Ed Reiskin's eventful eight-year tenure atop Muni will conclude in August.

With more than 100 people packed into a sweltering room, tempers ran hot at a three-hour meeting held by the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency to get feedback on the agency’s new transit lanes and turn restrictions along Mission Street.

The changes, which were rolled out in March, include the creation of transit-only lanes, the prohibition of left turns for the entire corridor of 13th to Cesar Chavez streets, forced right turns at certain intersections, and the removal of a few bus stops within two blocks of one another.

Despite outreach efforts from the transit agency, which director Ed Reiskin said were among the agency’s most extensive, many people at Monday’s meeting said they felt unwarned about the changes, disrespected once they offered opinions, or generally unheard at all.

While many commentators – pedestrians, transit users, and a few drivers – voiced approval, many business owners and drivers were livid.

“SFMTA is out of touch with small business needs in the Mission,” said Sylvia Alvarez-Lynch, who said she also works for the transit agency. “Right turns only makes it almost impossible for businesses to survive…we need to take our neighborhood back.”

Added Eden Stein, the president of the Mission Bernal Merchants Association: “We are fighting for the accessibility of our neighborhood, for it to remain vibrant and thrive.”

Since the program’s inception, many have complained that Mission Street small businesses have suffered a decline in business, which they attribute to a loss in parking and loading spaces. Several parking spaces were removed to make room for right turn pockets, though according to the transit agency, new parking from decommissioned bus stops outstripped the removal of spaces, and parking meter use has remained steady since the changes were put in place.

The transit agency’s Matt Brill said the city has been trying to accommodate adjustments for commercial loading zones, a major concern for businesses, and encouraged proprietors with further concerns to reach out for help with adding zones.

Stein acknowledged that there had been progress toward compromises, but said the forced right turns, especially on Cesar Chavez Street, had divided the Mission corridor.

For some, the main effect of the changes has been that their bus rides have been faster and the streets seem more pedestrian friendly.

“It feels like it takes less time than it used to,” said Eric Castro. “It feels safer when I have to cross the street.”

Mission Street resident Lauren Sailor, who also approved of the changes, said she has observed from her window that drivers are able to clear a roadway for emergency vehicles faster, and also advocated for the transit adjustments.

“The street is calmer and safer for people who can’t afford a car,” she said. “These people are still deserving of an efficient way to get around the city.”

Artist Miles Epstein said he acknowledged that the changes have been difficult for drivers but was concerned about safety.

“The number of people run over in this city is too high,” he said. “If you’re walking down the street, you don’t want to be threatened by a dangerous road.”

Elias Zamaria also liked the changes.

“I’m in favor of anything that makes Muni faster, even if it causes a little inconvenience to drivers,” he said.

Regardless of transit speed, drivers have been confounded by the turn restrictions, and many expressed frustration with the inability to turn left from or drive through the whole corridor. The agency reported that collisions in the corridor had dropped, but the announcement was met with mutters of “false” and “not true” from some of the audience members.

“Traffic deaths are a public health issue,” said Cathy DeLuca, a policy manager for the pedestrian safety group Walk San Francisco.

“Bullshit!” someone shouted, setting off more dismayed and angry shouts.

Campos and transit agency moderators tried several times to calm the passionate crowd.

For some, relying exclusively on transit is simply not an option.

“I need to drive, I’m sorry. I have to take four kids to school,” said Tracy Brown Gallardo. “But what I am most outraged by is that I didn’t get any notice. I had to hear about it from the restaurant owners I hang out with. They are losing money.”

“It’s shameful what’s happened to Mission,” said Iswari España, who is running for District 9 Supervisor. “I’ve witnessed at least three accidents…I never received any notice whatsoever…we don’t feel like we’re being listened to.”

Taxi driver Jason Jordan had no complaints about the transit-only lanes, but wasn’t pleased with left turn restrictions.

“It’s not like there’s a lot of business left for us,” he said. He also commented on the difficulty of explaining to a drunk passenger the need to make three right turns instead of a left.

