Parking-Obsessed Extremists Threaten Plan for Safer Walking on Potrero

DPW's rendering of one design option for Potrero Avenue.

Update: A petition in support of wider sidewalks on Potrero has been created.

In what may be a new low for selfish opposition to street safety measures, flyers and a petition full of misinformation are being circulated against wider sidewalks on Potrero Avenue. Believe it or not, this one’s not a joke, and the city may water down its pedestrian safety plan in response.

This flyer is being circulated around Potrero Avenue.

“Say YES to keep all of our current parking spaces. NO to wider sidewalks!” reads a flyer posted on and around Potrero decrying the city’s proposed safety plan. Opponents claim the sidewalk expansion would “eliminate” 100 parking spaces on Potrero from 22nd to 25th Streets.

In their attempts to appease the parking-obsessed opponents, city planners already reduced that number to 79 spaces a few months ago. According to a Department of Public Works flyer advertising a community meeting next week, new options set to be presented would include “strategically placed bulb-outs and median islands” while removing between 58 and 28 spaces. Some parking loss would be averted by converting parallel spaces to perpendicular ones on nearby streets.

A MoveOn.org petition launched October 1 by Rebecca Sawyer currently has 285 signatures against the project. “Potrero Avenue is a local street, but starting in 2014, the Dept. of Public Works intends to make Potrero a high-speed transit link to and from 101,” the petition reads. “Parking is already VERY difficult in this area surrounding SF General Hospital, but this will make it even worse for residents of the area.”

Meanwhile, neighborhood advocate Fran Taylor of CC Puede penned a letter to DPW Director Mohammed Nuru in support of the sidewalk expansions. ”We can tell that people making comments opposed to ‘high speed’ and helping drivers from out of town (the 101 link) are attacking things that aren’t actually in the proposal,” she said. “What we can’t know is how many people who simply signed their names also think they’re opposed because of this misinformation.”

Under the city’s current plan, Potrero’s narrow nine-foot sidewalks would be widened to 14 feet on the east side of four blocks in front of SF General Hospital, and sidewalks would be extended at street corners. Along with left-turn lanes, the sidewalk expansion will re-purpose space currently occupied by free on-street car storage, which opponents argue should be retained instead of making improvements to public safety. The plan could actually have done much more to reclaim space from cars — it still lacks protected bike lanes and didn’t add a transit lane.

While the pedestrian improvements in the plan would help reduce injuries and tame motor traffic, some petition signers seem to believe the  claims that the “local street” will be turned into a “high-speed transit” corridor. Others simply insist that car parking is paramount.

In an email, Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider urged DPW’s Nuru, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, and Supervisors David Campos and Malia Cohen to “support public safety over personal convenience.”

There is an opportunity right now to calm Potrero Avenue, including wider sidewalks and other improvements that are proven to reduce the risk of crashes. Unfortunately, as a result of a few loud residents that have spoken out about the inconvenience of parking loss, the city might consider removing the proposal to widen sidewalks, thus reducing the pedestrian safety improvements on this segment. The proposed sidewalk widening is adjacent to San Francisco General Hospital, where many disabled patients will benefit from the proposed sidewalk widening to make crossing the street safer, and navigating the sidewalk and accessing Muni easier.

Parking spaces would be removed for safety measures like sidewalk bulb-outs and left-turn lanes, as shown under one design option here. Image: DPW

In a letter to Supervisors Campos and Cohen, Taylor pointed out, “Some of the signees state baldly that San Francisco General Hospital workers should not have the same options they are requesting for themselves.”

“We are already suffering from the shortage of spaces available now,” wrote one petitioner cited by Taylor. “SFGH has taken away a lot residential parking. The staff at SFGH should take public transportation to work like everyone else. This is ridiculous!”

“We recognize the difficulties disabled neighbors face when parking is difficult but wonder how any resident could expect a guaranteed space right in front even if parking were increased,” CC Puede wrote in the letter to Nuru. “Like the less-than-ideal bicycle lanes, some parking reduction is part of a reasonable trade-off.”

“It’s human nature to oppose change, so I’m not surprised to see some neighbors oppose the removal of parking,” Schneider told Streetsblog. “I am surprised, however, that the city may remove the proposal to widen sidewalks due to these complaints. Adopted city plans, such as the Better Streets Plan, which incorporated input from far more residents than those speaking against the plan here, call for these sidewalks to be wider.”

“We have to move forward as a city, and in order to do that, we have to do what’s best for the public, not the convenience of a few people.”

Potrero Avenue looking north at 23rd Street as it exists today. Image: Google Maps