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Community

A balancing act on Chestnut Street

With our city’s population marching higher month after month, some of those growing pains are felt on our city streets in the form of traffic congestion, crowded Muni buses, and overflowing sidewalks with pedestrians. I firmly believe a responsive and accountable city government should and can impliment needed improvements to address problems. But the responses to the growing pains must take into account the reasonable concerns of the residents and neighborhoods affected.

For more than a year now, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) has been working on designing improvements to the 30 Stockton line, which is one of the busiest routes and serves approximately 28,000 customers daily. As part of the SFMTA’s “Muni Forward” initiative, the SFMTA is proposing changes to the route that seek to speed Muni times, add pedestrian safety improvements, increase transit capacity and frequency, and to enhance the overall customer experience on the route.

Their original proposal, the 30 Stockton Transit Priority Project, was introduced to the community and my office in April 2015. Unfortunately, at the outset it was designed without the input of my office, the community, or the merchants along Chestnut Street. Though well intentioned, the initial proposal involved changes that would have remarkably changed the character of Chestnut Street. It included prohibiting parking on the south side of Chestnut in the mornings, traffic signals at eight intersections between Divisadero and Gough Streets, bus bulbs at a number of intersections, and the removal of more than 40 parking spaces throughout the corridor.

Our office worked with the Marina Community Association, community members, and merchants to understand their concerns, and we worked with the SFMTA to try to find a balance between their concerns and the objectives of the proposal to improve service on the 30 and to enhance pedestrian safety in the corridor. After several meetings with my office, the SFMTA agreed to eliminate their idea for a transit-only lane along Chestnut Street in the mornings, and to eliminate their proposals to install traffic signals west of Fillmore through Divisadero. They also reduced the number of bus bulbs and turn pockets, which meant the project would no longer involve the elimination of any parking spaces.

One of the proposals that remained in the project included the traffic signals at the intersections of Laguna, Gough, and Octavia Streets. The SFMTA also plans to introduce the 60-foot articulated buses on the 30X in the spring to help reduce crowding. The plans to introduce the traffic signals at Laguna, Gough, and Octavia Streets have come under great scrutiny by residents. The SFMTA advocates that traffic signals at these intersections will help improve transit reliability, but it admits that the gain in time may only be between 7 and 10 seconds.

I asked the SFMTA to take another look at their proposal to install traffic signals at these intersections and to further engage with the residents in the area. The proposal was scheduled to be heard at the SFMTA board of directors meeting on Jan. 19, but I asked Ed Reiskin, the director of the SFMTA, to postpone the matter to allow those discussions to take place. They have not yet scheduled another hearing date and will work with the community before setting another date.

Personally, I am very supportive of the goals to reduce transit travel time and to improve transit reliability on the corridor. I am also mindful and supportive of the need to improve pedestrian safety and over the past few years have successfully advocated for pedestrian improvements to many corridors around District 2, including Bay, Chestnut, and Lombard Streets. However, as someone who grew up in the Marina, eating at our local restaurants, working at our neighborhood stores, and riding the 30 Stockton, I believe a balance must be struck between these improvements and maintaining the charm and character of our neighborhood that we all love.

Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors does not have any control over these decisions — due to a ballot measure years ago, all decisions around Muni and the SFMTA are made by the MTA board of directors, not the mayor or Board of Supervisors. I will continue to work with neighbors and residents on these proposals and advocate on your behalf, but if you have a strong opinion I would also urge you to contact the SFMTA directly with your thoughts on the Chestnut Street proposed improvements. The planner to contact is Sean Kennedy at sean.kennedy@sfmta.com.

As San Francisco continues to grow, we must continue to make appropriate changes to support that growth, whether it means repaving our city streets, updating our sewer system, making public transit service upgrades, or building new housing. However, those changes must incorporate not only the benefits to residents across our city, but also reflect the voices and input of our local neighborhoods that are impacted by these changes. The soul of San Francisco has always rested in our unique neighborhoods, and we cannot lose sight of their character as our city population continues to grow.

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E-mail: Mark.Farrell@sfgov.org