The Taraval Boarding Island Question: Q&A with Katy Tang

Supervisor Katy Tang, at her desk at City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.
Supervisor Katy Tang, at her desk at City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

Last week, Streetsblog brought you an editorial from Katy Tang about the issue of installing concrete boarding islands on Taraval as part of SFMTA’s Muni Forward project. This was in response to a headline in the SF Examiner, that declared “Supervisor Slams Brakes on L-Taraval Changes.”

As Streetsblog readers may recall, business owners were pushing back against the boarding islands because of the potential loss of parking in front of their shops; Streetsblog brought you the story of the rancorous public meeting about it, and other issues, back in February.

Is it true that Supervisor Tang was holding up safety improvements because of her small-business constituents and their objections? Streetsblog had reached out to Tang several times. Finally, Friday, Streetsblog was able to sit down with the District 4 Supervisor and get her perspective, face to face.

STREETSBLOG: The Examiner story was accurate, with the exception of the headline?

TANG: Factually, it was true. It just didn’t tell people all of what was going on.

SB: So what is going on? Let’s pick this up from that infamous meeting with the community at Dianne Feinstein Elementary about Muni’s proposed improvements to the L-Taraval.

TANG: At that large meeting, everyone was yelling at each other and not giving time to hear people. We heard from people that they were confused about what SFMTA proposals were on Taraval.  It’s not just about boarding islands. It might be about transit-only lanes. Parking removals associated with boarding islands. Traffic signals. Stop removals. So it was a whole host of things. You had to look at every intersection to know what’s going on. Because those meetings were just shouting fests, and it wasn’t just that one, there were several, we felt like, you know what? We’re not being productive. MTA wants feedback, and people aren’t providing feedback, they’re just yelling.

SB: So you arranged smaller meetings?

Boarding islands such as these will be added to L-Tarava stops. Photo: SFMTAl
Boarding islands such as these will be added to L-Taraval stops. Photo: SFMTA

KT: Yes. Through the focus groups, we’re trying to say maybe it’s not such a good idea to put the boarding island right in front of, say, a hardware store or a pet hospital. Maybe there’s a stop location that’s more appropriate.

SB: So it’s not about eliminating boarding islands. It’s about, potentially, relocating some stops?

KT: MTA was already talking about consolidation. So can you put all of those factors together to make it the best spot possible while achieving everyone’s goals. So that’s what I’m waiting to see.

SB: It’s so odd that some businesses don’t want a stop–it’s like saying: “Make all those potential customers on the train roll past my shop and get off somewhere else!”

KT:  A merchant pointed out, which I can see about the Sunset, our district is so spread out, it’s not like Ocean Avenue or Irving Street. On Taraval it’s kind of like, here’s a tranche, here’s a tranche–it’s a little disjointed. So people tend to do things by car and they’ll stop here at the post office, and stop here at the cafe, and stop here to do dry cleaning. Because people drive so much, that’s why there’s parking. I’m just reflecting what they’re saying.

SB: I’m wondering as a supervisor, though, how do you deal with what they’re saying on those occasions when what they’re saying makes no sense. For example, when we did a story on the Mission Street red-carpet [transit only] lanes, we met with business owners that said, for example, the treatment had eliminated their loading zones, when in fact there were three loading zones right outside the shop. It’s as if they live in an alternate reality.

KT: Taraval’s a little different from Mission. I don’t know that Taraval necessarily warrants the red carpets to be honest. In my experience growing up always around the L line, I’ve never seen the cars being the issue for the L–cars blocking the train.

SB: What is the issue that makes the L so slow? Too many stops?

KT: Stops everywhere. They revised it down a little.

SB: Consolidating stops seems like a no-brainer.

KT: But the seniors have been very vocal about not walking another block or two in order to catch the train. Now I don’t know what MTA is planning on doing ultimately.

SB: What about signal pre-emption?

KT: That’s what they’re working on.

SB: Is anyone opposed to it?

KT: Yes. (laughs)

SB: Why?

KT: It’s Taraval Street. When there’s no train, people are worried they’ll end up stopped for no good reason.

SB: Why would that happen?

KT: If there’s no train, you could be stopped at a light for a while. It’s slower than stopping at a stop sign.

SB: No, no, the idea is the train would trigger the light to turn red for the cars as the train approaches.

KT: Only if the train is there, but if you’re just a car, and no train is nearby, then you’re going to be stopped at a stop light much longer than you would at a stop sign.

SB: Oh, for the cycle of the light. Yes, I suppose. But we’re supposed to be doing what we can to prioritize the train.

