Cesar Chavez Street Redesign Plan Headed to SFMTA Board for Approval

Image: SF Planning Dept's City Design Group
Image: SF Planning Dept's City Design Group

An SFMTA hearing room erupted into applause Friday, November 19, when John Newlin, a hearing officer at the SFMTA, ruled that the massive Cesar Chavez Street redesign should move on to the full SFMTA Board. Supporters of the plan, led by CC Puede, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and other community groups, swamped opposition. The hearing was the proposal’s first formal test.

If the plan continues to sail through approvals, Cesar Chavez from Hampshire Street to Guerrero will soon slim down from three vehicle traffic lanes in each direction to two, with the freed-up space going to bike lanes, strategic turn pockets, and a wide landscaped median. Extensive corner bulbouts, additional greening, and stormwater capture enhancements round out the design elements. Work should begin next summer, following sewer replacement construction. Crews are scheduled to start ripping up the street at Hampshire in February, then move west. The streetscape improvements will shadow the sewer work, with workers zipping the street back together as the sewer dig moves on to the next segment.

Though city officials had expressed early support for the plan, initiated in early 2006 by a neighborhood petition drive, and several large community meetings over the past few years had unearthed little protest, tension arose just before the hearing when some parents at the Leonard Flynn Elementary School on Cesar Chavez and Harrison raised objections. They were upset at the removal of the left turn option onto Harrison from westbound Cesar Chavez, which some parents use to drive their children to school.

Ironically, parents had rallied for safety at that very corner in 2003 to protest the traffic, not efforts to contain it. Two Flynn students, a brother and sister, were hit by the driver of a pickup truck running the red on Cesar Chavez at Harrison. Both survived, but the girl missed a year of school. At the time, the intersection lacked even a “Walk/Don’t Walk” signal, and the city was dragging its heels about installing one. After the demonstration, implementation sped up, and a countdown signal appeared.

A a 2006 CC Puede rally when the intersection of Mission and Cesar Chavez was named one of the top ten most dangerous in the city. Photo: Sasha Magee
A 2006 CC Puede rally when the intersection of Mission and Cesar Chavez was named one of the top ten most dangerous in the city. Photo: Sasha Magee

According to Andres Power of the Planning Department, who has been riding herd on the Cesar Chavez plan along with representatives from the SFMTA, Public Utilities Commission, and Department of Public Works, the proposed left turn ban, bulbouts, and median are intended to prevent danger, not invite it. Still, e-mail messages circulating days before the hearing predicted dire consequences should the left turn ban be implemented as proposed. Power and the SFMTA’s Mike Sallaberry agreed to meet with the concerned parents and attempt some reconciliation. Evidently, the hearing officer agreed that a dust up over one intersection shouldn’t derail the entire project.

A few other speakers objected to the plan, with varying degrees of heat. One critic denounced the whole idea, saying it would cause congestion and thus create pollution. Sallaberry agreed that congestion would increase at the peak rush hour but showed a graph demonstrating how underutilized the street now is the other 23 hours every day. Another speaker who has lived on Cesar Chavez for many years expressed concern about loss of parking, though she mistakenly attributed this to the bike lanes rather than the pedestrian bulbouts. The total number of spaces lost should be around 30, sprinkled over the length of the street from Hampshire to Guerrero.

Otherwise, the hearing turned into a lovefest for the redesign. Renee Saucedo of the Day Labor Program came out in firm support and thanked CC Puede for its work. She called for benches for the day laborers, an idea that was echoed by a subsequent speaker. Chicken John Rinaldi, former mayoral candidate, owns an art installation building on Cesar Chavez and described the difficulty patrons now have in crossing the street to come to his events. Leonard Flynn parent Rosi Bustamante walks her children to the school and spoke of looking forward to doing so more safely. Altogether, 16 speakers voiced their enthusiasm for the project, a large turnout for a low-profile weekday morning hearing.

This wave of support showed the benefits of slow going and steady community outreach. The first mention of the project in the San Francisco Chronicle in fall 2005 brought a torrent of threats to stop it dead. Following the 2006 petition drive, which garnered over 600 signatures, CC Puede held several meetings and other events before the city got involved that addressed initial concerns about potential spillover traffic, loss of parking, and congestion. Early critics had time to be heard and to contribute their own ideas, and gradually opposition faded. In 2007, CC Puede hand-delivered a letter explaining the project and its goals in English and Spanish to every door along Cesar Chavez and several side streets, inviting neighbors to speak up and ask questions.

Even the Leonard Flynn parents who objected to the left turn ban at Harrison supported the project overall. They just felt blindsided by the specifics, some of which had been fuzzy at the community meetings. The project itself was well known, however, and neighbors had had time to get used to the idea.

Meanwhile, the Planning Department has just begun to tackle the eastern segment of Cesar Chavez, including the “hairball,” the nasty 101 freeway maze, and the 280 interchange. Ilaria Salvadori and other representatives of Planning have already met with neighbors, merchants, and advocates to plan a series of community meetings, surveys, and a walking tour to come up with a design that will improve pedestrian, bicycle, and transit travel along the forlorn eastern strip, while still accommodating industrial uses and truck traffic. An early December kickoff is planned.

  • Thanks for this article, Fran, and especially for all your hard work with others over the years. The experience with extensive, repeated outreach is a lesson for any group trying to engage the community and reach consensus for more livable streets.

  • ZA

    Hey Neighbor! You (and we) rock!

  • Nick

    So this street is going to look a lot like Alemany Blvd once it’s done? Since when did other half-calmed traffic sewers become the City’s gold standard for success?

