L-Taraval and the Concrete Boarding Island Question

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Supervisor Katy Tang addresses a grumpy audience about proposed Taraval safety improvements back in February. Photo: Streetsblog.

Back in February, Streetsblog reported on one of three meetings about SFMTA’s planned “Muni Forward” improvements to the L-Taraval line. Since then, SFMTA has held various smaller meetings with local stakeholders, confirmed SFMTA.

But rumors have grown that, under the direction of Supervisor Katy Tang, the SFMTA was backing off safety improvements, such as adding concrete boarding islands. This was reinforced by a San Francisco Examiner headline “Supervisor slams brakes on L-Taraval changes.” Concrete boarding islands require the elimination of some parking spots on Taraval, and local business owners were objecting.

This follows a pattern, also seen on Mission Street, where local business owners complain that any elimination of traffic lanes or parking hurts business. This led to Supervisor David Campos calling for a rethink of the transit-only lanes on Mission. He confirmed that directly with a Facebook post.

But in the case of Tang, sources close to the goings-on say the rumors are wrong. Streetsblog reached out to Supervisor Tang’s office on several occasions but, most likely due to timing, hasn’t connected so far. That said, Streetsblog was able to obtain this response via email from Tang to the Examiner and, along with it, to the rumors that she’s for eliminating boarding islands:

With a single headline, “Supervisor slams brakes on L-Taraval changes,” the Examiner has completely misrepresented what has transpired with the L-Taraval Muni Forward Project. [The Examiner’s article] from May 5, 2016 attempted to provide readers with an update about SFMTA’s proposed changes to the L-Taraval to improve pedestrian safety and transit reliability. Instead, readers were led to believe that my office tried to stop the proposed changes from happening.

SFMTA presented our community with a set of proposals that included installation of boarding islands, stop removals, transit-only lanes, and traffic signals as part of the L-Taraval Muni Forward Project. Naturally, the proposal was met with opinions from all sides. Neighbors were invited to community meetings that turned into public shouting matches. Thus, our office suggested that we hold focus group meetings with representatives from all communities to move the conversation forward in a more productive manner. We included community members who represented youth, seniors, transit riders, drivers, merchants, bicyclists, pedestrian safety advocates, and those with disabilities. Through this forum, we were able to discuss in greater detail SFMTA’s initial proposal and where potential changes could be made or not be made. All of the detailed feedback will help SFMTA refine its initial proposal.

As with all large projects, community members will find that they share a diversity of opinions. But regardless of how people feel about specific proposals, most community members have acknowledged that we share common interests: safety and transit reliability. My job is to facilitate a productive dialogue to ensure that we meet our shared goals in the best way possible – not to interject my own opinions about a project. At no point during this process did I slam the brakes on any component of the L-Taraval Muni Forward Project. We are trying to move the conversation forward, and we hope the Examiner will do the same.

– Katy Tang, District 4 Supervisor, San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

A mostly grumpy audience listens to Supervisor Tang and others talk about proposed improvements to the Taraval line. Photo: Streetsblog.
A mostly grumpy audience listens to Supervisor Tang and others talk about proposed improvements to the Taraval line. Photo: Streetsblog.

SFMTA confirmed that Tang’s statement was accurate. Of course, this bit: “My job is to facilitate a productive dialogue to ensure that we meet our shared goals in the best way possible – not to interject my own opinions about a project” is one point of view about what it means to be an elected official. There are other Supervisors who don’t shy from interjecting opinion–that’s clear in Streetsblog Q&As with Scott Wiener and John Avalos, for example. The question of whether a politician’s job is to bring their own positions–or just interpret the desires of the electorate–is as old as democracy itself. And what one person calls “interjecting opinions” another might call “leadership.”

And as Nicole Ferrara, Executive Director of Walk SF and a leading activist for safer streets, put it in an interview with Streetsblog: “…we need to redouble our commitment to the quality of projects we’re talking about and having our city leaders– whether it’s at MTA, or a Supervisor in the Outer Sunset, or the mayor’s office–they all need to be pushing for the safest treatments possible. Vision Zero is not about compromising; it’s about doing the safest things and figuring out the rest later.”

That said, a representative from SFMTA re-affirmed that Tang has not asked them to stop building concrete boarding islands, which is to become the default, standard treatment for all stops on the L-Taraval. The only exceptions are something they explained long ago at the public meetings: they are using five of the least-used, most-safe stops on Taraval to try some alternate safety measures, such as well-marked (but not concrete) boarding areas. If they don’t seem to be working (if, or example, cars are still passing stopped LRT vehicles at those locations) then those stops will be rebuilt in concrete as well.

