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

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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.