Safer San Jose Avenue Advocates Fend Off Attacks From Angry Motorists

Photo: SFMTA
Photo: SFMTA

The redesign of San Jose Avenue took a step forward a month ago when Caltrans removed a traffic lane on a Highway 280 off-ramp leading on to San Jose, a.k.a. the Bernal Cut. The plan is the result of decades of neighborhood advocacy for safer streets, but it is running into opposition from motorists who won’t stand for the road diet.

Photo: Frank Chan/Flickr

Supporters and opponents of the project are duking it out with online petitions, both launched a month ago. The opposition’s petition currently has a lead on the supporters’ petition. The SFMTA hasn’t released the results from its survey from last fall.

“There is a contingency of drivers that is working against this plan and are very active on NextDoor and talking to their supervisors,” said neighbor Collin Martin. They “seem to accept no alternatives to making this avenue safer and more sane for cyclists and pedestrians.”

Under the two-phase pilot project, Caltrans and the SFMTA are measuring how a road diet and better bike lane protection can help tame driving speeds and attract more people to bike on San Jose north of Highway 280.

A year after the first phase, in which San Jose’s third northbound lane was replaced by a wider, buffered bike lane, the SFMTA reported a 62 percent jump in bike traffic during morning peak hours.

The removal of San Jose’s third lane didn’t achieve the SFMTA’s goal of bringing the 85th percentile speed down to 35 mph. There was “a fairly minor drop” in speeds from 49 mph to 46 mph, the SFMTA reported, and morning peak hour traffic on San Jose dropped by 21 percent.

That result triggered the project’s second phase to meet the speed reduction target, and Caltrans removed the second 280 off-ramp lane, which was added as a supposedly temporary measure in 1992. Planners are now measuring the effect on traffic speeds.

Collins said Caltrans could have done a better job implementing the ramp lane removal, “as it is causing sudden stops” that may contribute to “part of the backlash.”

“The exit should just be one lane and not two merging into one on a curve in short distance,” he said. “This is almost certainly what caused the surge in support to the petition against the road diet.”

The opposition petition calls on city officials to “stop the destruction of effective traffic flow on 280N and San Jose Ave.” The creator, Dave Wang, claims that removing the third lane on San Jose has “caused traffic standstill,” and features a Streetsblog photo of car traffic on Highway 101 in Belmont.

The petitioners say people walking and biking should take less direct routes, and that the road diet has resulted in more drivers cutting through on side streets. The SFMTA reported that car traffic and speeds have increased on Rousseau Street and St. Mary’s Avenue, and the agency plans to add traffic calming measures on those streets as a deterrent.

The petition also says that “the SFMTA has provided no data to indicate this corridor is more unsafe than others.”

But neighbors like Jon Winston have been fighting for over 20 years to “humanize San Jose,” a “de-facto freeway” that divides neighborhoods, as he wrote in the supporting petition he created.

The Bernal Cut “is a throwback to the time when the Mission Freeway was nearly built,” Winston wrote. “The road diet and traffic calming that is being tested now by the MTA with the guidance of Supervisor [Scott] Wiener is the result of decades of community organizing around making the Bernal Cut safer for everyone.”

While a petition tally shouldn’t be the deciding factor in whether to make streets safer, a show of support can stiffen the spines of decision makers and lead them to move forward with improvements.

Wiener has stood by the improvements he pushed for, and told Streetsblog last month that the Bernal Cut is “a pseudo-freeway with huge negative impacts on the surrounding areas due to over-the-top speeding.”

Many supporters who signed the petition lauded the upgrades for making San Jose safe and comfortable enough for more people to bike on. “I want my son to be able to ride San Jose,” wrote Nik Kaestner.

“This plan has been in the works for years and is intended to bring safety and sanity to San Jose Ave. and its side streets and neighborhoods,” wrote Erika Ehmsen. “Please don’t allow this well-vetted road-diet trial to be derailed by people who don’t live in our neighborhood and simply want to speed (illegally) through our neighborhood.”

