Red lanes on 16th?
The 22-Fillmore bus on Church and 16th Street. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez.

Nearly a dozen businesses along 16th Street said that the addition of transit-only red lanes along the two-mile stretch between Church and Mission Bay will lead to increased congestion,  drive customers away and make it difficult to accept deliveries.

“It’s already crowded with two lanes,” said Art Herzallah, a manager at Stanza Cafe.“All these changes, they’re for the ballpark and the new arena, not for us.”

Mission Street businesses have criticized how the red lanes on that thoroughfare have affected their bottom line.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency plans to start construction in Spring 2020, turning one lane between Bryant and Church Streets in the westbound direction into a bus-only lane. The area most affected by the lane changes will be in Potrero Hill, where two lanes of the street will be converted to transit-only lanes starting at Bryant Street all the way until Missouri near 7th Street. The agency will also install new underground piping and add new trees.

Erica Kato, an SFMTA spokesperson, wrote in an email that construction will be completed by Spring 2022, and the red lanes will be painted in once construction is finished. One lane will remain open during construction. 

In an informal survey, Mission Local interviewed 23 businesses on 16th Street and found that the concentration of commercial businesses clustered between Dolores and Mission Street were the most concerned over the loss of parking and an increase of congestion. 

The current MTA plan does not include the removal of parking spaces on the northern side of 16th Street and does not include the removal of any parking spaces. But, proving that all issues are local, the one space that will be lost, between Valencia Street and Albion Alley, was a concern to the businesses nearby.  

Cindy Li, a manager at Big Lantern Chinese restaurant at 3170 16th St. near Albion Street, said the restaurant is already losing customers who can’t find parking in the area. She said she is opposed to any changes on the street because it may make the restaurant inaccessible to more clients who drive. Managers seemed to indicate that parking had already become more difficult and any additional construction would only add to the problem.  

“One time we had a table reserved for 15 people, but they cancelled it because they could not find parking. It’s costing us business,” Li said.

Moreover, Li said, that if one lane is converted to transit-only, unloading supplies for the restaurant will become more  difficult.

Herzallah, the manager at Stanza Cafe at 3126 16th St., said he’s been managing businesses in the Mission for 16 years and commutes from South San Francisco daily. On his way in every morning, Herzallah said he’ll stop by and pick up supplies and has to find a way to unload them without double parking. 

“For me, bringing my deliveries for my business will be horrible,” Herzallah said. 

Further down the street at 2445 16th St., George Kevetz and his spouse, Sofia, run USA Auto Body & Painting, an auto repair business that the couple has operated for 30 years. They’re not excited about new changes because they’re already feeling pressured by the current state of the street. This area of 16th experiences heavy congestion during rush hour, Kevetz said, and losing one other lane would make traffic congestion worse.

The shop relies on deliveries from other automotive companies, Kevetz said, and when the delivery vans can’t find parking in front of the shop they have to double park and run the risk of getting a ticket. 

A delivery man who was in the shop at the time agreed and said that getting a ticket in a company vehicle would hurt his driving record and affect his job. 

“The city is really making it hard for us to live and do business here,” Kevetz said.

Kevetz, like the other business managers, said they haven’t been contacted by the MTA or invited to meetings to address their concerns. Most said they had not even seen a notice or received anything in the mail about the project.

Kato said in an email that the MTA has made “extensive outreach” but would not provide any additional details. 

Between Mission and Church streets, however, few businesses were aware of the plans, but some were open to the idea of the transit-only lanes.

“I think it’s going to make buses quicker. But I feel like this is a way for the city to incentivize people from using Uber or Lyft,” Jupiter Peraza, an event manager at Manny’s said.

Not all were opposed the MTA’s plan, and some even invited it. 

At Pavilion, a high-end boutique at 3187 16th St., Alejandro Ponce said he drives in from the Ingleside area and he is in favor of changes to the street, especially any that include a dedicated bus lane that would decongest traffic along the corridor and make it easier to take the bus. But Ponce also supports the changes because of the environmental aspects, as well as the hope that it pushes more people onto buses and out of cars. 

Down the block, Alex Angelides works at Fiat Lux, a jewelry shop at 3169 16th St., and said he thinks adding red lanes on 16th is a fun plan that would not have any effect on the business. 

“We’re here seeing people honk at each other for at least 15 to 20 minutes at any given day because people are trying to park or whatever,” Angelides said.

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  1. So… if Big Lantern is so heavily dependant on customers arriving by car, to the exclusion of Muni riders, is it not to their benefit the SFMTA’s plan (according to the SFMTA’s web site which is full of ) is to remove the Muni stop on their corner and convert it to parking?

    I can easily believe 16th Street merchants are focused entirely on the one space removed between Albion and Valencia, completely ignoring the 8 spaces gained between Albion and Church Street.

  2. The last thing 16th street needs is one less lane…it’s already screwed up by all the ride-share drivers from 5-6:30PM everyday anyways.

    Maybe what we need is a resident AND bus only lane… I pay enough extra fees every year for the reg, would be a nice bonus given it seems like those fees don’t go to fixing the damn roads.

  3. How do we know the decline in business isn’t part of the overall change in shopping habits (Amazon, other online retailers) and not because of transit lanes? Businesses trying to block a needed transit projects over the loss of one parking space is a classic example of why nothing ever gets done in SF.

