Two-Way Hayes Street Proposal Wins Approval at SFMTA Hearing

Image: SFMTA
Image: SFMTA

A plan to restore two-way traffic on several blocks of Hayes and Fell Streets in Hayes Valley that were converted to one-way streets in the 1950s was approved at an SFMTA hearing today following a strong show of support from residents, merchants and neighborhood associations. It now goes to the SFMTA Board for approval.

The proposal [pdf] follows the spirit of the Market-Octavia Plan, which recommends converting Hayes Street to “a two-way local street, which is best suited to its commercial nature and role as the heart of Hayes Valley.”

It would affect Hayes Street from Van Ness to Gough and Fell Street from Van Ness to Franklin, which residents described as multi-lane, one-way arterials that “inundate” the commercial district with “walls of cars.”

“We want our streets to be safer, calmer, and less like freeways. These changes would be a big move in that direction,” said one 15-year resident who described how he’s forced to “zigzag” down Hayes Street to avoid dangerous crossings.

Noise, air pollution, and the threats imposed by motor vehicle traffic have long made the neighborhood uninviting and dangerous for walking, cycling, and shopping. Closed crosswalks and double-vehicle turn lanes create difficulty for many in crossing the street safely.

Crossing Hayes Street at Gough, where Eastbound vehicles must turn right. Photo: Aaron Bialick
Crossing Hayes Street at Gough, where eastbound vehicles must turn right. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The plan would help bring more foot traffic to businesses, help slow down car traffic and “create a place where people who are using the neighborhood itself can actually get around,” he added.

Several Hayes Valley merchants as well as the local arts and theater district voiced broad support for the long-awaited changes and stressed the need for further measures to reduce car traffic and improving the pedestrian experience on a wider scale.

“We very much support this project, but we don’t think it goes far enough,” said one speaker, on behalf of SF Jazz, a new neighborhood cultural center. “We think there are a lot of other improvements that could be made” for the levels of pedestrian traffic the center hopes to attract, she said.

Jim Haas, the coordinator of the Civic Center Stakeholders Group, said the city should address the underlying issues that drive motor traffic through the neighborhood. “Where does this traffic come from, and is there anything we can do to reduce it from coming into the area?”

SFMTA Acting Lead of the Transportation Engineering Group Ricardo Olea said that a San Francisco County Transportation Authority traffic study and the Eastern Neighborhoods plan hope to offer some new data about traffic flows from the Octavia-Market and South of Market areas.

Olea also noted that despite the new two-way travel lanes, a re-routing of the inbound 21-Hayes is not yet being considered due to the funds needed to move overhead wires as well as potential traffic impacts that would require study. The proposal does include the removal of the outbound 21 stop at Hayes and Franklin in order to improve travel times on the bus line.

The need for convenient loading zones at the affected theater and art centers, not included in the proposal, was another concern voiced among multiple speakers representing those interests. The plan currently designates those potential areas as either metered parking or tow-away zones.

Olea said another proposal for the restoration of two-way vehicle lanes on Haight Street between Gough and Market is expected to get a public hearing soon.

Overview of the proposed changes. Image: SFMTA
Overview of the proposed changes. Image: SFMTA
  • Peter Smith

    Is there a plan in the future to let bikes use this street too?

    Not sure why we’d work so hard to keep bikes off this street.

  • Well, of course bikes are allowed, and while dedicated infrastructure is definitely necessary, this plan would at least free them from the one-way restrictions imposed for the purpose of moving mass amounts of auto traffic.

  • Two-way traffic on Hayes should make it less intimidating for any cyclists who choose to use it, but then that’s probably why the bike network runs one block to the north on Grove.

  • This is a sorely needed change that can’t come too soon. Look at the difference between Hayes east and west of Gough. The walking along the western part of the street is so much more pleasant without three lanes of speeding traffic. If only we could do the same to SOMA.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Now if they can just install a crosswalk at Linden 🙂

  • Morton

    Generally one-way routes are more efficient but in this case, I think the decision is a good one. I don’t see this increasing cognestion and will hopefully make that stretch of Hayes as pleasant as the part further west.

    I believe there are bike lanes on both Fell and Grove, on either side. But I wonder if thought was given to replacing both of those with one on Hayes? Hayes seems to me like it might be a safer ride than either of those – Fell is too busy and Grove is a little sketchy in places.