  • BBnet3000

    The removal of San Jose’s third lane didn’t achieve the SFMTA’s goal of bringing the 85th percentile speed down to 35 mph.

    No shit it didn’t. They thought it was going to without narrowing the remaining lanes? Really?

    Looking at the picture at the top of this article those look like 12 foot lanes. A 4 lane highway is still a highway. It’s not about the number of lanes, its about the road geometry. Doesn’t SFMTA employ planners and engineers?

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Yeah, that road is bigger than I-5. It would take conscious effort and probably cruise control to drive 35MPH on it.

    As an aside, I’ve noticed that NextDoor is basically the dark nexus of windshield perspective. On my NextDoor they will organize against anything that might remove parking, attract pedestrians, improve bus service, whatever. Right now they’re petitioning to _not_ build a preschool. I suppose this is an accurate reflection of the general feeling but it sure is depressing.

  • It is working, cars go slower. The dedicated lane on san jose coming northbound under the freeway is much better than merging into a lane where someone is driving 60 from that offramp.

    Can we just make this a tunnel already with a park on top? I loved those renderings..

  • murphstahoe

    The creator, Dave Wang, claims that removing the third lane on San Jose has “caused traffic standstill,” and features a Streetsblog photo of car traffic on Highway 101 in Belmont.

    The removal of San Jose’s third lane didn’t achieve the SFMTA’s goal of
    bringing the 85th percentile speed down to 35 mph. There was “a fairly
    minor drop” in speeds from 49 mph to 46 mph, the SFMTA reported,

  • jwinstonsf

    Here’s the link to my petition. Please sign and share.
    https://goo.gl/qaZetL

  • Anandakos

    The vast majority of cars exiting from I-280 to San Jose are not driven by San Franciscans. There are only two on-ramps “upstream” from San Jose Avenue within the City of San Francisco. So, you guys — and it’s almost always “guys” complaining about not being able to drive anywhere anywhen — suck it up and ride BART. It goes everywhere that San Jose does.

  • gb52

    YEPP. I think you hit the point. Obviously number of lanes has an effect, but if the perceived roadway is still just as wide, there will be little difference. Drivers THINK they can see everything coming and that they will be able to slow or stop in time. So if everyone is speeding why not add some enforcement to wake everyone up?

    Don’t blame planners and engineers though. They know what they’re doing. Just that everything has a cost and as a pilot, the city is probably not willing to commit the funds needed, NOR will these protesters allow it to happen. Oh and i’m sure drivers will scream murder if SFMTA didn’t run a full environmental analysis (of course based on LOS). After all that is why we’re still having this debate in the first place.

    It’d be wonderful to see a totally redesigned streetscape, but unfortunately that still costs mega-money per block.

  • Justin

    The improvements on most of San Jose Ave are great. However there is a understandable maybe even reasonable point to be made in regards to the lane consolidation at the San Jose Ave exit off I-280N. There is an abrupt bottleneck once you enter that exit especially the merger point or the part where it consolidates to one lane, of course though it’s brief and eventually fizzles out at the other end of the tunnel. As said in this article by one of the people mentioned, yes, Caltrans should of eliminated the extra lane all together or have it merge further down long before drivers enters the exit to eliminate this possibly hazardous bottleneck on the offramp, smoothing the flow out.

    In regards to the rest of San Jose Ave, I haven’t really seen this “traffic jam” some motorists are complaining about, probably because I don’t travel far enough to see it, but other than the bottleneck at the offramp, I haven’t seen much traffic congestion on the rest of San Jose Ave, traffic seems to flow pretty well even after the improvements.