Bernal Heights resident Bruce Irving said he both rides Muni and drives.

“I like the red lane,” he said, but added, “29th has become a snarled mess. There’s got to be a compromise.”

Though there were plenty of exceptions, in general the senior, minority and disabled people that transit agency data shows are dependent on bus service in the Mission were largely absent from the transit advocates who spoke in support of the changes. Transit agency director Reiskin acknowledged later that one of the hardest demographic to reach out to is Muni riders.

And despite plenty of diversity among opponents to the changes, many speakers critical of the agency were Latino. Some seized on the divide as a reflection of displacement pressures in the Mission.

“There hasn’t been one immigrant transit rider. Those red lines might as well be lashes on my back,” said William Ortiz Cartagena, who works with the Mission Economic Development Agency.

“This is redlining in the Mission,” said Gabriel Medina, also with MEDA.

Zamaria, who had spoken in favor of the changes, disagreed.

“I think a lot of people are pulling the race card to push emotional buttons,” he said after the meeting. “People are thinking too much with their emotions and not their rational mind, lumping all these changes together.”

Toward the end of the meeting, many who had cheered and clapped for pro-transit-lane comments appeared to have left.

“We are sick of people coming into our neighborhoods to tell us what they want and then just like they did today they leave,” said Miguel Bustos.

Reiskin and District 9 supervisor David Campos, who helped arrange the meeting, both expressed hope for a compromise.

“The forced rights seem to be the biggest concern,” Riesken said. “I heard loud and clear that we need to act quickly.”

Some in the public also seemed to have hope for finding middle ground.

“Don’t quit on nobody, don’t give up on their side, don’t give up on our side,” said Robert Antonelli. “We need to work this out together.”

The agency will meet with smaller groups and conduct further street outreach before presenting the matter to its Board of Directors for review within a few months.

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32 Comments

  1. Mission Street should be made more shopper and merchant friendly, not just a thoroughfare for buses. Rather than splashing red paint all over the street you should be cleaning it up and making it more attractive so that businesses can be more successful. Shame on you SF, Mission Street should be full of life not buses!

    1. I use the buses all the time. I don’t have a car. This city should encourage more public transportation so the streets are not just congested with cars, cars, cars.

  2. Its good that David Campos helped to arrange the meeting, but he has to speak up better for the people who are being hurt. He hardly said “pio” when the new residents at the meeting were trying to shout down Roberto Hernandez – the political power broker leader of the community . Compare that with what Campos, Mayor Lee, former Willie Brown and the others go chasing around after Rose Pak when she comes back from China.

    He helps set the Rolls Royce stage for Rose Pak, while saying “pio” for Roberto Hernandez. Nothing against Rose Pak, but when this happens, there results are her part of the city is getting a Billion Dollar new subway, the Mission is getting its bus stops cut. Campos, support your people !!

  3. The 60,000 people who ride busses on Mission are the poorest of any line in the city. Also, they are mostly people of color. How is making their ride more efficient somehow racist? And how is making the streets demonstrably safer for pedestrians part of MTA’s plot to gentrify the Mission?

    1. I couldn’t agree more! The comments by William Ortiz Cartagena, who works with the Mission Economic Development Agency, are laughable. I thought all us gentrifiers road in luxury tech buses – don’t need SFMTA.

    2. If its better and so *efficient* to cut the stops on the odd street numbered stops in the Mission, why don’t MTA spread the love and make downtown efficient by cutting the stops on 7th Street, 5th Street, 3rd Streets. The downtown route of the 14 stops at 9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2. Those stops weren’t cut in the name of *efficiency*. Because it isn’t better.

      Just saying it sounds very much like your saying, “we know what is better for the Latinos, they don’t know that its good for them to have half the bus stops taken away in their area.

      Finally, there has been no “demonstration” that it is safer for pedestrians. people disagree. Time may tell.

      1. Ed Reiskin admitted at a Board meeting that the number of fatalities has not gone down but is the same as it was before the Vision Zero was enacted. How is it working if that is the case?

