San Francisco , CA 94117, 94110, 94107, 94103, 94133
Dear Mayor Lee, Supervisors Breed, Farrell and Mar, MTA Board President and Members, Mr. Reiskin, Ms. Lombardo and Ms. Chang:
I’ve lived on Fell near Clayton since 1988. I cross Masonic as a pedestrian in my electric wheelchair at least twice weekly, and frequently roll along Masonic between Fell and Geary. Personally, I don’t feel unsafe. I also ride along and across Masonic several times a week as a passenger in my minivan.
Please reconsider the Masonic bicycle track project (the “Project”). As currently envisioned and as approved by the MTA Board, the Project would be dangerous to drivers and cyclists, increase congestion and pollution, create a hardship for residents, visitors, businesses and employees, jeopardize public safety by slowing emergency response time, and be a poor use of $21 million of taxpayer money. The parking loss would especially harm disabled people and seniors. Adequate studies have not been done about many aspects of the Project. The Project is unlikely to solve the safety concerns cited as justification for it. Masonic can be improved with more limited, targeted measures. A better bike route can be created using Baker. Finally, neighborhood residents were not given fair, detailed advance notice about the Project and a meaningful opportunity to express their opinions, and the Project doesn’t have “overwhelming community support.”
Collision Danger. There are dozens of driveways along Masonic. The Project would increase potential conflict between cyclists and drivers pulling out of driveways. Drivers’ ability to see cyclists will be limited. Also, cars pulling out of driveways on a busy street such as Masonic can only do so when motor vehicle traffic is stopped by a red light. Some cyclists don’t obey traffic signals, and vehicles could be pulling out of driveways when they don’t expect any traffic, only to hit an unexpected cyclist. Because many cyclists don’t use lights, this will be even more dangerous at night.
Instead of encouraging more cyclists to use Masonic, one of the busiest North-South streets in San Francisco, a safer alternative would be to create a bike route that includes the existing bike paths on Baker, which has much less volume, slower moving traffic and no buses. Many cyclists already use Baker.
Congestion. Motor vehicle traffic on Masonic was over 32,000 vehicles daily in 2010, per MTA. Yet the Project would eliminate the extra travel lanes at rush hour, reducing the number of travel lanes to two in each direction at all times. There is already gridlock at rush hour (for example, there is major Southbound backup on Masonic around Grove, Hayes and Fell during evening rush hour); the Project would make this even worse. And because of the bus boarding platforms, only one travel lane will be moving when buses stop to load/unload passengers. Consider how this will impact traffic when several passengers are getting on and off - vehicles will pile up behind the bus, and some will hastily and dangerously try to go around it. The delay and congestion will be even greater when the lift is deployed for disabled passengers, which can sometimes take several minutes.
Not only will Masonic become more congested, so will the side streets, both because of the reduced traffic capacity of Masonic itself and because drivers will have to circle further and longer to find parking. Over many years I’ve spent a lot of time on Hayes, Ashbury and Clayton; they are pleasant, safe and uncongested but are unlikely to remain that way if the Project is implemented.
Importantly, MTA did no analysis of the cumulative impact of the Project combined with the loss of parking on nearby Fell and Oak streets, and the reduction in travel lanes on Oak during morning rush hour, that are part of the Fell/Oak bike lane project. These cumulative impacts will increase congestion.
With the new Target store at Masonic and Geary, traffic volume will increase significantly. But MTA admitted, in response to a Sunshine request, that it didn’t do any studies on the impact of the Target store on the Project. (Not only was there no study about Target’s impact on the Project, there was no study about the traffic impact of Target at all. Per an e-mail dated August 31, 2011 from Jerry Robbins of MTA to other MTA staff, received in response to a Sunshine request, “There was no transportation impact study on [sic – Chabner note - “on” probably should be “or”] environmental review for Target as it was not a change of use (former retail use to new retail use).”)
