Transportation Agency to Paint 16th Street Red

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The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) wants to roll out more red paint for transit-only lanes, this time along 16th Street between Church and Third streets, carving out a transit priority corridor between the Mission District and the mushrooming Mission Bay re-search and technology hub. SFMTA’s 22 Fillmore Transit Priority Project, a Muni Forward initiative, also calls for extending the overhead wire system from Kansas to Third streets with the goal of reducing emissions, and creating either pedestrian boarding islands or bulb-outs to streamline the embarkation process. A section of the 16th Street bike lane would be rerouted to 17th Street.

“It’s a pretty broad brush set of improvements,” said the project’s lead engineer, Cathal Hennesssey.  Earlier this year, curious San Franciscans circulated around project schematics and whiteboards in a Mission elementary school gymnasium, offering granular feedback on the proposals. Two additional open houses will be held at locations near the heavily trafficked east-west corridor that connects the eastern neighborhoods with the rest of the City. The iterative design process will culminate in a public SFMTA engineering hearing to consider the improvements, with a decision by the SFMTA board expected by early spring. Once underway construction may take two or three years, Hennessey estimated.

During rush hour the 22 bus crawls along 16th Street at an average speed of seven miles an hour, stop-ping at every corner in the Mission and around every two blocks east of Potrero Avenue. Running two more buses an hour, consolidating bus stops, creating dedicated transit lanes and streamlining the boarding process would cut travel times by 25 percent, according to SFMTA’s estimates.

In 2013 SFMTA installed red transit-only lanes on Church Street between Duboce Avenue and 16th Street as part of a pilot project.  The lanes slightly improved travel times and reduced traffic blockages caused by drivers waiting to make left turns, according to a Muni report.

Streetscape improvements on the table include sidewalk bulbs that would shorten crossing distances and allow buses to collect riders without having to exit and re-enter traffic. Narrow sidewalks extending from Potrero Avenue and Seventh Street would be widened by eight feet, sacrificing street parking on both sides of 16th Street. An SFMTA planner surmised that parking might be created by consolidating bus stops at Dolores, Valencia and Vermont streets. Hennessey would prefer to keep street parking at current levels, but reiterated that public input would influence the best use of the parking spaces.

SFMTA has been criticized for yielding to pressure from automobile drivers to water-down transit, bike and pedestrian streetscape enhancements. However, the success of recent transit funding ballot measures—along with the mayor’s commitment to Vision Zero, a campaign to end traffic deaths by 2024—may be shoring up the SFMTA’s appetite for these kinds of projects. The chronically underfunded agency got a boost last year when voters approved Propositions A and B, giving Muni more money and tying future funding to population growth and increased ridership, respectively, and rejected Proposition L, a pro-automobile policy statement most visibly championed by Silicon Valley billionaire, Sean Parker.

Hennessey pegged total project costs at $67 million. Most of the fund-ing will come from the $500 million transportation bond authorized by Proposition A, of which $166 million has been earmarked for pedestrian safety and streetscape improvements. The rest of the money will be obtained from state and federal sources and developer impact fees. With a dozen or so major building projects underway in Mission Bay, including Uber’s new office tower, the University of California, San Francisco’s rapidly expand-ing medical campus and a handful of infill projects along 16th Street, SFMTA anticipates a steady stream of developer impact fee revenues to help defray the costs of maintaining and expanding Muni.

The 55 16th Street bus, a temporary route launched on January 31, will serve the growing Mission Bay neighborhood ahead of transit and streetscape upgrades. Overhead wire providing quiet, electricity-powered rides will be extended along 16th Street from the 16th Street Mission Bay Area Rapid Transit station to Third Street. Once dedicated transit lanes, overhead wires, and streetscape improvements are built out, the 22 Fillmore will replace the temporary route. In turn the 33 bus will take over the 22 Fillmore’s current duties, zigzagging through Potrero Hill and Dogpatch from 16th and Kansas to 20th and Third streets.

Among the design options floated to the public was the choice between center- or side-running transit-only lanes. Center-running lanes allow riders to board on median islands, which double as traffic refuges. This option would require restricting left turns between Dolores and Seventh streets. Side-running transit lanes, an automobile-friendlier alternative, would also reduce travel time by allowing pedestrians to board from sidewalk bulb-outs. But cars would still have to cross the bus lanes to turn right or park, causing potential blockages.

Potrero Hill resident Rick Hall is worried that SFMTA won’t listen to drivers’ concerns. He speculated that the streetscape improvements might worsen congestion. “If they can create congestion, then they think people will ride their trains or risk their lives on bikes,” he said. Hall agreed that there’s a need for better transit options in Mission Bay, but insisted that “[the SFMTA is] creating congestion, one bulb-out at a time.”

SFMTA is in talks with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to determine how best to integrate the proposed new routes with existing bike infrastructure. The coalition recently criticized the agency’s pro-posed streetscape improvements for a 30-block stretch of Polk Street as unambitious, leaving bike commuters and pedestrians at risk, while lauding the fully protected bike lanes spanning the high-profile stretch of Polk between Market and Grove streets.

SFMTA will hold a community meeting on proposed service changes to the 10, 22 and 33 routes on March 12 at 5:30 p.m. at St. Gregory’s Nyssa Episcopal Church, 500 De Haro Street.