Mission’s People-Friendly Block on Bartlett Faces Fire Code, Parking Hurdles

An initial conceptual rendering of the redesigned block of Bartlett, between 21st and 22nd Streets, during the weekly farmer's market. Unlike the vision depicted here, planners said the project will include curbs. Image: ##http://missioncommunitymarket.org/mercado-plaza/##Mission Community Market##

One day each week, the block of Bartlett Street between 21st and 22nd Streets bustles for a few hours when it’s transformed into the Mission Community Market. On all the other days, however, it mostly serves as a parking lot.

The Planning Department and organizers from the Community Market held a packed public meeting yesterday to start off the design process for the Mercado Plaza project, which would include greenery and physical traffic calming improvements to make the block a more inviting place to be at all hours.

“The idea is to transform an overly wide street into a street with much more amenities for public space where kids can play, families can get together, and bringing more culture to the street,” said Ilaria Salvadori of the Planning Department’s City Design Group.

“It’s hard to overstate the need for that kind of public space, especially in the Mission,” said ‘Deep Jawa, a neighbor who is known for building a parklet on the curb space in front of his home. “If you look at Dolores Park, you can see how it has become the Mission’s congregation space. The idea of building a new public gathering space is incredibly exciting.”

Narrowing the wide roadway on the one-way street is key to the expansion of public space and the traffic calming effect planners hope to achieve. Under the block’s redesign, planners propose narrowing the existing traffic lane to 14 feet wide and, where car parking is retained, a 7-foot-wide parking lane.

But changes to road widths must be cleared by the Fire Department, which generally follows state standards that require a 20-foot wide unobstructed roadway for fire truck access. However, the department approves projects on a case-by-case basis, said Patrick Siegman, a principal at the transportation planning firm Nelson/Nygaard.

With a new package of proposed legislation, Supervisor Scott Wiener hopes to cut through some of the bureaucratic red tape that hinders pedestrian safety improvements. That includes the 20-foot fire code standard, which Wiener said doesn’t always make sense in a dense city. His legislation, which goes up for initial committee approval on Monday, would help clarify what the city considers an obstruction, since features like curbs can usually be mounted by a fire truck, he said.

“The fire code can at times be one-size-fits-all, and tends to be fairly suburban in nature, in terms of wider streets and being car-focused,” he said. “We have a lot of streets that are heck of a lot narrower than 20 feet, and we also have a lot of streets that could really benefit from sidewalk widenings.”

Mission Community Market organizer Jeremy Shaw on the block of Bartlett ##http://sf.streetsblog.org/2010/06/09/mission-community-market-hopes-to-revitalize-dormant-street/##before the weekly market launched in 2010##. Photo: Matthew Roth

Siegman, who was consulted in drafting Wiener’s legislation, said the state-adopted fire codes are crafted by the International Code Council, a Texas-based nonprofit. The regulations do allow for local municipalities to determine what counts as unobstructed roadway, and they don’t apply retroactively to streets that are narrower than 20 feet, he said. Requests for comment from SF Fire Marshal Thomas Harvey weren’t returned.

If the proposed Bartlett project doesn’t get the Fire Department’s approval, Salvadori said planners may also have to remove more parking from the block. With roughly 27 of the block’s 40 parking spaces already proposed to be removed, it remains unclear how taking out more would fly with residents.

At yesterday’s community meeting, only one woman complained about losing parking, arguing that some elderly residents need their cars. She identified herself as a member of the Liberty Hill Neighborhood Association, which opposed the nearby condo project at 1050 Valencia Street last September because it didn’t include any parking. A couple of folks wearing “Save Polk St.” T-shirts were also spotted at the meeting.

But the woman’s complaints didn’t seem to resonate with many attendees, who applauded when a man pointed out that the 350-space parking garage at Bartlett and 21st is underused. Some attendees called for removing more parking.

“It’s just the standard smoke and mirrors from the parking-at-all-costs crowd, and I’m tired of it,” said Jawa, who is a member of LHNA.

“I understand that some people need access to cars,” he said. “The issue is balance. But no one ever talks about the fundamental balance of our society, which is that we have spent the last hundred years building out our infrastructure for cars. We give away parking spaces, practically.”

“It’s not about taking away your stuff, it’s about: does this space serve the public as well as it can? Parking a car in a space, as opposed to having community space, is not a fair trade-off.”