  • Since when did other half-calmed traffic sewers become the City’s gold standard for success?


    not providing appropriate bicycle infrastructure on this major east/west corridor is a travesty. fully-separated cycletracks is the absolute minimum that Cesar Chavez requires and deserves.

    i mean, how much do you have to hate your kids and grandkids to force this upon them? seriously?

    we already force them onto crappy buses, and make them wait around all day, and deal with crazies and perverts, and try to make them pay for these privileges, and now, to assuage our guilt over this injustice (we do feel some guilt, don’t we?), we’re going to give them trees in a raised median instead of *#*@#*@* separated bike lanes that will actually make biking on Cesar Chavez possible for them. yes — happy trees are going to make them real happy.

    i have a pretty good understanding of how things happen in cities when you weigh all the various private and public powers, politicians, timing, funding, etc., but this project i’ve never been able to figure out. even BRT, as anti-human as it is, i can understand to a certain extent. BRT has the seductiveness of some tall buildings — a deal with the devil — you can get something for nothing — it sounds good — until you realized you’ve wrecked your city. but this malignant design of Cesar Chavez holds no such seductiveness, unless you’re just really into dendrophilia or something.

    it’s so far off the charts that i just can’t comprehend how the design was decided upon, and I can’t figure out how people of good conscience are still supporting it. it’s more than a little infuriating, but i gave up on this particular project a long time ago — i still feel responsible, though, to chime in, for posterity, to note that there was strong, ongoing, clear opposition to this plan and its banning of bikes from Cesar Chavez.

    i don’t support banning bikes from Cesar Chavez, and of course the vast majority of bikers in the city don’t support banning bikes from Cesar Chavez, and there are many/tens/hundreds of thousands of people who will never know biking in San Francisco because this major, crucial crosstown route didn’t allow for normal people to bike on it.

    but that’s really just the core part of the travesty — where it gets really entertaining and humiliating is what we’re doing with all the extra road space.

    we’re going to be installing a new/bigger/permanent central median that will speed automobile traffic while making it more difficult for cyclists and pedestrians to cross the street, for cyclists to turn around where they want and need to, and the trees in the median will make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to be hidden from drivers’ view, so we’ll be able to count on more injuries/deaths, like have happened on Alemany because of the stupid, human-hiding trees and stupid, speed-inducing median there.

    is so crazy and bizarre that’s it’s almost unimaginable that it could happen anywhere, much less in SF. that this plan was put forward by a group of citizens who say that want to calm traffic in the area and make things safer is baffling.

    this project has been a disaster ever since they decided to keep bikes off this road, and carve out some space for trees in the middle of the road – presumably to make the road scenic for drivers. listen, i feel for drivers, too – i’m a driver full-time right now – but i don’t need no stinkin trees – i want the option to ride my bike when i come to SF (which i’m doing again tonight, and i’d love to ride down CC, but i’m tired of being terrorized by cars). if you want trees, put them at the sides of the road to protect cyclists and pedestrians from the speeding automobile traffic which slam into the people, cars, and houses walking/jogging/parking/lining Cesar Chavez.

  • James Figone

    Here we are in 2010 putting in bike lane lanes that we know are not safe enough for 8-80 year old riders, which should be the standard for new bike infrastructure in SF and elsewhere.

    I like the pedestrian improvements and the reduction in travel lanes but the bike infrastructure is lacking. Fran, do you think there is anything that can be done at this point to fix this? This is a once in a generation opportunity so let’s at least try to get it right for all users.

  • Peter’s comment is dead-on and devastating. It also points up the weaknesses with the SFBC’s plan to try to add three or four cross-city ‘bikeways’ with more separation. Three of or four largely disconnected, separated bike lanes (which will surely only be partial in many areas) doth not make for a bikeable city.

  • @Nick Alemany is actually drastically better than what is planned for Cesar Chavez.

    Alemany wastes less than a third as much space on a center median, and the median features short plants below driver eye level rather than trees so is slightly less of an inducement to speeding. The street actually has pretty good conditions for biking between Geneva and Rousseau with very low parking lane turnover and little conflict with turning traffic as most people are continuing on to the freeway or Geneva, and the bike lanes are a full foot wider than the ones proposed for Cesar Chaves. It also has a very effective permanent school zone radar speed sign, and most importantly, the Ingleside SFPD station performs large pedestrian safety stings at several intersections at least once a quarter.

    In contrast, Cesar Chavez is going to have increased traffic speed from the massive, tree-lined median and no left turns, more right-turn conflict, and I’ve never seen Mission police station do a thing for pedestrian safety.

  • Geoff R

    What’s the evidence that trees or other vegetation in the median makes people more likely to drive quickly? According to this line of argument, cars should be going more slowly in the asphalt wasteland that is currently C Chavez.

    On Octavia, I think the presence of trees (poplars i think?) makes people drive more slowly. Studies show that trees make people think the lanes are narrower than they actually are, and thus they drive more slowly — this impact is psychological and doesn’t actually affect the safety of the street.

    For those of who live next to or on C Chavez, trees also have the huge benefits of muffling vehicle noise — C Chavez sounds like a freeway. Plus, some significant greenery in the midst of this street will make it look less like a sterile disaster.

    I agree that the trees may somewhat reduce pedestrian visibility — and absolutely agree that more traffic enforcement is critical on this stretch.

    Some links to programs/guides on traffic calming that mention the impact of trees on traffic speeds:

  • John R.

    Dendrophilia may explain the trees. But what’s with the unhealthy affection for directing people on bicycles into narrow unprotected door-zone bike lanes next to speeding traffic?

  • Thomas Jefferson

    Unfortunately, the EIR for this project stated that the street is going to become essentially impassible due to these changes. This is another example of the MTA clogging the streets without building a sufficient public transportation alternative that does not share the same streets. If there were an adequate network of off-street public transportation, the traffic problems would take care of themselves.

