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Human Life Wins: Masonic Ave Redesign Survives Tree Removal Appeal

5:44 PM PDT on September 3, 2015

The Masonic Avenue safety overhaul will move forward after the SF Board of Appeals upheld tree removal permits protested by a handful of neighbors at a hearing yesterday.

Ariane Eroy. Image: SFGovTV
Ariane Eroy. Image: SFGovTV
Ariane Eroy. Image: SFGovTV

The project calls for the removal of 49 trees. Even though each tree that will be removed will be replaced with three new trees, neighbors filed an appeal to preserve all the mature trees.

"When one considers that trees are living members of our communities, one must recognize that they also have rights," said appellant Ariane Eroy. "They cannot merely be removed without damaging us as a community."

The Masonic project was initiated in 2010 after a "grassroots campaign from residents," noted Tim Hickey, president of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association. "It is unfortunate that trees have to be removed, however we are looking forward to the greater number of trees, and we are more concerned about the safety of the street overall."

Elroy, who complained that she wasn't made aware of the tree removals, said she didn't live in the neighborhood when the community outreach meetings were held.

While she passionately defended trees, much of Elroy's testimony consisted of downplaying the danger on Masonic that threatens human life, even though her sister was killed by a driver who ran a red light. "There have been some injuries and some fatalities" on Masonic, she said, but "thousands of cars move safely and smoothly on a daily basis."

The city has seen "a rise in impetuous, if not reckless, driving," Elroy admitted, then said "it's naive to think that the Masonic Avenue Streetscape Project will improve safety."

"To claim that the city could effectively reduce one of its busiest throughfares of six lanes to two and diminish the rate of fatalities on this strip of Masonic seems fantastical." (The lanes will be reduced from six to four, and raised protected bike lanes and a tree-lined median will be added.)

Nine trees on a concrete triangle at Masonic and Geary Street will be replaced with a plaza with many more trees. Image: DPW
The safety overhaul of Masonic Avenue may have been held up for a year by an appeal to save existing trees. In particular, opponents complained about removing nine trees on a concrete triangle at Geary and Masonic, where a plaza with many more trees (shown) will be built. Image: DPW

The appellants focused on nine trees that will be removed to create a plaza, where many more new trees will be planted, at the southwest corner of Masonic and Geary Street. Elroy said that filling in the roadway, which has a right-turn traffic lane and two parking lanes that separate the sidewalk from the existing concrete triangle, will somehow lead to an "exponential increase" in injuries.

Among Elroy's other talking points: Police say there are "a hundred hit-and-run accidents on a daily basis now," and "buses, bus routes, and bus stops are some of the most dangerous vehicles and sites on our public thoroughfares."

Members of the Appeals board did ask follow-up questions after some of these claims, but none seemed to seriously consider upholding the appeal.

Department of Public Works landscape architect John Dennis told the board that moving the redesign forward is key to "the saving of human life as the highest priority."

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