Besides the overall increased traffic volume Target will generate on Masonic, one of the potential specific traffic impacts of Target is that, because the store has several separate, disconnected parking lots, getting from one to another requires exiting the lot and driving on the street. According to an MTA staff e-mail received in response to a Sunshine request, “We really won’t know how the public will choose to park each of the lots and what issues this may raise on city streets until Target opens. … We will have to do post opening observations and analysis.” (E-mail dated August 31, 2011 from Ricardo Olea of MTA to other MTA staff.)
With increased congestion will come increased pollution.
Parking Loss. The loss of all street parking on Masonic from Fell to Geary - at least 167 spaces - would be a major blow to the neighborhoods. Large numbers of residents, visitors, employees, businesses, students and service providers rely on street parking. The hardship would be at its worst at night, when parking is scarcest. My wife and I don’t have a garage, so we know from personal experience how difficult it is to find parking in our neighborhood at night, especially on weekends. We know firsthand that all of the street parking on Masonic from Fulton to Fell is usually occupied at night.
According to MTA documents received in response to a Sunshine request, MTA didn’t study overnight or weekend parking. (Also, it appears from the documents that most of the parking study was conducted on one day.) Moreover, the on-street parking analysis in the Masonic Avenue Street Redesign Study Final Report dated January 2011 (the report on which the MTA Board based its approval of the Project) is seriously flawed in what it does cover. It aggregates data for the entire length of Masonic from Geary all the way to Fell, disaggregating only the East and West sides. But the Project area includes more than one neighborhood, each of which has separate conditions. The area from McAllister to Fell is more purely residential and denser than the area North of Turk, which includes single-family homes with garages on Ewing Terrace, and institutions that are closed at night, including schools and a blood bank. This presentation vastly understates the parking shortage from McAllister to Fell. It’s also important to recognize that removing all street parking will have a major impact even in an area that may have less than 100% utilization, because all capacity will have been removed, not merely “excess” capacity.
Regarding parking near the Target, staff e-mails provided by MTA include statements such as “The assumption is that Masonic will not be significantly impacted.” [by the Target]. (Emphasis added; e-mail dated September 1, 2011 from Ricardo Olea to other MTA staff.) Also, “We really won’t know how the public will choose to park each of the lots [at Target] and what issues this may raise on city streets until Target opens.” (E-mail dated August 31, 2011 from Ricardo Olea to other MTA staff.)
People with mobility disabilities and seniors rely heavily on automobiles, so we would be even more impacted by the parking loss than the general public. (I’ve written an analysis of this issue and will send it separately.) Many people with mobility disabilities and seniors are limited in how far they can walk or roll, so the parking loss caused by the Project not only will make it harder for us to find parking, but will require us to expend more energy getting from a parking space to our home, workplace and business, and to the stores and restaurants we patronize. It’s also relevant that San Francisco has fewer blue zones than legally required, and there are very few blue zones in the Project area. The parking loss will also make it more difficult for us to have home visits from therapists, caregivers, wheelchair repair companies and service providers.
Emergency Response. In an emergency, one minute of additional response time can literally be the difference between life and death. The congestion described above will slow down emergency vehicles, especially when buses are present. The bus boarding platforms will present obstacles. The five-foot wide median strip will make it impossible for emergency vehicles to drive on the opposite side of the street, as they sometimes do now for brief but critical moments, and harder to execute fast left turns.
Lack of Fair Notice and Outreach. I never received notice from MTA (nor from the Planning Department or any other City department or agency) about the Project - no notice of community workshops or any MTA Board meetings or hearings, or of any other meetings. I learned of the MTA Board’s approval from SF Gate, after it happened. I’ve spoken with dozens of people in my neighborhood, and almost none of them (and, on my block, literally nobody with whom I’ve spoken) received notice. Yet MTA claims the Project has “overwhelming community support.” At a meeting at City Hall on March 13, 2013 with Ahmad El-Najjar (Supervisor Breed’s Legislative Aide), James Shahamiri (an MTA engineer working on the Project) and a group of neighborhood residents opposed to the project, Mr. Shahamiri went so far as to claim that notice and outreach to the neighborhood not only were extensive and fair, but were the “gold standard” for MTA projects. His statement shocked those of us present, most or all of whom received no notice.
