NOPNA Survey Confirms Support for ‘Boulevard’ Redesign of Masonic Ave

"The Boulevard." Image: SF Planning Department's City Design Group

North Panhandle neighbors gave significant support once again for a complete re-design of Masonic Avenue in an online survey completed by 377 residents. Of the total, 87 percent favored the Boulevard option as the best way to make Masonic a safer street for all users. The plan offers a complete package of traffic calming measures, including a fully-landscaped median, bus bulb outs, a separated bicycle lane, improved traffic lane configurations, and sidewalk upgrades for pedestrians.

To make the improvements, the Boulevard proposal removes parking from both sides of Masonic between Geary and Fell. The other option, dubbed the Gateway, would employ less extensive measures to improve safe travel on Masonic. Compared with the Boulevard’s 87 percent support, the Gateway garnered significantly less with 54 percent preferring it. The North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA) released the results of the survey along with the raw data Saturday.

In an executive summary, NOPNA President Jarie Bolander noted that “the vast majority of respondents want to see Masonic safer and feel that something must be done.” He added that most survey respondents (66.4 percent) had not attended the community meetings organized by the SFMTA last year. Thus, the NOPNA data reflect the preference of a great many residents not previously tallied and indicates even greater support for the Boulevard plan.

At the conclusion of last year’s Masonic meetings, 76 percent of participants who completed a SFMTA survey chose the Boulevard over the Gateway option. Based on that input, city staff recommended adoption of the Boulevard measures in a final report completed in January. The proposal has already been endorsed by the Ewing Terrace Neighborhood Association, a majority of University Terrace Neighborhood Association members, and Fix Masonic. The NOPNA board previously stated that they wanted to undertake the survey to obtain greater input from members before deciding what action to take.

In addition to the decided preference for the more ambitious street design, the NOPNA survey revealed other information pertinent to the discussion. Of the 373 who completed the survey, the greatest number of Masonic area residents heard about the proposals from three sources: the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) (46.9 percent), the NOPNA newsletter (41.4 percent), and BIKE NOPA (36.2 percent). More than 58 percent of respondents indicated they live within the NOPNA boundaries (Fell, Turk, Divisadero and Masonic) while 80 percent reside within or just one block beyond these streets.

Of the 477 residents who started the survey, 45 live on Masonic, and 81.8 percent of them strongly like or somewhat like the Boulevard proposal compared to 44.1 percent for the Gateway plan. Of the 127 who self-identified as being NOPNA members, 86 percent strongly liked or somewhat liked the Boulevard versus 59.9% for the Gateway.

When it comes to discussions about driving and biking in NOPA – as in other neighborhoods — residents sometime adopt an “us vs. them” approach, suggesting that motorists don’t care about road safety for others, that bicyclists only favor improvements for themselves, or that peoples’ modes of travel define their identity and affiliations. But the NOPNA survey shows much the opposite. Although the vast majority of respondents indicated that they belonged to the SFBC and 43 percent identified themselves as NOPNA members, a very high number (42 percent) actually belong to both groups. Other group affiliations mentioned include Fix Masonic (14.2 percent), NOPA+ (12.6 percent), Wigg Party (7.1 percent), and WalkSF (7.1 percent).

The removal of street parking for a safer Masonic was included in both proposals, although the Boulevard takes away parking on both sides of the street, while the Gateway removes it from just one side. Not surprisingly, those who support the Boulevard largely like the plan’s removal of parking to allow space for improvements. But Gateway advocates are almost evenly split on liking or disliking removal of half the parking.

The strong feelings of residents about changing Masonic are apparent in the large number of written comments for each proposal and for the overall situation. Nearly 300 comments were added to the survey. As can be expected, observations cover the range from enthusiasm to dismay for the proposed changes, but the tone was generally more positive than not. The plea of one neighbor is especially poignant:

Please fix Masonic. I’ve lived at Fulton and Masonic for less than a year and I regret moving here every day. The noise and speeding vehicles and honking horns is overwhelming. The crosswalks are terrifying. I drive occasionally and something about this street encourages aggressive behavior.

This story is republished from BIKE NOPA, a website that’s “all about bicycling and livability in San Francisco’s North Panhandle neighborhood.”

  • taomom

    I drive Masonic two or three times a week, almost always during rush hour. It is a miserable, tense experience that I would not go through if other options were not even worse. And I expect that during the construction to create this boulevard, Masonic will become a hell on earth for car traffic. I would suggest to somewhat alleviate this, the city should allow no left turns the entire length of Divisadero (and time the lights at 25mph) so that that street becomes a little less like the parking lot that it generally is.

