Despite living in one of the city’s densest residential neighborhoods with one of the lowest rates of car ownership, Tenderloin residents have endured some of San Francisco’s most dangerous streets for walking since traffic engineers turned most of them into one-way, high-speed motorways in the 1960s.
In a BeyondChron article yesterday, editor and Tenderloin Housing Clinic Director Randy Shaw spotlighted the city’s longstanding neglect of safety improvements and traffic calming on Tenderloin streets, even while such projects come to other neighborhoods. The SF County Transportation Authority’s Tenderloin/Little Saigon Transportation Plan, which was adopted in 2007 and calls for two-way street conversions and other upgrades for pedestrians and transit, has seemingly remained a low funding priority for the city, wrote Shaw:
While the city finds money for streetscape improvements on Divisadero, Upper Market, the Marina and other affluent neighborhoods, the city has not funded a single major Tenderloin pedestrian safety or streetscape improvement program in over thirty years…
San Francisco is actively creating more livable streets for pedestrians, bicyclists, local businesses and neighborhood residents. It’s a terrific development.
But what’s not terrific is denying the Tenderloin its fair share of transit funds. It is a blatant example of the city discriminating against low-income residents.
There is hope that most of the improvements in the Tenderloin Plan could be funded by California Pacific Medical Center in a development agreement with the city for its plans to build the massive new Cathedral Hill Campus at Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue. However, with a revised agreement being negotiated behind closed doors that will likely be downsized from the original one, it’s unclear whether the new version will retain a requirement for CPMC to provide nearly $10 million in funding for street improvements to mitigate the impacts of inundating the Tenderloin with car traffic. “Not only do the traffic impacts caused by the project require it,” wrote Shaw, “but transit planners still have no plans to allocate public dollars for calming traffic, improving streetscapes or doing anything else along Eddy and Ellis Streets” beyond the few blocks that have been converted to calmer, two-way traffic flow.
“Randy is rightly cross about the slow pace of implementing the Tenderloin transportation plan,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “San Francisco’s traffic patterns tend to impose the greatest traffic burdens on neighborhoods like the Tenderloin, Mission, and SoMa — generally denser, poorer, and whose residents generate the least car traffic. The bureaucratic foot-dragging around reclaiming traffic sewer streets like those in the Tenderloin is both unjust and unsustainable.”
As Streetsblog has reported, the Tenderloin has one of the highest rates of pedestrian injuries of any neighborhood in the city. Last year, an elderly man was run over on camera in a crosswalk at Eddy and Leavenworth Streets. Another man was killed at Eddy and Larkin Streets in a car wreck caused by a taxi driver who ran a red light. In District 6, which is largely comprised of the Tenderloin and SoMa, about 240 pedestrians were injured in 2011, out of nearly 900 pedestrian injuries citywide.
The SF Municipal Transportation Agency has implemented a few initial projects from the Tenderloin plan, though they’ve been delayed with what Shaw called a “mysterious” pause. In August 2011, the agency converted a one-way section of McAllister Street to two-way traffic, calming the street and providing a more direct route for westbound buses on Muni’s 5-Fulton line. Similar conversions implemented on an initial six blocks of Ellis and Eddy Streets in Spring 2012 were well-received by residents. As Shaw reported on BeyondChron in August, a survey by the Central City SRO Collaborative [PDF] found that about 55 percent of respondents in the neighborhood felt the two-way street conversions helped improve traffic flow. Eighty-three percent said more corner bulb-outs were needed to improve pedestrian safety.
The SFMTA is also planning separate projects on Polk and Market Streets to make them friendlier for walking, biking, and transit, and it continues to install pedestrian countdown signals in the Tenderloin.
But implementation of the Tenderloin/Little Saigon Plan is moving at a snail’s pace when compared to projects like improvements on Divisadero Street, which brought bus bulb-outs and the city’s first parklet, noted Shaw. “In contrast, the Divisadero Streetscape plan also conceived in 2007 received $5.5 million in funding and was finished in March 2010,” he wrote. “And Divisadero is no anomaly; newly conceived upgrades in other neighborhoods routinely move forward while the Tenderloin’s 2007 plan is bypassed.”
The SFMTA hasn’t put out a timeline for the next phases of the Tenderloin plan, which include two-way conversions on the remaining blocks of Ellis and Eddy, and on Jones and Leavenworth Streets, as well as new pedestrian-scaled street lighting and corner bulb-outs around the neighborhood. Those improvements will finally get a minor boost with a piece of the $5 million in annual revenue from the SFCTA’s Prop AA vehicle registration fee, according to Shaw, but most of the funding will have to come from CPMC or other sources. The CPMC agreement is expected to be unveiled when it comes before the Board of Supervisors some time in the coming months. CPMC and the SFMTA haven’t responded to requests for comment.
“The CPMC project must reduce and mitigate its traffic impact on local streets,” said Radulovich. “The Tenderloin will be one of the neighborhoods most affected by traffic from the project, so the project should fund effective mitigation projects there, as well as on the other affected streets, including Geary, Van Ness, Franklin, Gough, and Post.”
On top of the need to curb pedestrian injuries, Muni’s Transit Effectiveness Project adds another layer of urgency to the Tenderloin Plan, Radulovich noted, since the TEP proposals to simplify the 31-Balboa and 27-Folsom routes (which run on different one-way streets in each direction) rely on the assumption that all of the two-way street conversions in the plan will be completed.
All told, Radulovich said the “saga of the Tenderloin Transportation Plan illustrates some of the challenges in reclaiming San Francisco streets,” highlighting recurring issues like poor coordination between different transportation agencies and burdensome environmental review requirements.
“One problem is that of conflicting transportation fiefdoms — the Tenderloin Transportation Plan was an SFCTA plan, but implementation is the job of the SFMTA, who are dragging their heels,” he said. “Another challenge is that the Tenderloin Transportation Plan was not environmentally cleared at the project level. Environmental review adds time and cost to implementation, especially with the Planning Department’s crufty environmental review procedures that favor auto movement over walking, cycling, and transit.”
The shortcomings of the bureaucratic delivery system for safer streets and better transportation options, added Radulovich, are not limited to the Tenderloin. “Whether it’s in Hayes Valley, Balboa Park, the Mission, Downtown, SoMa, or elsewhere, plans don’t get implemented, or get implemented poorly,” he said, “and opportunities to improve streets as they are upgraded are too often missed.”