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

Presidio_small.jpgPresidio parking lot. Photo, Sue Vaughan

The
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
expectations.”

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
increase.

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

Hudson
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
attractions.

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.

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