The project will be funded by $1.6 million in Prop B bond funds and the developers of the nearby New Mission Theatre project. Construction is expected to begin in mid-2014.

An initial conceptual proposal from the Planning Department. Click to enlarge.
  • triple0

    I wish someone could explain how parked cars don’t count as an obstruction for the Fire Department. If my house is burning down, how will that SUV be less of a hazard than a Mercado?

  • Apologies if it was unclear, but as I understand it, the retained parked cars are the obstruction in question, and the mercado isn’t. A 14-foot roadway bounded by parked cars would be considered obstructed, but a 14-foot roadway without parked cars (bounded only by mountable curb) would not be. So if SFFD says no to the former arrangment, the only other options are to cut out the rest of the parking or forego the sidewalk widening.

  • Another clarification from Scott Wiener’s office: “Under our ordinance, anything taller than 6″ would be an obstruction. A parked car, pole, tree would be an obstruction, a mountable bulbout or concrete sidewalk would not.”

  • Once again we find people who have refused to participate in the residential parking permit program complaining about loss of parking when they won’t take the simplest of steps to improve parking availability through a nominal yearly fee. It was true with Fell/Oak Street, with NE Mission, and with lower Polk. The neighborhood blocks of LIberty Street between Dolores and Valencia have, quite intentionally, refused to be part of any surrounding RPP and as such have created a tight little donut hole of free parking that is constantly choked with people in cars jockeying to park there. (I’m surprised any of the residents drive at all since it must be nearly possible to park when they return home.) Hence their constant battle against reduced parking supply (or housing without parking) in adjoining areas for fear there will be even more parking pressure on their blocks.

    Of course this is a ridiculous, failing strategy. Putting a price on parking to discourage people from storing little-used cars on the street and discouraging out-of-neighborhood freeloaders would do far more for them. That they would argue against activating a community space near them that will decrease crime and improve surrounding property values is doubly insane.

    Get a clue, folks. Being a non-RPP neighbohood surrounded by RPP ones INDUCES ALL SORTS OF EXTRA PARKING DEMAND IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD. Anyone who lives on a non-RPP block in San Francisco should basically be banned from whining about parking supply whatsoever.

  • Karen – “A couple of folks wearing “Save Polk Street” T-shirts were also spotted at the meeting.”

    This has evolved beyond hyper-local issues. Anyone with a hyper-local beef about parking is now running around town protesting every project because of the fear (perhaps not unfounded) that any project that removes parking will set a precedent that will impact their own locale.

    I can’t necessarily blame them, I do the same thing. The difference being that I probably ride down that street that merits the safety improvement, the Save Polk Street folks probably never heard of Bartlett Street until last week.

  • mikesonn

    I’m sure ENUF was there as well.

  • Anonymous

    I was at the meeting, and here is what happened: A presentation was given, and then we were asked to dispense with chairs and talk to representatives at their respective informative posters. One elderly woman requested that she get to ask her question in front of everyone, rather than speaking directly with the SFMTA representative more privately as suggested. People in the audience interrupted her, mocked her, and were generally very rude. I was quiet embarrassed and ashamed to be a member of the no-parking contingent at this meeting. It seems that the no-parking contingent was much more represented and vocal than the one woman wanting to keep the parking.

    I still think that the ‘best case scenario’ includes retaining at least 10 of the diagonal spaces near 21st St, even though most of the attendees at this meeting said “Take them all out!” This was the first meeting I had been to regarding this project, so I’m not sure what attendance looked like at previous ones.

  • Unless, of course, they had tried to participate in a RPP but a local business claimed hardship and the modified RPP doesn’t cover the area directly outside their front door so they are excluded.

  • These blocks of LIberty Street are entirely residential.

  • Dr. Ace, I’m very sorry that people were rude at the meeting. There is no excuse for such behavior whether one is pro or anti-parking. However, the SFMTA has created this horrible dynamic by allowing such behavior to dictate their policies. When project planning is determined not by greatest good (or rationality of any kind) but by whichever side brings the rudest, most obnoxious, belligerent force to bear, then that is what people will do. I especially blame Reiskin backing down (“going back to the drawing board”) on Polk Street after being intimidated by such behavior at a “community” meeting. Just as in the case with Bevan Dufty and the Noe Street plaza, he rewarded and encouraged these tactics and made them the de facto way to kill a project in this city.

