Photograph by Don Nolte

Photograph by Don Nolte

Potrero Avenue, looking south from Twentieth Street, is a main thoroughfare to Highway 101 South. General Hospital is shown on the left.

November 2013

Citizen Concerns Prompt Changes to Potrero Avenue Streetscape Project

Keith Burbank

Under the Potrero Avenue Streetscape Project, the City and County of San Francisco proposes to implement a series of infrastructure changes along Potrero Avenue, from 17th to 25th streets. The project is supposed to improve pedestrian safety and public transit along the busy avenue. But at a fall open house, roughly 30 residents expressed concerns about the loss of parking under either of two proposed project options. In response, the City has “reshaped the proposed designs,” according to an email from the San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW), with a new alternative that removes less than half as much parking as originally proposed. The new design, which hasn’t been finalized, will be presented at a November 7 open house. 

“We heard from residents,” said Cristina Calderon Olea, DPW project manager. According to Olea, the new option focuses improvements at intersections, reducing the loss of parking spaces. Under the option, 28 spaces would be eliminated, some of which may be reclaimed along adjacent streets. 

At the fall open house, the City suggested removing 79 parking spaces. A separate southbound bus lane would be added from 17th to 25th streets, and the existing northbound bus lane from 24th to 21st streets would be removed. The bike lane on the avenue’s northbound side would be separated from vehicle lanes by a two-foot buffer, under one option, while the southbound side would feature the City’s first-ever combined bus-bike lane. The other option would retain an unprotected bike lane on both sides of the street. 

The new proposal may please Claudia Flores, who said her family would be worse-off under either of the two original options. According to Flores, the parking changes would have made it more difficult for her nephew, Marc, to access the Muni bus he rides. And she’d have a harder time getting her mother to the hospital. “The consequences to us in the neighborhood are not really being thought of,” Flores said. Marc has cerebral palsy, which can cause seizures, and confines him to a wheelchair. Flores is concerned that the proposed changes to the avenue will cause drivers to honk at the bus Marc rides because it will block traffic coming off the freeway. 

Flores’ mother has frequent asthma attacks, and is too frail to walk far. Under the two options previously proposed, Flores said she’d lose the parking spaces in front of her Potrero Avenue home, making it difficult to transport her mother to the hospital. “I think this is really bad for us,” Flores said, who was also concerned about the plan’s impact on other seniors and disabled individuals. “I hope the City listens to us,” she said. 

To improve safety, DPW wants to install a landscaped median on Potrero Avenue and reduce the length of the crosswalks traversing the street. Chris Pangilinan, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) associate engineer, said the landscaped median would make the avenue look less like a freeway, inducing calmer driving. The shorter crosswalks — up to 12 feet narrower — would reduce the current 82-foot crossing distance, making it less risky for pedestrians to traverse. 

Rhode Island Street resident Elliot Schwartz seemed to approve of the proposals. “I feel no one is looking out for me and my kids,” Schwartz said, of the current situation on Potrero Avenue, where he bikes with his son. According to Schwartz, Potrero Avenue has only one bus lane and two very narrow bicycle lanes, in addition to four lanes of traffic. There are already eight lanes for cars on Highway 101, he said, Potrero Avenue needs to be a slow, safe street. 

The dedicated bus and bike lane is being proposed in an effort to make bus traffic more reliable along Potrero Avenue’s southbound side, which carries vehicles onto Highway 101. The lane would cut bus travel times by three minutes, Pangilinan said, a savings that’s “off the charts,” significantly enhancing Muni’s reliability and on-time performance. According to Pangilinan, dedicated lanes for bikes and buses would be ideal, but the street isn’t wide enough for such separation. Given the limited volume of bus and bike traffic along Potrero Avenue, Pangilinan said conflicts between the two transportation modes will be minimal in a combined lane. 

Total project costs are estimated at $3.2 million, with most of the funds coming from the 2011 Road Repaving and Street Safety Bond, with additional monies from SFMTA and for road repaving. The proposed improvements were included in the Mission District Streetscape Plan, adopted by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2010. The MDSP’s “goal was to identify improvements to streets, sidewalks and public spaces …,” according to a 2010 draft of the plan. DPW wants to begin project construction this summer, with completion slated for the following summer. 

The November 7 open house will be held at San Francisco General Hospital’s cafeteria, 1001 Potrero Avenue, second floor, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. 

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