SFMTA Board Sees Past “Traffic Jam” Rhetoric in Favor of Two-Way Hayes

Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA Board of Directors yesterday approved a plan to restore a one-way arterial section of Hayes Street to a calmer two-way street that would help favor walking, bicycling and transit on the commercial corridor. However, despite the extensive planning process and community support for the project, the discussion wasn’t without contention.

“There is no answer, as far as I can tell, that’s fully satisfactory as to where the cars will go,” said Director Malcom Heinicke, the only member who opposed the proposal.

In response, Director Cheryl Brinkman recalled a poignant statement from Noah Budnick, the deputy director of New York City’s Transportation Alternatives: “Traffic isn’t like the weather – you can do something about it.”

It’s a reminder that the dominance of car traffic in our cities, in reality, isn’t necessary. Rather, it is generated by building streets and freeways that favor moving motor traffic at the expense of neighborhood livability and other transport modes. When those conditions change, so does behavior.

“It’s been my experience through most other projects that have been somewhat controversial that once we put things in place, and things start to work out, people adjust to the changes,” said Director Bruce Oka.

Time after time, it has been shown that reducing the impact of motorways reduces the amount of car traffic invited to use those streets. When conditions change, it is generally found that people respond by traveling by different modes, different routes, and during different times.

“I think our current utility relocation project on Stockton Street is a perfect example,” said Brinkman. “When it was first closed to automobiles, Post Street was a mess the first week. But as time went on, and cars realized they couldn’t go down Stockton Street and they had to turn left on Post, it’s dissipated.”

In the city’s most famous example, the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway, doomsday warnings of paralyzing traffic jams failed to come to fruition. More recently, replacing a piece of the Central Freeway with the much less domineering Octavia Boulevard was found to reduce car volumes by 40 to 50 percent.

“I think there are a lot of neighborhoods that, when this works out, will realize that we don’t have to have streets that sit 24/7 to handle 50 minutes of traffic twice a day,” said Brinkman. “We can’t continue to add and facilitate automobiles on our streets. We’ve got to continue to re-engineer our streets to make them pleasant and work for everyone.”

“I know that most of us, me included, don’t like change at first,” said Oka. “But once the change is there, unless it directly adversely affects a major part of our constituents or our city, I think we have to maintain a safe environment for our pedestrians and for people who use our streets who don’t have cars.”

“We are, in fact, a transit-first city. Let’s act like we are.”

Where the remaining cars will go. Image: SFMTA
  • Anonymous

    Sounds good … Still waiting for some improvements to happen in Supervisorial District 6 where about 30% of pedestrian injuries happen because the SFMTA has not put any effort into reengineering the streets to recognize an increase in population from a little over 11,000 in 1990 to over 40,000 in 2010. Here’s what my “Transit-Oriented Development” neighborhood looks like around 6pm on a typical weekday – how do you spell “Death Trap for Pedestrians?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZGZZ7x68XM

  • Andrew

    Where’s the bus lane?

    Oh, there isn’t one. “Livable” clearly excludes transit riders.

  • Lionel

    Although one-way streets are more efficient, and in extensive use in every major US City, I think Hayes is a reasonable case for reversion to two-way. Given that nearby Fell and Oak provide good speed and thruput for vehicular traffic, it seems fair to give bikes a break on closeby alternative routes like Hayes.

  • I agree that Jamie’s neighborhood is in desperate need of exactly this kind of improvement but, parenthetically, this is in District 6.

  • What is the timeline for implementation? I can’t wait!

  • Anonymous

    This is great, but…

    The 21 into downtown here follows a painfully stupid route of wiggling. This isn’t project isn’t done until:

    – hayes is two-way all the way to market.
    – overhead wires are installed on hayes and the 21 is re-routed onto it.

  • Georgy

    Hey Josh! What a surprise to see you comment here.

  • Keenplanner

    MTA has been dragging this out for 10 years. This was supposed to happen as part of the Octavia Blvd. project.
    MTA only reluctantly recognizes the transit-first policy. They still pander to drivers. No wonder the buses move so slowly.

  • neigh-bor

    I loved Director Oka’s comment about change. . . we all resist it but there is usually something to be gained from it. In this case Phase I of Hayes two way is a great start to change. As others have pointed out – once this is settled the City should come back and put the in bound bus back on Hayes.

  • John Alex Lowell

    I invite you to critically examine the dynamics factors behind SFMTA’s decision to reroute the 5 & 71 MUNI buses back from the Laguna & Page Street route to Haight Street. The block of Haight between the the Devil’s tryptic intersection of Gough, Market & Haight Streets West/up to Octavia will become 2 way in late 2012. Theoretically only the SFPD, DPW, SFMTA’s MUNI buses & residents on that block will have access to go east down hill on Haight from Octavia. As a senior member of the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee on Seat # 4 Senior & Disability Organization, I want to know how informing the drivers & pedestrians through stationary & electric car traffic signs along with the ablistic pedestrian signals on this route will be upgraded & maintained to prevent injury & death of any pedestrian.

  • The Facts

    Get the facts right Streetsblog/films.

    There were and continue to be paralyzing traffic jams as a result of the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway. Just go to SOMA and look. Plenty of traffic counts show this. It’s incredible that the anti-car forces still spread this LIE.

    Nothing in that Central Freeway article says that traffic volume was reduced 40-50%. It says auto traffic going to Hayes Valley and Octavia Blvd accounts for 50-60% of travel mode split. The rest took other smaller routes that were never intended to handle the rest of the traffic.

    Just goes to show that traffic doesn’t go away.

  • From the Central Freeway article:

    “Though traffic volumes on Octavia Boulevard itself are between 50 to 60 percent of traffic volumes on the old freeway…”

  • Mankhost

    I understand the livability
    angle, and not catering solely to drivers, but it is absurd to think that there is going to be a major city
    without at least a few reasonable throroughfares to expedite rush-hour
    traffic. I think you could argue that such avenues and timed lights
    leave other areas much freer of traffic. Diverting the rush hour traffic may be a case of be careful what you wish for. (And re one comment below, the path in question is ostensibly part of the Oak/Fell one way path, along with the 9th up from SOMA, not really a separate entity)

  • Try finishing the sentence Aaron!

    “…much of the traffic dividend had been pushed to smaller streets, where
    rush hour backups can be severe and cause delays to Muni and create
    conflicts with pedestrians and cyclists.”
    This and other data support the same conclusion that has been said over and over. Traffic doesn’t go away; it just shifts around.

  • Filamino – you are discounting that BART and Caltrain are now carrying record levels of passengers into and out of SF, not to mention the Google/etc… buses.

    That is a net decrease of traffic.


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