    What is the point of these community meetings? If they are just to inform, then that should be stated up front. But then the SFMTA should never delay, change or kill projects based on who shows up or how much they yell. They certainly should not gauge community support of a project by attendance at these meetings (which they clearly do.) If a large yelling crowd gets the SFMTA to do what you want, (if, in fact, yelling is the only way to get the SFMTA to do what you want, and reasoned discourse falls on deaf ears) then people will yell.

    Honestly, it’s like dealing with children. If you reward tantrums, kids have tantrums. It should hardly come as a surprise.

  • biking in SF

    Your points and analogy make sense. How do you suggest one works with the public then? As far as I can tell, everyone that has a preferred travel mode in mind – except maybe transit riders, for some reason – throws a tantrum when they don’t get everything they want. And that’s what the politicos hear – the loudest voices.,

  • mission resident

    Your first comment made wonderful sense. This one is, at best, misinformed. Admittedly I don’t know much about the LH people, but as far as RPP, you can’t just ask for it and get it. You need to be deemed worthy by the all-knowing and all-powerful SFMTA. Last year they issued a “clarification” of their parking management policies (actually new policies to justify all the parking meters they want to put everywhere) in which they declared RPP an inappropriate tool for any neighborhood that is not low-density and residential (basically, Pacific Heights). Here in the NE Mission I’d love to have RPP – great for the residents, great for eliminating commuter parking. But no, SFTMA wants to put in 25 cents/hour meters (sending a message to the commuters: come on down and park here!).

    It is unfortunate that being loud and rude is the only tactic that seems to have any effect with some agencies. Being logical, well-reasoned and rational certainly does not work.

  • Dear San Francisco Citizen,

    We at the SFMTA would like to clarify both our community input process and the guiding principles that we apply whenever we undertake city planning.

    The SFMTA is strongly interested in what the citizens of San Francisco think of the job we’re doing and the projects we propose. We want you to be well informed, and we want your feedback! However, we also don’t want to fan the flames of uncivil public discourse. So we will communicate to you about proposed future projects in three ways: 1) websites with all relevant proposal information (including diagrams and mock ups) and an ever-expanding FAQ based on your questions, 2) public meetings in the vicinity of the project with exactly the same material (the meetings will be informational only, no public discussion) and 3) postcards to every household within a mile of the project location that gives both the website and the public meeting where more information about the project can be found.

    We will receive questions, critiques, and other feedback from you in these ways: 1) leave a comment on our project website, 2) send us an email, 3) call us and leave a voice message, or 4) send us a letter. Whether you love or hate the project, we promise we will read/consider every word you communicate to us, and we will even collate all comments by supervisory district and send them onto your city supervisor so he/she knows the sentiments of his/her constituency. However, your comments must include a name, address and, in the case of the web comment, a valid email address. We will never publish your name with your comment, but we need to make sure you’re an actual resident since folks living in Modesto or Pacifica or Pittsburgh should probably not be the ones to determine how San Francisco can best meet the needs of its citizens.

    Now, as to guiding principles. It is our job at the SFMTA to do what is best for the common good–to determine what kind of streets, transportation and neighborhoods will best allow the citizens of San Francisco to be healthy, happy and prosper. To tell the truth, figuring this out is not always an easy task. We have to consider the technical, the statistical, the economic, the mechanical, the topographical, the geological, the aesthetic, and the qualitative, mix them all up together, and come up with something that works. We will inevitably have both successes and failures but we strive for constant improvement, as well as creativity, competence and true caring about the lives of our citizens. In addition, we have to think about not only what works for today, but also what will work best 3, 5 and 10 years from now since often our projects take that long to manifest and are expected to last even longer.

    What we do know is that the city is constantly changing and is sure to change some more. What we do know is that if humankind continues to burn fossil fuels the very future of life on our planet is endangered. We also know for certain that tens of thousands of people are moving to San Francisco, especially the NE quadrant, in the next two years, and that many more thousands are likely to move here over the ten years after that. Transportation patterns that have worked up to now in San Francisco simply won’t work in the future. Because they require so much space, private automobiles are especially unsuited to densely populated cities, not to mention the damage they inflict on human health, the environment and our climate.

