Potrero Safety Upgrades Could Include a Wider Sidewalk, If Car Parking Goes

Potrero Avenue looking north at 23rd Street. Image: Google Maps

Four blocks of Potrero Avenue, from 21st to 25th Street at SF General Hospital, could be made safer under proposals from the Department of Public Works to extend sidewalks, narrow the roadway, and plant existing median space. But whether the street’s narrow 9-foot sidewalks will be widened to 15 feet on the east side depends on city officials’ willingness to re-allocate public space from car parking to people.

DPW staff presented street design proposals for Potrero at a public meeting at SF General on Tuesday. The project would add greening and pedestrian safety upgrades to coincide with a street re-paving, sewer replacement work, and a hospital rebuild scheduled for completion in June 2015.

Residents said safety improvements to slow drivers and protect pedestrians on Potrero are sorely needed.

“I always think, when I’m crossing the street, this is the way I’m gonna go,” said Potrero resident Deborah McKnight, who said she gave up her car two years ago. “If there’s a way we can balance, respectfully, the rights of people who feel like they need to be in their cars 24-7, and the rights of people who would like to walk a little bit more and use public transportation, I think we can find it.”

Fran Taylor, a neighborhood pedestrian advocate, pointed out that February 11 was the ten-year anniversary of the death of Elizabeth Dominguez, a four-year old girl who was killed by a Muni maintenance truck driver who jumped the curb when she was waiting with her mother at a Muni stop on Potrero and 24th Street.

“Drivers are not the only people who have the right to get around,” said Taylor. “The sidewalk widening would be very helpful… It’s a lot of people who have crutches, who have helpers walking with them who have to be side-by-side. It’s a hospital,” she said, eliciting broad applause from attendees.

Potrero currently has four traffic lanes, two bike lanes, and a bus-only lane that only runs northbound for just over three blocks between 21st and 25th. Under any of the redesign options, the transit-only lane would be removed, and the outer two traffic lanes widened to 12 feet. DPW project manager Cristina Olea said the existing transit lane, at 10 feet, isn’t wide enough to fit buses on Muni’s 33-Stanyan and 9-San Bruno lines, and that the project wouldn’t preclude any future plans for Bus Rapid Transit on Potrero.

Potrero looking north from SF General Hospital. Photo: DPW
Potrero at 23rd Street, where the northbound bus lane begins (left). Image: Google Maps

Planners said the proposed improvements are based on the Mission District Streetscape Plan, which, in concept, called for a raised planted median with pedestrian crossing refuges as well as sidewalk bulb-outs on Potrero, but didn’t lay out specific plans.

All $3.2 million in funds for the four-block streetscape project would come from the Prop B street improvement bond. The existing six-foot median space, which currently consists of pavement striping only, would be raised and planted with trees. The sidewalk widening, however, would depend on which of the two design options are chosen.

Option A. Image: DPW
Option A (bottom) compared to existing street conditions (top). Image: DPW

Option A would preserve the status quo of narrow 9-foot sidewalks — which Olea said are below city standards — in favor of car parking, though some bulb-outs would be added at bus stops. The width of the median would also stay the same, and the existing bike lanes — currently five feet, placed between parked and moving cars — would be widened with a two-foot buffer zone.

Option B, on the other hand, would widen four blocks of the east sidewalk adjacent to the hospital to 15 feet, removing an estimated 30 to 40 parking spaces. The western sidewalk would generally remain the same. The center median would be widened to ten feet, and the bike lanes would get a one-foot buffer zone. The northbound bike lane would also run along a curb rather than in the door zone of parked cars.

Option B. Image: DPW
Option B (bottom) compared to existing street conditions (top). Image: DPW

Under both options, the northbound bike lane would be widened to six feet in addition to the buffer zone, and new street lights would be added.

Of the roughly two-dozen attendees at the meeting, three complained about the potential removal of parking and claimed removing the northbound transit lane would add to car congestion.

“I don’t see any advantages to the changes you’re proposing,” said resident John Wilson. Another, Pat Howard, warned, “I will fight you tooth and nail about the sidewalks. We have lost too much parking to this hospital, to Muni.”

Greg Riessen, a neighbor and transportation planner, said “it seems like an easy trade-off.”

“It is very unfortunate that Potrero is this arterial, and people use it to bypass 101 when it’s congested,” he said. “That’s probably not going to change any time soon, but putting in some greenery and a planted median with a wider sidewalk might at least get those cars to slow down and pay attention to the people who are walking on the street.”

City planners expect to present more refined street proposals at another community meeting in May. Construction is scheduled to begin in June 2014 and last about a year.

  • mikesonn

    And then add medians to really get those cars moving quickly.

    Stop adding medians!!

  • Joel

    Can someone please explain to me why Option B has the bike lane next to parked cars narrower than the one next to the curb? Seems like it should be the opposite!

  • jimmy

    What is the story behind that short section of bus-only lane? Clearly the SFMTA doesn’t think it is working, but when and why was it added?

  • Eric Fischer

    Showing once again that you should never let Caltrans rebuild your street in 1935, because you’ll never get it back again!

    I predict that they will do Option A because moving curbs is ridiculously expensive and paint is relatively cheap.

    I propose a 56-foot center section (four travel lanes, two parking lanes), a 1-foot curb and 5-foot protected bikeway outside each of the parking lanes, and a 12’6″ sidewalk on each side. Or a two-way, 11’6″-foot bikeway on one side if you would rather have then together.

  • Mario Tanev

    Option A configuration image is repeated under Option B and the Option B configuration image is missing (only the overview image is shown).

  • @google-cd6ac603016b207eed1e6a32f6c3abfa:disqus No, the configurations are laid out properly. The difference may be subtle, but take a close look at the difference street widths (the median is 6 feet wide in Option A, 10 feet in Option B).

  • Eric Fischer

    The caption on the bottom one still says Option A, which is the confusing part.

  • I see a bus fitting just fine in that bus lane in the aerial image above. And these proposals won’t preclude BRT even though we’re pouring curbs? Something smells fishy here. I think we’re going to have another SFMTA/DPW coordination mess-up soon enough.

  • guest

    That bus is in the bike lane…
    Regardless, I am also concerned with how BRT would be implemented in this area. In addition to pouring curbs, we’re also planting new medians. While this is great, we need to look at this in terms of how a BRT solution may work in the future.

    TOO many cars… how utilized is the hospital parking lot and how is parking management in the area?

  • Agreed! And at least stop WIDENING them! Carve up those ten feet and add two to each bike lane and three to each sidewalk!

  • It’s barely in the bike lane and looks to be at a bus stop anyway.

    Real point: I don’t know why the MTA has been so quick recently to write-off the few bus lanes we have. It’s a much bigger part of this and other projects than they’re making it out to be.

  • Ahh, gotcha, thanks. Fixed it.

  • The bus is totally in the bike lane, it “fits just fine” when it takes up both. The car behind it is also up against/in the bike lane, that while dash in front of it is the lane marking. (The story says _some_ buses don’t fit, so even if you found a pic of one fitting…)

  • duh

    11′ wider than 10′

  • Still not wide enough for effective speeds.

  • Sprague

    In a transit first city, removing bus lanes doesn’t make sense – especially if it results in even slower transit. Muni (and Samtrans which also has regular service along Portrero) needs all the help it can get to keep its buses moving as quickly and efficiently as possible.

  • mikesonn

    Clearly you can’t remove a private auto travel lane. And it isn’t like bus only lanes get any enforcement in SF.

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