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Irving Transit Bulb-Outs Downsized to Appease SFFD, Parking Complainers

6:41 PM PDT on March 12, 2014

Transit bulbs were reduced to less than half the size in the Ninth and Irving area, compared to the original proposals (shown in the inset).

Sidewalk widenings on Irving Street in the Inner Sunset, proposed by the SFMTA to make it safer and easier for tens of thousands of commuters to board the N-Judah, have been cut down in size to a fraction of the original proposals due to neighborhood complaints about losing car parking and protests from the SF Fire Department.

The plans are scheduled for preliminary approval at an SFMTA engineering on Friday at 10 a.m. The SFMTA Board of Directors must approve the plans at a later meeting.

The changes originally proposed as part of the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project would have widened sidewalks along almost the entire south side of Irving between Eighth and Ninth Avenues [PDF], both sides of Irving between Fifth and Sixth Avenues [PDF], and the west side of Ninth between Irving and Judah Street. These long bulb-outs would have served full two-car trains at new stop locations planned for the N-Judah, Muni's busiest line, while providing more breathing room on a busy pedestrian street.

The plan now calls for transit bulbs less than half that size (see all of the proposals here).

"It's disappointing to consistently see projects that work to reclaim public space as shared space for everyone to enjoy, and that are in our existing plans and guidelines get watered down," said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. "Whether it's Irving Street, Potrero, Polk, or Columbus, the time is ripe for the transportation community to show our opposition to mediocrity."

The transit bulbs on Ninth Avenue and on Irving between Eight and Ninth were shortened to preserve car parking for merchants and neighbors who protested the removal of, at most, 30 spaces, according to SFMTA staff. The new plans remove just 13 parking spaces, including one for a bike corral.

Surveys, however, showed that transit bulbs accommodating two-car trains were favored by the greatest number of respondents. An on-street survey also found that the vast majority of people in the Ninth and Irving commercial district arrive without a car, a finding consistent with those in other neighborhoods around the city.

Only 22 percent of people in the area arrived by car, while 50 percent walked, 21 percent took Muni, and 5 percent came by bike, according to a field survey of 105 respondents conducted last fall by the City Controller's Office [PDF]. Those who arrived by car visited the least often -- a plurality of them come "less than once the week." In comparison, a plurality of people who don't drive to the area said they come "every day" or "about five times a week." Those who walked reported spending the greatest amount on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile, a survey about the N-Judah TEP plans [PDF] -- conducted at a public meeting and online -- found that most people favored the full length transit bulbs to the smaller ones. Sixty percent said they "somewhat" or "strongly" liked full-length bulbs, with 48 percent "strongly" liking them.

Survey results on transportation modes from the City Controller's Office were consistent with those in other neighborhoods.
Results from an SFMTA survey conducted at a community meeting and posted online.
The new proposal for Irving between Fifth and Sixth (left), compared to the original (right). Click to enlarge.

On Irving between Fifth and Sixth, 39 percent also "strongly liked" the full-length bulbs while only 16 percent strongly liked the half-length bulbs. But those bulbs were shortened because of the SFFD, which is notorious for watering down plans for sidewalk extensions, claiming they would hinder emergency vehicle access. SFFD spokesperson Mindy Talmadge said those were the only bulb-outs in the plans that the department protested, because the configuration would "require fire apparatus to conduct all emergency operations from vehicles staged directly under the high tension street car transit wires, creating a potentially hazardous condition for responders."

The "acceptable compromise" was to "shorten the length of the transit bulbs," Talmadge added. Mountable curbs were "discouraged for obvious pedestrian safety reasons."

A proposal for a bike lane that runs between the sidewalk and boarding islands on Irving was also not included in the plans, though they were favored by a slim majority of survey respondents. The bike lane would have been in the style of the setup at Duboce Avenue and Church Street, with the bike lane at road level between two curbs. However, SFMTA staff said the new proposals don't preclude a bike lane that's raised up to curb level, where crossing pedestrians would get priority. Without such a measure, people bicycling on Irving would be forced to ride right next to the Muni tracks.

Comments on the project can be emailed to The SFMTA will consider the proposals at an engineering hearing at City Hall on Friday.

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