When Streets Are Torn Up, SF Agencies Are Failing to Build Them Back Safer

Even after this corner at 19th and Dolores Streets was torn up, a five-year-old plan for sidewalk extensions was not implemented. Photo: Tom Radulovich

Opportunities to expand sidewalks and make streets safer go to waste too often when the pavement is torn up in SF. A year ago, the city announced efforts to improve coordination between agencies so that when a street undergoes repairs, safety measures are added, saving time and money in addition to saving lives.

But agencies still haven’t got the hang of it. Even longstanding safety proposals for at least two streets in the Mission have sat on the shelf while sidewalks are torn out.

Livable City Director Tom Radulovich pointed out an especially egregious case this week at 19th and Dolores Streets, a major entrance point to Dolores Park, where plans for sidewalk extensions to make it safer to cross the intersection were adopted in the Planning Department’s 2010 Mission Streetscape Plan. The sidewalk on the southeast corner was recently re-done for the conversion of a church into an elementary school, but the refurbished corner doesn’t have the curb extensions called for in city plans.

Radulovich brought up the wasted opportunity in an email to several city department heads:

I noticed that the curbs, gutters, and sidewalk had been completely removed.

Mostly I knew better, but some part of me hoped that my City might have seized the opportunity reconstruct an important street corner to the Better Streets standards and in so doing implement one of its own plans, and that we might see a long planned and hoped-for pedestrian safety improvement at this heavily-traveled intersection. Alas no; this morning, a new curb had been laid in the exact same location as the old one, without the bulbouts or any other improvements called for in the Mission Streetscape Plan.

This is all incredibly disappointing.

Radulovich referred to the citywide Better Streets Plan, also adopted in 2010, which calls for sidewalk bulb-outs to be standard at most intersections whenever the opportunity arises to install them.

The plan for bulb-outs at 19th and Dolores in the 2010 Mission Streetscape Plan.

The 19th and Dolores case is far from the largest such missed opportunity. One block away, “deadly and high-speed Guerrero Street was resurfaced and its street corners removed and rebuilt, but no bulb-outs or other pedestrian safety or traffic calming improvements were installed,” Radulovich wrote.

The Department of Public Works is currently undertaking a massive street re-paving effort, thanks to the 2011 Prop B bond measure, but few of those streets have curb extensions when they’re completed.

As far back as 2005, the city adopted the Complete Streets Ordinance, which mandated the coordination of safety improvements with other street work. In recent years, Supervisor Scott Wiener has pushed the SFMTA, DPW, and the SF Public Ulitiies Commission — the primary agencies responsible for implementing sidewalk extensions — to do a better job of adhering to such mandates. But progress thus far has mostly amounted to lip service.

There have been some cases of better coordination for larger projects initiated by the SFPUC, on routes like the Wiggle, where streetscape redesigns have been rolled into plans to overhaul utilities.

A 2010 City Controller’s Audit [PDF] specifically recommended that city agencies “consolidate meaningful streetscape planning and delivery resources to guide private developers and community partners.” That may help ensure that projects like the church conversion come with planned sidewalk upgrades.

Neither DPW Director Mohammed Nuru, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, nor other city officials who received Radulovich’s email have responded to it.

“If it was never the city’s intention to implement the Mission Streetscape Plan,” Radulovich wrote, “then it’s just another cruelly broken promise to this community by the city. If it is the City’s intention to implement this plan, then this is a huge missed opportunity, and a vast waste of money, time, and the earth’s resources.”

  • I really wish they’d just install a damn stoplight at that intersection.

  • Jason

    Add Fulton St. to that list too. I was shocked when they redid the street corners from about 2nd to 6th Aves a year or so ago, and didn’t add in any bulb-outs. That street is so dangerous, it was really pathetic that they didn’t go further to make it safer.

  • Sprague

    Bold speeches, lots of talking, and the final product shows a lack of vision. Thank you to Tom Radulovich and to Aaron for pointing out the great discrepancy between official talk and the result of sizable and costly public works projects, specifically at a new school location – directly across the street from a major park! So much for vision zero.

  • It’s the emergency response vehicle lobby, in particular the Fire Department. From their singular viewpoint it sort of makes sense. However their concerns are addressable.

  • DrunkEngineer

    I’m guessing the bulb-out “plans” were merely conceptual, and did not include actually engineering drawings. Bulb-outs cannot just be plopped willy-nilly onto street corners. There is a fair amount of engineering that has to be done before installing a bulb-out — especially if there are drainage issues.

