With All the Hubbub Over the Arco Station, Why Not Close the Driveway?

IMG_1498.jpgPhoto: Bryan Goebel

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."

  • Fran Taylor

    If the City ever starts addressing gas station hazards, I have another candidate for attention at the corner of South Van Ness and Cesar Chavez. This station is practically all driveway along both streets, where day laborers congregate and not far from a school, health clinic, and daycare center. For now, cyclists are less at risk than pedestrians, but both groups will be affected if bike traffic picks up when the Cesar Chavez lanes are striped.

  • I have to agree with the Fix Fell folks that eliminating the curb cuts at the Arco station would only marginally improve The Three Blocks of Terror between Scott and Baker, and that it’s time for a world-class bicycle infrastructure solution to connect the Wiggle to GG Park. I fully support a two-way physically-separated bike lane on the north side of Oak between Scott and Baker. (Take out parking and/or a lane of traffic for those three blocks to make it happen.) Then, when the bike lane reaches the Panhandle, redo the path on the south side of the Panhandle, double the width, and make it for bikes *only*. Leave the north side for pedestrians/dogs/strollers/joggers only.

  • BUT THEY NEED THEIR GAS. Public health & safety second!

  • @taomom –

    Closing the curb cuts alone would only marginally improve conditions, but it’s a necessary step in creating the bikeway you’re talking about.

    The south Panhandle path isn’t suitable for a bikeway – it is at times tightly bounded by trees and a playground on the sides. And coming west from Fell, would people then make a left on Baker to reach it?

  • By the way, thank you Streetsblog for bringing these questions to the people who have the power to change things. I was so glad when I read that you reached out to the DPW and initially “took them by surprise”. You’re not just reporting these issues, you’re helping to positively shape their outcome.

  • steve bodner

    Why not move the bike lane to the right hand side of the street like it is in most situations !

  • @Steve: I think because you’d then be forcing all the bikers who then enter the Panhandle bike path to cross the street.

  • Interestingly if you do a new building the SFMTA traffic engineers want the curb cuts held back from the corners more than 50 feet, so the typical “almost all curb” gas station wouldn’t be approved now.

  • gibraltar

    Gah. This location, while deserving of improvements, has turned into a fetish here on Streetsblog. To me the city’s bike advocates obsessing about this one stretch of infrastructure is just another form of NIMBYism.

    There are many other places in the city that are hazardous, and actually even more so because the cars are going much faster than the ones entering/exiting the stations. But since those places are not on the way between the Ritual roast at Mojo and playing frisbee in the park, they don’t get a fraction of the attention this particular clusterfuck is getting.

  • redcatbicycliste

    ‘Tis a shame: All that room for cars! Five lanes for cars: Three for driving and two for parking. And only a sliver of space for folks to ride a bicycle. And, although, I am a bicycle rider in the city, I do think that priority for planning should go to the slowest movers amongst us: The pedestrians. Look at the very narrow sidewalks they have to walk along! It’s just barely wide enough for two to walk [comfortably] side-by-side.

    Aaargh! What is wrong with this city: It is, and continues to be, poorly planned, and all the plans are prioritized for the automobile. Many of these autos are just passing through, too. Too many of this city’s streets are just like freeway lanes. Eliminating that curb cut would be the best thing for the bikers AND the walkers on the sidewalk. It is no skin off of the noses of those in the position of “power” to fill in that cut. No. Skin. Whatsoever. They are just a bunch of cowards who don’t have the cajones to stand up to the automobile drivers who use the public space to speed through at speeds that endanger the LIVES of too many of us who walk and bike and live here. If NYC could close down the whole of bloody Times Square, well, then, surely, raising up that curb cut should be child’s play. But, then, I’ve learned, after living in this city for a few years, that its politicians (and, sadly, many of its residents) are full of talk and hot air, but don’t have any muscle-strength for action, when it comes to the implementation of so-called “liberal” and “progressive” causes.

  • Tofu –

    I walk on Fell Street between Divisadero and Scott an average of once a day. I have lived in the neighborhood for 20+ years. For my personal safety and just to keep from becoming angry, I routinely walk the north side of Fell.

    1) The ARCO station is a significant part of the problem. But not the only one….

    2) Cars turning left off Fell into Divisadero treat the turn like a freeway offramp. Which is a chronic problem with SF’s 3-lane “freeway” one-way streets.

    3) The sidewalk on the southwest corner of Fell/Scott is also a danger spot for pedestrians. Bike lanes aside, so many bicyclists hop up on the sidewalk at that spot when they are making the left turn against the light. It’s a blind corner on the sidewalk and I have been nearly hit a number of times.

    4) The ARCO station is even a problem for car drivers. I know, as every time I return a zipcar to the gas station lot across the street, getting past ARCO is always tricky.

  • =v= Lemme get this straight. Something’s a problem for years and years, but when someone finally actually does something about it, coverage is a “fetish?” Puh-lease.

  • Sorry, Gibralter. I pass through that intersection all the time. Not to get from Mojo to Ritual (although if that was my only reason it would not mean I deserve a lack of planning and what is at this point a deliberate lack of care for my or anyone’s health or safety). I pass through to pick up my child from pre-school and get my other children to their medical appointments at CPMC. Most people use it to get to and from work. With all that riding, though, we may just stop at Ritual and Mojo to get an energy boost to get through it all.

