Masonic Ave. Boulevard Redesign Headed to SFMTA Board for Final Approval

Masonic Avenue. Photo: Aaron Bialick

After a years-long community planning process, supporters of the “Boulevard” proposal to redesign Masonic Avenue left City Hall with a mix of excitement and relief today after SFMTA staff approved the plan, and sent it to the SFMTA Board of Directors for its final hurdle. The hearing, which largely determined how soon massive safety improvements could come to the notoriously dangerous road, turned out a strong show of support from neighbors and advocates.

“I’m thrilled,” said Michael Helquist, writer of neighborhood livability blog Bike NoPa and advocate of the Boulevard proposal. “I am so excited we are moving forward after several years of working on this project.”

In his presentation, SFMTA Project Director Javad Mirabdal cited a broad coalition of support for the project, including a vast majority of neighbors surveyed, as well as endorsements from Supervisors Eric Mar and Ross Mirkarimi, SF Police Department (SFPD) Park Station Captain Denis O’Leary, and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who told Streetsblog yesterday that he would talk to the SFMTA about ways to speed up funding for the project.

“Javad made a signature design here that I think is going to be looked at by cities across the U.S. and around the world as transformative,” said Fix Masonic founder Mark Christiansen.

Fix Masonic founder Mark Christiansen was among many neighbors and advocates who testified in favor of the Boulevard plan at a City Hall hearing today. Photo: Aaron Bialick

“I’m really excited that our children will have a safer street to cross,” said Herb Bool, a teacher at San Francisco Day School at Golden Gate and Masonic Avenues, who frequently crosses the street, sometimes with dozens of children under his watch. “It’s the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done.”

The hearing also drew attendance from a range of city staffers, including officials from the SFMTA, the SF Planning Department, and the Mayor’s Office.

Construction is projected to begin in no less than two years and the SFMTA hasn’t identified funding yet. Advocates, neighbors and elected officials such as Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi have said they would like to find a way to expedite the funding process to relieve the street of dangerous conditions as soon as possible.

Calls for temporary measures to alleviate the continuing high rate of injuries and deaths on the corridor have also been strongly voiced by neighbors. However, although some action has been taken, Christiansen says effective solutions in the interim are hard to find.

“The character of the street is defined by the psychology of being on the street,” said Christiansen. “It’s a pretty wide open street right now in its fundamental design and it seems to promote a mentality of car dominance that is difficult to overcome through any of the means that are currently being proposed to mitigate that.”

“More law enforcement certainly helps, but we don’t have the kind of staff on SFPD that they can easily just have around the clock writing tickets,” he added.

Some proponents urged further measures to address issues not included in the proposal, including visibility issues at the Turk Street intersection and extending improvements all the way to Haight Street.

Even some of the few opponents who spoke praised the project’s extensively inclusive community planning process as well as its potential to create a more people-friendly street. The few opposing arguments seemed limited to its replacement of car parking spaces.

“I appreciate those who opposed the Boulevard,” said Helquist. “They gave considerate, respectful presentations, and I think it says a lot for us as a community and how we’ve dealt with this issue.”

“It’s important to remember that the foremost goal of a street is not the storage of private automobiles,” pointed out Marc Caswell, a resident of Masonic. “Streets are intended first and foremost for the safe and convenient travel of people, whether that be by foot, by bike, by transit, or by car.”

“When the opposition mostly lines up around parking spaces, my hope is that we’re moving into an era where that is not the defining issue,” said Christiansen. “It sounds as though it didn’t become the defining one at this hearing.”

  • Masonic will be the death…

    I was cautiously optimistic going into today’s hearing. As the presentation progressed I actually got a bit excited. After listening to all those who support the redesign, and the to be honest unprepared and regurgitated excuses for not approving the plan I actually left City Hall elated.

    Not to sound greedy, but now how do we keep this momentum moving forward to get interim safety measures put through for Masonic until the Blvd. becomes a reality.

    This plan still faces real hurdles that those apposed will no doubt try to drag out as long as possible, ie. environmental impacts, and demands for a more in depth study on effects of parking etc.