  • Well, of course bikes are allowed,

    technically, bikes are ‘allowed’ already — the same way that post-Reconstruction southern states ‘allowed’ non-whites to vote. of course, those non-white voters would be subject to violence and threats of violence, including murder, but sure — they were allowed to vote.

    similarly, people are ‘allowed’ to bike on the streets of SF, but very few people do it, especially on streets where there is no bike infrastructure — because we’re busy ‘fixing’ streets for the privileged few — car drivers. want to be subject to random violence and threats of violence in SF? hop on a bike.

    i like this analogy. that would make Market Street our Mason Dixon Line, with SoMa being our Southern States — because of its particularly anti-pedestrian, anti-bike stance. then again, most of SF is particularly anti-pedestrian and anti-bike, so maybe the analogy doesn’t work at all.

    if we’re spending all this time, money, and energy just to re-break the street in a slightly less horrific way, we have to ask ourselves — does this really make sense?

    i say ‘no’. i say we can’t afford to continue doing it wrong. we need to do it right for a change.

    two-waying this street could potentially be a very small improvement for pedestrians — and maybe even bikers, and that might be the best reason to not work so hard to oppose the change, but the change is not acceptable — it does very little to allow normal people to ride, and that’s not good enough — we need to do better. i would think SF has some grasp of the concept of allowing bikers to ride on all of our streets — whatever you want to call it — ‘Complete Streets’ policy, ‘Basic Human Decency’ policy, whatever. but maybe we don’t.

    if and when we start converting SoMa streets, we need to do them right, and we need to do them right the first time — not the second time, twenty years from now.

    and we need to be able to walk and bike on every single street. this whole concept of ‘prioritizing separate modes on different streets’ — it just seems bizarre to me — i can’t think of possible justification for such a policy. i understand that the car companies are going to say that — it’s a proactive defense, so from their point of view it makes sense, but that doesn’t mean we have to take it seriously — if it doesn’t make any sense, it doesn’t make any sense. it’s never OK to prioritize motorized traffic at the expense of non-motorized traffic.

    so, maybe it’s just some weird idea that we haven’t pushed back on yet? i don’t know. walking and biking are _better_ than motorized transport, and should be prioritized, on every single street.

    it is, like the ‘separate but equal’ policies of the past, inherently unfair to people to prevent them, or even make it more difficult for them, to walk and bike to various places/streets/etc.

    We should not tolerate an inherently unfair streetscape — it discriminates against the poor and/or minorities.

    Travel modes are not created equally, so should not be treated equally.

    Nowhere is it written in stone that we have to continue to accommodate the bull in our china shop — it’s not a given — if we start doing things right, we can have a world-class transportation system that is fast, efficient, inexpensive, sustainable, and restores the dignity of every resident of and visitor to SF — at least in terms of our transportation system.

    Transport just got real. 🙂

  • icarus12

    Where will the current automobile traffic go? (Not that many people on this blog care, but others certainly do.) Seriously, has the SFMTA considered the potential for very serious congestion problems, and do they plan to divert existing car traffic to a series of alternate routes? Or is the plan to create pain and suffering for motorists and hope they simply disappear?

    When news reporting doesn’t even address these questions, it suggests that local policy makers are not at all concerned with motorists’ desires or needs. Previously, the car was king, and drivers’ interests were an automatic default. It’s good that the situation has changed, but ignoring drivers’ needs entirely is not the answer either. I think we will see car drivers get more politically organized, along the lines of a bike coalition or neighborhood groups.

  • Smartyartblast

    @ Peter Smith: I think its perfectly reasonable and smart to have some streets provide extra accommodation to bike riders, but let’s be real here. First, evil car companies aren’t thrusting their products on an unwilling public. People have a right, and often a need, to have a car. I don’t see how you bring classism into it either. It’s not just the “poor”who ride bikes. Personally, I’d be glad if more people rode bikes; obviously doing so reduces traffic congestion, improves health, and reduces pollution. I’d also be very happy when SF police start enforcing traffic laws on bikers so that many of them stop being such road hazards to themselves and others, and giving bike riders a bad rep.

  • Peej

    @ Icarus

    The plan seems to divert through Traffic to Fell, which is currently not possible because is 1 way the wrong way. That’s why they are converting Fell to 1 way. I think this is a win all around.

  • icarus –

    If you look at the presentation PDF, there are some diagrams illustrating where auto traffic is expected to go, including a page with reference letters on each intersection, although the details aren’t on the page as the speaker talked about them.

    Smartyartblast –

    “First, evil car companies aren’t thrusting their products on an unwilling public.”

    Actually… that arguably is the case – as our streets were transformed to accommodate motor vehicles first, due to an aggressive and even violent campaign by motor interests over decades, conditions for walking, biking and transit were made dangerous and/or inconvenient, and the use of those modes plummeted. Transit was also crippled when auto companies conspired to buy up rail lines in cities throughout the country and tear them out. Today, existing transit still suffers as it lacks dedicated right-of-ways and many other features due to designs made to convenience the automobile.

    Additionally, the many highways and car-dependent suburbs built were and continue to be heavily subsidized by the federal government due to intense lobbying from motor interests. Suburbs were essentially designed to force its residents to use automobiles to get around, with long distances and a lack of connecting streets for walking, cycling, or efficient transit, and… well I could go on.

    Check out Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City.

  • Kevin

    Fine. But don’t act like all cyclists are good pure human beings. I’ve been nearly mowed down and have been splashed repeatedly bu cyclists who don’t obey traffic signs and lights and ride on the sidewalk.