In fact, however, MTA outreach and notice were deficient, and skewed heavily toward supporters and likely supporters. Documents received in response to a Sunshine request confirm that MTA coordinated with the SF Bicycle Coalition and Fix Masonic in conducting outreach. One of the only people I know in my neighborhood who received notice is a member of the SF Bicycle Coalition and a strong supporter of the Project.
I requested from MTA all documents regarding the geographic scope in which notice was given and the geographic scope in which notice was required to be given. But MTA didn’t provide any documents regarding the geographic scope of notice.
It is just wrong and undemocratic for a major project that will affect the daily lives of thousands of people for decades to come to be imposed without fair notice to those people and without providing them a meaningful opportunity to be heard before decisions are made.
If it truly believes the Project has “overwhelming community support,” MTA should agree to a vote (with one person-one vote, and voting to be conducted by an independent third-party) by notifying all residents, in writing, within a specified area of Masonic about the Project and giving them an opportunity to vote on it. The vote could be binding or advisory. (There is precedent for such a vote - in 2004, the Department of Parking and Traffic (MTA’s predecessor) held a nonbinding vote about the Page Street traffic circles. Residents opposed that project 77% to 23%.) I’m not being rhetorical here - I’m seriously asking MTA to stand behind its repeated claims and put them to a fair test.
Alternatives. $21 million is a huge amount of taxpayer money to spend on a project that has not been adequately analyzed and will have so many harmful consequences. Many of the collisions on Masonic occurred at night; lighting along Masonic should be improved. Some cars ran into fixed objects; this can be mitigated by redesigning and/or moving street furniture and signal poles. MTA should analyze whether left turns off of Masonic should be further restricted, and should consider how to improve traffic signal timing and configuration. One of the two fatalities frequently cited in support of redesigning Masonic was caused by a drunk driver; the Project will not prevent deaths and injuries caused by drunk driving. It also must be recognized that many of the collisions were the fault of the pedestrian or cyclist, and that collisions will occur when people act carelessly, especially on a major thoroughfare. This is not to argue that Masonic can’t and shouldn’t be improved, but to recognize that there is a limit to what can be accomplished by street and traffic design.
Many of the bus stops on Masonic need new shelters. The street surface is in terrible shape and desperately needs fixing. Many of the corners in the Project area have steep, dangerous curb ramps that are in poor condition, lack textured domed warning surfaces, and are only on one side of a corner, forcing disabled pedestrians into the street. I, and perhaps others, requested new, legally required curb ramps at these intersections years ago. All of these improvements should be made ASAP, and they can all be done without implementing the Project and without spending anywhere near $21 million.
Please don’t experiment with our neighborhood and our daily lives. In 2003/2004, MTA’s predecessor DPT installed traffic circles along Page Street without thoroughly analyzing the particular conditions and without fair notice to the people affected. DPT engineers insisted, and insisted again and again, that these would calm traffic, but the opposite happened. Fortunately, the traffic circles were temporary, inexpensive and easy to remove. But with the Masonic Project, the collateral damage from the trial and error method won’t be so easy to reverse.
Thank you for considering this e-mail.
Howard Chabner - Disability Rights Advocate
March 19, 2013
A message from Disability Rights Advocate Howard Chabner
Ahmad Elnajjar is one of the legislative aides to supervisor London Breed, and the one with whom we (the Save Masonic group) met on Wednesday. Among other things, at our meeting he said that it just may be that anyone in San Francisco who wants to own a car will have to pay $500 a month to park it.
This e-mail gives a sense of his thinking. I just sent a polite, short response thanking him for his e-mail; I am not engaging him in a back-and-forth discussion.
From: Elnajjar, Ahmad [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Sunday, March 17, 2013 9:25 PM
To: Howard Chabner
Subject: RE: People with major mobility disabilities rely heavily on automobiles and paratransit
Thank you for sharing your thoughts in such a clear and concise manner. I agree completely with your assessment that until public transportation or alternative transportation (zipcar, rental agencies, etc...) can offer more reliable and timely service for those with mobility-limiting disabilities, there will be a need for personal automobiles to serve this population.