KT: Just relaying people’s concerns. It’s an artery for cars. So they worry that it will drive traffic to the side streets, such as Ulloa Street, Vicente, Santiago–that’s what I’ve heard.

SB: Getting back to the big meeting at Di-Fi Elementary, someone from MTA mentioned that 22 people had been hit getting off trains, so someone in the audience reacted with “that doesn’t seem like a lot.” That struck me as such an inhumane perspective.

KT: We were pretty appalled by some of the comments. I think in those large group settings people feel emboldened to say things like that. In the smaller settings it was much more civilized. There was more of a sense that it’s unacceptable to be saying something like that. Unfortunately, I have to listen to everyone regardless of their opinion. I can’t just tune people out. My goal was to direct it in a more positive matter.

SB: What is your opinion on that?

KT: On what?

SB: On the idea that we should cancel the boarding islands because 22 people isn’t that much.

KT: I agree with MTA’s position. They have data that people are getting hit. Boarding islands are non-negotiable.

SB: So why do some small businesses freak out about this stuff?

KT: I have experience working with merchants from my job on Taraval and Irving. They are on pins and needles because the rules are constantly changing. They see it all as “government,” whether it’s state law, or city law, it’s all bundled into one thing: healthcare, minimum wage, they’re just on pins and needles because one thing could just throw their business off. So I don’t blame them for being fearful of changes such as parking impacts. At the same time, when these changes happen, yes, we monitor and see if the negative impacts are really true. So let’s look to examples where it has happened already, such as Ocean [which has boarding islands already] where it hasn’t impacted business, or maybe it made it better, but I do think it’s important to look at places where it has worked. I think in this case the Taraval changes got paired with the Mission Street changes, so people are saying, oh look, MTA is back tracking now. And they’re equating it to let what’s happened on Mission Street.

SB: They think SFMTA’s going to do the same thing they did on Mission? They do realize you can’t move the tracks on Taraval over to the right lanes and paint them red? I had to get that in there.

KT: (laughs) Taraval is a business corridor that we want to revitalize, so me supporting safety and boarding islands doesn’t mean that I want to destroy our businesses.

SB: Last question, you didn’t do very well in the Muni challenge. In fact, you came in last.

KT: Oh!

SB: Why?

KT: I’m 32 now. I started riding when I was in the sixth grade–I’ve ridden it way more than 22 days. I don’t need to be Tweeting or Facebooking about it to show people that I’m riding it.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

  • Als

    “People tend to do things by car”…..like hit people trying to get off a stopped Muni train.

  • Parker

    She doesn’t want to promote riding Muni in her district, and blames her lack of leadership on her constituents. Odd. At least she’s willing to be interviewed I guess.

  • KT: I agree with MTA’s position. They have data that people are getting hit. Boarding islands are non-negotiable.

    Does that really mean boarding islands are non-negotiable? I emailed her directly and she indicated she supported the stops which were getting boarding platforms would be getting boarding platforms, but didn’t even count the five “pilot” stops where SFMTA plans to install boarding platforms only after a crash.

    I would really like to see Supervisor Tang stop pussyfooting around: are we getting a safe taraval with boarding islands, or does the Supervisor still want some exceptions where merchants want parking over safety?

  • On Taraval it’s kind of like, here’s a tranche, here’s a tranche–it’s a little disjointed. So people tend to do things by car and they’ll stop here at the post office, and stop here at the cafe, and stop here to do dry cleaning. Because people drive so much, that’s why there’s parking. I’m just reflecting what they’re saying.

    I may be getting a bit far fetched here, but with businesses spread along a single long corridor, it would actually make a good candidate for a light-rail or high-capacity transit line.

    Supervisor Tang doesn’t even seem interested in looking beyond what drivers are complaining to her about, but throughout the city and the world, many people in a similar situation will go from errand to errand using transit or a mix or transit and car.

  • Oh so telling:

    KT: Taraval’s a little different from Mission. I don’t know that Taraval necessarily warrants the red carpets to be honest. In my experience growing up always around the L line, I’ve never seen the cars being the issue for the L–cars blocking the train.

    On one hand the SFMTA has 29,000 daily L riders with slow, unreliable service, and about 4-5 riders hit per year exiting the train into traffic.

    The SFMTA wants to speed up the line by 20%, but Supervisor Tang seems to want to keep things just as slow and unsafe as they are today.

  • njudah

    It’s clear Ms. Tang is very uninformed about what’s REALLY happening, and her “concern trolling” of changes real and suggested, shows she’s trying to have it both ways with everyone. It’s a shame we can’t have a supervisor that’s not a Mayoral appointment out there…

  • KT: …it’s a little disjointed. So people tend to do things by car and they’ll stop here at the post office, and stop here at the cafe, and stop here to do dry cleaning. Because people drive so much, that’s why there’s parking. I’m just reflecting what they’re saying.

