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Commentary: SFMTA Board Must Reject Unsafe, Driver-Centric ‘Final’ West Portal Plan

A family died. If that isn't enough to stop putting politics above safety, then the SFMTA board should be dissolved

A view of the vigil for a family killed in West Portal. Traffic was blocked from crossing in front of the station on Ulloa. The world did not come to an end. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

SFMTA and District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar’s office released an alternate plan for West Portal Thursday. As shown in the diagram below, it includes a handful of turning restrictions over the status quo, but drivers would still be able to cross the junction of tracks at the mouth of the station. This assures continuing delays for trains and maintains extensive conflict areas between motorists, transit vehicles, and pedestrians.

The new West Portal Plan from SFMTA, after merchants were permitted to water it down.

Compare this to the plan released by SFMTA staff last April (see below), shortly after a driver speeding through the area killed a family of four that was transferring from a train to a bus on their way to the zoo. It would stop drivers from crossing in front of the station entirely, where they delay trains and create a hazard for pedestrians.

The original safety proposal from SFMTA (apologies for the lower resolution of the original document)

As shown in the first map, the compromised proposal eliminates most of the red “transit only” space. Ever since traffic was permitted to drive on the tracks on West Portal Avenue decades ago, rail service has experienced delays and reliability problems because of traffic backups. Additionally, pedestrians have been injured because thousands of people alight at West Portal and then have to mix with traffic.

A train full of 100 people or more waiting behind private vehicles on West Portal Avenue. Photo: SFMTA

As previously reported, Supervisor Melgar, who is up for re-election this November, convened the misnomered “West Portal Welcoming Committee” to ostensibly discuss ways to “improve” the original SFMTA plan. In reality, it was a political maneuver to appease the merchants association. Some advocates were furious that even after a family of four was killed, San Francisco politics was still permitted to obstruct transportation equity and fundamental safety improvements.

Back in 2019, SFMTA tried to improve safety and transit priority with a modest proposal for some turning restrictions. That was aborted by the local merchants association and a previous, weak-willed Supervisor. Now the pattern is repeating itself, as the comparative diagrams clearly show. “My role is to try to find where the consensus is for the majority of the people,” Melgar told Streetsblog. “If I don’t do that, I’m not going to get reelected. That is the reality of it.

SFMTA staff is already pushing the new plan as the “final proposal,” once again doing the political bidding of the mayor and supervisor instead of taking a stand for safety and the rational planning they’re trained to do.

A rendering of the new “final proposal.” Don’t get fooled by the pretty dots and planters. As the diagram at the top of the post shows, cars will still be permitted to run in front of the station entrance, where they delay trains and endanger pedestrians. Image: SFMTA

And that’s exactly why the SFMTA board exists, at least in theory.

The whole point of having an appointed board as the ultimate authority over the SFMTA is they can rise above district politics and do what’s right for San Francisco. This city supposedly has a transit-first mandate and a commitment to Vision Zero. Therefore, there’s never been a more clear decision for the SFMTA board: they can either support the original safety plan or bow to political pressure and betray voter mandates.

Readers may remember when, in 2020, then-SFMTA board chair Cheryl Brinkman cast the lone vote to stop a cynical power grab by two Supervisors that would have torpedoed Caltrain funding. Because of a quirk of timing and some vacant seats, Brinkman was able to halt the political meddling all on her own—that took huge bravery, because the political pressure was enormous for her to go along with the “consensus.” If not for her vote, Caltrain would be launching electric service this September without funds to operate it.

But, as the SFMTA Board demonstrated with the Valencia Street center-running vote last year and the subsequent debacle, that was the exception. The board has returned to doing the political bidding of the mayor and caving to the manipulations of SFMTA’s own staff.

Little remains of the shrine to a family killed in West Portal. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Again: a family was killed.

Streetsblog has reached out to the mayor’s office and will update this post, but highly placed sources have implied that she’s supporting the “final proposal.” Without her support, it wouldn’t be the final proposal. Chair Amanda Eaken and the rest of the SFMTA board have a fundamental duty to reject the West Portal merchant association’s supposedly “compromise” design and to order SFMTA staff to install the original proposal from April—the one that prioritizes safety over motoring convenience. They owe that to the city, to the family that died there for the crime of waiting for a bus, and to their own consciences. If the SFMTA directors can’t do that much, then I really don’t know why the board exists.

Although the agenda isn’t yet published, the West Portal decision should be made at the SFMTA board on Tuesday, July 16, at 1 p.m., Room 400, Floor 4, City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place.

The post Commentary: SFMTA Board Must Reject Unsafe, Driver-Centric ‘Final’ West Portal Plan appeared first on Streetsblog San Francisco.

The post Commentary: SFMTA Board Must Reject Unsafe, Driver-Centric ‘Final’ West Portal Plan appeared first on Streetsblog California.

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