When school lets out at the San Francisco Friends School on Valencia between Duboce and Brosnan streets, chaos reigns behind them on the stretch of street between Duboce and Clinton Park.
Parents waiting to pull into the short pickup zone between Clinton Park and Brosnan queue up next to parked cars, stopping squarely in the bike lane. An average of 100 cyclists who travel through that lane during school pickup times are then forced to swerve into the main traffic lane, where frustrated motorists await them. Meanwhile, the parents waiting to pick up their kids are cajoled into circling the block by Friends School staff — sometimes two or three times to no avail.
“What that means, really, is things get backed up and things get dangerous,” said Paul Galvin, the school’s director of finance and operations, at a meeting held Thursday night to dicuss the traffic issues.
Traffic has become an issue in part because of the Friends School’s expansion from K-5 to K-8, with a current enrollment of more than 400 students. About 40 percent of them stay after school in various programs, 40 percent carpool, and the school already has instituted staggered dismissal times to try to reduce the floodgate-opening effect of the entire school letting out at once. But it’s not doing the trick. Parents still queue up next to parked cars along Valencia and snarl traffic.
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition called the current arrangement (in absentia, since they were busy with Bike To Work Day kiosks around the city) an “unsafe condition.”
“It’s safe to say that we have to do something,” said Galvin.
So the school decided to get right down to it and hire a traffic consultant to help figure out what to do. The Fehr & Peers consulting company set up tube counters, conducted in-person observations, and came up with some fixes.
A group of about twelve, something like four of whom were unaffiliated with the school or a city agency, came to hear what the traffic consultant had to suggest (a school concert in the gym that evening may have drawn parental attention away from the community meeting).
The most dramatic option, which wasn’t met with much support, would have been to rearrange the whole Valencia Street corridor to put the bike lane directly next to the curb, with parking closer to the center of the street, and moving traffic beyond that. Unpopular in part because it would force kids at the school to cross the bike lane to get into their parents’ cars and in part because it would be a massive effort, that idea was deemed “not viable.”
Other options included adding another loading zone on Guerrero, having staff attendants encourage drivers in the queue to circle, or finding nearby lots or low-traffic areas to use as a loading zone.
A more palatable suggestion was to convert the parking spots along Valencia from Clinton Park to Duboce into a loading zone during select times, essentially extending the temporary pickup and drop-off zone that already exists one block over, from Clinton Park to Brosnan. That would require full approval from all the residents and businesses on the western face of that block — difficult to get, but potentially doable according to an MTA traffic engineer, Mark Lee. Parking space conversions require public hearings to be approved.
“It’s doable,” Lee said, “But it only takes one vocal resident to shoot it down.”
Apparently the most popular solution was to reroute the queue around the corner, onto Clinton Park. That would also require the temporary conversion of some parking spaces and neighbor buy-in, but on a small residential block with less traffic, that could be easier to get than on a business-strewn thoroughfare.
Still, no matter where the car queue will be rerouted, it’ll still take some effort to make the ideal solution a reality.
“It’s a question of changing habits, changing routines,” Galvin said.
Robert Phillips said he came to the meeting because of his own experiences with parking and traffic woes, through his work with the Baha’i center a few blocks down Valencia.
“Here’s a gratuitous piece of advice,” he offered gently. “Begin to incentivize what you want to do.”
Phillips pointed out that to many drivers, the problem may not always be evident.
“They think, my gosh, it’s four minutes and I’m gone, how big of a deal is that,” he said.
He also suggested a van pool that would pick up groups of kids dropped off at a less congested nearby location, something the Baha’i center has experimented with. Another neighbor, Bruno, recommended the school educate its students to prevent them congregating in the pickup area and lingering together to chat while leaving their parents waiting.
Lee encouraged the school to decide quickly on its preferred remedy. He also urged them to schedule more community meetings to make sure any potential objectors can air their grievances, and the plan be adjusted, before the hearing. Administrators will now aim to choose a traffic remedy by mid June.
“Nobody wants to wait until there is an actual incident to address the situation,” said local blogger Michael Petrelis.
So, Friends School neighbors: If you have a better idea, or serious objections to these proposals, better speak up now!