      2. Changes should not be made to support one race of people over another. These changes were made to make the roads safer for all the people who live in the Mission and use public transport. The Latinos do not “own” the Mission.

      3. Kevin, I totally understand your point but are you sure bus commuters can’t walk 2 blocks?

    3. Uh, if you read up on bus corridors and improvements that municipalities make to them, particularly Bus Rapid Transit implementation, you will see, in black and white, that the goal of a BRT installation is to get more people to ride the bus. In order to do this, they set out in black and white that planning needs to coincide with increasing the density of residential zoning, and even the San Francisco Planning Department has already set forth “soft parcels” – improved properties that are identified as targets for redevelopment. I.E, gas stations, parking lots, older buildings. “How is making the streets safer for pedestrians part of the MTA’s plot to gentrify the Mission?” you ask? Well, you see these businesses that were once reliant cars to bring in shoppers – many of who are dropped off while the car goes around the block to find parking somewhere else, etc, or comes back and picks that person up, or businesses that rely on drive-by traffic to see a restaurant and figure, “I will stop and eat there” or “I need to stop and pick up this or that” at whatever store…those businesses will be gone in six months. Then, when the building owner tries to re-rent his space to another business, low and behold, there won’t be any businesses who want to locate there, or, they certainly will not pay the higher rent that was once obtainable in the Mission. So a developer asks the building owner if he wants to sell. Since the building is not kicking off good income from retail rents, he/she sells, and soon, a four story or more building with a starbuck’s downstairs is in its place. And those are very expensive condos now, or new apartments. And the upper floor older, rent controlled units are long gone.

      Kill the businesses, bring in developers, make lots more housing. That is the way it is done. Any questions? Before you pop off without doing your homework, look up “Bus Rapid Transit planning” and look at what is laid out for all these public transit goof-balls to read up on. You will see it in black and white.

      San Francisco needs more housing. Techies want to own their own condo. In ten years, the Mission will be unrecognizable. Bus Rapid Transit. The New Redevelopment Agency in town, here to help get rid of the poor and the lower income areas, and bring in nice new buildings with a higher tax basis.

      If you cannot follow the bouncing ball, I feel bad for you.

  4. Laura Wenus, the way you have written this article, it appears you are bias against the project, “For some, the only side effect of the changes has been that their bus rides have been faster and the streets seem more pedestrian friendly.”

    I disagree with your word choice “side effect”. The points you follow that up with are the essence of the project. Thanks for pointing out that the red transit lanes make public transportation faster. Each articulated bus can hold ~90 people, unlike a private car which often carries 1-2. And, it’s great that the streets are more pedestrian friendly. Mission Street is full of vibrant storefronts and all people get to them on foot, no matter how they arrived to the area.

    I am happy to have traffic calming in my neighborhood of 20 years and a faster commute. We should not be encouraging or catering to cars in this day. Who can afford a car anyway? -Homeowners with garages (keep in mind those homes cost one million). Mission Street has always been dangerous with lanes too narrow for the buses, cars and parking. San Francisco has been a leader in innovative and progressive solutions like this, for the people. Plus, this is an environmentally friendly change, which will soon be the end of us all without any change.

    1. I can change it to “Effect” rather than “side effect.” My intention was to contrast the “side effects” people are seeing that are negative which the effects folks are seeing on the transit line. But I suppose you’re right that those observations are what the program set out to achieve in the first place so “side effect” is not very clear language.

  5. I came away from the meeting thinking this has nothing to do with the SFMTA at all. It seemed like a lot of angry folks upset that the Mission is changing and lashing out at Muni because they feel disenfranchised. Those are valid feelings, but eliminating the red lane isn’t going to address them.

    Also, there were speakers from outside of the neighborhood on the anti-Muni side as well, one of the first was from Taraval, where merchants are furious about a transit plan to reduce pedestrian injuries.

    1. Agree 100%. People are frustrated / frightened and that leads them to believe that all change is bad. Sad when this looks to really improve travel times and safety (particularly for lower-income folks like myself that can’t afford cars).

