North Beach Meeting on Sidewalk Bulbs Gets Tense; SFMTA to Paint Demos

by Aaron Bialick : sf.streetsblog – excerpt

A public meeting in North Beach became tense yesterday as residents and firefighters opposed to basic street safety measures continued to assert that sidewalk bulb-outs are dangerous. To appease skeptics, the SFMTA announced that the bulb-outs planned at four intersections on Columbus Avenue will be tested first by installing painted “safety zones” in August. Construction of concrete versions will begin next year…

The bulb-outs “being proposed for Columbus Avenue are not that scary,” said D3 Supervisor Julie Christensen, who told attendees she convinced the SFMTA to implement the painted versions as a trial. “We’ve been looking at all these really carefully… modifications were made, and what we’ve got now is kind of a river stone that’s been smoothed over by all kinds of forces.”…

It was the second recent meeting about bulb-outs held by North Beach Neighbors. At the first meeting on April 30, Hoodline reported, members of SF Fire Fighters Union Local 798 protested life-saving curb extensions claiming they hinder fire trucks. Since that meeting, the union’s president also sent a letter [PDF] to SFFD Chief Johanne Hayes-White calling the department’s approvals of bulb-outs “very troubling.”…

A few people remained unconvinced, however, and raised their voices. Here’s one of the arguments between an opponent and SFMTA planner Oliver Gajda, about whether it’s safe to assume that trucks can turn around bulb-outs without conducting a field test:

Firefighter Tony Rivera also repeated an anecdote to scare people about the prospect of wider sidewalks that he told at the April meeting, according to Hoodline.

At Columbus and Union Streets, where the block of sidewalk along Washington Square Park was extended last year to make the bus stop more efficient, Rivera said he became alarmed when his six-year-old son bent down to pick up a penny at the curb.

“The bus came by — I didn’t realize I was now standing in traffic,” Rivera said. “Before, there used to be a buffer of cars. There should be a warning saying that you are now much closer. If you’re a little kid, or my mom who’s 93 — she needs glasses — she cannot tell that she’s standing right in the way of a vehicle.”

He also complained to Gajda that taxpayers have to pay for the curb extensions, and that he didn’t get a notification about them. “It’s wrong, man. You don’t live in the neighborhood, I do… I think it’s bullshit.”

Rivera said he “has to drive a car,” and that if bulb-outs remove more parking spots, “I’m not going to go there and help our neighborhood because I’m going to be driving around, distracted. It’s going to be crazy.”

Daniel Macchiarini of the North Beach Business Association has continued to fight the 2010 Columbus Avenue study that recommended more space for people. He claimed that the SFPD told him there haven’t been any pedestrian injuries since 2013, except for one “criminal” one, at the intersections set to get bulb-outs, which will “destroy small businesses.” He said SFFD only approved the bulb-outs because of “pressure from the mayor’s office.”

Macchiarini also said that SFMTA staff hasn’t returned his emails over the years requesting statistics on pedestrian safety to explain “why we’re doing this.”…

While SFFD has shown signs of softening its opposition to bulb-outs and narrower roadways, SFFD Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi said the agency’s stance has never changed. As he explained in January 2014, “it’s hard to pinpoint” what has slowed emergency response times, but the department has “shut down” or watered down safety improvements nonetheless.

After showing stats and pictures of broken fire truck components caused by hitting “obstacles,” he said he couldn’t say how many of them were caused by bulb-outs. He said, however, that SFFD would like to see more daylighting and bike lanes, as long as they’re not protected by “hardscape” structures… (more)

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