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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