  • What’s the evidence that trees or other vegetation in the median makes people more likely to drive quickly?

    there is none that i know of, but this is hardly relevant when you consider the true tragedy of this plan — lack of appropriate bicycle infrastructure. we can have a meaningless academic discussion about whether the presence of leafy green trees will slows cars more than the huge concrete median will speed them, but that’s just tilting at windmills.

    what actually matters is that we are going to destroy this street and rebuild it, and in doing so, we are going to rebuild it in a way that institutionalizes for at least another generation the automobile as the dominant/primary, almost exclusive, mode of transportation on Cesar Chavez.

    it’s a tragedy. please don’t do this to us. don’t do this to your kids. don’t do this to your grandkids.

    transportation does not have to be a zero-sum game, with one winner and one loser, but this plan will guarantee that drivers win, and bikers (and more importantly, at least in terms of sheer numbers, would-be bikers) will lose. San Francisco and its residents will lose — its children, born and unborn, will lose. Really, everyone loses — even drivers who want to bike, but will be unable to.

    you are redesigning a critical corridor in San Francisco in such a way that it will not be suitable for 95% of the population of the city. but the truly terrible crime here will be the building of that median, which will, among myriad deleterious affects near- and long-term, effectively rule out any reapportionment of street space for the next twenty years.

    i’m with Brian Wilson — I’m feeling like i wanna rage…right now.

    For those of who live next to or on C Chavez, trees also have the huge benefits of muffling vehicle noise — C Chavez sounds like a freeway.

    one of the ways to have Cesar Chavez sound like something other than a freeway is to…re-make it into something that does not so closely resemble a freeway. this auto-centric redesign of the existing auto-centric ‘freeway’ will do very little to allow people to walk and bike while institutionalizing (in concrete and trees) the reign of automobiles as the supreme, all-powerful beings dominating San Francisco’s streets, and in particular, this all-important corridor.

    granted, trees, like dead bodies and many other things, probably muffle noise, and if noise muffling is your primary concern, you are thinking about the problem backwards — you should be seeking to reduce the level of noise created in the first place — namely, by slowing cars, and reducing their numbers. the proven way to do this is to allow people to ride their bikes — bikes allow people to replace car trips with bike trips, but you have to allow them to ride. if you don’t allow them to ride, they won’t ride. it’s that simple. additionally, bikes are nearly silent. don’t be a Democrat. don’t propose a half-non-solution to a very severe problem. instead, be like New York and DC and Portland — do something that will actually allow people to ride their bikes. as citizens, we have rights, and we also have responsibilities — to each other, and especially to future generations — we’re just visitors here.

    if you are absolutely committed to trees and greenery and bio-filtration and water treatment and all that, and you should be, then take care of it — but don’t do it at the expense of cyclists and would-be cyclists. if it has to be at the expense of any type of person or lifestyle or travel mode, do it at the expense of that mode which is literally a death agent to San Francisco — coursing through the veins of our fair city like a cancer — automobiles.

    almost every person in the city of San Francisco is a would-be cyclist, but we have to allow people the opportunity to ride. if you want trees for aesthetic reasons, or environmental reasons, or to reduce noise pollution, and/or whatever — great — just put them where they belong — on the side of the road where they can serve the functions they are needed for, namely, to:

    1) spacially denote the pedestrian (and bike) realm

    2) protect pedestrians (and cyclists) from the vehicles (cars) in the carrieageway (road)

    3) filter the sunlight onto the sidewalk (and cycletrack)

    4) soften the hardscape of the buildings, and create a ‘vaulted ceiling’ over the streetscape at its best.

    so, if you want to keep most of your streetscape, and push this malignant design through, then do it, but for the love of all that is holy, don’t hang that median around the neck of future generations — we’ve already dumped enough on them.

  • “This is another example of the MTA clogging the streets without building a sufficient public transportation alternative that does not share the same streets.”

    The primary users of Cesar Chavez are people headed out of the city. Caltrain, BART, Ebay, Apple, Google, Genentech, Yahoo! are providing transit on the “Go to the Peninsula” route.

  • @Geoff The NYBC study is saying that planting tall trees on the immediate *sides* of a road can serve to visually narrow the street and calm traffic, which is absolutely correct. If the Cesar Chavez plan would replace the 14′ center median with two 6′ medians between the auto and bike lanes, it would gain this benefit, and also make the greenery more visible and accessible to pedestrians and storefronts.

    However, placing a wide median with tall objects in the *middle* of the street obscures oncoming traffic which increases the comfortable driving speed. The SF Better Street Plan Notes, “the addition of medians alone may also cause an increase in vehicle speeds by reducing friction between opposing directions.”

    You need only look as Sunset Avenue to see in practice what happens to pedestrian safety and vehicle speeds when you place an extremely large division between oncoming traffic.

  • I commend the impulse for greening, but I am once again saddened by the lack of consideration of what used to grow in California. Poplars are another ubiquitous non-native that won’t support the insects that birds need for food. There are so many city streets that could support oaks, toyon, ceanothus, or even bay. Birds probably wouldn’t nest in those trees, but they could eat the insects that native plants support, and that so few non-natives do.

  • 14′ median? Are you serious? That has to be a joke.

    Ok, so they want to put a waste of space in between high speed traffic lanes – why don’t they then move the parking to the median and allow for a separated cycle track on the outside of the road. That will then remove the door zone (is the SFMTA that slow that it hasn’t learn what a “door zone” is yet?). Also, by putting the parking at the center, it’ll eliminate driver side doors interfering with traffic. Furthermore, since I’m sure the SFMTA only believes that people arrive to a commercial area via car, maybe there will be significant improvements made to allow people to travel from one side to the median to the other (or one side to the other for most people since most DON’T DRIVE).

    But why not build something that is useless from day one and will be with us for 40+ years – hindering significant mode shift for decades.

