How Many People Will Get Hurt If the Masonic Redesign Gets Delayed Again?

Opponents of the safety overhaul of Masonic Avenue complain in particular about removing nine trees on a concrete triangle at Masonic and Geary Street, where a plaza with many more trees (shown) will be built. Image: DPW

Another sorely-needed street safety redesign could be threatened by neighbors protesting the replacement of trees, even though, when all is said and done, the number of trees in the project area will double.

The overhaul of deadly Masonic Avenue could be delayed or altered if the SF Board of Appeals upholds an appeal against tree removal permits at a hearing on Wednesday.

The redesign, which was supposed to start construction this summer, was recently delayed by at least six months, the SF Examiner reported earlier this month. The addition of underground utility upgrades to the scope of work pushed back the start of construction to 2016, with the project scheduled for completion a year later.

The Masonic plan requires the removal of 49 trees, 17 of which are unhealthy and “unsafe,” and the planting of 185 new trees. It’s “a more than three-to-one replacement ratio,” Department of Public Works landscape architect John Dennis said in a statement. Overall, the current count of 145 trees will increase to 282.

“In order to construct our project some trees need to be removed and replaced,” Dennis wrote in an email blast to supporters of the redesign, encouraging them to urge the Board of Appeals to approve the permits. “This is unfortunate, but a small price to pay in exchange for a safer Masonic Street for all users.”

“We have been diligent in our efforts to save existing trees along the corridor,” he added.

As with the Van Ness Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project, which 16 speakers protested last week over tree replacements, a handful of neighbors are threatening to slow down the Masonic plan, which has been in the works since 2010. The Masonic tree removal permits were issued in May, but they were appealed by two neighbors.

If the tree appeal does delay the Masonic projects, it will be another case in which the city’s appeals system has enabled a small group of people to obstruct or delay a project even after extensive vetting via publics meetings, analysis, and city approvals. All it takes is one appellant to bring a major safety effort to a halt.

Masonic in 2011. Photo: Aaron Bialick

“It shouldn’t be taking this long,” D1 Supervisor Eric Mar told the Examiner about the recent Masonic delay, calling the street “a deathtrap.” Mar was one of three supervisors who wrote a letter in 2013 calling for approval of a federal grant that funded most of the redesign.

Appellants Curtis Speck and Ariane Eroy wrote in their appeal [PDF] that “we believe it to be a mistake to cut 40+ mature trees,” but made no mention of the 185 trees that will be planted.

According to a DPW staff memo, at an initial April hearing on tree removal, “Most of the objections raised pertain to the trees located at the triangle bus stop plaza and median at the south side of the intersection of Masonic Avenue and Geary Street.” The “prevailing complaint” from speakers was that they were not made aware of the removals,  as they were “not brought up” at community meetings, “as this need was not discovered until later phases of design.”

The SFMTA’s extensive outreach effort in crafting the redesign was widely lauded when the Masonic plan was approved by the agency’s board in 2012.

“Everything is in place,” SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Noah Budnick told the Examiner this month. “The neighbors have spoken loud and clear. There’s political support for safety improvements, and the funding is in place. It’s time to get it done.”

Dennis of DPW told Streetsblog that so far the tree permit appeal has not delayed construction on Masonic, which could start at the beginning of next year.

As for the delay caused by adding utility work, Dennis said that taking the opportunity to replace sewer, water, and Muni overhead wire infrastructure as part of the work on Masonic will “decrease future construction impacts to residents.”

The Board of Appeals hearing will take place on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at City Hall, Room 416. Written comments can be emailed to boardofappeals@sfgov.org.

  • shamelessly

    I am sick to death of people shouting “won’t somebody think of the trees?!” to block projects in SF. Many urbanites don’t seem to realize that trees don’t live forever. They have lifespans, and they will eventually die and have to be cut up and replaced. It makes a lot more sense to do that in the context of infrastructure upgrades.

  • SF needs an anti-NIMBY voter referendum that will prevent whining complainers from suing and delaying projects every time they don’t get their way.

  • Jimbo

    the same is true for people and animals. we will all die, but should we be ended early for the sake of streets upgrade?

    trees are living creatures.

    and the idea that double the number of trees doesnt take away from killing trees and it also doesn’t replace the canopy that mature trees provide.

    Which is more damaging. 1 dead non-helmet wearing European tourist every 10 yrs, or the death of 49 trees that are being killed in his name.

  • You would give up mature tree canopy for a few years for a person’s life? Hell of an exchange rate, maybe you’d be better off moving to the country – I hear they have plenty of trees.

  • NoeValleyJim

    You need serious help.

  • Mesozoic Polk

    The more pertinent question, in our not-so-humble, neighbors-are-the-real-traffic-experts opinion:

    How many drivers will have their feelings hurt if the Masonic redesign moves forward as planned?

  • timsmith

    Disturbing sentiment.

  • jonobate

    Obviously the dead human being is a greater loss than the 49 trees. Why is this even a question?

  • Jimbo, you asked last week if someone could explain to you the definition of a troll on Streetsblog? You’re being one! Your post is upsetting, inflammatory and completely insensitive. By blaming Nils Linke for his own death and claiming that his life was less valuable than 49 trees, you’re asserting that all of our lives aren’t important. Making biking safer and more accessible to everyone will have a much greater benefit to our environment and our quality of life. All of us on here know that. All of us care greatly about our environment which is why we choose not to poison it by driving in cars everywhere. So while may claim to be morally superior to the rest of us, you’re not! You’re a pathetic little troll who thinks you know lot more than you actually do.

  • murphstahoe

    Yet you let him troll you. again.

  • Nicasio Nakamine

    Uncalled for and disrespectful.

  • helloandyhihi

    Is that even possible? I don’t think it could be done with a single vote but perhaps a package of reforms could have the same impact?

  • Prinzrob

    To stall a project that would enable many more people to safely take transit, walk, or bike, due to concerns over lost CO2 sequestration. Talk about not seeing the forest for the… well, you know.

    That being said, I also like to see streetscape projects designed from the ground up to incorporate and take advantage of mature street trees whenever feasible, as those are not easily replaceable resources which realistically take decades to renew. I don’t see it as acceptable to stall the project at this stage, but it does seem like an oversight on SFMTA’s part, and perhaps should lead to a city policy regarding public street tree replacement. Not to make improvements more difficult, but simply to get ahead of issues like this in the future.

  • hailfromsf

    I have a question for you: how many objects do you own or use that are made of wood?

  • I wonder what percentage of those who oppose this in the name of the trees are simply so short sighted and ignorant as to believe that losing the trees is really a bigger loss than the redesign is a gain. Vs. how many are simply using the trees as an excuse to advance an anti-change campaign.

  • City Resident

    Freeways are for motorized traffic only. I’m afraid you’re a few decades late in your call for Masonic to be for cars only. By your logic, motorists are out of control.

  • Lucille R. Gonzales

    NIMBYism in San Francisco is a pervasive cancer. I’ll take my tree thank you, enjoy getting hit by that truck.

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