SFMTA approves contentious Taraval Street changes

Major transit and street changes are coming to Taraval Street despite outcry from merchants and some residents during the last several months calling on transit officials to leave the street alone.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors unanimously approved the L-Taraval Rapid Project during a three-hour meeting. Changes include adding 15 new transit boarding islands, a transit-only lane between 15th and 46th avenues, removing nine transit stops, and piloting a new treatment using paint, signage and lights.

Merchants were upset about potential loss of business due to parking spaces that would disappear because of the space needed for the new concrete transit boarding islands.

Yumi Sam, president of the People of the Parkside, which represents merchants on Taraval Street, said safety is important to the merchants, but that transit office should look at other ideas such as educating drivers, school kids and Muni riders about safety and possibly making announcements on Muni trains to riders:

“Maybe a recording announcement should be used when people are getting off the car to watch out.”

Dallas Udovch, owner of the Oceanside Sheet Metal store on Taraval between 33rd and 34th avenues, asked the SFMTA board to pilot the entire project before making the final changes:

“What I’m asking is to not put your stamp on this thing today. To let thing run through for the six months in its entirety so we can fine tune this thing.”

SFMTA board Director Lee Hsu said he drives to Taraval Street and understands the merchants concerns, but said the boarding islands were necessary for safety:

“At the same time, the thing is I just cannot get comfortable with the idea that’s OK to drop off people into live traffic.”

Instead of putting transit boarding islands at all transit stops, the transit agency will evaluate a six-month pilot at five transit stops, which includes using paint, signage on the street and lights on the L-Taraval to tell drivers that they need stop at the nearest train door. The pilot will allow to keep some parking space along Taraval Street.

Transit officials said they will look at the driver compliance rate to see if the pilot is working and monitor if anyone gets hit during the pilot. The transit agency is seeking at least a 90 percent compliance rate. If the compliance rate is not met, or if a person gets struck, SFMTA staff would recommend putting transit boarding islands.

Janelle Wong, a resident and a parent of two sons in the Sunset District, wanted the original proposal to get approved, which called transit boarding islands at every stop:

“My hope is that essentially my children will soon be using the L-Taraval to go to high school, to go to their soccer practices or other sport activities and I would be as a parent reassured that if there is a boarding island at all the majority of the stops, if not all the stops, that he has a safe place, both my sons have a safe place to get off and cross the street and go to their activity.

Another parent Darryl Knudsen said the project did not go far enough for pedestrians and Muni riders getting off the L-Taraval:

“I drive out there all the time. It is not a safe place. People roll stop signs all the time. They drive up and down Taraval like it’s a freeway.”

Knudsen recalled getting off the L-Taraval when his son was younger. His son had jumped off the train as soon as the train doors opened. He said he and his son were lucky that day that a car was not approaching.

He added that the transit boarding islands save lives.

A legislative aide from Supervisor Katy Tang’s office read a statement that said Tang supported the transit boarding islands. The letter read that safety was “non negotiable.” The L-Taraval runs through District 4, which Tang represents.

Tang also requested the SFMTA to conduct a comprehensive parking study on Taraval Street because of the loss of parking from the transit boarding islands.

Another issue from residents is the removal of nine transit stops.

Resident Paula Katz submitted a total of more than 2,000 signatures to the SFMTA board to save all of the L-Taraval transit stops.

One stop in particular that some residents want to see kept is at Taraval Street and 17th Avenue near a Safeway supermarket. SFMTA directors requested staff to reexamine keep that stop, but warn that if the transit agency keeps the stop, a transit boarding island would also go there as well.

Sean Kennedy, Muni Forward Project Manager, said most of the time savings would come from the removal of the nine transit stops. Riders are expected to save about three minutes in each direction from the San Francisco Zoo to West Portal.

Construction for the concrete transit boarding islands would begin sometime in 2018, but the transit agency plans on earlier implementation of parts of the project by mid- to late-January of 2017.

Those include the bus stop consolidation, the pilot treatment at five transit stops and painted zones at the location of future transit boarding islands.

The total cost of the L-Taraval project is $20.9 million.