    Hell, the cars will still be able to speed and that is what we all want in the end right? Save that one minute on the commute out of the city. That’s why we need to stop Masonic – to hell with the people who actually live there and engage in sidewalk life – commuters have places to go and crappy TV to watch when they get home.

  • sarah

    A giant tree-lined median between opposing lanes of traffic to squish cyclists up against opening car doors with all the now even more comfortably speeding automobiles? What are we, NEW? Seriously! These expensive baby-step improvements we keep settling for are going to push SF further and further behind Portland and NYC, not to mention the growing number of truly bike friendly cities in Europe who are doing things actually correct (see Copenhagen’s new cycle highway!)

  • as far as SFMTA’s involvement, from what I remember, and this is only a vague memory at this point — this was really CC Puede’s call on the plan, not the SFMTA. SMFTA put forward four options, and CC Puede picked and shaped one of them. if i’m wrong, i’m sure Fran can set me/us straight.

    i might be mis-remembering this too, but i feel like I remember an original 8-foot median plan (which could have potentially left room for bikes/cycletracks/etc.), but then someone was like, “No — bigger!” I’m not even kidding. Like, bigger medians was _exciting_ to these people, and it wasn’t just one or even two people — it was a few of them.

    i only lived in Bernal for a few months, and went to two or so meetings, the first one by accident — but I remember Andres Power of SFMTA (?) presented about four options. of the four, people liked two — the one with cycletracks (i _think_ they were actually proposed) and the SUPERMEDIAN plan. i don’t remember any formal type voting, but there were about one and a half votes for the cycletracks (i was 1 of the 1.5), and a few/most were for the SUPERMEDIAN plan.

    there were at least a couple of other bikers and bike-activist-types there. i think Neal from SFBC was there, too. and there seemed to even be at least one or two other, at least part-time, bikers there. one guy talked about the trouble he had crossing the road to get to Precita Park with his kids, etc. he seemed like a normal dude, so obviously he wasn’t interested in using the gerbil run to cross the road. and the raised median made for an awesome, trip-worthy obstacle. it really was exciting to cross that road. we should create a reality tv series called Survivor SF, and you’ll be stranded on a 14′ island in the middle of Cesar Chavez. it’ll be good.

    at one of the meetings, i made a statement that we needed the cycletracks because we needed to enable women to ride, too, etc., and that was not well-received by at least one of the women cyclists there, who took it as a sexist comment (i could have done better talking ‘8-to-80’ and all that, but time was short), so that kinda killed the whole idea that we should have decent bike infrastructure so women could get around by bike, too.

    the general feeling seemed to be….”let’s make Cesar Chavez a bit more walkable” — that’s about it — same as the New Urbanists would suggest — bikes just aren’t part of their agenda/frame of reference — they grew up without it and just have no idea how to relate to it, so they just avoid it and don’t talk about it. the feeling seemed to be, “hey, if i, a female, can bike up and down Cesar Chavez, then everybody can do it and will want to do it and will do it. even women.” i didn’t get to lecture anyone on how extraordinarily selfish, and wrong, this pov was. cars? serious. walking? serious. bikes? eh – not so much.

    i was impressed by Andres Power. i thought he looked about 20 years old, but he seemed to know what he was talking about, and handled the room about as well as anyone could have — there was one crazy driver-type dude there who would not stop talking about…whatever it is car people talk about, i guess. i told the room that “cars, at least in the city, were going away” and that “we should not tolerate them anymore”. zing! car dude almost blew a gasket. get it? ;-D

    this is where i first learned that widening sidewalks was such an extraordinarily expensive endeavor (because they have to relo water and other facilities?) that it was basically never done (except to narrow sidewalks to make room for more cars back in the day). that’s when the significance of this project started to seep in. i guess there’s been talk about calming Cesar Chavez for umpteen years and the people in CC Puede just seemed to want to see _something_ change, _anything_, and if that meant self-sacrificing biking at the alter of Just-Get-Something-Anything-Done-Please-ism, then so be it. this is, of course, just my view, and, of course, i thought it represented very short-term and selfish thinking (again, like much of the talk I hear about BRT).

    it does make me wonder when SF will get a DOT director-type like JSK or DC’s Klein (who may yet lose his job!). so maybe Obama will take Ford from us, and if the new DC mayor cans Klein, we’ll take him.

    the phrases and comments were like, “No, we can’t do this” and “That would be too hard” and “This project will never happen if we try to do ‘X'” and “We’ve been working on this for twenty years and we just want _something_ done” and all that (again, all the same talk you hear from BRT proponents). then you had the car drivers opposing all changes. and just not enough folks to stand up and say, “cycletracks or nothing” or “buffered bike lanes and no median, or nothing”.

    i was hoping someone from the SFBC would be able to prevail upon (?) CC Puede by saying, “You know, this is gonna sound weird, but biking really deserves to be taken seriously, and that means we have to allow everyone to do it, and we have to allow everyone to do it on our more important, most direct, most convenient corridors, and that means cycletracks. but even if you can’t buy that, we can’t support a raised median — that’s just a non-starter. crazy. insane. unpossible. however you want to say it.”

    i followed up with Fran – sent her an email – from what i remember, i basically asked her to let me convince her/the group to reconsider what they were about to do. think i said i’d meet w/ her and whoever and personally sell why this was so important, etc. i guess nothing came of it.

    and old posts on this blog (one or more years ago??), i suspect, will show my extreme disapproval for the SUPERMEDIAN plan.

    i think of all the times i’ve been terrorized on Cesar Chavez, even in the few short months i lived there–man, brutal. i was _so_ happy to get outta that place.

    oh, and we’ll have cyclist push-outs (aka, pedestrian bulb-outs), too. sweet.