    All in all a great day for bike, pedestrian and ultimately auto safety. Thanks to NOPNA, Fix Masonic, SFBC, and SFstreetsblog for all you have done to motivate folks like me to come out and vocally show our support.

  • Anonymous

    I have not been to the site. But I actually have a great concern on the proposed design. Consider a bicycle going from left to right along the green arrow. The light is green. Naturally it is going at full speed. Now at the intersection is car turning right following the black arrow. The car should lookout for pedestrian. But now it is also cutting across a bike lane. The driver cannot see very well due to the high speed and poor peripheral vision. The cyclists need to be caution that a right turning vehicle may cut them off anytime.

    Consider than same scenario on a normal street. There are several way to resolve this conflict. 1. The vehicle at the back should wait for the vehicle on the front to clear the intersection (i.e. car wait for cyclist clear or cyclist wait for the car to turn). Or 2. an agile cyclist can pass the car on the left. The most risky choice is the cyclist to pass the right turning vehicle on the right. Unfortunately this design is forcing the most risky scenario at all times.

    Has the designer considered this issue? Has this design been used elsewhere?

  • Caleb

    I encourage you to take a look at this for a direct response to your question of how to fix this and how this has been tried successfully before:

    The video is particularly instructive (and even inspirational).

  • JD

    Such a great turnout today! Thank you to those neighbors who emphasized Turk’s safety issues in need of immediate attention. I am a defensive pedestrian, and I still feel threatened when crossing this intersection outside my home. My hope is that SFMTA addresses our need for a pedestrian crosswalk countdown and a protected left turn signal as soon as possible. 

  • Anonymous

     @d1362ad6cf9df180804e5a66718bff82:disqus thanks for the link. However the Masonic design is not the same as the Dutch design. The Dutch bike lane make the bicycle negotiate around a curve. So everyone slows down and have a chance to resolve the conflict. The Masonic bike lane is straight. Straight and green light means full speed! The bicyclist will rightly assume they have the right of way and go at full speed. This create the conflict situation that worries me.

  • Masonic will be the death…

     Tung it appears you are against this plan and just want to play contrarian. As I am sure you can see from the video and the layout posted the difference between the proposed design and the dutch example is simply paint, and a few yards at most of rounded curbing. If you pay attention to the video you will see the crosswalk is set further back than the bike way.

    I suppose having to ride around parked cars into 50+ mph traffic as Masonic is now is way safer right?

    Hopefully you are aware as plans go from initial approval as this one did today to final execution many small changes are made. This project will be no different.

    Funny I don’t recall any concerns like this brought up at the hearing today. Maybe if you were so concerned you should have showed up and had your say, but alas you opt to play concerned citizen on a blog after the fact.

  • Anonymous

    Now chill out. No one’s said that what’s there now is safer, and now is a good time to bring up concerns.

    It seems like an easy solution is having the bus stop on the other side of the cross street. There’s no particular reason bus stops have to be directly across from each other.

    On the other hand, I should hope that people aren’t making turns at high speed. That’s just asking for trouble.

  • Guest

    Caleb: From that article, “When motorists have a green light for going straight ahead, cyclists also can ride straight ahead without right or left turning motorists having permission to cross their paths. However, when motorists are given a green light for a right turn this is separated in time from the cyclists’ straight on green so that conflict is avoided.”. If that’s being planned for this intersection, it’ll work. But that seems unlikely. Far more practical to just mix the bikes with the bus stop (not that many busses stop there), or move it far side (which is a hill so probably a bad idea). But these can probably be done later too–so long as this lane doesn’t increase accidents.(I have been almost right hooked far more often on streets with bike lanes than without, but I also ride assertively on streets w/o bike lanes.)

  • The proposed bike lane design is the standard Danish practice to combine a bus stop and bike lane and it works well, particularly if they clearly mark the bike lane through the intersection such as with colored striping. It may not be as ideal as the Dutch design, but you can already see in Copenhagen it goes pretty smoothly.

  • Anonymous

    Very often pedestrian countdown signals are ignored.  I’ve seen that hundreds
    of times on, for example, Geary Street. 

  • Anonymous

     @Masonic, you don’t have to make this kind of judgment on me. This is not about politics. I see an engineering problem that affect safety and I point it out. That’s all.