    However, even though I take Masonic, I fully recognize that my need to do so is due to my choices. I chose (several years ago, admittedly) to let my children attend schools that are poorly served by Muni from our house (45-60 minutes by Muni in contrast to 15-20 minutes by car.) I have two carpools going to alleviate this, but I won’t be making such a choice again. As I’ve said many times, a sizable amount of traffic in this city will be alleviated once SF Unified allows children to attend schools within walking distance of their house.

    I think in general people who “need” to drive Masonic need to think again. Our pediatrician used to be in Laurel Village; we switched to a doctor with a practice half a mile from our house. We used to drive to see Shakespeare in the Park in the Presidio; now our family bikes there every year. On the weekends, if we want to go to Crissy Field, we bike instead of drive. My husband located his company’s offices downtown rather than in a place like the Presidio because it is accessible both to bicyclists and many forms of public transit.(His employees come from many parts of the Bay Area, but none of them drive to work. My husband bikes every day.) I generally shop at stores within bicycling distance from my house, and I’m lucky that some of the best restaurants in the country are a quick bike ride away in the Mission. In short, I try to make choices that prevent me from having to drive down Masonic (or anywhere else) as much as possible. I am a forty-nine year old mother of three, healthy enough, but not uber-fit by any means. If I can bicycle in this city, anyone can.

    I would go further to say that the Presidio is far too encouraging of cars and is partly responsible for inducing traffic down Masonic in the first place. In addition, the Presidio policy of demanding all bicyclists entering the Presidio or Arguello gates be vehicular cyclists is dangerous and shows their preference for bicycling as a form of daredevil recreation rather than transportation for the average person. (Can you tell I don’t like cars behind me furious because I refuse to go faster than 20mph? But I just won’t do it.)

    Ten years ago I might have said that the people along Masonic should have known they were moving to a traffic sewer and it was just too bad for them. But these days it is clear to me it’s time to rethink and reconfigure our cities in ways that allow for greater physical health, great social connectedness, and above all an oil-free economy that we are in the process of transitioning to, whether we like it or not.

    For anyone who commutes to work by car, I very seriously suggest coming up with an oil-free back up plan and trying it out so you know it works. If Muni doesn’t serve your neighborhood well, consider that electric bikes are extremely cheap compared to electric cars and can make ten miles feel like nothing. Also know that are many, many cargo bikes out there these days that can transport bulky items like children, groceries, Christmas trees, surfboards, etc. if that is something you need to do routinely.

  • Walter

    What’s clear from this debate is that there are many different points of view and nothing close to a consensus, even on a very anti-car blog. What to do with Masonic is a complex issue, and not susceptible to one-sided identity issues.

    It does disturb me, however, when seemingly neither bike not bus solutions can be debated without a vicious anti-car rhetoric revealing itself.

    The simple fact is that the only viable transport system is multi-modal in nature. And even Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Brussels (all of which I have visited recently) have freeways and arterial vehicular highways everywhere but immediately downtown. The idea that Europe is some car-free haven is ludicrous – Europeans love their cars, which is why they build such good ones.

    Rob is a knowledgeable guy and I think it serves little purpose to try and personally denigrate him. If that level of assertiveness is required as a natural counter-weight to some of the more hysterical anti-car hatred that is occasionally spewed here by some, then he is furnishing a useful service.

    While, mikesonn, your attempt to catagorize everyone who has ever disagreed with you as being one and the same person would be laughable, except that you seem so strangely convinced of it.

    I can understand why those who chose to live on Masonic would like to change it. Nimbyism was almost invented in SF. But we need a better reasons than that, and city-wide reasons at that. We can’t rebuild this city black by block, even if that catchy phrase helped her steal the recent Oakland mayoral race. Transit is a regional issue, and not a matter of boosting a few peoples home values.

  • Rob Anderson = “assertiveness”

    Mikesonn = “spewing hysterical anti-car hatred”

    Got it.

  • In fact, there is a strong consensus in favor of this plan, based on the community meetings and online survey.

    According to the link that jd posted, the main risk for cycling is exposure to second-hand exhaust fumes. Just another reason that normal people aren’t big fans traffic.

  • Walter

    Murphy,

    So bias is OK as long as it’s anti-car bias? If this were a neutral debating chamber, you’d have a point. But AFAIK, SFSB makes no credible claim for either neutrality nor objectivity.

    I’m suggesting that all forms of transit have a role to play. It’s not a Greek or Shakespearean morality play here, with good versus evil roles, with “virtue” prevailing. Nor it is a pro team sports game with ra-ra chanters for both teams.