  • Geoff R

    Hi Peter.

    The normal dude you mention is me:

    “One guy talked about the trouble he had crossing the road to get to Precita Park with his kids, etc. he seemed like a normal dude, so obviously he wasn’t interested in using the gerbil run to cross the road.”

    Yes, I agree that separated bike lanes are the best way of making bicycling viable. And yes, vegetation planting on the sidewalks would be better — as would widening the sidewalk.

    However, at numerous CC Puede meetings, it’s been apparent there’s not $ to redo the entire sewer system to accommodate that. So given that funding reality, planting tree medians seems like a good way to mitigate noise and make the street seem less like a wasteland.

    Furthermore, I think we need to recognize that cars are not going to disappear in the imminent future, much as some of us might like them to. Therefore, in my opinion, this plan should minimize or mitigate their negative impacts, not try to plan C Chavez as a street without cars, which is not viable given our current societal structures.

    I write this as someone who bikes to work every day and drives my car about once a week. So I am a long way from a rabidly pro-car person: in fact, I despise cars and car culture.

    – G

  • This is going to be a good upgrade to the street. But to throw more water on the parade – I’ll still take 26th Street instead of Cesar Chavez. The part of CC that I will take – the hairball and CC from 101 to 280, will continue to suck, but is the only route from that side of the city to Caltrain.

  • And yes, vegetation planting on the sidewalks would be better — as would widening the sidewalk. … However, at numerous CC Puede meetings, it’s been apparent there’s not $ to redo the entire sewer system to accommodate that. So given that funding reality, planting tree medians seems like a good way to mitigate noise and make the street seem less like a wasteland.

    so, if trees can be planted in the middle of the road, why can’t they be planted on the side-ish of the road, off/away-from/out-a-lane-from the sidewalk?

    i do remember funding basically killing off the ‘sidewalk-widening option’, but we can allow bikes to ride on Cesar Chavez even within the current funding scheme. instead of the 14′ raised median being planted in the middle of the road, where it will do incredible damage to the street, put two 7-foot ‘medians’ closer to each side of the road, to protect cyclists and pedestrians. simple.

    here’s just one simple design off the top of my head that would allow for bikes on Cesar Chavez:

    sidewalk|cycletrack|planters|parking|travel ln|travel ln|(centerline)

    isn’t this possible?

    or, you could do something like this, which would provide bigger trees:

    sidewalk|cycletrack|7′-side-tree-median|parking|tr ln|tr ln|(centerline)

    what is wrong with this design, besides the fact that it allows women to also ride on Cesar Chavez?

    do women in SF have it too good? are they all spoiled? they all have too much money? they all can afford to drive? they all can afford to load up the kiddies in the BMW SUV each morning and drop them off at school? all the single mothers use their hefty paychecks to drop their kids off at private school, then go shopping for some new Prada shoes, have lunch in Palo Alto, and then head back into the city to pick up their kids? or maybe they can have their au-pairs take their extra car to go pick up the children?

    Both of these designs would still provide for 3 lanes in either direction to be used for cars (and BMW SUVs) — two for travel, and one for parking. pedestrians and cyclists would each only get one ‘lane’ apiece. walkers and bikers would _still_ not be able to walk/ride side-by-side uninterrupted — something that even space-hog drivers could still do.

    but your existing plan does not even allow for this — this pittance.

    it’s like…do you hate children? equality? women? minorities? middle class, working class, and/or poor people? life on earth? the ability of people to have full lives? the ability of people to raise themselves up from lesser means? who and/or what do you have to despise so intensely that you would build a raised center median instead of providing the required infrastructure that would allow bikes to use this street too?

    and, you can reduce effective noise by moving the cars further away from the sides of the streets by pushing the 14′ center median to the outsides of the streets — then they’d actually be able to serve as effective noise barriers, as opposed to the 14′ center-median setup, which will only be effective in dampening noise from the opposite side of the street auto traffic.

    you can even do a NYC-style quick rework of the street for very little money, using big planters. try it out, see how it works, then institutionalize it. if you bring out the temp planters or jersey barriers, you’ll double the number of bikers using Cesar Chavez overnight. you’ll triple the number within the first month.

    Furthermore, I think we need to recognize that cars are not going to disappear in the imminent future, much as some of us might like them to.

    Neither will rape, murder, war, violence, slavery, etc., but don’t you think we should at least try to stamp them out? This plan for Cesar Chavez doesn’t even try. It’s just handing the keys to our tormentors.

    Therefore, in my opinion, this plan should minimize or mitigate their negative impacts, not try to plan C Chavez as a street without cars, which is not viable given our current societal structures.

    i’m all for providing rape kits and all sorts of ‘mitigation’ support to rape survivors, all victims of violent crime, etc., but we need to do more to prevent these travesties from happening in the first place. let’s have more prevention and more mitigation, not mitigation instead of prevention.

    and, let’s not institutionalize cars, rape, etc. putting in that raised center median is about the same as sending a UN ‘peace-keeping’ contingent to ‘guard’ a refugee camp — it just becomes assault and rape city, with UN troops using their superior power to dominate the scene. this plan for Cesar Chavez will allow drivers to continue to dominate the scene, imposing their will on all non-drivers. that’s not good enough.

    so i disagree with your argument that would should not plan for a Cesar Chavez without cars — we should. and we should plan for a world without rape. and we need to get there. we can’t just throw up our hands and say, “eh — rape is bound to happen — it’s a fact of life — it’s inevitable — you can’t stop human nature and you can’t change ‘the system’ — or ‘current societal structures’ — rape will always be with us.”

    garbage. we may not get to a world without rape overnight, but we damn sure need to try to get there, and that means concentrating more on the root causes of rape instead of just worrying about minimizing/mitigating the ill effects of rape — on women/victims/survivors, children, society. one of the root causes of car domination and ‘car culture’ is that people have no other way to get around — in particular, they are not allowed to bike. this has to change.

