Public Concerns Over 25th Ave. Plan

By George McConnell

A plan proposed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA) to improve the 25th Avenue corridor between Fulton and California streets - one of the busiest in the Richmond District - is causing jitters among area residents.

"You'll have to trust us professionals on this; we've done this kind of transition in other areas of the City," stated an MTA official in the face of hard questions encountered when the plan was unveiled last month at a meeting hosted by the 25th Avenue Neighborhood Association.

While many people feel the eight-block stretch needs help, some feel the cure for the problem suggested by the MTA harkens back to a design deemed unworkable in the past. The proposal to do something about the busy roadway started with a petition circulated by the neighborhood association nearly two and half years ago.

Problems with the corridor date back decades, however. To improve traffic flow, it was reconfigured in the early '60s from two to four lanes, but that plan was not without problems. Because the street is narrow - just 62 feet across - the new lanes were substandard, being only nine-and-a-half-feet wide. Standard traffic lanes are 11 to 12 feet wide. With cars parking on either side of the street, it resulted in a tight squeeze.

Traffic has greatly increased in the area since that time, and the quality of life in the neighborhood has suffered consequently, according to Beth Lewis, a member of the association.

"The impact of all the auto and truck traffic has been many collisions, intense noise, vibrations caused by heavy vehicles, cars being regularly sideswiped, problems with pedestrian safety, and black soot that covers our buildings and cars," she said.

In addition, because the route is one of the few ways to get through Golden Gate Park and onto the Golden Gate Bridge, it has evolved into a quasi speedway.

"Cars race, sometimes reaching at least 40 to 45 miles or more per hour, in an effort to try and make the light," Lewis said.

The association's petition drive - with the assistance of District 1 Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, Planning Association for the Richmond (PAR), San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and MTA's Livable Streets Program - resulted in an $80,000 grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Fund to implement measures to calm traffic and improve conditions.

"This has been a long struggle. We've been going back and forth with MTA on this for more than two years. We have had to fight for every little piece of this project," Lewis said.

The transportation authority's proposal calls for reshaping the corridor back into two lanes with each lane being nearly 14 feet in width, the addition of a middle lane for left-hand turns, and dedicated curbside stops for the Muni #29 Sunset bus line that runs along 25th Avenue.

In spite of assurances by MTA Livable Streets Project Manager Dan Provence that the new design is proven, many believe the plan will create new and unforeseen problems, such as traffic backups caused by lane reductions, left turn lanes being used as an ad hoc passing lane, and residents having difficulty getting into their garages because of backed up traffic.

One of the other key sticking points is merging cars from the two-lane Crossover Drive, the road that runs through Golden Gate Park and connects 25th Avenue to 19th Avenue (Hwy. 1), into one lane when it crosses at Fulton Street. A proposed solution to the dilemma is to allow a left turn westbound out of Crossover onto Fulton to help disperse traffic, but according to MTA that is a two to three year process due to costs and contractor packages.

"In the meantime, we don't want traffic pouring out of the park at 45 miles-per-hour and then having to merge down to one lane in the first block of 25th Avenue. People are concerned about their block becoming chaotic, more dangerous, or a parking lot as traffic merges down to one lane," Lewis said.

Public hearings will be held later this year. The MTA board will then vote whether or not to move ahead with the plan.

If approved, work is scheduled to start in the winter of 2008, according to Provence.

In addition to working to improve traffic conditions, the association, with assistance from a community grant, recently planted more than 40 trees along 25th Avenue, between Fulton Street and Camino del Mar.

"We still have some trees left if anybody is interested. We will continue to explore ways to improve the environment in our neighborhood," Lewis said.

For more information, contact the 25th Avenue Neighborhood Association at (415) 221-2072.