    It’s an attempt to forge consensus and compromise between legitmate interest groups, so that everyone comes away with something. Problem?

  • peternatural, what would first-hand exhaust fumes be?

    Clearly, the problem is that NO road space can be diverted from being 100% accessible by the automobile. That link I put up early shows that NYC had half of 1% of it’s road space changed in the last 3 years to ped/transit/bike uses and the media would have you believe there is an all out war on the car.

    I’d really like to see an analysis of SF’s streets. If Walter is truly for this “multi-model” answer he speaks of, then I’d be interested to see if we are actually taking “multi-model” steps to answer the question of mobility in the city. Clearly, and I hope this doesn’t come off as “anti-car hysteria” because it is fact, we have built only for the car for the last 60+ years. Even transit funding these days isn’t only for transit. Example being the ill-fated $1.6B CS that is being built so that cars do not lose access to the Stockton street tunnel, so can that actually be counted as “only” transit dollars? Maybe that’s Walter’s idea of “multi-model”?

  • jd

    Walter,

    I do think you’re right about needing a city-wide (or community/region-wide) perspective to problems. But I don’t think that is mutually exclusive to having neighborhood-based solutions; they can both exist in parallel. And right now, the residents of Masonic (as well as those who would like to walk or cycle through that area) have problems with its current configuration (being one of the streets with the highest rate of pedestrian accidents is clearly evidence for that), and it’s not like they should have to wait for the whole city to figure the “big picture” things out (god knows how long that will take) to start moving forward with changes. Further, the city government is making these plans, so if that doesn’t represent a city-wide planning perspective, I’m not sure what does. If you mean you want every resident to be polled about this project, well, as I’ve pointed out before, I totally disagree that that is the proper ethical way to solve any problem, whether transit or otherwise.

    Regarding anti-car bias, I think you have it wrong. I would put money on the fact that most people here who you would say have an “anti-car bias” drive a car somewhat regularly (though clearly less than the average American). That means they understand the car perspective. And believe me, even if somebody bikes 90% of the time, they definitely don’t want to spend that 10% of the time they drive stuck in traffic. But what most people would like is for the city to give them an alternative to driving so that how much you *truly* need to drive is very minimal. Further, what most people who come at this issue with an open-mind and a full understanding of the downsides of automobiles realize, is that it doesn’t make sense to design our cities only around them (as we have done for the past century or so … compare that to the previous milennia of building cities around people (and horse-drawn vehicles)). Instead, we can design our cities primarily around other forms of transit (walking, cycling, and public transit) which are more efficient, more healthy, safer, have much less of an environmental footprint, and make our cities more livable. Nobody wants to get rid of cars: they are needed for certain uses. This isn’t an anti-car bias, but an anti-using-the-car-for-all-transit-at-the-expense-of-all-other-forms-of-transit bias. It’s the simple manifestation of the fact that you can’t let one form of transit dominate all others, *especially* when that one form of transit is the least healthy and most dangerous.

    Cars clearly dominate and are the most popular transit option, and nobody can dispute that. But as I’ve pointed out before, this isn’t a popularity contest (another way of saying it is: might doesn’t make right). All great (hell, even just okay) things have been accomplished by changing the status quo, so if one’s argument is just that cars are the way we do things now and we can’t change that, then it doesn’t have much merit towards the concept of making progress and improving our city and our lives. It has great merit, however, towards keeping the status quo. But if that is what you seek, you are on the wrong website.

    I think reasonable people find it hard to believe that we can’t start giving people alternatives to the car.

  • First-hand exhaust is when you breathe your own exhaust fumes. Often, drivers roll up the windows and turn on the climate control to protect themselves.

  • I was partially joking; but side-note, hasn’t there been studies on how dirty the air inside cars actually is? Not only do you have first-hand exhaust, but you also have all the chemicals used to treat the materials. Then you have the hot sun baking these chemicals on a daily basis. Nasty stuff.

  • jd

    mikesonn,

    Yes, I think you mean this study:
    http://www.icta.org/doc/In-car%20pollution%20report.pdf

    From their conclusion: “Similarly, drivers’ exposures to these pollutants
    significantly exceed the significant exposures
    endured by bicyclists, pedestrians, and public transit
    riders. The amount of time Americans spend
    in their cars is increasing–not only are they driving
    more miles, but they are taking longer to get
    where they want to go. Several of the in-car pollution
    studies also considered pollution exposure in
    other environments and found that a person who
    commutes to and from work in a car each day may
    amass nearly a quarter of his or her total daily exposure
    to VOCs, PM, and other pollutants during
    those few hours he or she spends in the car.”

