Plans to improve pedestrian safety on an injury-prone stretch of San Francisco streets were threatened this week, as Supervisor Katy Tang met with business interests claiming that the loss of a few parking spots required to add boarding islands for the L-Taraval line would harm business. So reports The Examiner, which notes that currently Muni riders disembark directly onto the street — a situation that is just fine for Albert Chow, the owner of Great Wall Hardware.
“We would like to seek safety, but not see boarding islands,” he told the paper. This have-it-both-ways mentality is in spite of the fact that Taraval Street, in its current form, is exceptionally dangerous for pedestrians. Officials behind Vision Zero, the two-year-old initiative to reduce SF traffic deaths to zero by 2024, keep track of which city streets are notably dangerous for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. Known as the High Injury Network, this collection of streets plays an outsized roll in the roughly 30 deaths that happen each year on the streets of San Francisco. And, you guessed it, Taraval Street is part of the High Injury Network.
So, when plans to rework Taraval Street were announced, pedestrian safety advocates were excited. After all, according to SFMTA officials, this street alone has played host to 46 vehicle-on-pedestrian collisions over the past five years. It seems they may not happen after all, however, as the installation of boarding islands would require to the loss of a few parking spots on Taraval — something apparently anathema to business owners' very existence.
Tang, for her part, arranged three meetings last month that attempted to find some sort of middle ground between safety advocates and business owners, and while she may have made an ally of said business owners, Tang's perceived advocacy to scrap SFMTA's plans are not winning her a lot of support elsewhere.
Perhaps the craziest thing about this is that the original proposal resulted in no net change in parking at all — just the removal of some stops on Taraval that would be offset by added spots within a block. That's right — business owners are preventing pedestrian safety improvements because they don't want their customers to have to walk one block.
Pedestrian safety advocates may end up getting the boarding islands after all, however, as SFMTA says it will "install boarding islands" if whatever new plan it goes forward with (like the business proposed alternative of, as the Ex put it, "flashing bumps on the roadway,") is "not successful." What does "not successful" mean in this case? You guessed it: someone gets hit by a car. Based on Taraval Street's history, odds are we won't have to wait too long for that to happen.
Update: Supervisor Tang sent SFist a statement, in part insisting that she is not driving the conversation surrounding the proposed changes — rather, she says she is "trying to move the conversation forward."
SFMTA presented our community with a set of proposals that included installation of boarding islands, stop removals, transit-only lanes, and traffic signals as part of the L-Taraval Muni Forward Project. Naturally, the proposal was met with opinions from all sides. Neighbors were invited to community meetings that turned into public shouting matches. Thus, our office suggested that we hold focus group meetings with representatives from all communities to move the conversation forward in a more productive manner. We included community members who represented youth, seniors, transit riders, drivers, merchants, bicyclists, pedestrian safety advocates, and those with disabilities. Through this forum, we were able to discuss in greater detail SFMTA’s initial proposal and where potential changes could be made or not be made. All of the detailed feedback will help SFMTA refine its initial proposal.
As with all large projects, community members will find that they share a diversity of opinions. But regardless of how people feel about specific proposals, most community members have acknowledged that we share common interests: safety and transit reliability. My job is to facilitate a productive dialogue to ensure that we meet our shared goals in the best way possible - not to interject my own opinions about a project. At no point during this process did I slam the brakes on any component of the L-Taraval Muni Forward Project.
This post has been updated throughout.SFMTA.