    Supervisor Tang has such a one-size-fits-all notation of community needs. A lot of people tend to do things by car, but that’s not the entire population.

    For a variety of reasons from choice, to age, vision, or mobility issues, to the fact its illegal for a 10 year old to drive, there are a lot of people who use Taraval who are not driving themselves around and don’t deserve to be put at a disadvantage with less reliable, slower, and dangerous to exit Muni as their alternative.

  • City Resident

    Thank you for a great interview!

  • jd_x

    Great interview, especially since you asked tough questions.

    Tang strikes me as someone who is caught in a mental no-man’s land. On one hand,she sorta, kinda seems to recognize the car-centric past is not the future. After all, why even grant an interview with Streetsblog?

    But on the other hand, she isn’t showing the clarity that is apparent when someone truly gets that we cannot continue to build our city around cars. For example, her excuse for losing the Muni Challenge was that she rides all the time but didn’t feel the need to publicize it. What kind of disconnect is that?! The *exact* point of the challenge was to publicize public transit and show citizens that even their leaders take Muni. It’s in fact all about publicizing it, and if you don’t get that, you’re a poor leader who completely missed the point.

    But even worse is her excuse about merchants on “pins and needles”. Or talking about looking “at places where it has worked”? What is she even talking about? Of course you look to places where it’s worked, and the City has done that, and we so know it works. She’s tying herself in a knot trying to explain all her mental paradoxes. She seems to be clawing at excuses as to why she can’t just admit that these merchants are wrong and that making the street safer for public transit users and pedestrians will make it better for their businesses. This is like Urban Transit 101. But not for Tang who seems to think there’s a debate to be had because car parking is another issue that is just as important as anything else, like people’s safety.

  • So is everyone just going to sit around and twiddle their thumbs while a supervisor flagrantly violates Prop E? What in the actual fuck?! Where’s the lawsuit?

  • mx

    Which Prop E? If you mean last year’s public meeting initiative, it lost.

  • david vartanoff

    “KT: Just relaying people’s concerns. It’s an artery for cars”
    No, Taraval is an artery for people no matter which way they choose to travel. Commercial areas grow up on transit routes because that is how many customers reach them.

  • Sigh… name reuse. Yet another failure when it comes to ballot props.

    No, I was referring to 1999’s prop E, the one that created SFMTA in the first place.

  • Like @MrEricSir:disqus stated, Prop E (1999) created the SFMTA. I think where he’s going with this is that voters also established performance goals for the Muni service along with the SFMTA.

    So if a Supervisor or Mayor puts up an obstacle to letting the SFMTA get on with its job, does that put them in questionable legal territory? Is that what you where trying to get at?

  • mx

    Ah yes, the Prop E that set the 85% on-time standard for Muni to be met 12 years ago. We’re still at 60%, and it’s embarrassingly even worse, 53%, for the light rail and the historic streetcar category the L falls into. As a sidenote, I’d far rather scrap the “on-time” standard and focus on consistent and reliable headways instead, which is what actually matters to most riders.

    In any case, the idea that a supervisor should be sued for holding meetings with her constituents about changes the city is making in their neighborhood is preposterous.

  • I live two blocks from Taraval. People who park usually park in one spot and call it a day. They don’t find a parking spot, hit up the post office, then drive to another parking spot, hang out in a cafe, etc. Or, like many drivers, they run their quick errands without feeding the meters. Hang out on 28th/Taraval and you’ll see it happen more often than not.

    I guess since she’s ridden MUNI for all those years that gives her an excuse not to participate in the 30-day challenge which really reveals a lot about her character. Rather than rise to the challenge and really connect with issues MUNI riders face she dismisses it and offers a lame excuse why.

    Signal priority? Hasn’t been implemented on the T line since it opened 10 years in spite of the promise so you can bet it won’t be happening on the L either.

    Consolidation of stops which would speed service is being held up by some seniors who don’t want to walk an extra block or two. Last time I checked, public transit wasn’t designed specifically for one demographic group. Typical SF “it’s all about me” mentality.

  • She clearly hasn’t seen Wiener’s massive SF subway plan. Then again, neither have we.

  • Yeah, exactly. Obviously the timeline on the performance goals didn’t make it, but it’s because of meddling supervisors (and endless meetings) that we still haven’t implemented all the TEP proposals. And the ones that we did are now in danger of getting rolled back, all so a couple loud motorists and have “their” parking spots.

