Commentary: The Eds Respond to Frustration With Fell/Oak Bikeway Delay

Note: The discussion on the Fell and Oak bikeways begins at about 11:05.

Mayor Ed Lee and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin (a.k.a. “the Eds”) faced questions about the city’s extensive delivery time on the Fell and Oak bikeway project at Google’s recent “Fireside Chat” forum. A questioner asked why the project is coming in 2013 rather than this year (though, as of last week, staff has moved the timeline up a few months to next winter).

Reiskin repeated the SFMTA’s assertion that it’s not a “delay” at all, and claimed that complaints about losing car parking are important enough to prolong safe bicycle access for the public. As for the mayor, he said he would “bring leadership” to the project and mentioned that he’d rode on the route in a caravan of public officials before pointing to progress on the long-awaited JFK Drive Bikeway (which, as of last weekend, still hadn’t started construction despite promises of starting in January).

Technically, the SFMTA is correct that Fell and Oak’s official delivery date was originally set for the fall of 2013 in project funding documents [PDF] approved last summer. But its public relations staff hadn’t openly announced that fact at public meetings or elsewhere, and expectations were still mostly set on this year based on the originally proposed date for a trial in June 2012, which Mayor Lee told Streetsblog a year ago he wanted to implement “quickly.”

When staff told Streetsblog recently that implementation would wait until some time in 2013, it was, by and large, news to most people who’ve been following the project. The main reason for the delay (what else to call it — a “timeline change”?) cited by the SFMTA is its decision to abandon what would have been an efficiently-delivered trial project in order to create a more permanent project that tries to appease pushback from car owners over 80 parking spots (despite the roughly 120 overnight paid spaces opened at an adjacent lot last May).

“We had been talking about trying to pilot something sooner, but we have run into a pretty significant amount of opposition in the directly impacted neighborhood… and we don’t want to steamroll over folks,” said Reiskin. “We’re taking the time to try to find ways in which we can mitigate the parking loss.”

Good public process and outreach are key in turning out the best project possible. But that’s not the same as letting the terms of public safety improvements be dictated by those who want to keep on receiving precious public space to store their private automobiles for free — a status quo bias which has “steamrolled” nearly everything else on the city’s streets for most of the past century.

H/T Streetsblog commenter Mike Sonn for the video.

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