City Drops Years-Long Plan for Road Diet on Eastern Cesar Chavez Street

Trucks head east towards the industrial area on Cesar Chavez Street. Image: Google Maps

Just days before bike lanes were scheduled to be striped on eastern Cesar Chavez Street, an SFMTA staffer told a group of neighbors, advocates and others at a community meeting last night that the plan to replace one of the street’s travel lanes was being scrapped. City Hall sources told Streetsblog the order came from the Mayor’s Office, which was responding to last-minute concerns from industrial businesses worried about reducing road capacity for trucks.

Many frustrated attendees railed against the decision, which they argued ran afoul of an intensive community planning process that has been underway for five years. The SFMTA’s James Shahamiri told the crowd that the bike lanes will have to be redesigned to keep four travel lanes and will be delayed up to 9 months.

“We got together with the Planning Department and other members of the city family and we’re going to rethink our strategy for Cesar Chavez,” said Shahamiri, who used this presentation [pdf] to explain the decision. “We discovered that our project wasn’t being very consistent with the goals in terms of providing safe, comfortable access for bicycles and ensuring the safe convenience of all modes of travel and the industrial access and future developments.”

But some attendees like Brian Coyne felt blindsided by the announcement. “Trucking and industry are absolutely legitimate interests,” he said, “but it seems, in this process, as if those interests have been given a veto…instead of bargaining all the other interests.”

“My impression was we had decided that our compromise on Cesar Chavez was going to be to take away a lane and to add bicycle lanes, and it’s now very disappointing to find out days before the lanes are supposed to go on the ground that we have to fight that battle all over again,” Coyne said.

The road diet was included in the SF Bike Plan, developed in meetings with stakeholders over the years, and approved by the SFMTA Board of Directors on June 26, 2009. A majority of neighbors who took part in the meetings agreed that the bike lanes would best be allocated from one of the street’s two existing eastbound travel lanes, which could have the effect of calming motor traffic on the dangerous corridor. It would have also provided an opportunity to widen sidewalks, and fill in gaps where sidewalks don’t exist.

“This has been a long process,” said Fran Taylor of CC Puede. “We came up with an option that people liked better than keeping the four lanes of trucks, which seems to be about to be shoved down our throats tonight.”

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe said the decision was “baffling and very troubling.”

“There’s a three and a half foot sidewalk along Cesar Chavez that is obviously inadequate,” said Stampe. “We need a plan that’s feasible for it to become a shared street that people can walk along safely. There just isn’t room for four traffic lanes, bike lanes and accessible sidewalks.”

The Planning Department hosted a walking tour of Eastern Cesar Chavez.

Staff from the SFMTA, the Planning Department, the Mayor’s Office, and the Port of San Francisco said the decision was reached after the agencies began communicating better with one another about their plans for the area and decided the fourth lane was needed.

“They were going to stripe that lane and there was a question of do we need to do this now or can we take this through a longer process,” said Wells M. Lawson, the assistant project manager for joint development for the Mayor’s Office.

“With 30 percent of the city’s growth happening in the southeast sector, Cesar Chavez is a significant conduit for transportation down into that section of the waterfront,” explained David Beaupre of the Port of San Francisco.

Representatives from some industrial businesses who use Cesar Chavez, an official truck route, were concerned about increased congestion and came to the SFMTA to protest the plan several weeks ago with the support of the Mayor’s Office.

“I didn’t have any knowledge until a week or two ago that they were going to close a lane on Cesar Chavez,” said Dan Boardman of Bode Gravel Company. “I don’t have a strong excuse for being better informed, but the fact is I didn’t understand…that it would close a lane on a major thoroughfare.”

But Stampe pointed out that the planned bike lane reconfiguration would have been “an excellent opportunity to pilot a road diet and see if the claims about congestion are true because this is a short-term re-painting process.”

Redesigned bike lanes could still go in within 6 to 9 months from now, said Shahamari, and the process could actually result in safer facilities than the ones originally planned. In the meantime, the community process for the Cesar Chavez East Community Design Plan will go on, and planners will come back in several weeks with some proposed designs.

“The project as it was designed to be implemented this month put bicycles between parking and a lot of truck activity,” said Shahamiri. “Ultimately, that’s not a solid design. That doesn’t meet the goal of providing a safe and effective bicycle facility.”

Image: SFMTA
Participants voiced their concerns to city staffers at last night's planning meeting. Photo: Bryan Goebel

The only option left for installing a protective bike lane would be to remove parking, something Shahamiri said SFMTA staff would study.

