Monday: Community Meeting to Reconsider Muni Red Carpet Lanes

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At the urging of D9 Supervisor David Campos, the SFMTA will hold a meeting on Monday to consider options to alter the “red carpet” bus lanes on Mission Street. The meeting happens on Monday, June 20 at 6pm at the Mission Cultural Center (2868 Mission at 25th),

Right now, this stretch of Mission Street carries over 65,000 Muni riders and about 8,000 cars each day. By many accounts, the street improvements have increased safety and improved the speed and quality of Muni service, but some local merchants say the new configuration has resulted in declining sales.

The SFMTA’s press release maps out differing perspectives on the issue:

District 9 Supervisor David Campos and Ed Reiskin, Director of Transportation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), today announced a series of activities to gather additional feedback on the Mission Street Improvement Project, which established bus-only lanes on Mission Street from 14th Street to 30th Street. The activities include a community hearing, merchant walks in the project area, and a survey of residents and visitors on Mission Street.

The community hearing, to be held on June 20 at 6:00 PM at the Mission Cultural Center, provides an opportunity for community members to discuss their experiences and suggestions for improving the project.

“My office and the SFMTA received a wide range of feedback from stakeholders – some of it positive and some of it focused on impacts to local merchants. While I wholeheartedly support the goal of improving Muni reliability and speed, I want to make sure that the project works for everyone and takes into account the unique aspects of the Mission,” said Supervisor Campos.

With eight full weeks of post-implementation results, Muni reliability has improved and travel time has dropped and continues to drop. Furthermore, Muni has seen only one collision in this corridor since late March. Prior to project implementation we experienced three to four per week, which hampered reliability and forced buses out of service.

While construction was only recently completed, there has been a significant amount of positive feedback from Muni riders and neighborhood residents. The feedback ranges, but is focused on the appreciation of an improved Muni experience and a feeling of Mission Street being a safer place to walk – primary goals of the project.

In addition to the positive feedback, there have been concerns from local and regional drivers who were finding it difficult to directly access Mission Street. Merchants expressed concern that this difficulty was causing a decrease in sales, while other merchants say they have not experienced any impacts.

If you support the red carpet lanes, you might want to add Monday’s meeting to your calendar.  Because as Streetsblog explains:

The problem, of course, is public meetings on transit projects seem to attract a disproportionate number of, well, grumps. “One of the things that stands in the way is often times a small number of deluded people are the ones who show up. And they complain and their complaints may be irrational and factually incorrect. But because they show up, they’re the ones who win the day,” said Jeff Tumlin, Principal and Director of Strategy for Nelson\Nygaard Consulting.

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

Next Phase of Esmeralda Slide Park Re-Renovation Underway

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The ongoing effort to re-renovate Bernal’s iconic Esmeralda Slide Park resumed last Saturday, May 14, as a group of community volunteers joined forces with civic leaders, City agencies, and construction professionals to begin work on a new sidewalk and irrigation system.

Esmeralda neighbor Joan Carson has helped champion the project, and she shares this update on what happened last weekend, and what’s coming next:

Last Saturday’s event took place from 9 to 10 am, and it marked the beginning of the next phase of renovation for the Park. In particular, we all came together — folks from our Bernal neighborhood, San Francisco Public Works, Laborers Local 261 and San Francisco Parks Alliance — to help remove some of the concrete salvage created when WebCor builders demolished of the plaza’s old pavement. Although our efforts were mostly symbolic on Saturday, the act drove home the incredible partnership that’s making this renovation a reality.

We all remember the plaza rebuild last summer, when the picnic table, benches, slide landing and it’s approach, and the planter were rebuilt. That was the first phase of the City’s re-emergence on the scene to give a face lift to Esmeralda Slide Park. In early Fall, San Francisco Public Works, Laborers local 261 and a few of us folks started work on the next phase of renovation, including planning for park-wide irrigation and additional planting areas.

This led to the City doing more land-use planning for needed infrastructure improvements, like of curb cuts for sidewalk ramps that meet ADA compliance, a land use survey detailing what’s in the Park and its terrain, a tree assessment to determine the health of the trees and identifying which trees needed to be removed to make way for future more appropriate plantings.

On March 9 of this year, San Francisco Public Works held a community meeting at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center where those of us involved in the planning of Esmeralda’s continued renovation gave a presentation on the next phase of work. We got a small turn-out, but all those who showed up were really excited by the plans.

