Plan for a Safer Masonic Gets Final Approval from SFMTA Board

Image: SF Planning Department's City Design Group

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 timeline for that yet, but construction is likely still a couple years off.

Michael Helquist, a member of the neighborhood group Fix Masonic, called the approval ”a huge accomplishment for grassroots organizations” like the SF Bicycle Coalition and the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association working with the SFMTA in pushing for the improvements. “This has been six years or more coming, and this is a big hurdle,” he said.

The plan would revamp most of Masonic, from Geary Boulevard to Fell Street, with features like raised bike lanes, reduced traffic lanes, a tree-lined median, sidewalk bulb-outs for pedestrians and buses, and more. The transformation is expected to calm motor vehicle traffic and help reduce injuries on the street, which residents say they’re afraid to travel on by any mode. The plan would also bring a plaza to Masonic and Geary.

The physically raised bike lanes would be San Francisco’s first, adopting the kind of bicycle infrastructure proven to make bicycling safer and more comfortable for a broad range of people in cities where they’ve been widely implemented, like Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

Roughly a dozen neighbors and advocates spoke at yesterday’s hearing, most in support of the project. Two speakers were opposed to the removal of car parking, including a store owner who said he had a petition signed by 300 people in opposition. However, surveys conducted throughout the widely-praised outreach and planning process have found broad support for the design, which was developed through community meetings aimed at creating a more livable corridor.

In the last five years, 131 people have been injured on Masonic, and two were killed from 2009 to 2011, according to the SFMTA. Another woman was killed this year on Masonic north of Geary in an area which would not be improved under the plan. Praising the project, Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe said its only shortcoming is the lack of safety improvements on the remaining stretches of Masonic. “People live along Masonic, it’s a neighborhood street, and it should be a place where people can walk in safety and comfort,” she said.

“Two deaths are too many along Masonic Avenue,” said Stephanie Tucker, an aide for D5 Supervisor Christina Olague, who said the supervisor “strongly supports” the project, as do her constituents. An aide from D1 Supervisor Eric Mar’s office also spoke in favor of it. “It’s the right thing to do for San Francisco,” said Tucker.

The plan was initially approved at a public hearing in May of last year, and the SFMTA says the approval is on schedule. Planners have been developing the design and drafting an addendum to the SF Bike Plan, which originally included a less-ambitious plan for painted bike lanes on Masonic. The addendum was approved along with the project in yesterday’s board vote.

For Fix Masonic advocates, the process “took longer than we wanted it to,” said Helquist. Calls for near-term improvements ahead of the redesign resulted in some changes, but none that were effective in slowing drivers and curbing the number of injuries on the street.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the estimated $18 million needed for the project could come from sources like the regional One Bay Area Grant, which will be awarded for walking and biking improvements starting next year, as well as a citywide vehicle registration fee approved under Prop AA in 2010.

“Finding the funds will take some time, and we’ll have to stay on top of it,” said Helquist. “It’s going to be essential for the city to continue to have strong leadership on this project to take it to the next phase.”

Read more on the hearing from Bay City News at CBS.