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Safe Routes

St. Charles Avenue Finally Gets its Curb Cut

It took years to get a simple curb cut done on a bike route between SF State and Daly City BART. It just shouldn't be this hard.

Alyssa Cheung’s advocacy finally got a curb cut at the bottom of St. Charles Ave in OMI. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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Rip out a safety feature? San Francisco can do that in two hours. Create a single curb cut for bikes on a designated bike route between San Francisco State University and BART? That takes a little longer.

"For over a year I've been trying to get this built," explained WeAreOMI advocate Alyssa Cheung, who lives near the bottom of St. Charles Avenue, where the street ends but a bike and pedestrian path continues down the slope to a signaled pedestrian crossing on Brotherhood Way. From there, it's a straight shot to Daly City BART. "I moved here in 2021 and I bike a lot."

Cheung said she first noticed the eight-inch-high curb blocking the path while she was out on a community litter clean up. "And I said to myself, okay, this is messed up," referring to the sharrow markings pointing directly from the curb.

Long-time readers may remember this spot. Back in a 2016 post, Streetsblog highlighted the problem in "Let’s Make 'Bike to Work Day' a 'Check-Up Day' On Bay Area Bike Lanes." The piece called out the absurdity of having a bike route and a sharrow symbol point into and away from a high curb with no ramp.

A sharrow on a dead end street? Photo: Streetsblog, from 2016.

Despite everything, Cheung managed to move the city bureaucracy. She called 311, went to meetings, and heard varying versions of "we'll look into it" or "that's not our job, that's fill-in-the-blank's department." The Department of Public Works pointed at SFMTA. SFMTA pointed at Public Works. She also got in touch with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí's office. They joined her for several laps on the giant San Francisco run-around ride.

It took a while, but Cheung eventually figured out that DPW was wiggling out of doing anything because technically it wasn't a "curb ramp" she was asking for—meaning for people in wheel chairs—but was rather a "bicycle ramp."

"SFMTA evaluated this location and sees potential bike spot improvements. If you would like to inquire more about these improvements you may reach out to Mike Sallaberry," wrote Anastastia Haddad, Curb Ramp Program Manager for DPW, in an email to Cheung.

Sallaberry, SFMTA's senior transportation engineer, ultimately took ownership of the problem. Three weeks later a crew was out there pouring concrete.

A crew putting in the long overdue curb ramp last week. Photo: Alyssa Cheung

"I emailed him thanks," said Cheung.

From Streetsblog's view, it's great that this finally got done. However, it's also incredibly disconcerting the way some, maybe most, city employees expend so much energy trying to avoid taking ownership of problems, aka: passing the buck. This should have taken one 311 call. But even the 311 operator told Cheung to call a different department, who in turn told her to call another department, and so on.

Fortunately, Cheung is patient and determined and was willing to do the work. She kept writing emails and scheduling meetings and went to speak to the DPW Board of Directors and the Mayor's Office of Disability. Unlike the city employees she was pestering, she doesn't get paid for that time.

All of which doesn't bode well considering how much more work has to be done on this bike route (and so many others) to make it truly safe for users of all ages and abilities.

"Protected" bike lanes on Brotherhood

For example, where it crosses Brotherhood Way, which is basically a freeway, it's a deathtrap. And the gutter-pan, plastic-post bike lanes on Brotherhood (see above) seem designed so some city bureaucrat can check a "protected bike lane" box. Moreover, there needs to be a dedicated, off-street path between BART and SF State, including a bike/ped bridge over the chasm of Brotherhood Way.

Check out the tweet above for what can happen in a city with good leadership and a healthy city bureaucracy.

For now, Cheung's happy the bike ramp or curb cut—whatever the city wants to call it—finally got installed. But it took too much work dealing with the city. "It's just dysfunctional," she said.

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