That brings us to where we are right now. WebCor joined the partnership in March and is doing the plaza demolition and new concrete pour. While construction is underway it’s an inconvenience for all us who now using the Esmeralda Stairs to get where we want to go, and it’s sad not be able to enjoy the slide.. But, in a few weeks, we’ll have water pipes underground to deliver water throughout the park and a new pavement in our plaza.

Nancy and I will keep you posted on landscaping plans for the park, including a new landing pad, more planting beds, and more volunteer days to join together and put new plants into the park.

Here’s a special celebrity bonus shot of Neighbor Joan, in seasonal hardhat chic:

joanmay14BIG THANKS to everyone who is helping to make the Esmeralda Slide Park better than ever.

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

Bernal Merchant Seeks Revisions to Mission Street “Red Carpet” Program

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Neighbor Eden Stein is a resident of the La Lengua Autonomous Zone and the proprietor of the fabulous (and resilient) Secession Art & Design store at 3235 Mission (@Valencia). She’s also president of the Mission-Bernal Merchants Association, which represents merchants along the Bernal’s stretch of Mission Street.

In recent weeks, Neighbor Eden has expressed concern about Muni’s new “red carpet” bus lanes on Mission Street. Although bus riders report the new red carpets have noticeably improved public transit, Neighbor Eden says local merchants are struggling because the rollout of the new traffic configuration has coincided with reduced foot traffic and sales in Mission Street stores.

This morning, Neighbor Eden released a letter summarizing her views on Muni’s new red carpet along Mission Street:

Two months ago, MTA reconstructed Mission Street, introducing red transit lanes and forced right turns. The bus is running two to five minutes faster, but I have observed a decrease in pedestrian traffic and clientele, especially for daytime businesses. My business is not only a go-to for locals, but a destination for people from all over. The forced right-hand turns funnel drivers away from shopping and local restaurants, making it harder for our customers to show up and support us. This is a direct call to our customers to walk, bike, take public transit, or drive to support local businesses impacted along Mission Street.

My specific concerns for Mission Bernal are to make sure it is safe for pedestrians, residents, and our valued customers. A request has been made to MTA to put in protected left turn signals at 29th and Valencia, remove the right hand turn at Cesar Chavez, and review positions of new bus stops. I am concerned that the Mission-Powers bus stop is not well-lit and is located in front of a preschool. My other concern is when it rains the red paint is causing the buses difficulty in stopping. I have seen the buses slide through the intersection at 29th Street on the red light because they are slipping on the red lanes. This is a safety concern for our whole community. I support public transit, but not at the cost of safety or small business. I am for finding a balance that works for all us.

My grandparents owned a storefront for over 40 years in Philadelphia. Their legacy business was one of the things that inspired me to open Secession Art and Design in an emerging area of the Mission in 2007. Mission Street has been home to my gallery and boutique for 9 years, supporting over 60 local and independent artists and designers. Businesses along Mission Street all want the chance to be legacy businesses, and live out our dream that small business can thrive in San Francisco. This is why I became president of the Mission Bernal Merchants Association, so my neighborhood would have a passionate point person who lives and works in Mission Bernal.

I have attended many MTA meetings, sometimes closing my store to make sure my voice is heard. A happy medium needs to happen, so small businesses aren’t forced to shut down. I want to continue my grandparents’ legacy of doing what I love everyday, being the owner of a small business. I’m working to help Mission Street culture return back to its vibrant and artistic hustle.

Thank you to everyone who has been supportive, encouraged me to go outside my comfort zone and speak up for my community, and reminded me to be strong and love what I do!

You rock, Eden

PHOTO: Top, a worker installs flexible bollards to prevent traffic from crossing Mission Street at Cesar Chavez, April 7, 2015. Photo by Telstar Logistics

MUNI Riders Resist Complaints; Say New Mission Street “Red Carpet” Is Working

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Your Bernalwood editor rode a MUNI 14 bus down Mission Street yesterday for the first time in a long time. The bus was modern and new, and the ride was conspicuously swift. Thank you, Mission Street red carpet!

