DPW, SFMTA Finally Streamlining Construction of Safer Intersections

Poor coordination between city agencies has led to many a missed opportunity to build pedestrian safety measures when crews are already digging into a street corner for maintenance purposes. With the Department of Public Works ramping up its street re-paving work thanks to the Prop B Street Improvement Bond and upgrading many corner curb ramps to meet ADA standards, the agency says it’s finally starting to coordinate with the SFMTA to efficiently incorporate life-saving sidewalk extensions into its plans.

DPW crews rebuilding a sidewalk corner to install a curb ramp in the Excelsior. DPW and SFMTA say they’re starting to incorporate sidewalk bulb-outs into such projects. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfdpw/4322921167/##SFDPW/Flickr##

“A process has been spearheaded by the MTA and Public Works to identify key locations where bulb-outs are either necessary or would be the best improvement,” John Thomas, DPW’s project manager for the street re-paving program, told a Board of Supervisors committee yesterday.

Safe streets advocates have for years criticized the lack of such coordination when crews dig into a street corner where a bulb-out could improve pedestrian visibility, shorten crossing distances, and cause drivers to make turns more carefully. Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich noted that DPW recently installed ADA-compliant curb ramps along dangerous Guerrero Street in the Mission, as well as the deadly intersection of Valencia Street and Duboce Avenue one block away, but didn’t extend any of the sidewalks.

“They demolished and rebuilt each street corner on Guerrero, but didn’t bulb out the curbs, even though they rebuilt the sidewalks, gutters, and catchbasins,” said Radulovich. “Yes, it would have cost more to provide some basic pedestrian safety improvements, but not much more. And now, because of the city’s five-year rule, DPW has made it even harder to improve pedestrian safety on this dangerous street.”

“The curb ramp program could’ve been a good ped safety program as well,” he said.

The five-year rule, according to Radulovich, is the city’s policy of not doing major street work on the same spot for five years unless it’s an emergency. While that rule seems to be adhered to for the most part, the same can’t be said of policies mandating that safety improvements like bulb-outs be coordinated with other street work were called for in the 2005 Complete Streets Ordinance and the 2010 Better Streets Plan.

To nudge city agencies toward actually implementing those coordination efforts, Supervisor Scott Wiener pushed through a package of legislation last year aimed at streamlining pedestrian safety improvements like bulb-outs, including the creation of an interagency Street Design Review Committee. Wiener pressed DPW and SFMTA staffers on the bulb-out issue at a hearing he called to review the city’s street construction practices, held at yesterday’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee meeting.

“There have been problematic intersections that we’ve wanted to bulb out for a while, that were taken apart and put back together again with curb ramps with the exact same geometry,” said Wiener.

According to Wiener and Thomas of DPW, the “spark” that finally kickstarted DPW and SFMTA’s coordination efforts was a particularly major wasted opportunity where curb ramps were added at the massive intersection of Market, Sanchez, and 15th Streets. Apparently, it was such a shame that the agencies actually decided to act.

As DPW continues to fill its massive re-paving backlog using the $248 million Prop B streets bond, Thomas said the agency is looking to incorporate data collected as part of the city’s WalkFirst program, which identifies the most dangerous spots where pedestrian safety fixes are needed most.

  • Chris J.

    “They demolished and rebuilt each street corner on Guerrero, but didn’t bulb out the curbs, even though they rebuilt the sidewalks, gutters, and catchbasins,”

    They also took out the only bike rack in front of the corner market at 26th and Guerrero and didn’t put it back.

  • Chris J.

    Here is a “before” picture of what I’m talking about (courtesy of Google street view). Also note the pedestrians in the picture. 🙂

  • Easy

    How about shrinking the turn radii at the same time, so that cars turn slower?

  • Ken

    Guerrero and 26th is a mess at the moment. I might not understand what a “bulb out” is, but they sure did *something* on the north west corner of that intersection, such that if you’re turning from southbound Guerrero onto westbound 26 you have to driver over almost a speed-bump sized hump in the road. If you don’t, you’re often unable to turn due to eastbound traffic on 26th. Very strange… I was assuming it was something they’d resolve once all the street repair is finished.

  • Hi Chris. Thanks for commenting on the missing bike rack. This was previously reported to the SFMTA and they will replace the rack, likely to be placed on the 26th St side since there’s more room than on the Guerrero St side.

    Feel free to call 311 or email sustainable.streets@sfmta.com to report any missing or damaged racks, or to request new racks at any SF location. See http://www.sfmta.com/bikeparking for more information.

  • Pontifikate

    I’d like to see more one-way streets and more “no right on red” signs in the city. In addition, I’d like to see more/better street lighting

    Lots can be done without digging up our streets again.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Isn’t that what a bulb-out accomplishes?

  • Chris J.

    There are no bulb-outs there. But yeah, it’s really strange what they did there.

    Here’s a picture of that corner for others to see. The new concrete slab in the road is raised really high on the road side — what seems to be at least 6 inches or so above the rest of the road. You can see from the picture that getting up onto that concrete from the road even to approach the yellow ramp is probably much more of an issue for wheelchairs than going up the ramp itself. Unless they’re going to repave the road to be a foot higher or so than it is now, I don’t get why they did that.

  • Chris J.

    Thanks for the info and response, Ryan. The other side is a bit squeezed too with the benches and newspaper racks and utility box, but we’ll see where they put it!

  • Ken

    I’ll bet you that concrete’s pitched up to meet some storm drain related slope requirement. Given all the ongoing work on Guerrero, it wouldn’t surprise me if they do resurface and bring the roadway level up to that concrete edge.

  • sonotimo

    No turn on red should be a city-wide policy. I believe, though, that it would require state approval. Definitely worth pushing Sacramento to allow this for municipalities if it, in fact, is a CVC or other state-wide policy. Regarding one way streets: while two-way may improve turning conditions, presumably with benefit to pedestrians, don’t these streets serve to increase traffic flow and, usually, speed? What are the pros/cons of one- and two-way configurations?

  • When Sup. Wiener’s legislation for streamlining came before us at PSAC (Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee) last year, I was pleased we endorsed it. Requirements for interdepartmental coordination and such might seem less interesting than establishing new slogans (“Be Nice, Look Twice”…. sigh), but I think process improvements are way more crucial in the long run. Looking forward to more in the future!


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