    Utterly ridiculous.

  4. As a Bernal resident and 14R rider, I can often use stories like this to determine which Mission shops/restaurants are friends of public transit riders like myself, and which are most certainly not.

    A thanks to all the local businesses with the wisdom to recognize that many of their potential customers don’t drive, and don’t want to.

  5. I don’t know about 16th. Street, I do know Mission Street and Valencia Street.

    I know of more than a couple of businesses that went belly up because customers could not get to to the shops, either because bus stops have been eliminated or parking been reduced or lastly diverted traffic off of Mission Street.

    I have one doctor on Mission Street and one on Valencia. If I take MUNI I have to walk several blocks to their offices. If I drive I can spend up to an hour to find a legitimate parking space. This was never a problem in all the years I’ve lived in the Mission. Yet now the loss of parking spaces, elimination of bus lines and bus stops or the misdirection of traffic has made getting around the Mission a chore. Just to get the techie children downtown and the hell with the neighborhoods.

    While that maybe not of a problem when you are young and healthy, yet, for seniors or those with mobility issues this has become an ever-increasing issue.

    1. What businesses went belly up because customers couldn’t get to the shops?

      There are several paid parking lots in the area if one needs to drive. No need to spend time looking for a street spot.

      San Franciscans with mobility issues can use as an option.

      Glad to see so much support for transit here in the comments! We are long past the time of deprioritizing people driving to this transit rich area.

    2. How do you know that those are the reasons those businesses closed? Do you have any actual objective data to back that up or just anecdotes and stereotypes about “techie children”?

    3. So wickedly clever of Pat’s “techie children” to disguise themselves as women with small children, workers, seniors, people with disabilities, and homeless people — the riders you see on the Mission buses and the 22-Fillmore.

      Pat and I probably agree that the tech shuttles should not be allowed to use the red lanes. But Muni buses serving poor and working people, overwhelmingly people of color, take priority over a few parking spaces, especially when nearby garage spaces go unused.

  6. I live on 16th between Guerrero and Albion, and whenever I load anything into the apartment, I need to double park (like some merchants), since the curb has like one loading zone, which is always taken, and is otherwise filled with a bunch of parked cars. I don’t see the proposed bus lane itself as a problem in terms of loading (which is always an argument I see against these lanes) – it’s the obsession with having as many private vehicle parking spaces as possible, preventing loading at the curb. I’d rather see fewer parking spaces and more loading spaces, along with the new bus lane. Transit first! And on a separate note, as always, I think merchants overestimate how many people are driving to their businesses, especially when their business is on 16th Street.

    1. You know what would be amazing, printing out a bunch of card that say I took mass tranist / a bike / walked here and leaving them when you shopped at places.

      It might take a while but if enough people it would eventually sink in that many/most people do not drive to these businesses

  7. “‘One time we had a table reserved for 15 people, but they cancelled it because they could not find parking. It’s costing us business,’ Li said.”

    The 16th and Hoff Garage is a four minute walk away with 108 spaces. There’s also a lot two blocks away at 14th St and a valet lot on 17th just on the other side of Albion (not to mention walking distance from BART, the J-Church, six bus lines, a bikeshare station, and the existence of taxis and ride-hail services). Were they all full? Or did they simply not want to pay for it? Because if 15 people honestly made plans to go out to dinner together, drove all the way there in their various vehicles, and decided to all give up and go home instead of parking in the lot around the corner, I really don’t think that’s a problem city government can help them with, and thousands of people on buses shouldn’t have to wait every day because of that behavior and the fears of irreparable harm that could come from the loss of a single (1) parking space.

    And yes, I wish this article also interviewed transit riders instead of just business owners.

    1. I regularly ordered from Big Lantern, but getting to and from work is more important to me.

      I’d like to let them know they’re about to lose a loyal customer who doesn’t drive and it would sure be easier to get takeout with better Muni service, not more parking… but they don’t have an email address or contact form on their website.

  8. Let’s build 400 units on top the 16th St Mission BART station and it will solve the “losing customers” issue?

  9. With all due respect to the businesses in this corridor, the people on the bus matter too. Their time is worth something, and prioritizing MUNI more is something that should have happened decades ago. These bus lanes are long overdue.

  10. Let’s call it what it is. Businesses are more into prioritizing their own convenience (deliveries, commuting from SSF, etc) than they are about the couple of customers who (stupidly) insist on driving to 16th and Mission. No one wants to change one iota of their routine, even if it means that we actually make Muni into a more viable alternative to driving.

  11. It would be great to follow this story up with an informal survey of riders – I ride the 33 a lot and the journey from 16th and Potrero to 16th and Mission is interminable. I’d love a red carpet lane to get that going faster. The business owners concerns are valid, but we have a serious transit problem – no one wants to ride the buses because they take so darn long to get anywhere!

    1. Yeah Mission Local always interviews the business owners but never the transit riders. There are way more of the second type, and in a democracy their views count too.

  12. I live at 16th and Guerrero and am all for these bus lanes. Converting street parking to loading would probably do the most to decongest the area due to the constant double parking that blocks traffic. This is one of the most transit-rich parts of the city and there’s the Hoff garage a block away; we shouldn’t be prioritizing street parking here!