February 2014

Potrero Avenue Streetscape Project Continues to Draw Opposition

Keith Burbank

The City’s plan to remove as many as 60 parking spaces along Potrero Avenue as part of the Potrero Avenue Streetscape Project continues to prompt fierce debate. Late last year attendees of a public outreach meeting on the project voted for a plan under which the spaces will be eliminated. But some community members, and at least one citizen’s group, continue to insist that the spaces be retained.

“Why not compromise?” asked MaryAnn Cheng, who has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years. She said the City’s plan to remove the parking spot in front of her home “for the greater good” isn’t fair. After speaking with San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) associate engineer Chris Pangilinan about parking, Cheng discovered that changes to the now preferred project option would retain her parking space. But SFMTA ignored the idea, and instead has decided to move ahead with the project as currently designed.

“Everyone seems to be more concern[ed] about the bicyclists and commuters from other neighborhoods who are entering our community,” Cheng said by email. “No one cares about the safety of the residents who [will] have to walk many blocks in the dark to get home.” According to Cheng, the City didn’t send her notices of the first two community meetings on the project, which she missed. And she and others have asserted that one or more notices indicated nothing about potential parking losses, an issue that would have brought scores of people to the meetings. Cheng’s email and letter to District 9 Supervisor David Campos were ignored.

“If you don’t live here, you don’t know,” said Renee Urizar, who lives next door to Cheng. Urizar stands to lose the parking space in front of her house as well. Both Cheng and Urizar want access to spots within 30 feet of their homes. Urizar said she needs the space to shuttle her three-year-old and three-month-old children. And she said her mother, who lives with her, is getting older; Urizar fears for her safety. She claimed that parking space removal will bring traffic closer to her home. Recently, a vehicle struck her parked car, totaling it. She’s afraid next time an automobile will crash into her home. Project plans, however, indicate that a bicycle and dedicated bus lane will lie between automobile traffic and Urizar’s house.

“The system they had to get input was just not fair,” said Erick Argulo, president, Calle24, a coalition of 130 merchants, neighbors, nonprofits and artists along the 24th Street corridor. Argulo and others have argued that the community meetings were set up so residents didn’t have a chance to voice their opinion. The coalition is unanimously opposed to the project because it’ll remove parking for customers of 24th Street businesses. According to Argulo, Latino families travel to the commercial strip for products they can’t find in other neighborhoods, and those clients need parking. Argulo added that residential and commercial contractors rely on parking as well. And parking is vital to the Brava Theatre, which is just getting back on its feet after years of neglect.

“Our responsibility should always be to address the needs of the most vulnerable users first,” said another neighborhood group, CC Puede, which supports the project. The group outlined its comments in a letter submitted to Mohammed Nuru, Department of Public Works director, last fall. “In this case, the most vulnerable are the patients traveling by bus and on foot to get their medical care. The proposed improvements will make the process safer for them.” CC Puede formed in 2005 to advocate for streetscape improvements to Cesar Chavez Street, and it “strongly supports similar improvements being proposed for Potrero Avenue.”

After five community meetings, the San Francisco Department of Public Works issued a letter late last year to the community describing its choice for the project’s design. “Option 1 envisions a variety of improvements along the Potrero Avenue corridor from 17th Street to 25th Street, all of which meet the established project goals of improving pedestrian safety and accessibility, calming traffic, improving transit operations and reliability, and enhancing bicycle safety,” the letter said.

Improvements include a time-saving transit-only lane on the southbound side of Potrero Avenue from 18th to 24th streets. SFMTA expects the lane to reduce bus travel times by three minutes through the corridor. From 17th to 21st streets, plans call for pedestrian refuge islands at intersections, pedestrian bulb-outs at selected crosswalks, and a bicycle lane in both directions. At most midblock locations, a buffer zone will help protect cyclists from other vehicles. Between 21st and 25th streets, pedestrian refuge islands will be built at intersections, a continuous planted median will be installed and bicycle lanes will be created in both directions. On the east side of Potrero, from 22nd to 24th streets, sidewalks will be widened.

Cheng and others have argued that the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition stacked the meeting with its members to vote for the option that best serves cyclists. But Leah Shahum, the Coalition’s executive director, said her members live throughout the City.

Cheng also disputed SFMTA’s claim that 250 cyclists use Potrero Avenue daily. She counted 45 cyclists passing by her home one day. But according to the Coalition, Potrero Avenue is an important connection between neighborhoods. And there are no bike lane projects planned for nearby streets, said Chema Hernandez Gil, a Coalition community organizer, though some residents have proposed moving the bike lanes to another street, such as Hampshire. Shahum added that the project is also about pedestrian safety, which she called paramount.

Residents have wondered whether the planted median would obstruct emergency vehicles from getting to San Francisco General Hospital during rush hour. Emergency vehicles regularly have to use a center lane that’s off limits to traffic during peak travel hours. But, according to Mindy Talmadge, public information officer, San Francisco Fire Department, “Fire Department officials had a favorable [meeting] with MTA and DPW in which a dialogue took place. The Fire Department also had concerns about the median as it was planned. We submitted a suggestion that breaks in the median be included in the design. The suggestion was met with a favorable response.”

Tristan Cook, San Francisco General Hospital Rebuild public relations director, said the hospital, “the San Francisco Department of Public Works, the San Francisco Fire Department and the Emergency Medical Services division are working together to review the Potrero Avenue Streetscape plan to ensure that patients can be safely and quickly transported to the City’s busiest emergency room and only Level 1 Trauma Center.”

Another public hearing on the project may come as early as this month. Following the hearing, the matter will go before SFMTA’s board this month or next. At the hearing, the board will take public comments before rendering a final project decision.



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