“We’re very much interested in ensuring that the bike facilities promised when they were approved in 2009 move forward,” said Kit Hodge, the deputy director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “Whether those evolve into an improved bicycle facility, such as a continuous separated bikeway, or some other type of improvement remains to be seen, but we’re very interested in seeing another street safety project move forward.”

A safe bicycle facility would connect a major gap in the existing bike network and provide a vital alternative for residents and employees who drive on Cesar Chavez to reduce vehicular travel demand.

“Not all the traffic is trucks, there’s a lot of car traffic, too,” said Taylor. “We’ve been trying, banging our heads for years, to get Muni service (on Cesar Chavez). There are hundreds of workers out there who have no alternative but to drive.”

“We want the trucks, we want the industrial uses. But we do not want to sacrifice the pedestrians and the bicyclists to keep the Mayor happy,” she said.

Fears of vehicle congestion are one reason why projects like the freeway interchange known as the “Hairball” have been built, she noted, which currently divides neighborhoods and inundates Cesar Chavez with car traffic. In the planning meetings, the Hairball has been identified as one of the primary targets for improvement by neighbors because it causes blight and danger in the neighborhood.

“We hear this every time we bring up reconfiguring a street,” said Taylor. “And that’s how we got in this fix in the first place. Everybody gasped when they looked at that huge-ass freeway and we thought, ‘how could we think of building this through our city?'”

“Well, it’s the same mentality. We need to look at the alternatives to that and not just fall for that, ‘oh, we need more space.’ Well, let’s make it six lanes, then!”

Streetsblog Editor Bryan Goebel contributed reporting.

  • The link for the presentation seems to be broken.

  • This is why I don’t attend community meetings for the most part.  They seem like such a waste of people’s time. 

  • Elizabethcreely

    Well, that totally sucks.

  • mikesonn

    So why weren’t the industrial users included from the beginning? And, if they weren’t, why did they “find out” so late in the game? Something seems off about all this.

  • jd_x

    As a daily cyclist down this stretch, I can only loudly echo what Elizabethcreely said: this really sucks. Especially since I was really looking forward to not feeling like I could die at any moment while riding down this extremely bicycle/pedestrian-unfriendly street (I get buzzed by a truck or car about every other week on this stretch). The fact that there are so many trucks is *exactly* why a protected cycle track/bike lane is needed here. It’s so sickening to watch how, time and time again, corporate interests trump the health and safety of the people, *especially* those that choose to travel the most healthy and environmentally-friendly (and yet most vulnerable) way.

    If a travel lane won’t go, then a parking lane must; the status quo is unacceptable.

  • BeyondSF

    I agree with mikeson, but some roads shouldn’t be bike-share; just as some roads shouldn’t allow freight traffic. Furthermore, some streets should be transit/ped/bike only (like Powell St downtown or Chestnut from Laguna to Divisidero).  I don’t bike down 3rd St for a reason, opting instead for Terry Francois to Illinois, why? because a safe trip takes forethought.  The same ‘every one on every street’ philosophy held Europe back for decades too.  I know, I work at Oakdale/Barneveld, and it sucks! How about a contra-flow bike lane on northbound Bayshore btwn the ‘can of worms’ and Oakdale Ave, with a ped/bike scramble at Oakdale/Bayshore? I used to live in Boulder, CO, and they’ve realized that sometimes contra-flow is the only solution. just a thought…

  • Drive, Ed, drive!

  • Masonic will be the death….

    What complete BS. I guess this is what you get when your mayor rides a bike once a year with handlers and bodyguards protecting him from traffic.

  • I can understand the frustration, but haven’t we just been saved from building a half-baked, not-very-safe bike lane between parked cars and roaring traffic? Which might have set back the cause of installing truly safe bike facilities on CC for years?  

    Now there’s a chance to get back in the ring and fight to do the bike facilities the right way. Now that some true bike facilities are going in elsewhere in the city, it’s becoming more and more indefensible to build bike lanes that don’t keep cyclists safe on major thoroughfares like CC. And if that means taking out some on-street parking, then so be it. Industry in the city strikes me as a much higher priority than free residential curbside parking in any case.

