SFMTA Readies Limited Roll Back on Mission Transit Project

A few of the 65,000 people who take Muni to the Mission. Image: Streetsblog.
A few of the 65,000 people who take Muni daily to the Mission. Image: Streetsblog.

SFMTA staff has released its recommendations for compromises to its recently completed Mission Street transit upgrades. In addition to plans to relocate the outbound Cortland stop to the nearside of the intersection, the staff wants to move forward with (from the agency’s FAQ):

  • Removing two of the required right turns on Mission at 26th and 22nd. This will allow vehicles to travel four blocks on Mission before encountering a required right turn, making it easier to access businesses and find parking along the street. We expect this change to improve traffic circulation without increasing through traffic or delaying bus riders.
  • Exempting taxis from the left turn restriction at 21st Street. This exemption, in the middle of the Mission corridor, will provide more options for taxis to reach their destinations.

SFMTA also reports increased bus reliability and an 85 percent reduction in Muni collisions. So why roll anything back if the improvements are working? Streetsblog readers will recall that these additional changes are in response to anger from local merchants, many of whom complained to Supervisor David Campos about lost parking and turning restrictions. Campos’s staff was unavailable, but in a previous post from his Facebook page, he wrote that  “I have heard from many of you–car commuters frustrated by traffic jams that stretch multiple blocks…That’s why I’m calling on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to make a radical shift in the program.” That resulted in a contentious public meeting on June 20 that brought out transit advocates to speak in favor of the “red-carpet” bus lanes, against business owners who demanded that Mission be changed back to the way it was.

Certainly, the shift that SFMTA is recommending is nothing as “radical” as Campos’s business constituents were requesting, at least so far; SFMTA is not talking about taking away the transit lanes. And the turning restrictions are so routinely violated–as observed by Streetsblog this afternoon–that it’s difficult to imagine eliminating them will make much difference.

Private cars follow a cab north on Mission instead of turning right as is currently required. Photo: Streetsblog.
A line of private cars follow a taxi north on Mission instead of turning right as is currently required. Photo: Streetsblog.

And that speaks to a deeper problem–with a myriad of exceptions to follow, how can different drivers decipher who can turn when and where?  And if a left turn is dangerous for an Uber driver, can it really be safe for a taxi driver? Again, continually accommodating different interests–rather than holding the line on safety–leads to bad outcomes and is no doubt why Vision Zero efforts are failing thus far. “The plan has tried to fit safety in after the fact, rather than building in a Vision Zero lens from the beginning,” wrote Walk San Francisco’s Executive Director Nicole Ferrara, in an email to Streetsblog. “We’re particularly concerned with changes that will allow taxis to make left turns, further confusing drivers and compromising on a key pedestrian safety treatment.”

That said, “It’s reassuring that SFMTA does not intend to recommend changes which significantly compromise the now-documented benefits of improved reliability and faster transit trip times the plan has achieved,” said Peter Straus, from the Executive Board of the San Francisco Transit Riders.

Business owners around the intersections in question, meanwhile, still want Mission restored to how it was before March, when SFMTA put down the “red-carpet” lanes for transit. Patel Varsho, who’s owned “King of Fashions,” a clothing shop on Mission, since 1991, said they’ve felt the cuts to parking and that  “Business is slow.” Mihee Lee owns the “Smile Bar-B-Q,” a nearby lunch counter on Mission at 22nd. “Customers have no parking,” she said. “Business is down 20 percent.” Neither commented specifically on the significance of eliminating the turn restrictions, and instead were concerned primarily about parking.

Either way, as Streetsblog has pointed out before, business owners tend to overestimate how many customers arrive by car. Lee, for example, said she didn’t know how many of her customers take the bus versus driving, making her claim that business was down 20 percent due to changes to the street seem dubious.

Wilfredo Dominguez, owner of Cuzcatlan Travel, wants Mission returned to how it was. Photo: Streetsblog.
Wilfredo Dominguez, owner of Cuzcatlan Travel, wants Mission returned to how it was. Photo: Streetsblog.

Jesse Oropeza, meanwhile, said there’s been no change in business. She works at “Mission Shoe Repair” on 22nd, right by the intersection with Mission. But Wilfredo Dominguez, who’s owned “Cuzcatlan Travel Service” a few shops down for two decades, also said business is down by 20 percent. “It’s hard because of the loss of parking,” he said. “We have loyal customers who drive from Berkeley, San Mateo and San Jose–they [SFMTA] really screwed up by doing what they did. They should send buses to Van Ness.”

Business owner Jacob Bullock said bus service has improved. Photo: Streetsblog.
Business owner Jacob Bullock said bus service has improved. Photo: Streetsblog.

But Jacob Bullock, owner of the “Refinery Grooming Club,” on Mission said: “we still get plenty of business…and I think the bus ride is better.”

One thing the transit lanes doesn't seem to have improved on: bus bunching. Three 14s in a row pulled into the stop on 22nd. Photo: Streetsblog.
Despite claims of improved reliability, the transit lanes don’t seem to have improved bus spacing. Three 14s in a row pulled into the stop on 22nd. Photo: Streetsblog.

The SFMTA Board of Directors will hear public comment on the roll-back proposals on August 16, at 3:00 p.m. in San Francisco City Hall, Room 400. If you are unable to attend, email comments to MTABoard@sfmta.com.

UPDATE: The day after publication, David Campos’s staff sent the following response to the story: “Transit reliability and thriving small businesses are not mutually-exclusive. I hope the SFMTA’s revisions will work as a compromise between the needs of transit riders and small businesses.”

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