  • gb52

    Thank you for this article. I think it captures what has really transpired, but I hope the misleading examiner article sets a flame and brings out supporters for a safer, more livable Taraval St. The loudest people at a meeting are not the majority and the majority of people KNOW Taraval needs to be a safer street. Merchants and residents agree something needs to be done, but unfortunately the merchants still prioritize cars over people. I wish they cared more about the people that walk and take transit to their shops. It really is the neighborhood that supports them.

    In any case, SFMTA has bent over backwards creating parking but like widening roads, building parking induces demand. This brings more cars, more struggles, more oil, and guess what, more traffic and collisions. What we really need is some respect from the different road users, and in this case, boarding islands to give everyone a fair chance to follow the rules of the road.

  • RichLL

    Ferrara is wrong when she says that “Vision Zero is not about compromising; it’s about doing the safest things and figuring out the rest later.”

    While safety must be a high priority, there are a number of other factors such as cost, throughput, convenience, practicality, laws and of course the wishes of the community.

    If safety were the first and only factor, then we’d all be driving around at 5 mph, or not driving at all. Vision Zero is a direction and not an imperative until and unless the voters tell us they are willing to pay the true cost of zero accidents.

    “what one person calls “injecting opinions” another might call “leadership.””

    No, I think Tang is absolutely correct here. While she does no doubt hold personal opinions and preferences, her job is to represent the wishes of her community and constituents. And if those wishes are different from her own views, then she must suppress her own biases and act for the common good.

    And the reason is clear. She wants to win re-election and that is achieved by giving the voters what they tell you that they want. For myself, I wish politicians would talk less and listen more.

  • gneiss

    I am glad to see that Supervisor Tang realized that the community meeting process is not the best forum for getting feedback for the changes that SFMTA were attempting to roll out. That they turn into shouting matches where the voices of the most vocal with catchy slogans ends up overwhelming any of the transformative and subtle elements of the changes being proposed in favor of simply doing nothing. After all, one of the most outspoken people who attended the meeting in February wasn’t even from San Francisco, but Berkeley and was clearly there with an agenda to disrupt the proceedings rather than to listen to SFMTA’s proposals

    That being said, it’s still important that the SFMTA moves forward with designs that are proven to reduce injuries, even if it means eliminating some on street parking spaces. To do otherwise works against making this corridor work for transit users, particularly the young, elderly, and disabled who are disproportionately injured in crashes with automobiles at boarding locations. After all, as Kennedy noted in his presentation, some 1/3 of motorists who are driving on the street at the same time as the trains ignore state law and pass them illegally. There is simply no level of enforcement that will change that behavior if it is so pervasive. It will be much better if we can use engineering to protect people instead.

  • jwinstonsf

    No. Vision Zero means what it says. Zero deaths by traffic. I think we could probably get away with 15 mph, not 5. If your sister died I don’t think “cost, throughput, convenience, practicality, laws and the wishes of her community” would enter into your thoughts.

  • RichLL

    I understand what Vision Zero is. My claim was that Ferrera does not. I think she is stating what she would like Vision Zero to be i.e. safety absolutely trumping all other considerations with no compromises

    That is an admirable goal but the reality is that it isn’t that at all. It is a compromise, other things are also important and there is zero chance that we will get to zero deaths without a much more dramatic and aggressive approach.

    And that takes us back to whether the voters are willing to put up with all that that implies. Ferrera needs to distinguish what Vision Zero is as a practical matter from what it is in her fantasy dream world.

    Political slogans play well but they rarely mean what they appear to mean. “Vision Less Deaths” is technically more accurate to describe what we are doing.

  • jd_x

    I appreciate Streetsblog trying to dig deeper, and yet Tang’s position is still inexcusable. We don’t need leaders to keep talking about compromise when the data shows clearly how dangerous motor vehicles are *and* it’s official policy that transit (and bicycling and walking) is first priority. We don’t need debates or compromise on something as basic as ensuring public transit users don’t get run over just trying to get on or off a train. For more than half a century we’ve ignored compromise at the expense of completely redesigning our streets for cars at the expense of all other (safer, more healthy, and less polluting) modes of transit, so we have to undo a lot of that before we can even talk about compromise. I’m tired of such anachronistic, weak leadership in this City, and Tang’s pathetic position is nothing but an attempt to avoid the paradox in her head that the data clearly shows what we need to do (reclaim space from cars) yet her car-centric bias can’t accept this. So she’s caught looking like a fool trying to throw out indecisive, vague political statements that mean nothing and do nothing; they certainly don’t help us get to Vision Zero.