    I write this as someone who bikes to work every day and drives my car about once a week. So I am a long way from a rabidly pro-car person: in fact, I despise cars and car culture.

    then start acting like it.

    further, this design is exactly the type of thing that Jane Jacobs told us _not_ to do. she said these types of plans that worked primarily to lessen/minimize/mitigate the ill effects of cars/crime/whatever, were doomed to fail, and that they deserved to fail, because they represented the exact wrong way to think about the problems of the city, and were therefore not, in fact, good for the city. She said we always need to be thinking about how to increase positive things instead of decrease negative things.

    so, if your goal is to increase the safety and pleasantness of the street, then that leaves all sorts of possible solutions on the table.

    however, if you focus on decreasing the number of cars on the street or the noise pollution they produce, you’re going to end up with a half-baked non-solution — and that’s exactly what’s happening here.

    the removal of cars from State Street in Chicago was what helped to kill off that street (or, at least, kill it off more quickly) — it was the quintessential example of this type of ‘decreasing’ thinking.

    similarly, our ‘solution’ for Cesar Chavez will likely clog the street, and the entire area, with agitated motorists because it will drastically decrease the available car throughput while doing little-to-nothing to increase the ability of people to switch modes to the much-more-space-efficient biking option.

    we’ll get what we deserve, though, i’m confident of that. the SFMTA handed us the keys, and we in turn handed them over to General Motors. smart.

  • sarah

    “we always need to be thinking about how to increase positive things instead of decrease negative things.”

    This is exactly right.

    When I lived in Minneapolis, a *heavily* car dependent area, I used to see huge billboards all over the place trying to convince people not to drink and drive. These were obviously completely ineffective, as very nearly everybody who goes to a bar there will then drive home most of the time, as it is almost always completely impractical (not to mention expensive) to take a cab home and then get someone to drive you back to your car the next day.

    Instead of investing heavily in road-side lectures, Minneapolis needs to be investing heavily in real driving alternatives which simply do not exist in Minneapolis at 12am-2am. The positive effect of reducing drunk driving will naturally follow a large investment in alternatives. Most people don’t need more negative motivation, they need real alternatives.

  • James Figone

    I wonder where the SFBC is on all of this. Given their Connecting the City project, I would think they would be very interested in making sure this critical route meets their 8-80 criterion. Are we to believe that the SFBC and the city of SF are serious about increasing bicycle usage if they are designing bicycle infrastructure that they know is unsafe, with no possibility to correct in the future? This situation is depressing not only because of the poor design, but also because the lack of protest against it from our advocates.

  • thielges

    Peter – I like your idea of reallocating the median as well as the other idea of narrowing the median and reallocating space to get the bike lane out of the door zone.

    And though I share your disgust with the way cyclists are accommodated, I’m concerned that your approach to describing the problem might work against us. This is a democracy and we need the help of the majority and that would be motorists. Comparing motorists to rapists won’t win friends. The two aren’t even in the same ballpark.

    Please consider that your words might be circulated more widely amongst your foes than your friends.

  • jd


    I believe the section of CC between 101 and 280 is going to be redone with bike lanes in the same fashion as CC between Guerrero and 101 minus the median (and sewers):

    Just not sure when.

    Though I originally was a huge fan of this project, the comments here have made me realize that I set my standards too low (but isn’t that what happens in a society that worships at the altar of the automobile?) so I was satisfied with just getting *some* sort of bike lane and *some* greenery. I agree that this probably won’t fundamentally change CC from being a high-speed car-centric corridor since it really won’t be *that* much more inviting for pedestrians and bicyclists. However, I do think it’s *progress*, so you have to give it credit for that. However, I am disappointed that the city’s leadership doesn’t see the fault with making this road so car-centric and still relegating pedestrians and cyclists to their usual second-tier spot.

    As somebody else pointed out, a lot of the car traffic on this street is from people coming or going to the city (especially down the peninsula). Encouraging these people to take Caltrain — which means improving bus lines down CC and adding a cycle track — is the real solution, and unfortunately this plan won’t put another more than a small dent in the number of people driving south to work.

  • However, I do think it’s *progress*, so you have to give it credit for that. However, I am disappointed that the city’s leadership doesn’t see the fault with making this road so car-centric and still relegating pedestrians and cyclists to their usual second-tier spot.

    if by ‘progress’, you mean “allowing up to 5% of potential bikers to use Cesar Chavez to commute, and artificially capping that maximum potential mode share at 5% for the next 20 years at least”, then yes, this project represents ‘progress’.

    i think SFMTA or someone said they wanted to get to 20% bike mode share by 2020 or so — that will be unpossible with a road design like this.

    and, as i noted, unless someone knows this not to be the case, i believe the leadership for this project was about as close to exactly where we would want it to be as possible — from a neighborhood group with seemingly good intentions and, presumably, from the SFBC, who do, imo, continually ask for/demand too little, but this case is a bit extreme.

    it’s situations like this that make me think we need to start working on a ‘complete streets’ policy, so we will always know that walkers and bikers will be given guaranteed priority over raised medians and other inanimate objects.

    This is a democracy and we need the help of the majority and that would be motorists.

    i disagree. i guess i would cede that we still have some vestiges of ‘a democracy’ left, but we definitely do not need the support/consent/approval of ‘the majority’. that might be ideal, and make things easier for us to get to a more just world, but it’s not strictly necessary. small/focused/concentrated power centers can/do create change, regardless of popular support. on the other side, think of all the things that _do_ have popular support that are not yet a reality (on issues like health care, nukes, global warming, war, etc.).

