If You Build It, Cars Will Come and Require Traffic Lights

Presidio_small.jpgPresidio parking lot. Photo, Sue Vaughan

possibility that traffic lights may be installed in and around San
Francisco’s Presidio National Park – in order to manage increased
traffic drawn to attractions such as the proposed Contemporary Art
Museum of the Presidio (the CAMP) and a lodge at the Main Post – has neighbors,
environmentalists, and preservationists blinking red.

“Traffic lights in a national historic preservation district are
like canaries in a coal mine,” said Lori Brooke, president of the Cow
Hollow Association, at a meeting in the Presidio April 22nd to discuss
transportation issues, noting that they threaten the historic landmark
status of the Presidio, the former army base that is being converted
into a national park.

She was speaking to a panel of representatives from the Presidio
Trust and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) who
met with members of the public to clarify transportation issues in and
around the Presidio, and the Main Post.

As required by law, traffic engineers have evaluated intersections in
the Presidio for level of service – or the amount of time that it takes
for a vehicle to pass through an intersection due to congestion – for
the Presidio’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  They have
determined that, due to projected increases in daily one-way vehicle
trips from roughly 35,000 today to 53,000 in 2030 in the Presidio as a
whole – and from 7,500 one-way vehicle trips to 16,765 in the Main Post
alone – certain intersections may require traffic mitigation measures,
including traffic lights.

According to Presidio Trust Transportation Program Manager Mark
Helmbrecht, lights could be installed within the Presidio at five
different intersections in and around the Main Post, and at the Lombard
Gate at Lyon Street.  Outside the Presidio traffic lights could be
installed along Presidio Avenue leading up to the Presidio Gate at
Pacific, Jackson, Washington, and on Arguello at Washington, one block
away from the Arguello Gate.

Any decision to install traffic signals, however, would be made by city government through the MTA – and those proposed
for the Presidio would have to pass National Environmental Protection
Act (NEPA) and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) reviews,
according to MTA Traffic Engineer Jerry Robbins and Presidio
transportation engineer Amy Marshall.  The city only approves funding
for two to three new traffic lights per year on average, added Robbins.

In terms of funding for signals in the Presidio, the city and the
Presidio would “would sit down and have a discussion about the fare
share of the cost the signals,” said Marshall.

However, said Helmbrecht, “It’s our intent that we’re not going to have signals here in the Presidio.”

“The intent,” he said, “is to mitigate the number of vehicle trips
that are produced and the mode.  More people will take transit. 
More people will walk.  More people will bike.”

Doubtful public

According to Helmbrecht, the EIS study correlated projected traffic to
the CAMP with its square foot capacity – 100,000 – to two other major
institutions, the de Young at 300,000 square feet and the Legion of
Honor at 100,000.

“The California Academy of Sciences has at times 10,000 visitors a
day.  The number of visitors is not related to square footage but to
the novelty of the project,” responded a skeptical Richard Emerson, a
Presidio Heights resident and a member of the board of California
Academy of Sciences.  “There are times when we get five times the
number of visitors expected per square foot.  The academy has exceeded

Members of the public also voiced concerns about increased
opportunities for cut through traffic from one side of the Presidio to
another because of the rebuilt Doyle Drive, which will include an exit
right to the Main Post at Girard.  In particular, they were concerned
that the amount of traffic going through the Lombard Gate would

“Make traffic [coming off the exit] turn right,” suggested Bill Hudson.  “Make people go to the Presidio.”

also suggested that the Presidio create a remote parking lot near Fort
Scott, just as motorists are exiting the Golden Gate Bridge.  From
there, visitors could take the PresidiGo Shuttle to the Main Post

According to Helmbrecht, the PresidiGo Shuttle now carries 300,000
people annually.  Acknowledging that Muni is unlikely to ever meet the
needs of the Presidio, he said the Presidio Trust was “well on its way
to increasing” shuttle ridership.

Not good enough

“The Trust is proposing something
that is causing all these adverse effects,” said Becky Evans, a
long-time member of the Sierra Club in reference to the CAMP.  “The
easiest way to stop them is to withdraw the proposal.”