    I’ve made another picture to illustrate my point. Excuse me for the poor graphics. The picture show a right turning car with a bicycle coming from behind. The field of vision of the car is that it cannot see much beyond the curb. So it won’t know the bicycle is coming. You can do an experiment when you making right turn in your car. Imagine someone is biking on the sidewalk toward the intersection fast. You couldn’t possibly see it coming.

    So the only safe way to handle this is for the cyclist from behind yield to the car. This is actually the same as in normal intersection. A bike from behind should never pass a righting turning vehicle on its right. Only this intersection design gives an illusion the bike has a green and that the car will yield to a bike as it yield to pedestrian.

    Some of the Dutch treatment is useful. A separate phase of green light for bikes and car resolve most of the conflict. The island make a wiggle on the cycling path to make them slow down before entering the intersection. I doubt the work in this situation through. There must be a fairly high volume of bike and pedestrian traffic to justify a separate phase of green light. And I suspect a many cyclists will not welcome something that suggest slow or yield and will be creative to work around them.

  • Anonymous


    I’m interested to see other people’s good idea in problem solving. I actually looked around in Copenhagen and didn’t find an example similar to Masonic’s design. Many of their larger bus stop seems to be on the mid block. Otherwise their intersections is a lot like San Francisco’s intersection, except they have these nice raised cycling path. So car cannot merge into bike lane until right at the intersection. I’m sure the curb will make them lot of aware of the cycling path than a painted line in San Francisco.

  • Anonymous

    I guess I haven’t looked hard enough. Here is one example in Copenhagen. Notice the bus stop is placed well before the intersection. The narrow platform ends and bike and traffic lane run together to the intersection, much like our own intersections.,+Denmark&gl=us&ll=55.69498,12.510347&spn=0.000523,0.001843&t=k&z=20

  • mikesonn


    Your new right turning site lines are a bit disingenuous. The driver will have his/her head turned to the right (and possibly looking over his/her shoulder) and should not be looking straight ahead as your diagram shows.

  • Anonymous


    I think I’m being generous rather than disingenuous to show a 160 deg view. Don’t count on a driver to look far beyond the curb. You can get in a car and test it yourself.

  • @tungwaiyip:disqus 
    Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Merged right turns are less common. However, admittedly, upon looking on Google Maps I realized this particular situation isn’t as common as I thought, though right turn lanes adjacent to cycle tracks (with or without bus stops) are typical. But in the example I linked, I think you can see that while the driver does have to turn their head at the actual turn to check for cyclists, they can also see them on the approach without anything really obscuring their view.

    Your concern is valid, but I don’t think the design is spanking new.

  • mikesonn

    I don’t want to get in an argument with you, but if you take a right turn you look over your right shoulder (at least I hope you do). Also, the driver should be looking for pedestrians and taking the turn with caution.

    160 deg is generous (maybe overly generous) but someone turning shouldn’t be looking straight ahead, which is what your sight lines are showing. I’m not saying this is the best design, but I don’t think your argument is factually accurate. Maybe the cross walk should be slightly raised through the bike lane, which would encourage the cyclists to slow down as well.

  • Anonymous

    @mikesonn:disqus Unfortunately that’s not what drivers do. There is no reason for them to turn their head and scan more than a few feet from the curb. If there is no pedestrian near the curb, they can safely complete the turn. That’s why skateboarder who shot through the intersection is so dangerous. It caught the driver by surprise. Even a jogger can cause mis-calculation. When I jog and I see a right turning car, I hold back and let it pass.

    It there is a bike lane between traffic lane and the curb, then they should look over their shoulder, hopefully. If they are on the right most lane already, I will not expect anyone to do so.

  • mikesonn

     You can’t legislate stupid, and you can’t engineer it out either.

  • Anonymous

    @azb324:disqus Got it. How do you thing Danish people will resolve the conflict in such scenario? Note obviously if the cyclist is in front, the car will have no problem seeing them. My concern is if the bicycle is coming up from behind pretty fast.

  • Anonymous

    ” Naturally it [the bicycle] is going at full speed.”  I would sugggest that you reduce your speed and approach the intersection with caution.