    Comparing motorists to rapists won’t win friends. The two aren’t even in the same ballpark.

    whoa. i’m a motorist.

    i have a hard time believing that i what i wrote above could be interpreted this way, but i guess anything is possible.

    i’ve always understood this “you’re comparing [x] to [y]??” argument to be just a rhetorical tactic to shut down debate, maybe a little game of victimhood, etc.

    other than that, most motorists don’t have a choice of whether or not to drive, and that’s why it’s so important that that 14′ center median not get built. put a wide, 14′ non-raised median there if you have to, but we can’t have that raised median. if you absolutely _must_ demand that cars be sped thru this corridor, then put up some temporary/concrete Jersey Barriers so they can be removed in a couple of years when the demand for bike facilities will be double what it is today — in absolute numbers and intensity.

    when you look at Cesar Chavez, the way to start fixing it is so simple and obvious — just move the parked cars out a lane to create a cycletrack. done and done. there — you’ve spent $100,000 to make biking on Cesar Chavez a viable option for 30% of the population, and you’ve done it over a two-day period. no businesses suffering and closing down. no two-years’ worth of traffic/noise/construction nightmares. none of that stuff. just a simple, straightforward, inexpensive, quick, politically-viable, guaranteed way to a safer, more pleasant, more productive Cesar Chavez.

    after that, you start charging for parking on Cesar Chavez. i mean, how insane is it that we have a _major_ thoroughfare/corridor that has car parking right on it? and it’s effectively _free_?? wow. and they still park on the sidewalks. nice. it’s like 19th Ave. no room for bikes, but plenty of curbside parking — or, shall we say, on-curb parking?

    instead of a simple, inexpensive, incremental fix, we’re gonna drop a bomb on the place and, after a couple of years of increased danger and rebuilding and delays and detours and cost overruns, we’ll have a new raised center median — big enough to sunbathe on — in the shade.

    i always that that was interesting. people who park their cars on these types of streets often fold in their car/door mirrors to prevent them from getting thrashed by passing cars and trucks — like this guy. but bikers? we don’t have any mirrors to fold in — if/when we get sideswiped by a car/truck, _we_ get folded in. into the pavement. into the car parked to the right of us. into the curb. hey – nice to meet you, curb — let me introduce you to my front teeth. and that’s if we’re _lucky_. one of our biggest fears, as cyclists, is getting dragged to death — you always read those stories — it was 300 ft before the driver realized there was a ‘drag’ on his acceleration. oh, but they found the biker’s head in a ditch on the side of the road. with a little stitching, we might even be able to have an open-casket funeral — we’ll just turn his head to the side so the side of his face with no face is hidden from view. or maybe we’ll be sucked under a car or truck — maybe under the back wheel of a bus. i can’t even imagine what a wonderful orgy of pain that would be. awesome. and we can look forward to all this and more in the ‘new and improved’ Cesar Chavez bike lanes.

    i’m confused — why is it that people don’t bike?

    the whole entire reason for raised medians is to speed auto traffic — that’s why you’ll find them on major highways, like Route 17 leading from San Jose to Santa Cruz. or, here is the beginning of the Central Freeway in SF.

    and these raised medians — whether they are full-on jersey barriers (hey, we created Jersey Barriers, but we also created The Boss, so…) or ‘just’ raised curbs with trees and vegetation — are _all_ _over_ San Jose — so you have these _huge_ lines at all the traffic lights, often with _two_ left turns lanes, the ‘inside’ one of which can be used to either make a regular left turn or to flip a U-turn — the U-turn option being necessary because the raised median blocked the driver from making a turn where they wanted to — so you get speedier traffic, more traffic, more driving, more waiting at lights, bigger/hairier/scarier/less-bike-and-walk-friendly intersections, more confusing streets, etc. — all significant barriers to walking and biking, and terrible for the environment.

    here’s a simple example of an intersection in San Jose. all the streets here _have_ bike lanes, like the new, improved (?) Cesar Chavez will have. and you’ll often see approximately _zero_ bikers out here because people want to live – so they drive.

    if you pan around you’ll see all these crazy median concoctions — they really look as if they were being constructed specifically for the purpose of making sure there was no room left over for pedestrians and bikers. but the primary purpose, of course, was to speed traffic by preventing left turns, u-turns, and other types of ‘friction-causing’ events (as someone mentioned). raised medians are the WD-40 of automobility world.

    the lovely new raised median on Divisidero is one of the best examples of this anti-pattern in action in SF. let’s think of a memorable catchphrase, like:

    Raised medians — making bikers think twice.

    or maybe one geared towards drivers:

    Raised medians — go for it.

    That’s what i think when i see a raised median — boom — it’s on — jam my foot down on the accelerator — it’s go time.

  • another thought when i skimming/watched that James Howard Kunstler for the umpteenth time just now — right before the part I linked to earlier (regarding the uses of street tress), he talks about his thoughts on ‘nature Band-Aids‘, and how they are typically deployed in cities.

    in this particular case, he’s ripping the design of a downtown business building in Glens Falls, NY — a small town about 20 mi from where Kunstler lives, in Saratoga Springs, NY (the horse racing town). he’s just got done talking about what/how a good downtown building should look like/operate (ground floor retail, permeable membrane, mixed-use/especially upstairs, etc.), and now he’s going to talk about how they did a bad/crappy/poorly-designed building in Glens Falls, and instead of fixing it, they just applied ‘nature Band-Aids’:

