Masonic bicycle lanes get green light

CITY HALL — Raised bicycle lanes are likely to replace 167 parking spaces along Masonic Avenue between Fell Street and Geary Boulevard after the SF Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve funding.

The $18.2 million project will mostly be funded by a federal grant of $16.8 million and has both supporters and opponents on the west side of The City.

It will remove parking on both sides of the street and replace it with raised bike lanes in both directions. It will also reduce traffic lanes along Masonic down to four lanes — two in each direction — with a median strip with trees to separate the opposing traffic.

Supporters include the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the board of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, and the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association. The Masonic Corridor Neighborhood Association opposes it.

Supervisor London Breed, whose district includes this stretch of road noted that the project was approved last year, before she was elected:

“I have received a lot of emails from constituents who have a real problem with this project.”

Critics said they were not informed about the plan until well after three community meetings were held. Breed said it was clear to her that the NPNA did make an effort to inform people but acknowledged that it might not have been enough:

“Although the outreach was extensive, it’s clear that there are a large number of people that didn’t receive information in order to provide input for this project. … Unfortunately the time for planning has passed, as it relates to making significant changes for the project.”

Breed said making the Masonic corridor safe is her biggest concern, comparing it to a stretch of freeway in the middle of The City. She expressed concern for seniors in the area and those who use the 43-Masonic Muni line, which runs along the corridor.

She also said she is in discussion with the owners of several parking lots in the area to see if they could make spaces available in the evenings to local residents.

Breed also mentioned implementing residential parking permits in the Lower Haight area, which might help relieve the pressure:

 “We have a lot of folks who park there, they leave their car there for a week and they don’t even live in the neighborhood, so implementing residential parking permits could really help.”

During public comment, Joel Tomei said he’s a San Francisco architect with transportation expertise:

 “I’m in full support of Masonic improvements between Fell and Geary. I’m part of an architectural office that had one of my colleagues hit and killed on Masonic between Geary and Euclid a year ago … as she was taking her groceries from Trader Joe’s to the car. I had wished her a great weekend in the office the Friday before and on Monday I was told she had been killed. She was 25 years old and in the process of becoming a licensed architect … and we miss her very much.”

Miriam Goodman, however, pointed out that Masonic is one of a few large streets in the area going in a north-south direction and she questioned whether the plan would make it safer:

“Traffic on Masonic is terrible. … It is absolutely awful and to even think that reducing a lane is going to make that better just doesn’t make any sense at all. … I think the people who are going to be hurt by it are anybody who needs that street to use for commuting, for getting across town, for taking their children to school, to shop, whatever it is. Not all of them are bicycle riders.”

Supervisor Eric Mar was also concerned with unsafe traffic on the avenue. He thinks the plan will make it safer:

“It is a choice between public safety and complete streets versus maintaining the number of parking spaces on the street and I accept that.”

Mar also noted that the loss of parking would be partially offset by the addition of 20 parking spaces along Turk Street in that area, though he acknowledged the new Target store at Masonic and Geary is going to increase traffic through that corridor:

“That’s inevitable. It’s not as connected to this project as I think some of the testimony was given. … I think the status quo is leading to more accidents.”

SFMTA statistics show 116 collisions along that corridor between 2004 and 2009, resulting in 131 injuries. Over the last decade, 56 collisions involved transit vehicles; there were also two fatalities between 2009 and 2011.

Jackie Sachs is a senior citizen who uses a walker. She questioned the wisdom of putting bicycle lanes next to bus stops on the avenue:

“For people with disabilities like myself, seniors and people with wheelchairs … you don’t take into consideration the impact that these bike lanes will have on the buses. It’ll hinder the buses.”

Lawrence Li said he’s a member of the Lower Haight Merchants and Neighbors Association. He depends on a bicycle to get around town so he supports the project:

“Frequently we hear about injuries and deaths caused by automobile traffic on Masonic. The situation is dangerous and the automobile traffic is, frankly, just uncivilized. … Sometimes we even have to use the sidewalk. … Many years were spent on developing this project. It’s really a common-sense proposal.”

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