San Francisco Weighs Benefits of Various Masonic Street Upgrades

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At the city’s second community meeting to discuss Masonic Avenue streetscape improvements, attendees debated options for redesigning the street from its current configuration into what could be one a model complete street. There was consensus among the roughly 70 community members in attendance that the thoroughfare from Geary Boulevard to Fell Street needs significant work, and among various problems, the most pressing were lack of enforcement of speeding, slow transit, a history of crashes and overall lack of vitality.

The meeting was hosted by the SFMTA, the Department of Public Works, and the Planning Department, and project manager Javad Mirabdal explained the great potential for improvement along Masonic in a lengthy presentation that included solutions to mitigate the problem conditions.

The presentation was influenced by community feedback from a meeting several weeks ago where neighbors were asked to assemble "game pieces" onto model cross-sections of the street based on the solutions they preferred. The four streetscape options are as follows:

  • The first option features one parking lane, 4 traffic lanes, and 1 bike lane that winds behind bus bulbs.
  • In the second, parking is only available at night, with shifting bike lanes similar to those on the Embarcadero
  • There’s no street parking at all in the third option, which features four lanes of traffic and an elevated bike track.
  • And the fourth option features parking on both sides of the street, four lanes of traffic, and a bike track on the sidewalk.

Each option attempts to strike a balance between various modes on the heavily-used avenue. As many as 1,500 cars per hour travel northbound during both rush hours, with about 1,400 traveling southbound in the evening. Muni’s 43 line carries 1,461 daily riders between Geary and Fell. Figures on pedestrians and bicyclists were not available.The street also has 157 parking spaces, all short-term.

Masonic_Street_re_design.jpgThe SFMTA showed this cycle track from Vancouver, BC, as one option for Masonic.

Traffic analysis showed that reducing vehicle lanes would affect traffic, with intersections such as Masonic and Fell seeing peak-hour delay increase from 35 seconds to just under three minutes. Overall, the total increase in travel time on Masonic would increase by three to four minutes.

Through signal timing or by changing the phase of crossing signals, SFMTA planners believe that they can mitigate some of those delays.

Concerns voiced by participants at the meeting, however, focused less on vehicle delay than on improving pedestrian safety. Upgrades like prominent crosswalks and countdown timers were cited as the street’s best features, followed by planters and landscaping. Top dislikes included a lack of safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Though some groups advocated a full rebuild of the street, smaller changes seemed far more likely. Existing mature trees, unusual sidewalk grading, and extensive underground utilities make a full rebuild complicated and expensive.

"[A full rebuild] is not a great option for now," said Mirabdal. "maybe 50 or 100 years from now."

But there are plenty of opportunities for shorter-term upgrades. The DPW’s Martha Ketterer described the potential for sidewalk planters, stormwater gardens, street furniture, and large public plazas on the south side of Masonic and Fulton.

As Streetsblog has written, San Francisco street trees are often stunted by inadequate access to uncompressed soil. Ketterer described some low-cost techniques that could accommodate new trees on the street, such as longer sidewalk planters.

Along Embarcadero, Ketterer oversaw the installation of cantilevered platforms near trees that support pavement weight while giving roots room to grow.

Most attendees were generally encouraged by the SFMTA’s plans. Attendee Ben Kaufman expressed concern that the designs pitted bikes, Muni riders, and pedestrians against each other, and favored a design with bike tracks behind bus bulbouts.

Vehicle speed was also of concern. Bike NOPA’s Michael Helquist advocated for signal re-timing to conform traffic to the posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour. Another audience-member expressed shock that the speed limit was so much lower than drivers’ actual speed of travel.

For their third community meeting, likely in October, planners will fine-tune two different options and solicit further feedback. The study will likely conclude in December. The timetable for construction depends on the cost of the final design, but Mirabdal estimated residents would see changes in a year or two.

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  • EL

    Peak hour delay increases from 35 seconds to 3 minutes? The end result will be spillover to local streets and Stanyan/Divisadero since these two north-south streets are not cut-off by the Panhandle, USF, and Kaiser/former Sears.

  • Actually Stanayan doesn’t run continuously for as long as Masonic does — the two closest parallel streets are Diviz and Park Presidio. Driving over to one of those would likely take at least 3 or 4 minutes — or more — so I wouldn’t expect much spilling over.