    Anyway, this is how you compose and assemble a downtown business building, and this is what happened when in Glens Falls, New York, when we tried to do it again, where it was missing, right? So the first thing they do is they pop up the retail a half a story above grade to make it sporty. OK. That completely destroys the relationship between the business and the sidewalk, where the theoretical pedestrians are. (Laughter) Of course, they’ll never be there, as long as this is in that condition. Then because the relationship between the retail is destroyed, we pop a handicapped ramp on that, and then to make ourselves feel better, we put a nature Band-Aid in front of it And that’s how we do it. I call them “nature Band-Aids” because there’s a general idea in America that the remedy for mutilated urbanism is nature. And in fact, the remedy for wounded and mutilated urbanism is good urbanism, good buildings. Not just flower beds, not just cartoons of the Sierra Nevada mountains. You know, that’s not good enough. We have to do good buildings.

    so, in this case, he’s talking more specifically about buildings, but the next thing he talks about is streets (the earlier part I linked to). our 14′-wide median reminds me a lot of a nature Band-Aid — we’re just throwing some trees in the middle of the road to make ourselves feel better about something instead of fixing the root problems with the street — the too-narrow sidewalks, the inability of bikers to feel safe when they’re riding on it, etc. we don’t need flower beds or 14-wide medians with trees in them — we need good urbanism.

    and, like the pedestrians outside that building in Glens Falls, the theoretical bikers will not be on Cesar Chavez in the numbers we would like to allow as long as the road remains in that condition.

    the full/original TED talk (with interactive transcript!) is here.

  • Stuart

    This plan is excellent! Why don’t we take Cesar Chavez down to one lane? That would make even more sense. No seriously, the logic in this plan is non-existent and the plan is highly flawed. One reason there is little opposition is that not only are the neighborhoods not well notified or informed but they are not organized as compared to the bike coalition which is highly organized and one-sided. Could someone please do a usability study? I’ve asked about this in the past and been told that this sort of thing is not done. I would like to see the effects of overflow traffic or some sort of data regarding this plan. This plan is similar to the lane reduction on Potero from many years ago which I would think resulted in greater congestion in the surrounding neighborhoods. I asked Fran about this and was told that if we had any data in this regard they would be very interested in it. Isn’t it the responsibility of the proponents of these plans to do the research and provide that data? If there were data showing little inconvenience, affect, overflow traffic, etc. even I would be in support of this idea. Cesar Chavez is a main artery to the city and needs to remain as such. Thinking it could be a small quaint street is unrealistic and will only result in more troubles than it will solve.

  • Stuart

    If I could edit my comment above I would – comment #27. I stated above “I asked Fran about this and was told that if we had any data in this regard they would be very interested in it.” That is inaccurate. I believe this was someone from the bike coalition who said this. If I can find that email I may post that persons name or part or all of the email here. That comment was from a conversation from a while ago. I don’t intend to make anyone look bad or give misleading facts or details. I apologize for that. Though we may see this from different perspectives and may not agree, we can have civilized disagreements.

  • LarryWilson

    @John Murphy: It is interesting that you plan to continue to take 26th St., do think other cyclists will do the same? (I don’t ride this route so I don’t know the trade-offs).

    The question is interesting because the Bike Plan explicitly contemplated creating a 26th St. bike boulevard as an alternative to lanes on CC. I would definitely prefer taking bike boulevard than riding along an over-crowded CC, but then I ride much less aggressively than most people in the City.

    I don’t know what the Planning Department did not consider a bike boulevard on 26th, but as far as I can tell that was never looked at.

  • @LarryWilson I was chatting with Andy Thornley about this once upon a time. I use Bryant in Palo Alto all the time and it’s great.

    If you watch the majority of cyclists coming WB CC from the other side of 101, people take the bike path under 101, then 75% of them turn right on Alabama and left on 26th. 20% go straight on Cesar Chavez and then take the first left into Bernal. A small chunk braves CC (I used to do this until I found better routes). There isn’t much going on on 26th Street, making a Boulevard out of it would probably sail right through and be pretty cool. But that would give grist to the argument that CC should stay the way it is, which it shouldn’t. It might have gone the way of the dodo for that political reason.

  • blahblahblah

    This is going to be a nightmare. I live right off that stretch of CC and traffic that is going to the highway isn’t to magically disappear. The construction has just started and people are already leaving CC to try to get ahead of the backed up traffic. I think giving up a traffic lane for the median and a bike lane is stupid. 
    I also think that cyclists deserve to have a real and dedicated space. Why don’t we have protected bike lanes? SF is full of shit. I rode a bike in NYC and would never ride a bike in SF. If we had protected bike lanes I would ride instead of driving most of the time. 


This Week in Livable Streets Events

Happy New Year! This week, get updated on Plan Bay Area and the Cesar Chavez street project and ride out for the SF Bike Party’s one-year anniversary. Here are the highlights from the Streetsblog calendar: Tuesday: The SFMTA Board of Directors meets. On the agenda is approval of the agency’s Strategic Plan and 20-Year Capital Plan, […]

Cesar Chavez Street Redesign Approved by SFMTA Board

A long-awaited blueprint to significantly improve safety and livability conditions on Cesar Chavez Street was approved by SFMTA Board today, culminating nearly a decade of community input and planning. “This is the final step for approval of this really great project,” said Marc Caswell, program director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “This project has […]

Safer Bike Lanes at Cesar Chavez and Evans Approved at SFMTA Hearing

An SFMTA panel approved a safer bike lane plan for the intersection of Cesar Chavez and Evans Streets for recommendation to the agency’s Board of Directors today, marking a key milestone for short-term improvements on the street’s eastern section. The plan, which was chosen over an alternative that would have forced bicyclists to merge with trucks, […]

This Week in Livable Streets Events

This week, urbanist innovators discuss the future of parklets and other temporary street changes, the city holds an update meeting on the Cesar Chavez streetscape project, and the SFBC teaches the facts about biking pregnant or with babies. Here are the highlights from the Streetsblog calendar: Tuesday: SPUR Lunchtime Forum – Time’s Up: the End of Temporary. […]