  • p_chazz

    A guy named Mike Schiraldi has made some awesome plans of what San Jose Avenue could be. There is a link in this Bernalwood article to his presentation: https://bernalwood.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/glen-park-neighbor-proposes-simple-plan-to-de-uglify-the-bernal-cut/

  • jonobate

    This. After you enter San Jose Ave from I-280 there are no stop signs or traffic signals for a kilometer, so of course people are going to speed. This plan adds two new at-grade intersections to that stretch (one with a new J-Church stop) which will force people to slow down. Even if the lights are green people will approach the new intersections at speeds slow enough that they can stop in time if the light changes to red.

  • Lol, its the “I’m all right Jack” contingency. You know, the ones who drive, and say, well, the road works just fine for me, so why should it change. I’m never going to bike or walk, so why should I care if other people can. And suggesting that pedestrians and cyclists take less direct routes is laughable. Cars should take less direct routes. They’re cars, the distance doesn’t matter nearly as much as it does for walking and biking.

  • They should find some place where transit improvements have been planned for 10 years and put the preschool there.

    (Context: Dogpatch area Nextdoor grumbling that the planned-for-over-15-years T-Third Loop shouldn’t go there because: new preschool in new building.)

  • p_chazz

    This issue has been HUGE on Nextdoor Glen Park.

  • 94110

    To vent slightly, one issue I have with riding BART on that stretch (and I do ride it) is you are sitting on a train going 50 mph (no, not 79, sit in the front car and watch the digital speedometer), looking at uncongested freeway traffic going at least 50% faster than you.

    I think there ought to be a rule that whenever BART is within sight of a freeway, it’s required to go max speed. Even at 79 mph it might have trouble keeping up with 280.

  • njudah

    Next Door seems to be a univerally vile website, regardless of neighborhood. The amount of racism, classism and overall hatred there is just disgusting. Why does anyone listen to these people?

  • anbudmor

    Because of your attitude I think I’ll go and support the pro-car lobby.

  • 42apples

    I don’t think the tracks are in shape to support higher speeds.

  • Anandakos

    As if any of us believe you weren’t already.

  • KC Jones

    Phase 2 has been a mess. I use that offramp daily and they need to roll back and try again. I support the bike lanes whole heartedly and have used them a lot — they provide a critical link to the bike path network. But the reality is they botched Phase 2 and should not hesitate to roll back and regroup.

    I also went out of my way, shortly after Phase 1, to find someone to write to urging them to take steps to mitigate the impact on St. Mary’s Ave. Phase 1 did cause backups extending from Randall as far as St. Mary’s, especially in the morning but also in the evening. This clearly has caused a lot of unwanted commuter traffic into that street that radiates outward. Its important that they get this right and prevent that intrusion into residential streets. The bike lanes are too important to risk loosing them because of poor traffic planning and bad execution of the plans.

  • murphstahoe

    You are ignoring the trips that San Francisco residents make going home from points south…..

  • jd_x

    Time for SF to start using bollards. We should design non-thoroughfares so they actually cannot be used as thorughfares and therefore solving this problem.

  • NoeValleyJim

    Or the J-Church, which runs right down the middle for most of the way.

  • KC Jones

    except, San Jose from 280 to Randall is a thoroughfare, and it is a useful one. Attempting to slow cars down is not really the point. Providing safe bike lanes is. To do that SJ loses two lanes, and some reengineering of the 280 interchange is needed. But SJ remains a separated ROW with no cross traffic thru that stretch. There is no reason to assume cars must go slow. Slower, sure. But not slow.

    The real challenge for safe biking comes from fast traffic from 280 turning right at Rousseau and St. Mary’s. Preventing 280 traffic from entering Rousseau and preventing any right turns onto St. Mary’s might be necessary, even if it impacts Glenn Park residents.

    Meanwhile, funneling two lanes of 280 traffic traveling ~70mph into one lane while curving under the tunnel, with some major pot holes… is not working.

  • jd_x

    I think you misunderstand: I’m talking about the residential side streets, not San Jose. San Jose is the thoroughfare and if it gets backed up and people start trying to cut through residential streets, bollards on these residential streets prevent this. That was my only point.

    “Attempting to slow cars down is not really the point. Providing safe bike lanes is.”