    More info here:
    http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.109-a422

    (Though I love how, under the “Individual Actions” people can take to reduce their exposure to in-car pollutants, the most effective one — “Ride mass transit or a bicycle, or walk” — is the *last* one they mention).

    There’s also this study:
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V78-447D2T6-B&_user=10&_coverDate=11%2F12%2F2001&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=gateway&_origin=gateway&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1660955730&_rerunOrigin=google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=f7e4885d0924622f0aef32f8c9d12093&searchtype=a

    From their abstract: “The concentrations of particles and BTEX in the cabin of the cars were 2–4 times greater than in the cyclists’ breathing zone, the greatest difference being for BTEX. Therefore, even after taking the increased respiration rate of cyclists into consideration, car drivers seem to be more exposed to airborne pollution than cyclists.”

    I can’t seem to find it, but I feel like I saw a report that said, after considering the elevated heart rate of a cyclist, the car was slightly better (though it depended on how much auto traffic was on the particular road).

    Either way, the point is: *everybody* gets screwed by the automobile’s exhaust.

  • Walter

    Mike,

    Actually, I probably should apologise for calling you anti-car as you seem to be anti-CentralSubway (and anti-BART) at least as much. You do like bikes and buses, though.

    Do you really believe CS is a 1.5 billion dollar conspiracy to keep a couple of lanes of vehicular traffic through a short tunnel?

    But yes, I do believe multi-modal (not multi-model) is the solution. My vision:

    1) A BA-wide single commuter rail system, with BART subsuming CalTrain, ACE etc., and linking all 3 major regional airports.
    2) Emphasis on new subway and streetcar lines in SF, over buses.
    3) Bikes and cars segregated as much as possible. Cars-only on the main arterial routes; bikes allowed, encouraged and prioritized on all other streets.
    4) Greatly expand water-borne commuting and smaller regional airports e.g. Half Moon Bay, Santa Rosa, Hayward.

    Real message, and getting back on topic – decide Masonic, Fell etc. in the context of a broad top-down regional transportation planning process, not as an idiosyncratic piece of NIMBY’ism.

  • Walter wrote: “Cycling is great for the minority who are young.”

    It’s a natural mistake. The people you see on bikes appear to be mostly under 40, so it seems obvious that cycling is mainly for the young.

    Turns out, a lot of those 30-somethings are actually in their 60’s, because exercise keeps you young 😉

    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/02/can-exercise-keep-you-young/

  • No, exercise just gives you a healthier old-age. And bikes seem to be part of the mid-life crisis for a lot of older guys trying to cool.

  • Splitting hairs, par for the course. And I’m sure the percentage of “older guys trying to look cool” is much high on bikes than in cars, WAY higher.

  • Rob, try reading the article. It’s actually pretty interesting!

  • This morning the NOPNA Board of Directors announced its support for the extensive package of traffic calming measures, the Boulevard option, for Masonic Avenue.

  • Scott

    I live on Masonic and McAllister. Parking sucks in my neighborhood due to USF dorms being across the street and USF not providing adequate parking for their students. Now the city’s going to eliminate more parking in my neighborhood. Just because a main thoroughfare for cars wants to be used by bikes? I don’t see the city taking out parking along Fell, Oak, Gough, Franklin, Van Ness, Lombard, Fulton, Divisadero or many others. It’s not fair to the people that live on this street and want to park in their neighborhood. We don’t qualify for neighborhood parking permits so if we park on side streets we have to move our car hourly.

    I drive and ride my bike in the city and when I ride my bike I stick to side streets. Not just because it’s safer, but also to eliminate hills.

    This sucks, I guess I’ll have to rent a garage for an additional $200 a month or move out of the city.

  • Otto

    Scott

    Good point. Not enough attention here is being placed on the fact that the loss of 150 parking places is huge on all the local residents who don’t have a private garage.

    At the very least, a resident’s parking zone should be created to give parking priority to residents who otherwise might suffer huge hardhsip.

    And if the budget for this is really 20 million, then couldn’t a parking structure be constructed?

