Small tweaks will be made to the transit project implemented along Mission Street in the spring of 2016, but opponents said they will continue to fight for more changes.
Opponents said the transit-only lanes, forced right turns, left turn restrictions, and bus stop consolidations along Mission Street from 14th to Randall streets have failed to serve the most vulnerable and have hurt local businesses.
Though some transit riders voiced support for the changes, citing improved bus travel times, drivers, other transit riders, businesses, and residents made their opposition clear at a public hearing in June.
In response, the agency announced earlier this month that it would consider removing the forced right turns at 22nd and 26th streets, thereby allowing northbound drivers to travel four blocks instead of two before being forced to turn off Mission Street. The directors approved that change Tuesday as well as an exemption to the left turn restriction at 21st Street and the relocation of a bus stop at Cortland Avenue.
Members of the transit advocacy group San Francisco Transit Riders supported both the original program and the tweaks at the meeting
“It’s painful to see the division of the community that has resulted, but we still strongly support the project and its aims,” said Peter Straus of the San Francisco Transit Riders.
Matt Brill, a transit planner with the agency, noted that he had received plenty of positive feedback, and that riders perceived that travel times had been cut by up to 10 minutes, an improvement that outstrips the maximum five-minute reduction the agency’s own data predicted for the project.
“Some occasional [Muni] riders are saying they’re choosing to take Muni over BART because it shows up more reliably,” Brill said.
Opponents at the meeting said the agency had failed to consider seniors, people with disabilities, or people lugging large shopping bags who would be hurt by the stop consolidation. These passengers are only hindered by the removal of stops because they must walk more blocks to reach a bus stop, they said.
Moreover, opponents contended, local businesses have been reporting losses since the project’s implementation. Business owners and local organizers want forced right turns ended and consolidated bus stops restored. They have also asked for data on car and pedestrian traffic and transit use before and after the implementation of the project.
“Having us turn off every four blocks does not keep the community whole,” said Gabriel Medina, policy manager for the Mission Economic Development Agency. “This is done basically in spite of us and not with us.”
Data is a problematic element of this debate. A survey conducted by the transit agency indicated that some 22 percent of businesses along the corridor reported business being down after the implementation of the program. But neighborhood activist Roberto Hernandez presented results of a survey local organizers conducted, which indicated that roughly 84 percent of businesses along the corridor reported a loss in business.
Residents surveyed 357 businesses between Cesar Chávez and 14th Street, while the transit agency reached roughly 400. The community survey found that 301 reported a loss in revenue since the program was installed, 14 have closed and three are expecting to close, Hernandez said.
“I would urge you to see if you can work out how it could be that there would be such disparate data,” said Thea Selby, the chair of the San Francisco Transit Riders and founder of the Lower Haight Merchants and Neighbors Association.
The transit agency director Gwyneth Borden also called for more exact data, saying businesses citywide had seen a decline in revenue over the past year and suggested that the transit improvement changes in the corridor might not be the only factor affecting business there.
“It’s hard to say why business is down this year and we don’t know why,” she said. “There seems to be a slowdown, and I’m not saying that that’s the total reason for things happening on Mission Street, but there are two forces happening at one time.”
Merchants aren’t the only ones who are voicing concerns, and who the agency isn’t quite sure how to appease. Barry Korengold, who heads the San Francisco Taxi Workers Association, told the board that allowing only one left turn on the whole corridor failed to help taxi drivers. Moreover, he said, placing the turn at 21st Street failed to make sense.
“We were told before that they would be able to make some left turns, not one left turn,” he told the directors.
The agency originally restricted left turns because they are statistically more dangerous to pedestrians, which Cathy DeLuca from Walk SF as well as transit director Cristina Rubke both pointed out.
Parking has also been central to the debate, as many businesses argue customers depend on nearby parking in order to continue their patronage. The transit directors discussed possibilities for improving awareness and usage of the two parking garages along the corridor, at Bartlett and Hoff streets, by improving signage or even providing free parking vouchers to businesses to hand out to customers – Brill reported that the garages stand up to 40 percent empty during the day.
Rubke and another director encouraged the agency to examine other possible left turn exemptions. The board then approved the suggested changes to the program.
Opponents of the major changes along Mission Street said they will continue to pressure for more changes. MEDA’s Medina, for one, said there was still work to do.