      1. If the SFMTA insists on keeping their design the status quo, then they need to pay the business owners for loss of revenue and the property owners for reductions in property values. If the people of San Francisco want a two minute faster commute through the Mission, then they should pay for it, not just the business and real estate owners along the Mission. “Knock Knock” ….SFMTA says, “Who is there?”….Attorney says, “I am an attorney representing X who owns (insert property address here) and we want compensation for obstructing access to our property. ”

        That is how you make it fair. Pay for loss of income, pay for re-location of businesses, pay property owners for loss in value (damages) due to the project.

  6. Waiting for months to correct a mistake that is killing businesses is not an option. The Mission is working on a plan. No more top down designs. Look for a strong showing against the SFMTA in November if they don’t fix the problems now and drop the red lane plans for other neighborhoods. Looks like the SFMTA needs to be trained to serve the public. They want to SHIFT our attitude. They are the ones who need to SHIFT their priorities and policies.

    1. As far as I can see SFMTA is serving the public by making public transportation more efficient and faster and also making it safer for pedestrians. Not sure which Merchants in the Mission are negatively impacted by these changes??? I still eat at the same restaurants on Mission Street. I still take my laundry/dry cleaning to 18th and Mission Street. I still use the same banks on Mission Street. I still get my prescriptions filled at the same pharmaceutical store.

      But now I can do all of these faster riding Muni.

      However, I do wish they would put back the bus stop at Precita and Mission.

    2. I guess the people who ride the bus down Mission aren’t part of the public in your mind.

  7. Shameful? For gods sake. Nothing about this is shameful, this was a meeting called by the same people youre ridiculing so you can have a say. A meeting about road changes that it sounds like lots of people like. Did it occur to anyone yelling at that meeting that Mission street is a thoroughfare, the longest street in San Francisco…San Francisco is a city full of people who have a right to-and need to-use Mission street. These “passionate” residents are just rude and entitled..two things they ironically attribute to everyone who disagrees with them. No ones trying to thwart your businesses, no one wants to infringe on your culture, this isnt “us vs. them”, “mission district against the world”. The SFMTA changed some stuff on a street they’re responsible for maintaining and since some of you are upset they’re trying to be civilized and hear you out. Grow up.

  8. There are lots of bad things happening in/to the Mission, but making Mission street safer is not one of them. I was at the meeting and it was pretty scary. The opposition was threatening folks, and shouting at people. One gentleman sitting in front of me kept his sunglasses on, he was wearing brass knuckles, and at one point asked a guy to step outside. I know why people left. It was not a safe meeting.

  9. At first i disagreed with the red carpet striping down mission st. Mostly cause it is very confusing if you are new to stumble upon it, trying to navigate it. But those right turn only’s seem to be the real problem and YES i do think they absolutely are hurting the small businesses in the mission. And THAT is why you have people calling foul with the race card. Most of those businesses are immigrant owned and operated. I personally noticed the much quieter atmosphere shopping on Mission these days. If these businesses are forced to close due to the sfmta’s new traffic “experiment”, that will without a doubt move out the old immigrant shop owners only to bring in some high end shop or worse yet… corporate chains. This i feel is a WAY bigger issue than if some people get to sleep in an extra 10 minutes before going to work daily. Lets put these business owners needs first in this argument because if we lose these small businesses, we will NEVER EVER get them back! And we can not LET that happen!! They are the fabric of our town that is becoming as difficult to find as a rent controlled unit!!

  10. I do not think that SFMTA should be allowed to make such sweeping changes without local voter approval.

  11. How can people always complain about MUNI and then shout loudly when they try to improve it? MUNI’s ridership comprises a majority of people without access to a car, and people of color so to hear this as an anti-gentrification argument is hilariously misconceived.

    The business owners think they get more business from car owners when in fact customers across all modes spend the same amount over time; those on foot/transit buy things more often than those in a car who come less often but spend more. There have been UK studies on this. Not sure if there has been any work done in the US but I don’t see why it wouldn’t hold true here too.