"The Trust has acknowledged that there will be severe congestion, " added Don Green, chairman of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Presidio Neighborhood Working Group.  "the best way to avoid that is to reduce the planned level of development and to put [the CAMP] in the city and to reduce if not eliminate the new lodge that is proposed."

According to Green, suggestions have recently floated that Fisher could site his museum at the Giants ballpark parking lot, where it would be easily accessible from downtown and near the T-Line.

Public comment on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact
Statement for the Main Post of the Presidio has been extended until
June 1, 2009.

  • China basin is so much more appropriate a location for Fisher’s monument to himself that I hesitate to even comment further.

    But if he really wants to plop his museum in the Presidio, he should pay the full cost of extending the F line along the Marina Green to its front door.

  • It is such bullshit that everyone is resigned to the idea that Muni will always under-serve the Presidio. Simply ridiculous. I take the 43 into the Presidio every day, but most of my coworkers drive. Considering how unreliable their transit options are, I don’t blame them.

    Here’s what I’d like to see: convert some of the streets in the Presidio to transit-only. With the buses moving faster, they’ll be able to have more runs; and that’ll get more people out of their cars and onto transit.

  • jim

    How about putting Fisher’s museum at Piers 27-31? 19 acres of space along the water a short walk from the new Exploratorium at Pier 17 would be a great spot for the Fisher art collection.

  • If you price parking in the Presidio, you eliminate lots of traffic.

    I’m surprised that intersections couldn’t be mitigated with roundabouts.

  • Actually, paid parking is part of the plan — but right now only about half of the 2,000 plus Main Post parking spots are occupied on any given weekday. The traffic engineers were required by law to assess traffic impacts once the projects are finished — and their assessments (the EIS, the SEIS, the SSEIS, and so on, depending on which iteration of the plans are being discussed), which hope for at capacity parking lots, project increased traffic to the extent that mitigation in the form of traffic lights may be needed at six intersections in or near the Main Post, at three intersections on Presidio in Pacific Heights leading up to the Presidio Gate, and at one intersection at Arguello and Washington, leading up to the Arguello Gate.

    So, paid parking or no, the traffic has been projected to be fairly intense.

  • richard emerson

    Very good article, but I was misquoted. There are not 5 times as many visitors to CAS as expected; my point was that the Presidio Trust was calculating visitor traffic to the new museums based on square footage compared to other museums, and that is a bad measure and understates the amount of traffic to be generated. People don’t go based on square footage, they go to see the quality of the museum. My point about the CAS visitors was that the new museum sits on basically the same footprint as the old museum, but has substantially (up to 5x) the number of visitors despite square footage because the quality of the museum is better and more compelling. If the Fisher collection is as is stated to be, you will see higher traffic levels than mere square footage would suggest. Part of the equation is fixed – those that want to see it and see the new structure – and part is variable based on the size of the collection.

  • artlover1

    Excellent reporting. Does’nt Fisher realize that he is on the brink of curdling his standing and reputation in the community if he continues to push his way onto the Main Post, with Crissy Field and the downtown options present? And what a shame that to get onto the Main Post, he will have to reduce the size and dumb down the design of his museum even further, when he could (and should) have a contemporary art museum that looks like one, indeed one that enlivens the SF landscape with a landmark building. And why is the Presidio Trust continuing with this misbegotten plan? Some of its members need to be replaced.

  • 1776 founding

    This entire transportation issue distracts from the idea that NO modern buildings should even be considered in this historic area until the public has access to a real NPS visitor center in building 102, and a museum or vibrant and well staffed historical heritage program (not just a new space for the archaeologists in the officer’s club) dedicated to interpreting the history of the Presidio. Fisher’s museum is not a gift. If he were a philanthropist, he would build much needed visitor services first. All of this main post planning is trying to slip in before people have any idea of how to value what is there. Given it’s founding in 1776, the Main Post should be the west coast complement to Colonial Williamsburg, where people could actually experience history and be transformed. There is no need to “enhance” the visitor experience with this project. The main post IS the attraction, visitors just haven’t had a chance to experience it yet.

    The public has a right to learn the true value of what will be lost forever if the Fisher museum folly is pursued.

  • Here’s what I’d like to see: convert some of the streets in the Presidio to transit-only. With the buses moving faster, they’ll be able to have more runs; and that’ll get more people out of their cars and onto transit.


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