  • Why would you expect all cyclists to be “good pure human beings”? Yes, cyclists are more awesome than most, but it would still be unrealistic to expect 100% pure goodness from any group.

    My experience is that cyclists in SF are pretty good about yielding when they should. (Rarely does that include actually stopping! Except at red lights when traffic is present and a full stop is the obviously sane choice).

    I’d rate cyclists in SF as about on par with motorists when it comes to yielding when the should. Pretty good overall. That doesn’t mean you should blindly trust your life to either, of course. (Trust, but verify).

    For the dreaded spectre of speeding cyclists on sidewalks, I see it ALL THE TIME. On internet discussion forums. In real life, not so much 😉

  • I think its perfectly reasonable and smart to have some streets provide extra accommodation to bike riders, but let’s be real here.

    i’m not so concerned, at this point, with getting ‘extra accommodation’ for cyclists — i’d like them to be accommodated, period — as in — at all. let’s get to that point first, and then we can worry about all the ‘extra accommodation’.

    I’d also be very happy when SF police start enforcing traffic laws on bikers so that many of them stop being such road hazards to themselves and others, and giving bike riders a bad rep.

    yes – drivers are mowing down pedestrians and bikers all over the city, but it’s pedestrians and bikers who should be targeted by police. got it.

    People have a right, and often a need, to have a car.

    the only reason people could potentially have a right to have a car is because the government has effectively taken away all other possible options for dignified transportation in and around SF.

    so, yes, many SF residents effectively ‘need’ a car — in part because it is not safe/convenient/dignified to travel by foot or by bike — the government has made those options a virtual impossibility for most San Franciscans by turning over the streets to motorized traffic.

    this situation is changing ever so slowly, but it doesn’t just happen — it’s not magic — we have to allow people to walk and bike places, and that means building the required infrastructure — primarily, sidewalks for walkers, and cycletracks/bike lanes for bikers.

    just turning a four-lane, one-way highway into a four-lane, two-way highway will not allow many more bikers to use this street — we need to start doing things right the first time around, or at least make some kind of concerted effort to allow normal people to use their bikes on these streets — at a bare minimum, that should be buffered bike lanes.

    I don’t see how you bring classism into it either. It’s not just the “poor”who ride bikes.

    the transportation system, as many other systems that define our society, are root in/based on classism — i understand that rich folks don’t want to talk about ‘classism’ and ‘class warfare’ — that’s why they’re such dirty words — the rich people say, “What is all this talk about classism? Can’t we all just get along?” — well, if i was taking everyone else’s money and putting it in my pockets, I wouldn’t want to talk about it either.

    and that’s exactly why we non-rich folks have to talk about it — rich people shouldn’t be allowed to steal our money — it’s not fair.

    there are non-poor people who ride bikes, just like there are non-poor people who eat at McDonald’s, but the non-poor people can also afford to eat at Morton’s — everybody else? not so much.

    and that makes all the difference in the world. the only transportation ‘choice’ left to non-rich people who walk and ride, or would like to walk and ride, is a crappy, uncomfortable, dirty, hot, crowded bus, filled with crazies and perverts, and that ‘choice’ costs a lot of money — with ever-increasing, regressive taxes, aka ‘service cuts’ and ‘fare hikes’.

    the system is dreadful and unfair — we need to change it — these half-ass measures ain’t gonna get it done.

  • andrew

    The PM rush car traffic will probably end up going north to Turk. The AM rush car traffic will stick with the current route because the extra lane is not needed.

    The outbound 21 in the evening will be even worse than it is now. Transit first anyone?

  • Rivalclepto

    It was a mistake to allow pedestrian crossing at Hayes and Gough. The light blinks yellow only and any cars trying to turn right on Hayes to Gough (westbound) do NOT have enough time to even get 3 cars through the VERY FAST light. Now with this two-way change happening on Hayes, the East bound traffic that goes onto Gough (turns left) will have a hell-of-a-time getting there and dissipating the congested traffic that now accumulates. This will only make driving more congested, more confusing and I foresee more accidents in Hayes Valleys future. I have lived in this neighborhood for 20 years.

  • meh

    This area has been a disaster since the lane change occurred.  I have to cross through this area during both morning and evening commutes, and it has been nose-to-nose gridlock every day.  In fact, the evening commute has been worsening instead of improving (so much for traffic diversion).  Was this really expected to decrease car traffic and improve pedestrian quality of life?  Instead, you have cars backed up and idling all the way past Market St, spewing smog and pollutants into the Hayes Valley air every evening.  Great urban planning.

  • Mpr90

    Agreed, traffic is much worse in this area and backs up all the way down 9th street now. Even with the recommendation to use Van Ness south and Fell West to get from Hayes to Fell, the timing of the traffic lights on the now two-way Fell St. leaves much to be desired and causes a back up along Fell.

    I feel like although this is great for the neighbourhood and businesses, insufficient thought was given to where the high volume of traffic on 9th st is supposed to go.

    Great urban planning, indeed.


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