    No, it is the point. You can’t get safe bicycle (or pedestrian) infrastructure with cars moving quickly. Even if the bike lane is separated with Jersey barriers, at intersections, bicycles and cars must inevitable interact. And this is in fact where most incidents occur. “20 is plenty” is a slogan for a reason.

    “Meanwhile, funneling two lanes of 280 traffic traveling ~70mph into one lane while curving under the tunnel, with some major pot holes… is not working.”

    This is what every exit ramp off a freeway must do. There is no reason San Jose needs to be any different. Drivers assuming they are entitled to continue going 70 mph through residential neighborhoods is the problem. There are much shorter exit ramps than San Jose between 280 and St. Marys (let alone Randall), and if drivers can’t slow down well before that point, they need to realign their expectations.

  • KC Jones

    Other 280 off ramps tend to be a single lane. San Jose Ave may become that eventually, but the current geometry still has 2 lanes exiting, which invites speed.

    I guess we agree about Rousseau restrictions – although blocking those turns will actually make fast traffic on SJ safer and more persistent. But restricting turns on Rousseau and St. Mary’s needs to be studied carefully since it has a major impact on Glen Park and College Hill residents, and potentially makes a bad situation at the Geneva off ramp worse.

  • murphstahoe

    By this standard, we should be eliminating more residential streets to make more thoroughfares.

  • KC Jones

    I’m arguing to restrict turns to make the bike lanes safer. Which I believe can be done without having to artificially slow down SJ traffic. Not trying to add new arterials, nor ‘eliminate’ any streets.

    But, yes, restricting turns from arterial ROWs onto residential streets is something that probably needs to be done more often in SF to enhance pedestrian safety and to keep traffic flowing.

  • Nextdoor Inner Sunset and environs seem to think that bulbouts are a newfangled invention patented by Satan himself, and demand proof that they do anything. Never mind that they’ve been deployed all over the world for two generations. May as well demand proof that crosswalks do anything.

  • “53 cringe-worthy new messages from your neighbors today”

  • RMN

    My colleague who used to use this to get to the Mission says that the big backup is occurring at Randall, where left turn traffic heading to Dolores backs up through all the way through to Randall. Before the change there were 3 lanes, but one was backed up with the left turn, leaving 2 effective through lanes at Randall. With the change, there are 2 lanes crossing Randall, but only one effective through lane, so the traffic backup is much worse, driving motorists to try side streets upstream.

    I think the focus should be on fixing the backup at Randall. Would a shared right turn / through bike lane ever be acceptable there?

    I agree that San Jose Ave’s wide lanes invites 40+ mph speeds, regardless of what happens at the exit ramp.

  • RMN

    One more thing. Nextdoor is just another forum for your neighbors. It’s not good or evil, but certainly more locally focused, and a different population than Streetsblog.

  • Anandakos

    OK, point taken. What do you think the percentage is? And, if it’s high, why are San Franciscans destroying their own neighborhood?

  • jwinstonsf

    Both petitions have gained a lot of signatures but the good one is still behind by twenty. Please sign and share. https://goo.gl/qaZetL

  • murphstahoe

    The bernal cut goes through Bernal/Glen Park. The drivers are from Noe/Castro – same ones who complained about the Chavez changes

  • Roan

    When you ride BART to the airport, you’ll probably notice that once you get past Colma station, the train goes significantly faster, probably pretty close to that 79 mph figure. The tracks south of Colma are much newer (they were built as part of the airport extension that opened in the early 2000s, whereas the tracks in the Glen Park / Balboa Park area are part of the original 1970s system), so it seems pretty likely that BART train speeds are mostly related to track quality.

  • ed

    Just recently noticed the 280 merge. Its fantastic. no longer waiting through 5 cycles of lights to get past randall.

  • ed

    your colleague is wrong.

    the backup used to take several light cycles to get through if going straight. Several more if going to dolores. Much faster now. My gps doesn’t try to take me off SJ and onto mission

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