, removing two ingress and egress points on Fell
Street could be considered a taking.
Sections 715-718 of the Department of Public Works (DPW) code detail the rules and requirements around curb cuts and driveways that touch public rights of way, and the process for revoking a curb cut is quite simple procedurally. DPW Director Ed Reiskin need only decide he wants to hold a public administrative hearing about the problem driveway, allow for testimony, and then he can simply revoke the permit.
"A driveway curb cut is an encroachment that is revocable at the discretion of the director of the Department of Public Works," said Matt Dorsey, spokesperson for City Attorney Dennis Herrera. Dorsey said there is no right provided to a private party to initiate the revocation and there is no recourse should DPW decline to move forward with that request.
"Without commenting on any specific station or corner, it’s the job of
the City Attorney to advise about risks of litigation," said Dorsey. "But risk of
litigation should not be the end-all be-all of policy decisions. The question about what is in the policy interest of the city is not the responsibility of the attorneys."
When we initially reached out to the DPW, the question took them by surprise. According to several staff members at DPW who deal with permits and public rights-of-way, there hasn’t been a driveway revocation in recent memory. As to the Fell Street Arco station, the curb cut predates the DPW’s handling of permits (which started in 1981), but section 718 of the DPW code essentially grandfathers in any curb cut without an explicit permit and treats it the same as those that have permits.
In plain English, we’re right back where we started, and the decision to consider revocation of the curb cut falls to DPW Director Reiskin.
"We have to confer with other departments and
the City Attorney. We’re going to look into it and make sure we’re
following the proper protocol," said DPW spokesperson Gloria Chan, who was very cautious to emphasize the DPW has not started any procedural action but is merely discussing the matter.
"That conversation has started. It’s an ongoing conversation," she said.
Representatives for the Arco station and Quality Tune Up garage on the property declined to comment for this story.
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition hadn’t considered the driveway action and was focused on continuing to work with the SFMTA to improve the bike lane configuration.
"It is an area that needs improvement and we’re encouraged to see the MTA
is taking steps to improve it," said Renee Rivera, acting executive director of the SFBC. "Our focus has been on how we make a full connection to the park and
improve that conflict area there. What we are hearing from our
membership since the new green went in are some pretty positive things."
Joshua Hart, who has been helping to organize the protests for Fix Fell, said the curb cut is a small part of the overall problem, albeit an important one.
"I think the goal is to have a safe bikeway between The Wiggle and The
Panhandle, to close the gap of those three blocks. We want to see a separated, safe bike path," said Hart. "Even if
we closed the entrances tomorrow, that bike lane would be extremely
uncomfortable to ride. It’s still essentially in the door zone."
Hart said Fix Fell wasn’t interested in closing the curb cuts just to spite the gas station owner, but he said people were getting hurt because of the queue and the hazard should be mitigated by closing the driveways at the Arco and possibly the Philips 76 west of Divisadero. Hart compared this issue to 9th Avenue in New York City, where the NYCDOT has added a separated bike path by removing a lane of traffic and moving the parking lane off the curb.
"The important thing is that we have a level direct route to the Panhandle," said Hart, who noted the green bike lanes were still being blocked by cars entering the station. "The green bike lane is a step forward, but it’s not enough, it’s still being blocked. It’s still the same conflict."