A few weeks ago, D9 Supervisor David Campos decided to stand with the cars, arguing that the new Mission Street red carpet and transit improvements must be rolled back:

I have heard from many of you — car commuters frustrated by traffic jams that stretch multiple blocks; pedestrians concerned about increased safety risks because of irate drivers; residents along the corridor dealing with nonstop yelling and honking horns; and small businesses unable to get goods into their stores because unloading zones have been taken away. That’s why I’m calling on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to make a radical shift in the program

While it’s certainly true that the new configuration on Mission Street has caused some disruption and side-street spillover, it’s not at all clear the program should radically revised right now.  A “Transit First” policy is city law, after all, and it takes time for old habits to change and new traffic patterns to become familiar. Best of all, there are already signs that the red carpets and mandatory turns are working as intended; MUNI riders say the changes have dramatically improved bus service along Mission Street:

Writing at the N Judah Chronicles, transit blogger Greg Dewar says the backlash typifies why it’s so devilishly hard to make MUNI the much-better transit system everyone says they want:

If you’ve ever wondered why it is hard to Get Things Done with Muni, the current brouhaha over improvements in the Mission to the 14 Mission, and to traffic in general is an example. Muni rolled out some significant improvements to the 14 Mission line, and already there’s “anger” from a few nuts online. The changes have had less than a few weeks to take hold, but apparently dealing with the changes is too difficult for some people to handle like adults – hence the temper tantrums online in places like the infamous “NextDoor.com” and in the media.

These folks have found politicians eager to score political points, enough so that the SFMTA may back down on plans it has been working on for almost TEN years (and about a zillion “community meetings” in the process).

The SF Transit Riders, a grassroots organization that represents public transit users, has launched a #KeepMissionRed campaign to support the red carpet lanes:

Starting in March, after a decade of numerous community discussions, planning and studies, Muni finally started installing transit priority treatments on Mission Street. Just a month in and despite flagrant violations by drivers, they are already benefiting riders by making their rides faster and more reliable.

However, there has been a major backlash against these changes, and some, in particular Supervisor David Campos, have called for rollback of this major progress. It is a betrayal of the 65,000 riders who are served by the 14, 14R and 49 buses, as well as a betrayal of the Transit First charter of this city.

Along with my high-speed ride down Mission Street yesterday, I’ve also noticed that the morning traffic backups at the Mission/Cesar Chavez intersection have subsided. The line of cars waiting to turn left from Cesar Chavez onto South Van Ness is longer than it used to be, but the new queue seems to move pretty quickly.

It’s reasonable to assume that some adjustments to the new red carpet configuration may be needed. But a “radical shift” to the program, as Supervisor Campos has suggested, would be irresponsible and unprogressive. The recent rollback of the single-lane configuration for the San Jose Avenue exit from I-280 provides an encouraging sign that transit officials will abandon new traffic schemes when time, data, and experience demonstrate that changes aren’t working as intended. Truth is, we don’t yet know what’s best for Mission Street.

Patience seems like the best policy here. The red carpet lanes on Mission Street need more time  to settle in. If we sincerely want to improve our public transit system, the SFMTA should be encouraged to try new things, and we should expect that real progress usually takes time to reveal itself.

PHOTO: Top, a worker installs flexible bollards to prevent traffic from crossing Mission Street at Cesar Chavez, April 7, 2015. Photo by Telstar Logistics

Ballot Measure Would Make City Responsible for Public Tree Care

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A few months ago, Bernalwood told you the sad tale of Neighbor Laura from Lundys Lane, a schoolteacher who had just been told she had to foot the bill to pay for the astronomical cost of maintaining a tree that sits on City property next to her house.

That’s standard procedure under the Tree Maintenance Transfer Plan, which puts San Francisco homeowners on the hook to pay for required maintenance on the tens of thousands of streetside trees that used to be maintained by the City.

Now  San Francisco Chronicle reports that D8 Supervisor Scott Wiener plans to introduce a ballot measure that would eliminate costly tree-care bills for homeowners by making the City responsible for sidewalk trees again. The Chronicle says:

It’s the same old story: too many street trees and not enough money to take care of them all.

The city couldn’t afford the maintenance and upkeep for its 105,000 trees, so in 2011 it began transferring ownership to homeowners. Residents often didn’t have the cash for costly pruning and associated sidewalk repairs either. But a new piece of legislation could soon bring relief to those neighbors and infuse about $18 million into the city’s tree maintenance budget.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Scott Wiener will introduce a November ballot measure that would mandate that the city take back ownership, maintenance and liability of all street trees. It would be funded by a combination of a progressive parcel tax — one that increases with the property’s size — and an $8 million annual budget set-aside, the average of what has been spent on urban forestry over the past 10 years.