    However, if your business is selling things the local market doesn’t want then inevitably that business will fail. I concede this is where the gentrification argument comes in. That means that places like the last western wear store on Mission St goes out of business. That’s a sad fact, but nothing to do with transit which is providing faster more reliable access to the Mission corridor businesses in a better way than before.

    1. The businesses were not compaining before the red lanes. So what is your real point. The studies in the UK have no comparison to the U.S., much less the Mission. No two streets are the same. Comparisons of “what happened over here” begin and end at the next block over, much less the next continent over.

  12. I think many miss the point. The plan for the Mission was not done with the Mission community. It was done outside the Mission with people who don’t really understand what is happening in the Mission or understand the Latino culture or how the Latino market works. It was brought to us with several options only. If it truly would have included the Latino community and others in the Mission, it would have been a great plan that serves everyone. Not perfect but we would not be going through this. Our community is involved in its on community planning. Did anyone check with us? Does it fit into our plans? Remember that development and transit are connected. You build higher density buildings which (90 percent are luxury) on transit corridors for those resident to travel on, MUNI, BART. For those who say its not connected to gentrification are not being honest or can not see the bigger picture. Many that were there where not from the Mission and without truly understanding our social issues and how everything is connected with our local and cultural economy. Our muni riders which I am one and many other low income immigrants who ride the bus know that 2 min is not worth the closures of their local affordable business or service providers or more displacement (which could be them). The Mission is fragile right now and any small disruption will continue the dismantling of the neighborhood. I know some are ok with this, but lets be honest. Remember environmental justice cannot truly happen with out social justice. Let our community make its own decisions and lead to make this good for everyone and for the future of the Mission.

  13. I get that folks are angry, but – how are you gonna fight gentrification by making it harder for it citizens to inexpensively get to work in time? That’s some misplaced aggression!

    And yes, many of the folks who take the buses are old and disabled.

    1. Jim, what is “making it harder to inexpensively get to work”? They removed half the bus stops, making it much harder for the older and disabled to get to that bus stop in the first place. As for faster commute times, which you do not bring up but I will, that extra walk to the next bus stop….there goes the two minutes touted as time savings. What a joke. If anyone is making it harder for the older and the disabled AND the general public, it is the SFMTA, which is following this “new idea” to speed up BRT by removing bus stops. If you were at the meeting you will note that while the pro-red lane people were pumping up the new design of the Mission, a LOT of them would add, at the end of their two minutes, that they wanted more bus stops. WHAT???? LOL…the SFMTA is really on it.

  14. ““This is redlining in the Mission,” said Gabriel Medina, also with MEDA.”

    What? Redlining is the practice of deliberately denying city services to an area. This is the exact opposite of redlining. The city is trying to increase the efficiency of bus service in the Mission.

    1. FYI: Definition of redline: to refuse (a loan or insurance) to someone because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk.

      1. Thank you, I did my senior project on the Community Reinvestment Act and the concept of redlining poor neighborhoods in Schenectady, NY. I respect Gabriel, but am a little disappointed that he used the term incorrectly. Good on ya for clarifying 🙂

  15. I guess I was one of those pro-transit-lane supporters that had to leave early. I had to get home to take care of my daughter (who goes to Buena Vista Horace Mann) while my wife went to teach an evening class at City College. Basta with the generalizations! There are many local neighbors who support public transport and the Mission St changes.

    It’s really sad these changes have caused such anger and divisiveness in the community. I agree with the previous commenter that it seems like people are lumping this in with their anger over the evictions/displacement/gentrification happening in the neighborhood. I get that Mission St is part of the heritage of the community and has been a certain way for a long time. But traveling on Mission St, taking the bus on this corridor, has been horrible for a long time. Mission St is a major city bus route and every San Franciscan should support making MUNI and the bus work better. Thousands of people use that route every day.

    I hope the SFMTA stands firm and keeps the changes necessary to make the bus faster and make the streets safer. I hope Supervisor Campos can broker more meetings with community leaders and SFMTA to see what could be modified to help real issues. And I hope the folks that are against this can take a deep breath and see that these changes are going to make the City better for all San Franciscans.

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