Let me start with: removing parking spaces increases scarcity. Increased scarcity increases demand and, for commodities, increases price. Increased price has the effect of deterring individuals who are more sensitive to price. Those individuals with higher price elasticity (either less sensitive to price or have no available substitutes) will tend to keep their automobiles while those with lower price sensitivity will seek out substitutes to car ownership with a lower priced commodity.
The fact here, and one backed by numerous economic studies and urban planning models, is that by increasing the price of driving (higher parking meter charges, less parking, environmental controls, etc...) the less individuals will drive. The added benefit of this trajectory is that by decreasing those drivers who do not 'need' to drive, it increases opportunities for those who do such as those with employment outside the City, disabled with limited mobility, or with large families. The point being, the trajectory of the Transit-First policy of San Francisco will lead to a City where only those who must drive, will drive; thereby engendering greater flexibility for those who absolutely must rely on vehicle ownership. In the meantime, the removal of the parking spaces may place a temporary burden on those car owners in the immediate neighborhood. However, this will subside.
In regard to those who disabled individuals who rely on parking, there will continue to be parking off of Masonic on the numerous side streets, paratransit and other disability serving services will continue to be allowed access along Masonic for pick-up/drop off, and caregiver service providers still are able to make their deliveries and provide care (see SFMTA list of parking permits: http://www.sfmta.com/cms/pperm/13442.html).
Thanks again for sharing your concerns Howard.
From: Howard Chabner
Sent: Sunday, March 17, 2013 6:44 PM
To: Elnajjar, Ahmad
Subject: People with major mobility disabilities rely heavily on automobiles and paratransit
A belated thank you for meeting last Wednesday with several of us who are concerned about the Masonic
Transportation is essential to living a full, independent life - attending school, working, spending time with family, socializing, volunteering, participating in civic life, attending cultural, entertainment and sports events, shopping, maintaining a home, going on vacation. Broadly speaking, the goal of the disability rights laws is to ensure that disabled people have an equal opportunity in all areas of life. Accessible transportation, and an equal opportunity to choose among modes of transportation, are essential disability rights.
Civil rights laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in programs of local government, use of streets and sidewalks, and transportation. California Civil Code Section 54(a) provides that “Individuals with disabilities or medical conditions have the same right as the general public to the full and free use of the streets, highways, sidewalks, walkways… public facilities, and other public places.” Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires local governments to provide people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services and activities. Sidewalks, streets and parking are programs provided by ADA Title II entities, and therefore are subject to ADA requirements.
Most people with major mobility disabilities are unable to bike, ride a motorcycle, or use a skateboard, razor style scooters, rollerblades or roller skates. Most slow walkers (people who walk slowly and with difficulty, and who may or may not use devices such as canes, crutches or a walker) and many manual wheelchair users can go only a limited distance. Although many pedestrians who use electric wheelchairs and scooters are able to go far, some of them, too, can go only a limited distance. Many people with major mobility disabilities are unable to hold an umbrella, especially while in their wheelchair or when using a cane, crutches or walker, so rainy weather is especially challenging. Many also have difficulty in hot weather (e.g. those with spinal cord injuries) or cold weather (e.g. those with neuromuscular diseases). Carrying packages can also be difficult or impossible for many.
Finding a taxi that can accommodate an electric wheelchair, non-folding manual wheelchair or scooter is problematic. Perhaps around 10% of San Francisco’s taxi fleet is wheelchair accessible, so it’s often difficult to find an accessible taxi and long waits are common. And only a tiny fraction of New York City’s fleet is, making taxis essentially unavailable to these people. In most cities, this is unlikely to change in the near future.