  • gneiss
  • RichLL

    I agree with all of that. But it’s still not what Ferrera is saying. Your citation talks about focus, stimulation and a shared responsibility. It doesn’t talk about a single-minded obsession with no compromise, where only one factor matters.

    I give Ferrera a pass because she is an activist for a single class of road user (pedestrians and, yes, I know we are all pedestrians at times). But if her statement is to be taken literally then why do we even have public meetings to discuss alternatives and compromises? Why does it even matter what Tang thinks or what the local business think?

    If Ferrera is right then the government would just move in the bulldozers and create a totally safe environment with zero comment or criticism. But that isn’t what happens. We have meetings and focus groups and feedback and compromise because this is a democracy and because nothing is absolute and inviolate.

  • murphstahoe

    Come on man, do we really need a 200 comment thread here?

  • murphstahoe

    Somehow when it comes to the ADA there is no compromise. We are not willing to compromise when it comes to people who are disabled – but we are willing to make compromises that cause disabilities.

  • Tang is crazy, to put it politely. Ocean Ave. was redone about 10 years ago, complete with boarding islands and businesses remain thriving more so after the improvements. It can be done and done successfully. Rider safety clearly isn’t high on her agenda, most likely because she doesn’t ride the L.

  • murphstahoe

    crazy like a fox. The less she sticks her neck out, the more likely she has a stable long lasting career in politics/featherbedding.

  • SF Guest

    The fatal flaw with Vision Zero is eliminating “individual responsibility” while making it a “shared responsibility between system and design” aka idiot proofing.

    Removing the pedestrian’s obligation to oneself’s safety to look both ways before crossing a street and placing the responsibility on the engineered and safe design of every intersection is foolish, unwise and misleading. Can any pedestrian make the assumption that ALL intersections have been redesigned with Vision Zero guidelines?

    Idiot proofing any crosswalk (e.g., bulbouts, wider sidewalks, reduced traffic lanes and reduced traffic speeds) doesn’t absolve the common sense practice to look both ways before crossing any public street.

    While it’s true many pedestrians are hit from speeding motorists a critical question to ask is how many of those hit looked before they stepped foot off the crosswalk. Vision Zero cannot make this guarantee a pedestrian will not be hit by motorists violating his/her right-of-way in an engineered Vision Zero intersection.

  • Doesn’t a lot of the idiot-proofing also help the people who are casually tweeting while driving who also have an obligation beyond ‘should have looked’?

  • I dunno, a local neighbor on NextDoor posted a “be careful” after her brother wore the wrong clothes while crossing a street at night and was killed. She even called up the driver to comfort him; she blamed her brother.

  • I need a clarification. The article implies:

    “…building concrete boarding islands, which is to become the default, standard treatment for all stops on the L-Taraval.”

    But then the same paragraph goes on to conclude:

    “The only exceptions are something they explained long ago at the public meetings: they are using five of the least-used, most-safe stops on Taraval to try some alternate safety measures, such as well-marked (but not concrete) boarding areas. If they don’t seem to be working (if, or example, cars are still passing stopped LRT vehicles at those locations) then those stops will be rebuilt in concrete as well.”

    Does this mean boarding platform will be installed at all stops or that five stops will not have boarding platforms and instead use striping (as merchants recommended to preserve parking) leaving Muni riders to exit into traffic until someone is hit?

    Simply saying all stops will have boarding platforms doesn’t make it true if not all stop have boarding platforms, right?

  • Riding this line everyday for 8+ years I’ve seen my fair share of incidents with cars not stopping. One of the problems is that stops are not clearly marked. A yellow stripe on a telephone or lamp post is hardly noticeable, especially at night or when it’s foggy. Another problem is that even though there is a stop at 28th Ave that doesn’t mean anyone will be boarding or exiting the train. Also, many times a car will proceed when a train stops thinking the train is only stopping at the stop sign when it turns out someone is getting off at which point it’s too late and the car is in the path of the rider.

    It sickens me that rider safety is being pushed to the side for a handful of parking spots. First, eliminate half the stops. Second, put in boarding islands on the remaining stops, like we have on Ocean. Better yet, put in boarding platforms like we see on the T-Third. Shouldn’t all stops be ADA compliant?

    Bottom line: speed up service on this line and make it safe for both riders and drivers.