  • SteveS

     @Rickrub:disqus Nothing short of putting a cop on every corner is going to get you 100% compliance, but in the pilot project in San Francisco installation of countdown signals reduced pedestrian collisions by 52%, which is an amazing result for a very small cost and makes them one of the best possible investments in pedestrian safety.

  • Masonic will be the death…

    I get a kick out of your driver having to yield to the cyclist before making a right hand turn comment. That IS exactly what cars are obligated to do. The cyclist going straight has the right of way while the turning car is obligated to yield. That is exactly how it already works. If the driver weilds around the corner without looking impacting the cyclist going straight they are violating traffic law where a bike lane is in place.

    With respect to my earlier post pasing judgment on your comments, and motivations, after reading your multiple posts I completely stand behind them. It is obvious your goal is to be contrarian with pretend obliviousness as your tool.

    If you drive, you should stop, and if you actually ride a bike in this city I would recommend giving that up to. Walking in your state might also be a risk. I would recommend Muni. If you can’t figure out what to do when the doors open, the driver will tell you. S/he will help you pay the fair and you might even qualify for priority of one of the front few seats.

  • Sprague

    Just like many San Francisco drivers have become increasingly sensitive to sharing the road with bicyclists in recent years, they will also learn to exercise caution when turning across bike lanes/cycle tracks.  I know that in Austria (and presumably throughout Europe, where applicable) drivers usually crane their necks looking over their shoulder before proceeding across a bike path where cyclists have the right of way.  (There’s an intersection just off of Highway 101 in Mill Valley, at Manzanita/Highway 1, where the same thing occurs – although cyclists unfortunately may not have the right of way.)  With the DMV location near Masonic, safe and legal automobile navigation in relation to this cycle track may very well one day be a portion of the behind-the-wheel test for many driver’s license candidates.

  • This design doesn’t entirely pass the 8-80 test, (I think how the Dutch handle intersections are better), and it passes the tourist-proof test sort of.  Still, it’s enormously better than what exists now which is that anyone with any sense rides on the sidewalk so they don’t get killed. The ones without sense bomb down Masonic at 30 mph or go sedately and make cars crazy trying to get around them.

    Already drivers have to be cautious when turning across both crosswalks and bike lanes. This design may actually be easier because they will have partly turned and will have a decent view of both bikeway and crosswalk. The key is they have to slow down (even stop) and look, which they are obliged to do by law.

    As a bicyclist I would naturally slow down as I approached a congested intersection, aware that cars might be wanting to turn. I do this now. If a car was in the act of making a turn as I approached, I would notice and likely slow down and yield. I do this now. If once I’m in the intersection and someone doesn’t see me, then I’m likely to wave and yell to get their attention. I do this now. It’s true that if they make the turn at high speed, they would run me over, but that is true now and would be true with any design except one that requires bicycles and auto travel at different times in the light cycle.

  • Guest

    Given that this intersection is uphill, there probably won’t be many fast cyclists so it’s likely to be a minor issue. But if it were downhill… and telling bicycles to slow down because of poor road design is kind of counter to the point, no?

    Anyway, you can engineer… well not stupid, that’s not the scenario. What you are engineering is attention. That’s why freeways are safer, or 100% separated bikeways: conflict and attention are controlled. There were some simple solutions proposed here: Move the bus stop 50′ earlier (or across the street), then mix the bike/right turn lane. This pulls back the merge point to an obvious place, then each of the two actions (straight/right traffic crosses, right turn actually turns) becomes simpler. Add a phase to the signal, making it illegal for simultaneous movements and hope bikes follow it (which is easy–lots of streets in SF have a crosswalk phase lead a green phase, that’d be sufficient here). But fast moving cyclists on the right of cars which have looked for normal traffic *will* be at risk, and it’s not really the car’s fault. 

  • Guest

    The more you people do to “fix” San Francisco the more back word it becomes.  Muni is not better today than it was pre-MTA.  MTA is an utter and complete failure.  Nazis on bikes have more time to attend these meetings than do the hard working families that live in this city so the bike Nazis give the false impression that their minority view is actually the majority. 

  • Bob Gunderson

    You’re in for a world of hurt once this bike plan goes through


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