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Potrero Ave. Safety Redesign Limps Toward the Finish Line

A DPW rendering of option 1 for Potrero between 22nd and 24th Streets, which appeared to be most favored by attendees.

Updated 11/14, 2:34 p.m. with response from Supervisor David Campos below.

Design options for the embattled plan to improve safety Potrero Avenue have come down to the two blocks between 22nd and 24th Streets in front of SF General Hospital.

According to a vote via stickers placed on a board, most attendees at a public meeting last week seemed to favor Option 1, with a landscaped median and widened sidewalk -- not the preservation of car parking that project opponents want.

Option 1 would retain the most important expansion of pedestrian space, but it's still half the size of the four-block sidewalk expansion the city originally sought before the parking-obsessed opponents exerted their will. The rest of the project area, which covers Potrero between 17th and 25th Streets, is now set to receive a landscaped median and buffered bike lanes, a longer transit lane than the one that exists (moved from the northbound side to southbound), and no sidewalk expansions, instead retaining parking and traffic lanes for cars.

"I know people that work here that have been injured just coming to work, and I'm concerned that we need to do more to protect people," said Sasha Cuttler, a nurse at SF General who has helped organize support among hospital workers for bolder safety improvements on Potrero. "As someone concerned with public health, I'm concerned about the fact that there's a disproportionate impact on San Francisco, and specifically on the poor, densely-populated parts like the Mission."

For the blocks between 22nd and 24th, city planners have left it up to the public to vote for one of three choices: Options 1, 2, and 3. Options 1 and 2 would both include a wider east sidewalk, with a fraction of the road space allocated to either a planted center median (Option 1) or a two-foot buffer for the bike lanes (Option 2). Option 3 would forego sidewalk widening to preserve 26 car parking spaces and include a bike lane buffer, but no planted median. Another meeting on the project will be held on November 21 where the public can weigh in.

City planners have solidified the plan for the rest of Potrero between 17th and 25th. It calls for the landscaped center median, two-foot bike lane buffers, and a colored transit-only lane southbound from 18th to 24th Streets. Aside from some expansions at street corners and bus stops, sidewalk widenings on those blocks are now off the table to preserve car parking. Originally, Potrero's eastern sidewalk was in line for a four-block widening instead of two blocks.

"We were willing to make the trade-offs because we still got widening in strategic locations where we needed it the most," said Cristina Calderón Olea, project manager for the Department of Public Works. "This bus stop is always overflowing," she said, pointing to an illustration of the plan for a bus bulb on the west side of Potrero at 24th, which would only require the removal of one parking space.

From top to bottom: Options 1, 2, and 3 for Potrero between 22nd and 24th. Image: DPW
From top to bottom: Options 1, 2, and 3 for Potrero between 22nd and 24th. Image: DPW
From top to bottom: Options 1, 2, and 3 for Potrero between 22nd and 24th. Image: DPW
The plan for Potrero between 24th and 25th Streets. Image: DPW
The plan for Potrero between 24th and 25th Streets. Image: DPW

Nearly every corner along this stretch of Potrero would get a bulb-out under any option, except where the curb space is needed for bus stops. At T-intersections, most sidewalks at the top of the "T" would be extended from crosswalk to crosswalk (see above).

Between 26 and 52 parking spaces on Potrero would be removed for the safety improvements, depending on the design option chosen. But  that count doesn't include the addition of 10 to 20 spaces that could be added on parallel blocks of San Bruno Avenue and Utah Streets, according to planners.

The SFMTA and DPW had originally proposed safety upgrades that would require the removal of as many as 100 parking spaces, but back-pedaled after opposition from neighboring residents and merchants.

Supervisors David Campos and Malia Cohen, whose districts share a border along Potrero, have not publicly taken a stance on the project's design options. However, both have recently criticized development projects they think don't include enough private car parking, as well as the SFMTA's efforts to manage parking demand by installing meters.

When asked whether pedestrian safety measures should be the top priority on Potrero, or if planners are right to downsize them in favor of parking, Cohen wrote in an email:

The improvements to Potrero Avenue is a large project with lots of considerations to account for. In San Francisco we are proud to have a robust community process but it is my job as Supervisor to ensure that our citizens safety is the top concern. So of course pedestrian and bicyclists safety is absolutely a priority. I want to be sure that we make responsible improvements to Potrero so we do not have any more tragedies like we did on October 26th [when Hang Chen Li was killed by a driver at 16th and Potrero].

As a city we want to make sure our streets are safe for people who drive, walk, and ride them. To do this all residents need to be involved. This is why I asked DPW and SFMTA to hold additional community meetings so that all affected residents have an opportunity to understand the improvements and all of the concerns involved.

Campos’ office did not respond to the same request for comment.

Update: At a community meeting, we asked Campos for his thoughts on the proposal. Here's what he had to say:

At the end of the day, I want to support an outcome that's going to ensure the safety of everyone, including pedestrians and bicyclists. I do support the widening of the sidewalks -- I think from an ADA perspective, it makes a lot of sense. I want an outcome that will maximize public safety. I think that was has been proposed strikes that balance. I appreciate the way they've approached it.

When asked whether reducing sidewalk expansions in favor of preserving parking meets the goal of "maximizing public safety," Campos said:

I don't know that anything is perfect, but I think it's a balanced approach that takes into account the various concerns. I think there has to be give and take all around, and that we've had so many pedestrian and bicycle casualties that it's make sure the streets are safe, and also take into account the needs of drivers, and I think that's been done here.

Cuttler, the nurse, said he's been organizing for a safer Potrero since 2003, when four-year-old Elizabeth Dominguez was killed by a city truck driver who ran a red light, hit a car, and jumped the curb at Potrero and 24th.

"People assume that people come to the hospital because of diseases, when in fact one of the most common reasons to come into the emergency room is because somebody was injured in a traffic collision with a car," said Cuttler. "It's incredibly common."

Another open house community meeting on the Potrero project will be held on November 21 at the Brava Theater, 2781 24th Street, from 6 to 8 p.m. See the full design illustrations at the DPW website.

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