  • A “transit first” city indeed.

  • Bert

    Someone needs to just buy the gas station and turn it into a park.

  • TMTOWTDI

    @Gibralter – My 8 and 10 year old daughters live just off the Panhandle with their Mom. I live in SOMA. Anytime they ride their own bikes or ride with me on my cargo bike we pass through this area. So I’ll disagree about the importance of covering this topic. Yes there are other dangerous areas for cycling in the city. But the Wiggle is the Panama Canal of San Francisco cycling. Everyone moving across the city uses it at some point. Pushing for meaningful change on this path is essential if we ever hope to have complete streets.

  • Nick

    Notice all the bad press that the city is getting for having a tourist shot on Mason Street last night.

    Expect the same when one dies on Fell Street by riding inadequate infrastructure. It may just take a death to get the City to act. How f-ked is that for the person who is now currently alive? It doesn’t have to happen.

    (FYI, the bike rental companies are now giving tourists maps of the Wiggle.)

  • Doug

    On walking by ARCO last evening, I noted that they have installed longer hoses which allow a vehicle to be filled from either side. In my past observation, the “jockeying for position” of motorists for either a left or right fill position has been the cause of a lot of the sidewalk blockage.

  • Is there location specific bicycle injury data by year available? Often I feel unsafe and threatened as I ride in an area, which is a deterrent to cycling and my personal enjoyment, but I wonder how many injury accidents actually occur there.

  • marcos

    @TMTOWTDI “But the Wiggle is the Panama Canal of San Francisco cycling. Everyone moving across the city uses it at some point. Pushing for meaningful change on this path is essential if we ever hope to have complete streets.”

    Better off white and Asian San Franciscans use the wiggle when going east/west. That is why the City is paying attention. That is why the Fell/Masonic project got special treatment amidst the injunction torpor.

    The City needs to prioritize bicycle treatments based on DPH injury and death statistics, not to assuage squeaky, melanin deficient and cash flush wheels.

    I thought that the vaunted Bicycle Plan Update of 2004 was supposed to have had considered these issues and recommended solutions. Who was responsible for the public outreach on that and who was responsible for ensuring that the update considered all important segments?

    Instead of catering to the best organized, the palest or best off, the City needs to impose a regime of equity on bicycle treatments that solve empirically demonstrated problems.

    -marc

  • Karen

    Interesting article. I’m a little disappointed there was no mention of what effect taking away the curb cut for the gas station on Fell Street might have on the 24 Divisadero bus, though.

    I’ve taken that bus about twice a week for a few years now, and can report that it already has some trouble getting through that stretch of Divis (at any reasonable speed). If all of the gas station customers were entering and exiting on Divis, I suspect the bus would often get stuck behind them. If it were easier to change lanes to get around the cars that might block the right lane, this might not be a big deal. However, the left lane is frequently pretty full around there, often with cars waiting to turn left.

    It may be that eliminating the danger to cyclists from the Arco driveway on Fell Street is worth the potential slowing of the bus on Divis. I’d just like to see it discussed. (So here I am discussing it.)

  • Sean H

    I wonder if the city got sued for closing the drivethru window at the 10th and Geary Jack in the Box. I cant imagine the gridlock that created.

  • @marcos – The priority assigned here has to do with geography. There is a racial angle in that the condition of Fell (and Oak) dates back to the days of urban renewal, which here as in most American cities took the form of demolishing large parts of African-American neighborhoods and then imposing freeways atop them.

    The demographics I observe at the intersection don’t match what you’re saying here. Certainly gentrification is oozing over this part of town, but it’s still the Western Addition.

  • Neo Displacer

    Isn’t the bike lane on the wrong side of the road? Aren’t bike lanes generally placed on the right? It seems odd. It seems dangerous that left turning cars must cross over the bike lane at any intersection along the Fell St route. Isn’t there a problem in the Panhandle with a similar condition?

  • Nick

    David Baker… start here (13 vehicles accidents here over the last month, most with injuries):

    http://sf.everyblock.com/police-calls/filter/streets/fell-st/1200-1299/1-block/by-broad-category/traffic-incident/

  • Katherine Roberts

    I don’t know why people have to get into a “gnarlier than thou” discussion here. If an intersection or stretch of road is unsafe it should be fixed, period. Dividing us up & making us fight over the crumbs has them laughing at us all the way to the bank. How stupid do you have to be to play into this? Anytime anyone wants any improvement anywhere, we should all be on board with it. It makes no sense at all for us to take pot-shots at each other over things like this.

    That said, if the city weren’t giving curb-cut permits out like candy, we wouldn’t be in this fix. So I wholly blame the city for this conflict on Fell. No matter what’s in the way — public safety, historic street trees, historic architectural detail, even public on-street parking, I don’t know that the DPW has *EVER* denied anyone’s request to “take” the public right-of-way because they want to put in a curb cut. Then when you try and take it back again you’re scared of a lawsuit. Well, duh. If the folks at City Hall were the LEAST bit discriminate about allowing folks to rip up our sacred walkways for their own private use we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. Lesson learned? I highly doubt it.

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