  • Increasing safety for everyone and reducing traffic speed, aka traffic calming, go hand-in-hand. Who cares about the “delay”, when bicyclists, transit riders and pedestrians will gain so much? Say traffic takes alternate routes to avoid the slower Masonic – then people living on & using Masonic win by losing the “spillover” traffic, which is gonna go somewhere, and would we not then be more efficiently utilizing SF’s vastly excessive amount of grid vehicle street space? Besides, ultimately, the improved access will garner more people switching modes and less car traffic overall.

    The days of prioritizing peak hour delay time for cars over the needs of other users are over.

  • Nick

    An elevated bicycle bridgeway may be another option….

    Oh and was the “50-100 years” comment tounge in cheek?

  • Why not take option C, lose the 5′ center median, and replace the 1′ buffer zone with two small 3.5′ medians between the cycle track and traffic? This would also let you build better facilities at bus stops

  • gibraltar

    I have experience with bike tracks on the sidewalk and it is a bad idea. Pedestrians will stray onto the bike path all the time.

  • Winston

    I think that Option C is by far the best option if San Francisco really wants to become less car dependent. Not only does it provide the best bike facilities, but it also reduces the amount of parking which will reduce the amount of driving in the city. In fact, if San Francisco is really serious about reducing auto use then eliminating parking is one way to do it because if people can’t park they won’t drive. This was one of the key approach taken by Copenhagen as it became more bicycle friendly.

  • The tricky thing about the signal timing is it’s nearly impossible to give both directions of traffic on the same street a “green wave” for a particular speed. With blocks of these lengths, if you want 25mph, each corner’s light has to turn green 10 seconds after the previous one, which, with a normal 60-second cycle, means that in the other direction, the green comes *50* seconds after the previous one, for a timed speed of 4.5 miles per hour! Even with the shortest cycle that gives pedestrians enough time to cross, the traffic the other direction only gets to go 10 miles per hour. This is why traffic engineers like one-way streets and huge blocks, because with an 1100-foot block, you can give both directions a green light every 30 seconds and keep them both going 25 mph.

  • @Eric Fischer,

    Can you speak to Valencia, which has two-way traffic and, ostensibly, a 15 MPH green wave?

  • I haven’t actually timed the signals on Valencia, but I think its claim of a 15mph wave is believable.

    Blocks on Valencia are 584 feet from one corner to the next. 15 miles per hour is 22 feet per second, so it would take 26.5 seconds to go one block at this speed. 26.5 seconds is a reasonable length for a signal phase, so this could be done by having giving Valencia a green light at all the even-numbered streets at once and then, 26.5 seconds later, giving red lights at these intersections and green lights at the odd-numbered streets.

    The thing that makes Masonic harder is the combination of shorter blocks (343.75 feet) and higher proposed speed (25 mph is 36.67 feet per second).

  • icarus12

    While it might seem that eliminating parking altogether from Masonic would help traffic flow, that could backfire. Drivers will stop to unload passengers, groceries, that “quick delivery”, etc. The resulting mess will foul up all travelers, whether they are proceeding by bus, bike, or car. At the very least the street need loading zones and short-term parking.

    I like the bike lanes, though I will continue to use parallel side streets for at least the downhill portions — safer and more pleasant. Currently, I don’t use Masonic on a bike — too dangerous. I haven’t found the parallel routes too steep. Is there anyway to move primary bike routes to them while improving the pedestrian and sidewalks and trees aspects of Masonic Avenue?

  • Per SFGate – cyclist dead on Masonic Friday night

  • joejoe

    How about restoring the original street name, Epstein, just to confuse everyone.

  • prinzrob

    Any idea why they don’t just combine options B and C, and have a regular bike lane separated by a buffer with no parking during the day, then at night leave the bike lane where it is but turn the outside driving lanes into parking? This seems like it would make a lot more sense and would require less re-configuration. Also, cars left parked in the auto lanes after 7am would be a lot more likely to be ticketed and towed than those left parked in what would become a bike lane in the morning.

  • chris

    I hear you, Winston; however, what would really help SF is if the city created a better public transport system, like that of Boston or NY. The busses are a joke and they arrive on very loose schedules. The same also goes for the underground, which doesn’t reach much of SF. To really cut down on cars in SF, there must be a better public transportation option, not by reducing parking. That’s a short-term solution.

  • Parking Revenue And Greed

    Ridiculous leaders of the City proposing to take away parking in an already difficult parking area. Another attempt by the City to force people onto mass transit, make congestion worse so the Parking Enforcement Division can increase citations for illegal parking all in the name of revenue and “enforcement.”  SF is also ticketing on Sunday’s now for parking.  The revenue reaches of the City are never-ending and never analyzed fully.  The City has more money than it knows what to do with.  SF is not a friendly, easy place to live or do business.