“This has been a festering problem for decades,” Wiener said. “Trees are getting dumped on adjacent property owners who don’t want them, and that’s an unfair burden. For most property owners, they are going to save money. They will pay a $30 or $40 tax, and they will no longer have to hire an arborist or a contractor or insurance.”

All properties must pay the property tax. Properties with less than 25 feet of street frontage would pay $29.50, while those between 25 to 150 feet would pay $1.42 per frontage foot, and properties with more than 150 feet would pay $2 per frontage foot. The average resident or business would pay about $35 annually.

PHOTO: The tree assigned to Neighbor Laura, by Neighbor Laura

An Update on the New St. Luke’s Hospital Campus Construction Project

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If you’ve traveled along Cesar Chavez near the intersection of San Jose Avenue recently, you might’ve noticed that the new California Pacific Medical Center St. Luke’s hospital building is beginning to look much less skeletal, and much more building-like.

This project has been in the works for a long time, and now Mirabel Avenue neighbor Dean Fryer — who by day works as a media relations manager for CPMC — brings us a progress report:

I’m writing to let you know about the amazing progress being made on the new replacement hospital at the Sutter Health—CPMC St. Luke’s Campus, our neighborhood hospital. Things are moving along quickly. The steel structure is done and the exterior wall panels are nearly all in place, resulting in a great new look for the campus and neighborhood.

As you’re likely aware, St. Luke’s has a long history in our neighborhood. Originally it was located on Lundy’s Lane, in 1871, before moving to the current location in 1875. The location was perfect for a hospital — near the end of the cable car line on Valencia Street and near the rout of the original Southern Pacific main train line coming up from the peninsula. We’are excited to continue serving our neighborhood, and the city, with the new hospital (scheduled to open in 2019).

You can already see the space around the new hospital take shape. Visible are the outline of the entry areas where families will come and go, and the framing of the stairs that lead to the plaza which symbolizes the historic pathway traveled between the peninsula and the city. The plaza will be open and well lit to provide neighbors a safe environment, day or night, while crossing the campus.

The new seven-story, 120 patent bed hospital, is designed to blend nicely into the neighborhood with color and aesthetic. Depending on the direction you approach the hospital, it will have a different look and feel. From the east there is the greenery of the plaza and from the west the low rise section of the building next to the neighbors. There is also the intentional use of different materials on the exterior to create an illusion of diminished building height.

We’re also proud of all the local hiring that has happened at this construction site and our other hospital construction project at Van Ness and Geary. At the St. Luke’s campus we are excited that 33 percent of the workforce consists of San Francisco residents, with 13 of the workers born at the current St. Luke’s campus hospital. An additional 6 workers also live in Bernal Heights.

The views of Bernal Hill from the hospital are spectacular as well. Here’s how it looks (click to enlarge):

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I’ll keep you updated on the construction progress, but Bernal neighbors can always check CPMC2020.org for more details and to access the construction cameras.

PHOTOS: Courtesy of CPMC

Undo: Two-Lane San Jose Ave. Freeway Exit Will Be Restored

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Well, the great San Jose Avenue Traffic Calming Experiment has officially been declared an abject failure. The effort to slow traffic along San Jose Avenue by reducing the exit to San Jose Avenue from I-280 northbound from two lanes to one instead succeeded mainly in causing epic traffic backups along I-280 and  more motor vehicle accidents. Oopsie!

In addition, the scheme created additional sadness and delay in South Bernal and St. Mary’s, so now the exit will return to its original two-lane configuration. The Glen Park Association reports:

The 280 freeway offramp to San Jose Avenue will return to a two-lane configuration, owing to a high number of accidents following an experiment to slow traffic by narrowing it.

Seven accidents were recorded on the offramp between June and November, 2015, after engineers reconfigured the two exit lanes to merge into one lane just before the Monterey Street underpass. The offramp reconfiguration was the second phase of the Northbound San Jose Avenue & I-280 Off-Ramp Road Diet Pilot Project, which was intended to slow traffic on San Jose Avenue south of Randall.

In Phase I of that project, San Jose Avenue itself was reduced from three lanes to two. When that measure did not slow traffic, Phase II was implemented, and the offramp was reduced from two lanes to two lanes merging to one.

Since Phase II also failed to reduce speeds and reduce traffic volumes but did increase the number of accidents, Caltrans has decided to return the offramp to its original state. The road is scheduled to be re-paved in May, then re-striped.

If the goal is to reduce speeds along San Jose Avenue, some armchair traffic engineers in Bernal-Glen have a few good ideas about how to accomplish that.