  • That seems to be the case. I ride the L every day to work downtown and it’s always a crap shoot whether the commute will take 35 minutes or double that. A perfect illustration of the stupidity of SF transit planners and residents is the following: it takes 16 minutes to get from Daly City to Montgomery Station via BART, roughly 9 miles. The same distance on the L (let’s say from the Zoo) is at least triple that time. But, MUNI wants to improve speed (only) by 20% yet you hear whining from residents about the proposed improvements. You know what, SF? Keep your slow, antiquated system. You reap what you sow.

  • My hunch is the politicians are on pretty safe footing, unless the SFMTA has actually put in a boarding island already and Supervisor Tang takes a jackhammer to it.

    Having spent five years working on the TEP, I get a bit upset seeing something threatening to undo all that hard work. Which includes the community members who took the time to get involved with the TEP when these changes were first being planned. None of the arguments being made now are any different than we heard five-ten years ago when these changes were first being planned.

  • Or, better yet, walk from errand to errand, if possible. Most businesses on Taraval are the type that welcome foot traffic. Unless you’re buying a ton of lumber from Great Wall or shipping 50 packages at the post office, most people I see on the street are either walking or using transit, including those lugging bags from Safeway on MUNI trains.

    The problem in SF is that people are spoiled. They either have to have a parking spot directly in front of their destination available at all times or a MUNI stop at the end of their block. It’s not so much a matter of inconvenience, but that of entitlement. The more the city concedes to every single person’s demand nothing will ever get accomplished.

  • OneSF

    Signal priority has actually been implemented on the T recently according to Liz Brisson, a SFMTA transportation planner: https://www.reddit.com/r/sanfrancisco/comments/4hl3b3/i_am_liz_brisson_an_sf_transportation_planner_bay/d2qkdly

  • sebra leaves

    Stop signs are the safest because everyone always stops, unlike a light that could change at any time, you know what to do at a stop sign. You can anticipate everyone’s movement. I prefer stop signs on smaller slower streets.

  • mx

    Everyone always stops? You must be new in town.

  • SFMTA is now implementing signal priority city-wide under that Muni Forward banner (and a new contract) and seen good results. Last year the SFMTA reported cutting five minutes off the 14-Mission.

  • timsmith

    If only there was some helpful indicator that a traffic signal was about to change from green to red. Perhaps the engineers in the audience could suggestion an idea, such as a special color between the phases to give motorists a helpful heads up, or perhaps even a means of “counting down” the time from green until red. Futuristic, yes, but think of all the lives it could save compared to the present state of chaos these so called “traffic control devices” impose!

  • MayorLee

    The interviewer is just as snarky as the commenters. Go worship your bicycle in privacy!

  • RichLL

    How do you define “leadership” there? It sounds like what you mean by “leadership” would be Tang going against what the majority of her district constituents wants and instead imposing your preferred ideology?

    First and foremost Tang is an elected representative. That means she must faithfully represent and support the values of her local voters. It’s certainly not her job to ignore them when it doesn’t suit her or you.

    Isn’t your real problem here with the preferences of the people who live there, and not with Tang at all? What part of being a “leader” means not listening to what’s important to the voters who elected you, and who may vote you out next time if you ignore them?

  • RichLL

    I am not sure it is fair to compare the journey times of an underground train capable of 70 mph with a street-car that, for much of its journey, has to trundle along surface streets.

    And which has dozens of stops versus just the 6 intermediate stops that BART has from Daly City to Montgomery.

  • My comparison of types of rail transit feeds directly into my argument that there is demand for a BART-like system in most of the city rather than an outdated streetcar system that has proven that it cannot do the job adequately in either speed or capacity. I have no problem keeping the L local, but make it a feeder line to something more robust.

  • alberto rossi

    Probably someone like Jamison can speak more knowledgably about it, but isn’t that the long-range plan? J, K, L and the Ocean View leg of the M all evicted from the subway tunnel (extended to Park Merced), where only 3 and 4 car M and N trains would run?

  • I may not have been on any committees, but I am more in the know than your average SF citizen. Several transit enthusiasts have pressed for removing many of the surface lines from the Market St. tunnel, but I have never read any SFMTA proposal that calls for that change. 4-car trains could never fly in older stations, like FH and WP. The platforms would have to be extended to accommodate. Although putting the M underground at WP is a consideration, the station would have to be completely rebuilt to serve both the M and surface K and L lines.

  • neroden

    You know, the traffic lights could be FLASHING RED (meaning the same as a stop sign) except when the train comes through and sets them to SOLID RED.

    Or are drivers so poorly educated that this would confuse them?

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