Public transportation systems have access limitations, flaws and gaps. In San Francisco, for example, many of the light rail stops are still not accessible. In some places the accessible rail boarding platform is after the regular (inaccessible) stop, and at rush hour the first car (the only car that wheelchair passengers can board) is full by the time it reaches the accessible platform, so passengers in wheelchairs are passed up even though there may be space in the second car and often despite being at the accessible platform before other passengers are at the regular stop. Elevators break. Elevators often smell of urine. Instead of leading directly to the boarding platform, the elevators in some underground Muni stations lead to a potentially dangerous alley beyond the platform, and passengers in the alley are not visible to those at the boarding platform. Some bus stops are flag stops, which can be difficult for people with mobility disabilities to access. Not all bus stops have shelters. Most buses are still of the high floor design and have cumbersome, unpleasant wheelchair lifts that can be problematic. Bus lifts break. Some bus boarding platforms, especially on Market Street, are too narrow for a wheelchair, so passengers in wheelchairs must board and exit in the street. Sometimes both wheelchair spaces on a bus are already occupied. Some bus routes are too steep for some people with mobility disabilities. The public transportation systems of many American cities are less accessible than San Francisco’s. The New York City subway, for example, is mostly inaccessible.
Individual circumstances also limit many disabled people’s ability to use public transportation. As described above, it is especially difficult for some of us with major mobility disabilities to use public transportation in the rain or cold weather. Fatigue is a factor for many people with mobility disabilities, and using public transportation is more tiring than driving or riding in a car. Many people, including disabled people, are uncomfortable using public transportation at night or in certain neighborhoods. Also, if they have a choice, it is prudent for everyone, disabled and able-bodied alike, to avoid public transportation when they have a contagious illness or feel they are becoming sick.
Many people with major mobility disabilities rely on paratransit. But in order to be eligible for paratransit service, one has to be unable to use regular public transportation, so not everyone with a mobility disability qualifies. Moreover, paratransit has limited availability, must be scheduled in advance, requires a wide time window and allows no spontaneity. In some places, paratransit does not provide intercounty or intercity service, making it difficult or impossible to use for certain destinations and precluding commuting to work in a different city or county from where one lives.
Many people with mobility disabilities rely heavily on automobiles not only because of the limitations, disadvantages and, in some cases, complete unavailability of some of the other forms of transportation, but also because of the great advantages autos afford. Like everyone else, we appreciate the privacy of an automobile, especially on a date or special occasion, with friends, family and colleagues, and when dressed up. An auto is often the fastest transportation mode, especially when one is making several stops far from each other and time is important. It is also the most convenient mode when carrying perishables, valuables or packages. Autos also have major advantages for parents, especially parents of small children. And autos are the only practical way to get to many places outside the city, whether for a drive in the country or dinner at friends.
Whether they drive or are always a passenger, many slow walkers and manual wheelchair users own or rent regular automobiles.
If he or she owns a vehicle, almost everyone who uses an electric wheelchair, and many who use scooters and manual wheelchairs, have either a lowered floor minivan with a passenger-side ramp or a full-size van. (Lowered floor minivans are also available with the ramp in the rear, but this configuration is rare except in taxis.) The largest manufacturers of these minivans are BraunAbility www.braunability.com and VMI www.vantagemobility.com. This industry has been around since the late 1980s, has become a mature industry, and now there is even a robust market for used accessible minivans. Full-size vans have lifts on the side or the rear; the side configuration is probably more common. Many wheelchair users own these vehicles even if they don’t drive and are always passengers.
Regular car rental companies such as Hertz or Avis don’t offer accessible vehicles (although some offer standard vehicles with manual hand controls, enabling some drivers who use manual wheelchairs to rent from them). Nor do the short-term, urban companies such as Zipcar or City Car Share. There are specialized companies that rent accessible minivans, typically with side ramps. Prices are much more expensive than renting an ordinary vehicle, and these companies don’t have physical locations or parking lots, so one must arrange for delivery and drop-off, usually for a costly fee. The fleets are small, availability is limited, and reservations typically must be made far in advance.
