The bumpy sidewalks and cracked roadway along 24th Street in the Mission could be completely repaved and renewed if the Road Repaving and Street Safety Bond is approved by two-thirds of San Francisco voters in November.
The bond, also known as Proposition B, would allot money to repave 1,389 street blocks over the next three years — 107 of which are in District 9 and include the entirety of 24th Street from Guerrero Street to Potrero Avenue.
Sounds great; everyone loves smooth sidewalks and streets without potholes. But proponents of Prop. B — nearly everyone in city government — know it won’t be easy to get the needed two-thirds vote required by law.
“Getting two-thirds of voters to agree on anything is a high threshold,” said District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener. “That’s why we have to run a campaign to educate voters about the importance of the bond.”
In 2005, a similar bond to fix roads gained more than 50 percent of the vote but failed to make the two-thirds threshold. The city has not put a street improvement bond on the ballot since.
“What we have been able to do for the last five years is find enough money to tread water,” Wiener said. “To make significant strides in improving our roads, we need to invest in a way that only a bond can allow us to do.”
Not everyone is convinced that this bond is the answer.
Tom Radulovich, executive director of Liveable City, a group that promotes alternatives to cars and better conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists, is not supporting the measure. He said the bond would serve as a patch, allowing politicians to ignore the need for sustainable funding to maintain streets.
Instead, Radulovich said, city government should focus on bringing in new sources of revenue to improve streets, such as having automobile owners pay more to maintain roads.
“You get a surge of money to do repairs and then it falls apart again,” Radulovich said. “I worry that the momentum we might have had toward a real fix is going to get lost along the way.”
Leah Shahum, a Mission resident and executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, agrees that finding a long-term solution is key, but added that the bond will fund crucial repairs that cannot be delayed.
“This bond isn’t necessarily the fix forever,” Shahum said. “But it’s urgent that Prop. B passes now so we don’t fall into a deeper hole and continue to allow our streets to deteriorate.”
Plus, waiting for a long-term solution might be costly.
According to Department of Public Works spokeswoman Gloria Chan, repaving a street in good condition costs San Francisco $9,000, while repaving an at-risk street costs $98,000 and repaving a deteriorating street costs $436,000.
“The longer we wait to fix our streets, the worse they get and the more it costs to repave them,” Chan said. “We want to catch the streets at a certain time so the cost to repair them doesn’t rise.”
San Francisco only issues new bonds as old bonds are repaid, so the Road Repaving and Street Safety Bond would not increase property taxes, Chan said.
But Radulovich questions whether a bond, which incurs interest and can take years to repay, is the best solution to the problem of perpetually underfunded and underserved streets.
The Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, which opposes the bond, has argued that San Francisco created poor road conditions by deliberately deferring road maintenance and is now calling on voters to pay for the city’s neglect. The group contends that general-obligation bonds should not be used for routine maintenance like road repairs.
Chan said that DPW, which paves an average of 300 blocks each year and is proposing to use the bond money to repave between 106 and 109 additional blocks in each district, could not pay for the additional improvements through the general fund money it receives each year.
“We have allowed our basic infrastructure to deteriorate for decades with underfunding,” said Wiener. “One of the top issues that my constituents raise with me is having better roads. It’s a daily annoyance to them and it should bother them.”
Of the $248 million bond, $148.4 million would go to rebuilding and repaving streets, according to DPW. The rest would go toward improving sidewalk and street infrastructure, building curb ramps, fixing traffic signal infrastructure and making streetscape improvements to increase pedestrian and bicycle safety.
Radulovich would like to see a plan that ensures that every repaved street go through a complete makeover to upgrade its appearance, safety and accessibility, and to remove dangerous conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians. If the city chooses to simply resurface a poor street, Radulovich said, it is wasting money by rebuilding something that is unsafe and substandard.
But repairing and repaving is the main issue for most city officials. Of the more than 12,000 street blocks in San Francisco, more than half are in fair or poor condition, Chan said. The average pavement condition score is 63 out of a possible 100, which is ranked as a “fair” condition. This is an improvement from 2005, when the average pavement condition score was 54.8, but a big drop from 1988, when the average score was 74, according to DPW reports.
For advocates, having safe streets is the bottom line.
“It may be surprising to folks when a bicyclist swerves to avoid a pothole,” said Shahum, who bicycles in the Mission regularly. “In order for people riding to be predictable and safe on the road, we have to have basic expectations of what kind of condition the road is in.”