Room 109 at City College’s Mission Campus was tense Monday night, as an estimated 400 people* crowded in to trade opinions about the proposed Valencia Bikeway Improvements Project.
The gathering was divided into two camps — bike-use advocates in favor of the city’s plans to extend protected cycling lanes at the expense of on-street parking, and small business owners opposing some of those plans. At a rough glance, there seemed to be more of the former.
But while everyone wanted to have his or her say, that wouldn’t happen on this night: The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, whose meeting this was, took only written comments.
There was, in fact, no central meeting.
Thus, conversations more typically conducted at San Francisco meetings via microphones, speakers’ lists, and listening panels of elected or appointed officials were instead held, somewhat uncomfortably, face-to-face in small groups.
“This isn’t a hearing,” grumbled one attendee. Almost everyone in the room appeared to be under strain; heated discussions cropped up often, but without excessive incivility.
In the center of the room were two long tables, each with a detailed map of Valencia Street. Stacks of sticky notes sat ready for people to add their comments and suggestions, which they did. “More protected bike lanes this way,” read one with an arrow. “Finish please ASAP!!!” read another, indicating the intersection at 19th and Valencia.
Around the room’s perimeter, easels held charts and graphs explaining — in great detail — various elements of the planned improvements. They included protected bike lanes, parking and loading changes, left-turn restrictions, 12-Folsom/commuter shuttle stop changes, and pedestrian safety improvements.
The SFMTA also provided a table and chairs for those who wanted to write longer comments, and they saw heavy use.
Holding a sign reading “Valencia Street can be safer without abandoning our businesses,” Bertha Butler sat with a group from St. Mark’s Institutional Baptist Church at Valencia and 19th. “They’re trying to take away our parking,” she said. “We’re old! We can’t do all that walking.”
Chris Sanders and John Davidson, however, wore the yellow t-shirts seen on many at this night’s open house-style event, reading, “Protected Bike Lanes Save Lives.”
“I lived in New York [in 2007] when they added bike lanes on Ninth Street,” Sanders said. “No one used to use that street, and now everybody does. People complained, but business was up.”
Davidson said he had been hit by a car while cycling on Valencia Street, and was extremely concerned about safety. In addition, he thought business owners might consider a slightly different angle than the common idea that cars equal shoppers. “When I go shopping, I go on my bike, “ he said. “If there’s bike access, it makes it easier for me to shop.”
Responding to concerns that bike traffic-heavy districts might not support nightlife, both men described recent entertainment outings on their bikes. “I’ve gone to comedy shows late at night,” Davidson said, while Sanders pointed out that the Alamo Drafthouse theater on Mission has bike parking inside, which makes it especially easy to bike to the movies.
SFMTA officials collected the opposing viewpoints written down tonight and will, in the not-too-distant future, move forward with a plan that pleases some of the event-goers, but not all of them. Or, perhaps, pleases none.
“All comments will be reviewed by project staff and will be entered into the public record,” read written materials disseminated Monday night. “Comments will be considered when a determination is made whether to implement the change. After the hearing, proposals can be approved by the City Traffic Engineer.”
All of that may come as soon as spring.
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*This is the SFMTA’s own estimate; our initial guess was far lower. But we see no reason the MTA isn’t more accurate.