  • I’m getting a little tired of the phrase “city family”…

  • Anonymous

    That’s really really frustrating. I bike through there to get to Bayview from Bernal, and a physically separated cycle-track/path/lane along the southern edge near the only ‘safe’ crossing through the 101 maze is *imperative.*

    I respect that it’s a light industrial area with heavy truck traffic needed to sustain business – and that’s why a dual-direction bike route at one end makes sense, even if that forces cars driving around KOFY TV to get onto the 101 on-ramp to slow down or wait for a light. Similarly, the 280 already has a cut to accommodate bikes, so there’d be little impact to improve that.

  • Anonymous

    The primary cycling users of CC (and the ones who *would* if it weren’t so hairy) are commuters from Mission/Noe/Bernal/Glen Park to 22nd Street Caltrain. Oakdale would take you more than a mile out of the way. At that point I’d just ride over to 17th.

    This is a disaster. There is not that much congestion on CC. In fact the worst problem is caused by cars backed up waiting to pass a cyclist who must take the lane to avoid being crunched. The proposed configuration might arguably be *less* congested. Either way, I think it would be very simple to remove the parking.

  • I don’t want to derail any attempts to make Cesar Chavez a good route for bicyclists, but would it be possible to cobble together a usable route out of what remains of Marin Street?  Or is it too fragmented?

  • Anonymous

    Eric – you’d need a crossing of the tracks to do that… $$$/HSR/etc…

  • Anonymous

    I like your positive attitude Jake, but these projects are budget-driven, which makes all improvements incremental.

    It may be that having a bad & cheap incremental step is more effective in getting the rest of the budget needed to fix it, than it is to fight for the perfect solution at the very start.

  • the greasybear

    Mayor Trojan Horse is apparently willing to screw cyclists and pedestrians, screw the community, and screw all those who took part in the 5-year planning process–because a single corporation yelled “jump.” 

    Fail, Ed, fail.

  • LarryW

    It is not surprising this happened.  Basically, a few community activists and the Planning Department have been plotting this for quite awhile; everybody else was shut out of the process.  So the idea that removing a bike lane somehow represented “consensus” is just silly.

    Somehow the Planning Department thinks that if a few neighbors want a street narrowed then it should be narrowed — the fact that many other people rely on that street every day is irrelevant.  Cesar Chavez is not and never has been a small residential street; it is a major thoroughfare.  But the Planning Department is not interested in designing a street grid that works — instead they look for places where there are vehicles and then tries to make them unworkable.

    It is good to see that the City has awakened to the notion that only a very, very small minority of people use bikes and that the needs of the rest of the people in the City need to be considered.

  • Nina R.

    I was told that all of Cesar Chavez used to look the same as the stretch west of Dolores, which is a small residential street. If that’s true, then your claim that it “is not and never has been” – would be incorrect. The story I heard is that they demoed a row of housing along the north side of Cesar Chavez (Army) to make it wider in the… 50s? when there were plans to have a freeway ramp there.

  • @97aa8aeba8f5431bc388c8fb6f111de8:disqus Right, Cesar Chavez was originally built as a two-lane street in a 64′ total right of way, the same as other east-west streets of the Mission grid.  The library photo archive has a good picture of what the street looked like as it was being widened from two lanes to six, when it was still the original width west of Harrison.

    (The widening wasn’t directly related to the never-built Army Street Freeway, though — the freeway would have run between 25th and 26th Streets instead of directly in the Cesar Chavez Street right of way.)

  • Triple0

    By definition, “Cesar Chavez” has always been that wide.  But, before, it was called Army Street — and there were wide sidewalks, transit and one lane in each direction. There was a garden where the ‘hairball’ now stands. 

    Then, the city tore down houses, set others back, and used Eminent Domain to widen the street for car traffic.  So, if that’s what you think we should keep, so be it.  I want to see a better neighborhood for everybody instead of fast cars and trucks. 


  • ExasperatedSFcitizen

    In any case, LarryW and the rest of you seem to be referring to the west stretch of CC when we’re talking about “Cesar Chavez East” (that is, east of Hampshire) where the bike lanes are being delayed. Was that section of CC ever residential? I kind of doubt it. Nor does it qualify as a “major thoroughfare” either in the traditional sense. 

    The sticking issue is the type of traffic it does have, currently. And that makes the whole argument by the city all that much more stupid, because commercial traffic is generally predictable, often on a complementary schedule with, say, bikes going to and from Caltrain. So why dedicate a stretch of road solely to it? Why miss an opportunity to provide a key connection between neighborhoods? You could do so much there with just a few blocks of separated pedestrian/cycle right of way there. 

    I thought we’d learned by now how effective this kind of thing is for combatting blight. We could probably come up with a hundred examples by now.


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