L-Taraval changes head to SFMTA board

Contentious changes along Muni’s L-Taraval route could get decided Tuesday.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors on Tuesday are expected to vote on a final proposal on the L-Taraval Rapid Project.

Residents and merchants have been at odds with transit officials on proposed improvements including adding boarding islands at some stops, and removal of other stops altogether.

The final proposal includes adding a transit-only lane, eight transit boarding islands, removing nine surface transit stops, and evaluating a six-month pilot on a new approach at five inbound transit stops to warn drivers that they must stop at the nearest door of the train for passengers to board and alight if no boarding islands are present.

Other changes in the proposed project include swapping five stop signs for new traffic signals, and adding pedestrian bulbs at six intersections.

Merchants have been skeptical about the transit agency’s plan to add transit boarding islands because it would require removing parking spaces, which they said would hurt business.

Transit officials have said that boarding islands provide safety for Muni riders. Currently at some L-Taraval transit stops, riders have to board and get off through a lane of vehicle traffic.

Data from SFMTA shows between 2009 to 2013, 46 pedestrians were hit by vehicles on Taraval Street. Twenty-two of those were hit while getting on or off the L-Taraval.

The original proposal had called for boarding islands at all L-Taraval transit stops that did not have them, but transit officials comprised with businesses to instead pilot a program for six months that does not remove any parking on Taraval at 26th, 30th, 32nd, 35th and 40th avenues.

Instead of transit boarding islands, a large sign will get placed to warn drivers that they must stop to allow for passengers to board and disembark trains, along with a painted white solid line in the traffic lane where vehicles must stop behind the train. Both treatments would be placed along Taraval to match the configuration of a two-car train.

Additionally, painted markings will also be present in the traffic lane to warn drivers ahead of time of transit stops ahead.

Documents from the transit agency said transit officials will work with merchants to develop an education campaign alongside working with the San Francisco Police Department on enforcement at these five transit stop locations during the evaluation of the pilot.

New flashing lights on trains when the doors open will also be part of the pilot, to bring more attention to drivers that they must stop.

The pilot changes will be installed in Fall 2016. If there is not at least a 90 percent compliance rate of drivers stopping where they are supposed to, or if there is a collision with a pedestrian and vehicle during the six-month evaluation, officials will pursue boarding islands at those five locations, SFMTA documents said.

Bus stop removals

Nine of the 40 surface transit stops are getting axed from the L-Taraval, but that number is lower than the 14 stops originally proposed for removal.

Documents show existing stop spacing on Taraval Street between 15th and 46th avenues is just over 600 feet, which is below the transit agency’s guidelines of a minimum stop spacing of 900 feet.

The SFMTA said the proposed removal of nine stops would put the L-Taraval in compliance with the transit agency’s stop spacing policy while saving riders three minutes in each direction.

Stops proposed for removal include Ulloa Street and 15th Avenue (inbound and outbound), Taraval Street and 17th avenue (inbound and outbound), 22nd Avenue (outbound), 24th Avenue (inbound), 28th Avenue (inbound and outbound) and 35th avenue (outbound).

Critics though, question whether the amount of time saved for Muni riders is worth it.

Paula Katz, a resident in the Parkside neighborhood, started a petition to save all of the L-Taraval stops, which she has submitted to the transit agency. She said the removal of the transit stops would put a burden to riders especially for the elderly who shop at places like at Safeway on Taraval and 17th Avenue.

Early implementation

SFMTA documents show the transit agency wants to carry out specific positions of the project earlier than what was originally proposed.

Officials plant to start the transit-only lane early, with signage and painted symbols, but no red paint. Officials said they will monitor the effects of traffic flow and congestion for one year to due to concerns from the community that a loss of a travel lane would cause traffic congestion.

Painted clear zones will also be implemented early at locations where the transit agency are proposing boarding islands. Vehicles would shift to the right as if there were a boarding island present at 10 locations. Parking spots at those locations would no longer be available.

The public can still give public comment on the final proposal of the L-Taraval project at the SFMTA’s Board of Directors meeting Tuesday at 1 p.m. in room 400 of City Hall.