    If you live in the NE quadrant and own or drive a car, you are likely to see changes over the next three years that will make car driving less convenient and other modes of transportation more convenient. It is likely this will seriously annoy you, if not downright infuriate you. You may even feel San Francisco is not the place for you anymore. We are sorry in advance, but anyone who pretends we can do otherwise–either a pandering politician or your indignant neighbor–is either kidding themselves or trying to con you. Though we really do want to hear your suggestions and feedback, there may be times when what is best for the greater good of San Francisco as a whole is not the same as what is most convenient for you personally. So tell us what works for you, what you think is smart, what you think is dumb, what tweak you might make to a design, what we are completely overlooking. You will help us build better, build stronger, build wiser. But we can’t not change.

    With love,

    The SFMTA

  • mission resident

    Cute. But this ignores the fact that SFMTA’s biggest problem and motivating factor right now is revenue. They don’t have enough and desperately need more. The CFO has made this clear. Thus the push to deploy as many meters as quickly as possible, jack up fees and fines, hire more parking control officers, etc. … It’s all to feed the beast. The rest is for show. Even if they did everything in your nice little letter, it’d still be putting lipstick on a pig.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe for the CFO that’s the case, because it’s his job, but SFMTA is public and its motivations are not inherently or currently financial nor should they be.

  • Biking in SF asked me how the SFMTA should interact with the public. I replied. The SFMTA actually spends quite a bit of money right now holding endless community meetings that resolve nothing and create antagonism. My proposal would actually be cheaper. Neither approach would create universal consensus and make everyone happy, but since that’s basically impossible, it’s not clear why they should try.

    Already 40% of Mission households don’t own cars. More people are moving into the Mission. Parking lots and parking spots are being replaced by housing, parks or parklets (or a new market!). In five years there won’t be a surface parking lot, gas station, or any one or two story buildings within a half mile of either Mission BART station. They will all be snapped up and turned into four or five story condos, most with ground floor retail.

    Whatever the SFMTA does, I would expect car ownership in the Mission to get significantly more expensive over the next three years and the number of non-car owning households to soar. But the Mission will also become a cleaner, quieter, safer, greener, more family-friendly place to live. Some will welcome this; some will despise it. I don’t think there’s any stopping it. Energy issues alone are going to push density and livable urban centers. The far-flung suburbs is where the decay will happen the next two decades at least.

  • Anonymous

    Frankly, I don’t think anyone is handling the situation correctly. I don’t think that community meetings should be the only considered input on the project (I hadn’t heard about any meetings until this one). I don’t think that woman should have gotten up in front of the crowd to voice her grievance when there was clearly a forum for her to do so directly with the supervisor. I think the reason they didn’t open it up to public forum was precisely to avoid a shouting match. And I don’t think the crowd should have berated her for her concern; some obvious facts would suffice.

    But it’s really not a matter of “who shouts the loudest.” As I mentioned, in this meeting, the loudest shout was “Get rid of ALL of the parking!” and that isn’t even being considered as an option. The option is weather to include the parallel parking in addition to the diagonal spots, and they will include more if they get the clearance from the fire department.

  • Brian


    I’d agree that SFMTA (and the city in general) should not be inlfuenced because of people making noise at a meeting.

    Although it’s the Polk St. folks who are making the noise in this case, most city meetings that I have attended, it’s been the “activists” and “progessives” making all the noise. Are you sure you are equally unfazed on those occasions?

    In fact, my main beef with these meetings, and the endless procession of speakers wanting their “two minutes of mediocrity” is that normal people don’t show up at meetings because they are busy. But “activists” seem to have unlimited time to pursue their agenda’s, and therefore get their way more often.

    How do you do out-reach to the average person who doesn’t follow all this stuff but then wakes up one day to find his parking gone or a meter outside his home? It happens.

  • I have now had occasion to go seven different SFMTA board meetings or community input meetings. I found them tedious, annoying and almost a complete waste of my time. Almost. If I hadn’t gone and the issue I cared about fallen through because not enough interest was shown, I would’ve kicked myself. So I go. And yes, it’s totally unfair to folks who have to work or feed their kids dinner or do any number of tasks that have a lot higher daily priority than waiting an hour to speak two minutes at a SFMTA meeting. I think the idea is people will be happier with whatever outcome if they’ve had a chance to expression their opinion. To vent. I think this perception is entirely misguided. They are no happier after venting if the decision is not what they want. In fact, they may be even more pissed. I don’t exactly know how to make people happy about a situation that doesn’t go their way, but our current system isn’t it.

    I’ve made suggestions below (in response to biking in SF) of how the SFMTA could go about doing outreach and gaining feedback in a manner more efficient and less time consuming on everyone’s part, as well as less likely to end up in shouting wars. It too will not result in universal happiness. And it too might still result in you waking up one day to find your on street parking spot gone.

