Human Life Wins: Masonic Ave Redesign Survives Tree Removal Appeal

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

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 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.”

  • BBnet3000

    Gotta love people talking about the souls of trees to defend the auto-dominated status quo. Talk about greenwashing. What a hypocrite.

  • murphstahoe

    But wait. I was told that due to the critical mass incident in the Marina, the cyclists were losing the PR battle and we would not get the improvements we want. How did the Board of Appeals not get the memo?

  • StrixNoctis .

    I’m not a fan of “out with the old, in with the new”, but considering we have way too many terrible drivers colliding with pedestrians, cyclists, fire hydrants, buildings, etc here in SF these days we might as well attempt to alter the landscape to attempt to put a dent in the bad driving problem. It’s not targeting the root of the problem, but it’s better than doing nothing at all.

  • Fultonian

    Why are ‘the poor trees’ coming up so much lately? Why don’t these people care more about the humans dying on our streets?

  • I am a big fan of trees. Big fan. I love old trees, I love large trees, I love tree canopies. I think San Francisco should have double the number of street trees it currently has. But let’s consider what’s been going on this summer in the United States. So far, 8 million acres of forest have burned in wildfires in the western United States, a year-to-date record. 8 million! Each acre holds approximately 700 trees. That means over 5 billion trees have burned in the US this year. 5 billion. And the fires are still burning.

    How does this relate to 49 trees on Masonic in San Francisco? We have no fires here, just drought. But the two are related. It’s pretty clear the fires in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska are much worse than usual due to human-caused climate change. And it is likely our current drought in California is linked to the same cause. (See:

    But what does the revamp of Masonic and the sacrifice of 49 tree have to do with climate change?

    Cars are the number one source of carbon emissions in California. California is the second largest total carbon emitter in the nation. The US is the second largest total carbon emitter in the world. We can’t get people out of their cars if the only way not to be killed or injured by cars is to be encased in one as much as possible. We must make our streets safe for bicycling and walking or we can’t hope to get people out of their cars for short trips. (Only 20% of all trips made are work commute trips.) The stress and unpleasantness of riding in car traffic is the number one reason more people do not ride bicycles in San Francisco. Separated bike lanes have reduced the stress and danger of biking in cities around the world. European cities with separated bike lanes have a fraction of bicyclist injuries and fatalities that we have in the US and have much higher rates of bicycling. (They also have less pollution and a healthier populace.)

    Trees are renewable. Yes, cutting them down does diminish the neighborhood and the community. But if we don’t do what’s necessary to stop emitting carbon, we are on schedule to kill off billions of people through disease and starvation and destroy hundreds of billions of trees through fires, drought and insect infestation. (Here in San Francisco, we are also on schedule to lose Crissy Field, the zoo, the airport, etc.) Yes, even though we live in one of the wealthiest, most privileged cities in the world, where fires and starvation are unlikely to touch us, we have an ethical obligation to think on a global scale. Yes, the imperative of climate change demands that some sacrifices (old big trees for small new ones) must be made. Yes, even though some people like trees far more than they like humans, anyone who is a friend of trees must also be a friend of redesigning our streets so that walking and biking are as pleasant and safe as possible, as quickly possible. For the trees of the world, if nothing else.

  • murphstahoe

    get a car, hippie

  • bike_engineer

    “it’s naive to think that the Masonic Avenue Streetscape Project will improve safety” Is the classic horribly misinformed and obtuse San Francisco resident attitude. The whole reason for the project is to improve safety!!! Does this lady not believe in Traffic Engineering?

  • dat

    Maybe she’s stopped taking a medication lately? Has a brain tumor? There could be several explanations for bizarre behaviour as she is displaying.

  • Gills

    Great that the project is moving forward, but by how many months did she slow it down? The entire neighborhood appeals process is broken.

  • p_chazz

    Separated at birth?

  • gneiss

    The appeal was made in May and the hearing was yesterday. The claim by SFMTA is that they were not delayed by this appeal, but it certainly forced them to slow down their timeline for when the tree removal could take place and spend time evaluating the appeal.

  • Rogue Cyclist

    “There have been some injuries and some fatalities [but] thousands of cars move safely and smoothly on a daily basis.”

    Wow, just wow. One of those fatalities happened to be her sister, too. Has she ever heard of Vision Zero?

  • murphstahoe

    I presume Ms Eroy is planning on tearing down her house to replace the trees removed to build it.

  • thielges

    Yeah, this seems like a common anti-bike,ped strategy: fight green with green. It was the basis of that complete waste of time injunction against the SF bike plan. The plaintiff claimed that improving bike infrastructure would cause motorists to circle around longer looking for marking and thus create more pollution. It was a clever but disingenuous approach.

  • Flatlander

    Seems to be based on the misguided, but (if we’re being charitable) understandable belief that traffic congestion is dangerous.

  • jd_x

    Sounds like car addiction and hence unable to see the world in any way but from behind the windshield. It is truly amazing how we as a society normalize car death and injury as just part of the “cost of doing business” as evidenced by the fact that her own sister was lost to such costs and she still doesn’t recognize the need to change how we design our city streets.

  • bobster1985

    The ARROGANCE of this one woman who thinks she knows better than all the people who have worked on this project for years. Take a hike, lady.

  • lunartree

    Ran into a random lady on the street the other day that honestly didn’t understand how bulb outs could improve crosswalk safety. She was a very nice, friendly person who was open to the idea, but just didn’t see it. A lot of older people seem to just not understand why certain modern safety improvements are a big deal.

  • Marian

    I am hopeful that all these changes to Masonic make it a safer street for everyone. I live on Masonic and I can see all the cars speeding, bike riders on the sidewalks and not slowing down for pedestrians, people jaywalking. It is a very expensive project and I still feel that it favors the bicycle community over all other users. But it will be worth it if it changes peoples habits to make their own rules of the road.

  • njudah

    The City sure goes to a lot of trouble to accomodate 1 crackpot having hearings and appeasing them, making sure “their feelings” are “heard” and so on mean while the rest of us rot and the cost of things goes up as a result. Just beause queen of the trees “didn’t hear about it”. I guess if she was a good queen she’d have special ESP or some shit.

  • Cambyses_II

    When MUNI installed overhead wires on Masonic to make it easier for buses to get from the garage to the 31-Balboa line, an elderly couple who owned a home on Masonic complained that there would be more buses on their street. So, MUNI proposed to relocate the 43-Masonic line off Masonic to Parker via Balboa and Fulton in order to appease them. Regular 43 riders were appalled, and showed up in force (myself among them) to denounce the proposal, which didn’t go through. I think MUNI had no intention of rerouting the 43-Masonic. They only made the proposal to appease the elderly couple and to show them that the majority wanted the 43 line to stay on Masonic.

  • The problem with CEQA is that it was first written in a bygone era when they believed the problem was idling. It has been amended many times, and actually promotes alternatives to cars, but it has accumulated case law, rulings, loopholes, and other cruft. So all it took was getting a judge who was predisposed to the dashboard perspective and to ignore newer amendments for that injunction to happen.

    Here we are years later and the “circling around looking for parking” argument comes up over and over again, the only second-order effect that the pro-motoring commenters have ever heard of, it seems.

    As for the street tree arguments, I am broadly sympathetic with them, and I’m sure some people are actually sincere about them. But I really am tired of people who are suddenly tree-huggers at the eleventh hour, when the same corridor could have used their help a decade ago.


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