  • Like a lot of city residents, Scott is having a consciousness-raising encounter with the city’s anti-car policies. City Hall has adopted the policies of the Bicycle Coalition, which is to make it as difficult and as expensive as possible to drive in SF. Cars are seen as enemy aliens that must be combated, even though city residents rely on motor vehicles, all our goods are delivered by trucks, and the city’s tourist industry relies on having the streets more or less navigable. The city wants to turn Masonic into a great boulevard, like the grid-locked Octavia Blvd. in Hsyes Valley.
    http://district5diary.blogspot.com/2006/07/bikethink-ideology-of-bicycles.html

  • City Hall has adopted the policies of the Bicycle Coalition, which is to make it as difficult and as expensive as possible to drive in SF. [citation needed]

  • That’s a tad overstated, Rob. Out of all the free parking the city generously makes available to its ungrateful residents, how much has been or will be taken away? I don’t know the exact figure, but I’m guessing it’s under 0.02%.

  • On the same note as peternatural, here you go Rob. There is no “war on cars”. In fact, so little space has been given over to peds/public transport/bikes in the last couple of years it is almost laughable that you scream the sky is falling constantly. Yes, the numbers are for NYC, but they’ve actually done much more then SF so in comparison the percentages are probably very similar.

    Once again, your true colors show, Mr. C.A.R.

  • Not what happened in SF, where the city tried to rush the Bicycle Plan through without any environmental review:
    http://district5diary.blogspot.com/2006/11/judge-buschs-decision.html

  • I wasn’t talking about the lawsuit itself, but you can take issue with that if you are feeling defensive. I was talking about cherry-picking data which you seem extremely apt at doing.

  • Some specifics—aka, evidence—please?

  • I’d love to see this done in SF as well.

    I bet support in SF would be even higher. I know Rob thinks the “bike nuts” are scared to put the bike plan on the ballot (even though the very idea is ridiculous), I think the people of SF would really get behind providing dedicated and protected bicycling infrastructure.

  • What’s “ridiculous”? That the bike people and City Hall—same thing politically—are worried that a pro-bike ballot measure would lose? Of course they are. Recall that several years ago, when the SFBC got impatient that the court-ordered EIR was taking so long, they threatened to put the issue on the ballot. But it was nothing but a bluff, as I pointed out at the time. There were legal and practical difficulties, but the main thing is that all parties understood that such a measure might actually fail.
    http://district5diary.blogspot.com/2007/12/bike-zealots-frustrated.html

    At the risk of being accused again of living in the past, recall also that in 2000 city voters decisively rejected—twice on the same ballot—measures that would have closed Golden Gate Park to motorists on Saturdays like on Sundays. But City Hall and the SFBC compromised away the expressed will of city voters and the closure happened anyway.
    http://district5diary.blogspot.com/2007/03/compromising-will-of-voters-away.html

    The reality is that the anti-car bike movement isn’t universally popular, even here in Progressive Land, and City Hall and the SFBC understand that, which would make any kind of a ballot measure risky. Occasionally, the SFBC commissions a David Binder poll that says people support more bike lanes, but the questions asked are more suitable for a push-poll: “Do you favor more bike lanes in San Francisco,” etc. Instead questions like this are what should be asked, “Do you support a bike lane in your neighborhood if it means taking away traffic lanes and/or street parking?”

    On the one hand, there are more people riding bikes in SF, but on the other hand there’s a significant amount of bad behavior by cyclists on city streets, which has been a corrosive, drip-drip-drip on the image of cyclists. Not to mention Critical Mass, which is a monthly PR debacle for the city’s bike people, even though many participants are convinced that they are adored by city residents.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Gateway or Boulevard? SFMTA Narrows Options for Fixing Masonic Avenue

|
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA) options for fixing Masonic Avenue, a major north-south traffic sewer that was the scene of the city’s first and only bicycle fatality this year, have been narrowed to two designs. While each option would calm auto traffic in slightly different ways and offer different amenities for bicyclists, both […]

Plan for a Safer Masonic Gets Final Approval from SFMTA Board

|
A plan for sweeping safety improvements on deadly Masonic Avenue was unanimously approved by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors yesterday. It’s the final decision needed to move the project forward, though the SFMTA says planners still need to finalize the design and secure funding before it’s implemented. The agency doesn’t have a […]

Safer, More Transit-Friendly Streets Planned for the Upper Haight

|
Update 4/10: The Planning Department posted an online survey where you can weigh in on the design proposal for upper Haight Street. The Planning Department has drawn up early plans for three of the Haight-Ashbury’s major streets: upper Haight Street, Stanyan Street, and the southern end of Masonic Avenue. The proposals for the Haight Ashbury […]

Masonic Avenue Street Design Study Community Workshop

|
From the SFMTA: Come join us for the third and final community workshop of a new street design study for Masonic Avenue, focusing on the area between Geary Boulevard and the Panhandle, with the goal of calming traffic on Masonic Avenue and improving access and safety for all modes of transportation. The City wants to […]