  • alberto rossi

    Jamison, it means they will paint pictures of boarding islands. Just like they paint pictures of pedestrian bulbouts. Vision: Zero Loss of Parking.

  • SF Guest

    I can’t answer on their behalf. You’ll have to ask the motorists who don’t look.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Every single one of us has been an idiot at some point in our lives. No matter how careful any of us are, none of us are ever be able to look both ways and successfully determine whether it’s safe to cross the street correctly 100% of the time throughout our entire lives. We are all human, which means we occasionally make dumb mistakes, and we’re all terribly bad at surveying.

    When streets are redesigned to minimize conflicts, there are a lot less of them. It’s not rocket science. It’s the same rational for putting guard rails along bridges.

    There’s really no reason guard rails are needed as long as drivers stay in their lane and drive carefully 100% of the time. But because none of us are capable of doing that, we design every one of our bridges for the lowest common denominator; the idiots, which is every single one of us.

    So stop pretending as if you’re better or smarter then the rest of us. We’re all capable of doing unimaginably stupid things! And none of us deserve to die because of it.

  • Right after you ask the all pedestrians “Can any pedestrian make the assumption that ALL intersections have been redesigned with Vision Zero guidelines?”

  • jd_x

    Nonsense. Take a sidewalk crowded with people. If you are zoned out on your phone looking down and run into somebody, what happens? Most of the time, nothing but a few “excuse me’s” or “sorry’s”. Worst-case, a bump or bruise. That is the appropriate punishment for not paying attention.

    You know what is not an appropriate punishment for not paying attention: death or serious injury. Your comment arguably represents the greatest flaw of post-WW II car-centric urban design where we have come to believe that the price one pays for screwing up by not looking where they are going is death or serious injury at the hands of a 2-ton vehicle with hundreds of horsepower. This is ridiculous. We all make mistakes and shouldn’t have to pay with our lives our permanent injuries. You can’t get rid of people making mistakes, but you can make sure that the consequences are appropriate for the severity of the mistake, and being hit by a car is never appropriate in a dense, urban area.

  • SF Guest

    My main point remains unchanged that all pedestrians have a responsibility to oneself to look both ways whenever crossing a street regardless of whether the intersection is controlled or not with or without implementing Vision Zero. Vision Zero’s position that “Individual responsibility” should become a “Shared responsibility between system and design gives the false impression a Vision Zero engineered street design relieves the “individual responsibility” to look both ways. For those who believe Vision Zero relieves you of your “individual responsibility” to look both ways you are sadly mistaken.

    BART riders have died from falling into the tracks; people have died from committing suicide on CalTrain tracks. Using your mindset BART and CalTrain should slow to a crawl when approaching stations.

    Your argument is traffic signals and stop signs aren’t enough to stop accidents so the entire system needs to be re-engineered to force mandatory reduced speeds since you can’t change speed laws on the state level.

    If oneself doesn’t have the ability to look both ways because you are legally blind you have a point but for the vast majority of those with good vision or corrective lenses you’re looking for an excuse.

    I do agree with your valid point consequences should be appropriate for the mistake which is an enforcement issue.

  • I’m all for cutting down on stops, and spreading them wider, but that’s an area I think really needs to be tread lightly on because of shifting demographics.

    The biggest segment of the population by far are the baby boomers who are hitting retirement and there’s a shift for towards transit as people age out of driving. The trend indicates the boomers will be living longer than ever before and we shouldn’t be selling people short 20 years down the line when there are so many other ways to speed up service with only limited stop removal/relocation.

    Muni Metro is the only light-rail system I know of where a platform, ticket machine, and boarding ramp (if not completely level platforms) provided at every single station.

  • citrate reiterator

    I know this is a super old comment, but just to throw in my two cents: these stops are really, really close together, much closer than any other rapid transit system. Stops on the L are even slightly closer together than stops on the N. The SFMTA is only just now trying to remove stops that are 0.1 mi apart — literally, 500 feet, or a two-minute walk. I’ve actually gotten off at 17th Ave, walked to 19th Ave, and beat the train (which has to wait for passengers to finish boarding/de-boarding, wait for the light, accelerate, stop, and then open the doors again).

    I think a big problem is that Muni’s light rail is being asked to perform two totally contradictory functions: rapid transit on the one hand, and the equivalent of a super-local bus on the other. In my view they should really be broken out into two separate services. The L and N could stop every half-mile at well-built-out islands like the T has, and a less-frequent L/N-local bus service could stop every other block on request.

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