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Citizens help stop SFMTA’s proposed service cuts to 19 Polk bus

Thursday, December 1, 2016 18:17
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(Before It's News)

by Peter Warfield

San Francisco citizen activists and others appear to have succeeded – at least for now – in helping persuade the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Board not to approve the SFMTA staff’s plan to eliminate all three stops closest to the Main Library and Civic Center on the northbound 19 Polk bus line.

San Francisco Main Library

San Francisco Main Library

The SFMTA had planned to eliminate the stops as part of the agency’s Seventh and Eighth Street Safety Project, presented at the regular SFMTA Board meeting Nov. 15, 2016.

The board voted instead to approve all other elements of the plan. The plan includes installation of parking-protected bike-only lanes adjacent to the sidewalk, bus boarding islands instead of curb stops, and bus-only lanes along multiple blocks of Seventh and Eighth streets south of Market Street.

In testimony at the meeting, I said I had sent a letter to the board strongly opposing the plans, particularly the bus re-route away from the Main Library. We have found no evidence from your agency that demonstrates that the planned changes would improve safety, or speed of travel, especially for those using the Library and others using the Library stop, I explained,

Library users and others using the library stop – currently on Larkin at Grove – would newly have to walk three blocks and cross two big streets to get to the SFMTA’s planned replacement stop on McAllister at Hyde. This would expose them to additional risks of injury or even death. But the SFMTA has evidently made no analysis of the dangers that its proposed plan would pose to pedestrians.

People using the Library for the Blind, as well as those who are deaf, older users, disabled users and children would be especially vulnerable. There are more than 1.6 million visits to the library building per year, including 33,000 to the libraries for the deaf and blind, according to library statistics.

Library users and others using the library stop – currently on Larkin at Grove – would newly have to walk three blocks and cross two big streets to get to the SFMTA’s planned replacement stop on McAllister at Hyde. This would expose them to additional risks of injury or even death.

The SFMTA’s now-unapproved plan would cut the only bus stop that stops right in front of the library – facing City Hall, on Larkin at Grove – where no streets need to be crossed to reach it from the Library. The plan would also eliminate the stop before the library, on Market and Hyde, in front of the Orpheum Theatre, and the stop after the Library, on Larkin at McAllister, in front of the Asian Art Museum.

The SFMTA has said that the current route is not as safe as the proposed re-route, because it requires the 19 Polk to cross multiple lanes of traffic as it travels from a stop in the rightmost lane of Seventh at Mission to the leftmost lane on Seventh at Market. In fact, the plan would require users of the three bus stops to newly cross streets more than 400,000 times per year, in an area known by the SFMTA to be a “high injury corridor.”

The SFMTA’s plans would reroute the northbound 19 Polk by making it go straight north on Seventh, through Market Street to McAllister, then turn left onto McAllister, and stop on McAllister at Hyde in front of UC Hastings. The bus would then continue to Larkin, where it would turn right and continue northbound as the current bus line does.

There are more than 1.6 million visits to the library building per year, including 33,000 to the libraries for the deaf and blind, according to library statistics.

But members of the public suggested multiple alternatives to the re-route. These include moving the bus to the left lane further down Seventh Street where there is less traffic, or keeping the bus in the right-hand lane and providing a signal to stop all traffic at Market Street when the bus is ready to make a left turn, similar to the signal where the 33 Ashbury makes a hairpin right turn across all traffic lanes at Market and Clayton Streets.

My letter also pointed out that island boarding is less safe than curb boarding, noting that “there appears to be no analysis of the negative impacts on pedestrian safety of the planned change from safe sidewalk bus stops to island bus stops along Seventh and Eighth Streets – with a new requirement on pedestrians to cross the path of rocketing bikers, hard to see, often traveling multiple times the speed of street traffic – and some with no brakes or lights.”

Holiday Inn Civic Center General Manager Andy Duymovic and Hotel Council of San Francisco Executive Director Kevin Carroll also expressed concerns over the proposed bike-only lanes at the curb and a preference for curbside bus stops and vehicle access. They said that persons visiting from other places and unfamiliar with San Francisco might retrieve their luggage from a car or taxi, and then risk injury from bicycles when crossing the bicycle-only lane to the sidewalk.

I noted that by far the greatest number of traffic deaths in the city are to pedestrians and that pedestrian injuries are greatly under-reported compared with vehicular accidents, according to Department of Public Health reports.

Library Users Association’s campaign of public awareness included flyering at the bus stops, urging people to write letters and speaking to the Board of Supervisors, including Supervisor Malia Cohen, who sent a letter to SFMTA Board urging it “to re-consider this particular stop relocation.”

City Librarian Luis Herrera sent a letter to the SFMTA, noting that comments at a public information session at the library “and since then” were “overwhelmingly against the proposed relocation of the 19 Polk northbound.” He asked the SFMTA to either retain the current stop in front of the Library on Larkin “or adjust the re-route to move the proposed McAllister-Hyde stop closer to the Larkin Street entrance.” The chief of the Main Library, testifying at the meeting, also cited concerns from users of the Library.

At the Oct. 27 library information session, there was unanimous opposition to the re-route from the dozen or so attendees. One of them said that the 19 Polk is a primary source of transportation from the Bayview neighborhood to Civic Center and the library, and the re-route would definitely reduce convenience for those users.

Library Users Association’s campaign of public awareness included flyering at the bus stops, urging people to write letters and speaking to the Board of Supervisors, including Supervisor Malia Cohen, who sent a letter to SFMTA Board urging it “to re-consider this particular stop relocation.”

In rejecting the 19 Polk re-route plans, the SFMTA board asked Director Ed Reiskin to consider alternatives and bring them back in a few months. He said he would do so, including consideration of a re-route up Ninth Street instead of Seventh , a route the bus took in years past. It was an option he said had not been previously considered.

We all need to maintain and increase awareness and vigilance, especially in light of the abysmal lack of SFMTA publicity, which didn’t even include informational postings in buses for riders of the 19 Polk line.

Peter Warfield is executive director of the Library Users Association. He can be reached at libraryusers2004@yahoo.com.

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