    I don’t envy the SFMTA. Over the next couple years a lot of cars and parking are necessarily going to disappear in the NE part of the city, kind of like an insane game of urban musical chairs. And a lot of people are going to be really, really, really pissed. Especially those who didn’t realize the game was going on at all.

  • mission resident

    SFMTA is pushing for increased revenue generation. This is documented. Thus the SFPark experiment, whose primary purpose is financial, Paul Rose’s spinning notwithstanding.

    That’s why I’m cynical of Karen Lynn Allen’s plan for community input. It’s a nice one, but it simply does not matter what format SFMTA uses or does not use to solicit community input. It will say what it needs to say to avoid things like lawsuits, but in the end it’s all about money.

  • Chim

    Reading all the pro-SFMTA agenda posts here, I can’t help but get the feeling you feel that residents in the Mission or other dense neighborhoods don’t have a right to own a car. All of a sudden, the right to petition for RPP as other wealthier neighborhoods in the city have done, is not a good idea, there needs to be a master plan. When SFMTA attempted to slip by their master plan, which was essentially all $mart Meters with no community input, residents who were outraged are characterized as rude and vocal. But residents should not become suspicious, it was all an honest mistake. When residents simply demand what all along has been the practice for residents in other neighborhoods, to petition block by block, SFMTA (and shills) smear residents by saying they’re a bunch of freeloaders that want free parking. The resident, who sometimes may need to use his/her car for work, but sometimes may use public transit, should have to feed a meter all day and parking tickets the second they slip up, that’s the only solution that does not make them a freeloader. Somehow, whether a space occupied by a parked car is 2-hour parking restricted by RPP or restricted by a parking meter, this is somehow going to magically fix Muni or help bicyclists. There’s a lot of magical thinking involved here, the magic bullet is $mart Meters.

    If Residential Permit Parking offends you all so much on principle, you should demand it be rescinded in all neighborhoods and $mart Meters installed everywhere. Isn’t that the wave of the future?

    Why is RPP such a dirty word? Why do you feel that residents of poorer neighborhoods (by San Francisco standards), many who are renters, should not have a right to RPP? Why is the petition process, where over 50% of the households and businesses are in favor of RPP, suddenly undemocratic? Why should we trust the bureaucrats of SFMTA to make the best decisions for our neighborhoods? Do they not have a financial interest in mischaracterizing whether a street is more commercial than residential? Why attack RPP so vigorously, which up to now, has been the city’s policy for residents who go through the process? Is RPP really so incompatible with transit first? Meters will ultimately encourage more people to drive for shorter trips, is that transit first compatible? Don’t be a shill for meters, a resident with a car may often be a pedestrian, take public transit or be a bicyclist.

  • According to the SF Guardian’s, “Planning for Displacement”, ABAG anticipates around 2/3rds of the citizens currently living in SF will have to leave “the area” to make room for the all new high tech millionaires moving into to the new infill projects they claim will make the air cleaner and more bicycle friendly. For whom? When should “displaced” speak up and demand a voice? Today they want you to give up your parking space, next it will be your car, and then they will evict you or foreclose so they can take your home. When should we start complaining?

  • Please, please we are all so interested in finding out how exactly reduction of parking has anything to do with being priced out of San Francisco. We need a good laugh.

  • Anonymous

    I think we all worry, at some point in our lives, about being displaced by skyrocketing rents. If you have any proof of correlation between vulnerability to displacement and the availability of free automobile parking, then bring it.

  • biking in SF

    Pretty good! I appreciate the time that went into the thoughtful response. I’d make one key change though, that the SFMTA sign off with “Hugs and Kisses” instead.

  • mikesonn

    “This is documented”*

    *citation needed.

    Also, the new adjustable rate meters, well over half either got cheaper or didn’t change price.

  • mikesonn

    If anything, all that free parking is taking up space for more housing that may give some price relief. She’s just making this harder on herself.

  • mikesonn

    Um, what?

  • Anonymous

    It looks to me like RPP is generally supported in these comments, I’m not sure who you’re arguing with.

    Secondly: in response to “I can’t help but get the feeling you feel that residents in the Mission or other dense neighborhoods don’t have a right to own a car.” THEY DON’T. Nobody has a right to own a car. Not one person. (You may have heard the expression “driving is a privilege, not a right.”)


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