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New Designs to Be Presented for Eastern Cesar Chavez Street

The pedestrian environment on Cesar Chavez is less than ideal. Photo: Planning Department

New designs have been drawn up for eastern Cesar Chavez Street and will be presented to the community next week, nearly two months after a contentious meeting in which attendees were told, just days before the striping of new bike lanes, that plans for a road diet were being scrapped by the Mayor's Office and Port of San Francisco because of concerns from industrial businesses about reducing road capacity for trucks hauling goods.

The new designs will not be made public until the August 24 meeting, where options for short-term and long-term plans will be presented. Sources who have seen the designs say the short-term plan does not remove a travel lane like the original plan. Instead, it would remove parking to add one-way protected bike lanes on both the north and south sides. The short-term plan is part of an air quality grant to improve biking and would not change the sidewalks.

"The plan that was going to go out in July was going to put a bike lane between a parking lane and a bunch of trucks," said Peter Albert, the manager of urban planning initiatives at the SFMTA. "It seems like the low hanging fruit in that whole thing was the on-street parking, so why was on-street parking for basically two dozen spaces so sacrosanct that it was forcing bicyclists to pit themselves against trucks and buses?"

Under the new designs, he said, "the bike experience is much better because you've got no parked cars or dooring to the right, you've got complete clarity on your path and the trucks don't have to intersect with you in any way."

The Problem with Evans

The tricky part is where Cesar Chavez intersects with Evans Avenue and turns from four lanes into five lanes. There are two options for what to do at that hairy intersection in the short-term plan.

The first would get bicyclists through the intersection by removing a westbound lane on a 600-foot stretch of Cesar Chavez just west of Evans and east of Connecticut. That would leave enough room to paint protected bike lanes, and when compared to the original Bike Plan proposal, would slightly improve traffic flow for autos. The less-than-ideal option for the intersection, which is sure to encounter opposition from bicyclists, would not include any bike lanes, and only use sharrows to guide bicyclists through. Walking advocates don't like this option either, as it leaves no room to widen the woefully inadequate sidewalk pictured above.

The long-term proposals, part of the Eastern Cesar Chavez Community Design Plan -- which covers Cesar Chavez from Hampshire to Illinois -- offer a better solution. The Planning Department is proposing a cantilevered path to widen Cesar Chavez Street around the Evans Avenue intersection to accommodate a total of 4 lanes of traffic, bike lanes, and sidewalks. They also plan to present proposals for a two-way protected green cycletrack with a six-foot buffer, and another option that would offer one-way protected green bike lanes on the north and south sides with six-foot buffers.

Pedestrians Won't See Immediate Improvements

This what pedestrians currently how to contend with on Cesar Chavez near Mississipi. Photo: SF Planning Dept.

The new drawings for short-term options don't address the skinny sidewalks because, unlike the road diet that was originally envisioned, the eastbound lane on eastern Cesar Chavez would not be removed. Without doing that, there is little room left on the 59-foot wide street to expand the sidewalks and build bike lanes.

Albert said a $79,000 Bay Area Quality Management District grant being used to re-stripe Cesar Chavez isn't meant to cover widening sidewalks, but the paint will serve "as a footprint of a road we'd like to be much better in the long-term."

"I'm confident that either one of [the short-term options] is vastly better than what we're living with right now," he said.

"The sidewalk has got to be fixed. In the near term, at the bare minimum, the bike lane project should set the stage for improving walking conditions," said Elizabeth Stampe, the executive director of Walk San Francisco.

Albert said he definitely "wants to revisit with the community this whole idea of a transit line along Cesar Chavez," and that that's one reason why removing a traffic lane along the entire stretch doesn't make sense right now.

Trucks, Private Autos and Pollution

The June community meeting where the audience was told the road diet was being taken off the table failed to directly relay what the underlying issue was:  industrial businesses expressing concerns that reducing road capacity would increase congestion and hurt their bottom line. David Beaupre, a senior planner at the Port of San Francisco, repeated this concern in an interview with Streetsblog yesterday.

"If we start to impact the capacity of Cesar Chavez it's going to negatively impact the economic opportunities to that part of the city," he explained. "It's going to begin to push those types of businesses out of the city, which means, you know, the food distribution, the auto repair shops, the cleaning services, and people are going to have to start driving more to get their services in south city or wherever."

Beaupre acknowledges, however, that the majority of traffic on Cesar Chavez is not trucks, but private automobiles, but said eliminating a lane could impact the transit option, because"Muni can't run if there's only one lane."

As a general rule, traffic engineers consider 2 percent of all vehicle traffic to be heavy traffic, or trucks and buses. Sources told Streetsblog the SFMTA was currently gathering comprehensive traffic flow data on eastern Cesar Chavez that should give everyone a clearer idea of the traffic make-up. It's expected to be presented at next week's meeting.

Beaupre also expressed a concern that reducing the capacity would create more pollution because of idling trucks, and force them to divert onto quieter neighborhood streets in the Bayview. But Peggy da Silva, the educating and training manager at Veritable Vegetable, which is located on Cesar Chavez and uses a fleet of trucks to haul organic produce, said trucks face tighter air control regulations than private automobiles.

"There's a lack of understanding in the community about trucks. People think, because they're big, that they pollute more and they don't necessarily. Professional drivers are also probably less of a risk to people than, you know, your average person driving down the street," da Silva said.

The project area. Image: SF Planning Dept.

Reducing Private Auto Traffic

Da Silva said the city should prioritize the movement of goods on Cesar Chavez by reducing private vehicle traffic on the street, which would reduce air pollution and the risk of injury and "support the health of our re-emerging industrial sector in Southeast San Francisco."

"We don't want the trucks idling. I think that's an agreement for all of us. Therefore, we need to make sure that the essential vehicles on this street can move," said da Silva.

Albert, the SFMTA official, called the latest designs breakthroughs, and said he hopes the August 24 meeting can move beyond "pitting trucks against buses against bikes against pedestrians."

"It gives us the opportunity to pilot a much better environment," Albert said. "If it works really well, if we manage the congestion, we provide the bikes their protected path, then we can come back with confidence and say this works for the community, everybody likes this better, let's go back and find the capital funding to make the pedestrian improvements substantial."

The community meeting on Eastern Cesar Chavez will be held Wednesday, August 24th from 6-8 p.m. in the community room of the Good Samaritan Family Resource Center at 1294 Potrero Avenue. Download the flyer here [pdf].

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