    Since this particular project was a school construction project, it is understandable the district did not want to take on a transportation design project, which is outside the scope of its responsibilities.

  • Jacob Lynn

    But the fact that street construction work is siloed in several different agencies is a big part of the problem.

  • Chris J.

    So long as no single person is responsible, I can see this happening again and again. Otherwise, each of the “several city department heads” can say it wasn’t their decision.

  • vcs

    There are a number of corners in my neighborhood where the curbs and ramps have been reconstructed twice in the last ~10 years. (And I suspect it’s only a matter of time until they come back and add bulb-outs.) Meanwhile there are other corners which seem substandard. Clearly nobody is keeping track of this stuff.

  • djconnel

    Saying it “sort of makes sense” is all too kind. Of course the ambulance services need rounded corners and wide lanes so they can speed to the aid of pedestrians hit crossing the street… I’m less kind: it’s zero-order analysis at best, no better than LOS.

  • djconnel

    Lights may be necessary sometimes, but more often they’re lose-lose. They remove pedestrian right-of-way, encourage drivers to speed, all while resulting in lower travel times (because the waits are much longer than they are for stop signs) unless you can synchronize like the Valencia or Folsom green waves. The better approach is to slow the traffic down on Dolores: it’s an urban, residential street not an expressway.

  • We’re about to face this exact situation on Columbus Ave in North Beach, which is slated to be repaved within the year with few discernible changes to benefit pedestrians. All the various agencies seem to be able to do is to point the finger at the other guy while the date for laying asphalt keeps getting closer. Then, when that day finally arrives, they can all say “Whoops! Just didn’t have the time or the funding to do this the right way. Oh well, let’s just revisit it in another 25 years when we will have to pave again.”

  • SF Guest

    Don’t be surprised to see a rehash of Props A and maybe even Wiener’s Prop B back in a few years. The government is very good at raising our taxes, but how they spend our money may not be so readily obvious.

  • KWillets

    Concrete work seems to be a major goldbricking area in the city. Handicap ramps especially are costing 4-5 figures for $100 in concrete.

  • A___

    On safety of poured concrete sidewalks, isn’t “broom finishing” de rigeur, for antislip protection, and if it’s not being done, where is the process slipping up, as it were?
    (And if I was lucratively minded, I’d make nice slippery sidewalks then have my confederates slip on them…)

  • A___

    Who is looking to ensure that the money is spent effectively? What parts of the process are designed to do that, and are they working?

  • Prinzrob

    This is happening in Oakland right now too. Tons of new curb ramps are being installed in the downtown area this month, which could have easily been complimented by sidewalk bulb-outs on these overly wide and dangerous streets.

  • jd_x

    I agree with djconnel: no need for a traffic light here. The real problem is that Dolores is two lanes with a wasted island in the middle (and with a ridiculously high curve which is a great way to say “No pedestrians allowed. Reserved for motorists only so they don’t crash into each other while driving too fast and distracted”).

    A better solution here is to not only add bulb-outs but to make the road one lane in each direction and use the space created from the lanes to widen the island and add a path down the middle, like Commonwealth Ave in Boston (though of course Dolores wouldn’t be quite this wide):
    http://citytank.org/images/Boston_Comm_Ave_mall-1200.jpg

  • Oakland streets are so gd wide.

  • Would this just be a point-person that ensures proper coordination of efforts? In tech bubble world, I could see this as a program manager that liaises with every department that touches a product to ensure no double work or overlooked items.

  • Chris J.

    I don’t think so. It needs to be someone with the power to make the decisions. If they don’t have the authority, then they can’t fairly be held responsible.

  • CamBam415

    While I agree that it is probable that the conceptual plans did not include actual engineering plans, I disagree on the second part of the comment about the school district (again you are likely correct and I not disagreeing that this is how it went down). The fact that the project was a school conversion makes this example all the more egregious. On top of that, across the street is a park, a very logical destination for children/familes before and after school.

  • SFnative74

    Dolores Park is being torn up. Does that work include the bulb out planned for
    the west side of the street? It doesn’t look like it based on this:
    http://sfrecpark.org/wp-content/uploads/dolores-park-const-onepager-feb2014.pdf

  • Sprague

    This is a beautiful idea – a different kind of green wave or, maybe, a green carpet for pedestrians, dog walkers, etc.

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