For those with accessible minivans and vans with ramps or lifts on the side, all street parking spaces (except perpendicular and angled spaces, those on the driver’s side of a one-way street, and, sometimes, those with sidewalk obstructions such as garbage cans or trees in the exact location of the ramp or lift) are, in effect, accessible spaces even though they are not designated accessible spaces (in California, blue zones). In fact, disabled people park in regular street parking spaces far more often than in blue zones because: (a) the number of blue zones is limited and they are often occupied; and (b) quite often a regular space is available closer to the destination than a blue zone. Taking a stroll in an area with many on-street parking spaces and observing the number of vehicles with disabled placards and license plates parked in blue zones and those in regular spaces will confirm this.
Therefore, removing street parking spaces, replacing parallel spaces with perpendicular or angled ones, and moving the parking lane away from the curb all disproportionately impact people with major mobility disabilities.
There is another way in which those with mobility disabilities rely heavily on automobiles. Many rely on service providers coming to their homes, and, therefore, are especially affected by parking scarcity and traffic congestion. We have caregivers who come to our homes. We get food from Meals on Wheels, home visits from physical, respiratory, occupational and other therapists, and repair service from wheelchair repair companies. These providers typically use automobiles, so as parking and traffic lanes are removed, it will become more time-consuming and costly to provide these services, and people with mobility disabilities will be increasingly impacted.
October 5, 2012
Honorable Edwin M. Lee
Carla Johnson, Acting Director, Mayor’s Office on Disability
JohnPaul Scott, Deputy Director, Mayor’s Office on Disability
Wendy James, Co-Chair, Mayor’s Disability Council
Jul Lynn Parsons, Co-Chair, Mayor’s Disability Council
Dear Mayor Lee, Carla, JohnPaul, Wendy and Jul Lynn:
I hereby resign as Chair of the Physical Access Committee (PhAC) of the Mayor’s Disability Council, effective two weeks from today.
I’ve served as Chair of the PhAC for nearly five years. Since 1990 when I began using an electric wheelchair, and even before then when I walked with difficulty, I’ve seen and experienced great progress in many aspects of disability access in San Francisco, especially in access to buildings, curb ramps at intersections and disaster preparedness. It has been a privilege and a source of pride to have helped move the ball forward on physical access as chair of this committee.
However, when it comes to access for people with major mobility disabilities, San Francisco is becoming a tale of two cities. In one city, the progress mentioned above is continuing. But in the other city, San Francisco’s campaign against cars is threatening our safety, transportation options, mobility, independence and equality of opportunity. People with major mobility disabilities, many of whom are seniors, rely heavily on private cars, paratransit and shuttle services.
The campaign against cars is harming many San Franciscans, visitors and businesses, but is having a disparate impact on us. Moreover, we are one of the most vulnerable groups of pedestrians, and the lack of serious enforcement against aggressive, dangerous and illegal behavior by bicyclists is deeply problematic and troubling.
The achievements in physical access, curb ramps and disaster preparedness are being undermined by the City’s campaign against cars and by its enabling of bad behavior by bicyclists, both of which threaten to make it increasingly difficult for people with major mobility disabilities to remain in San Francisco. If it continues on its current course, this will have terrible demographic consequences that conflict with the principle, often stated by elected officials, civic leaders and San Franciscans of all stripes, of encouraging and supporting a resident population that is diverse in, among other characteristics, age, disability status, family status, income and occupation.
During the past year, I and others have communicated these concerns many times to you Mayor Lee, the Board of Supervisors, the SFMTA Board of Directors and SFMTA staff. In that time the campaign against cars has intensified and become more insidious, and our concerns have not been addressed in a major way. Therefore, after careful consideration and with regret, I have chosen to resign.
Thanks to all of you for the opportunity to have served as Chair of the PhAC and to have worked with MOD, the MDC and many other talented, dedicated San Francisco City employees and volunteers.
"Many people with mobility disabilities rely heavily on private vehicles. Disabled people park in regular street parking spaces far more often than in designated accessible street parking spaces (blue zones). "
Disability Rights Advocate
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San Francisco , CA 94117, 94110, 94107, 94103, 94133