By Thomas K. Pendergast
A north-south-avenue in the Sunset District appears to be moving from a road commonly used by bicycles to a legitimate, city-approved traffic corridor complete with a few bulb-out accessories.
A stretch of 20th Avenue, from Lincoln Way to Wawona Street, is known among bicycle riders as a good route for traveling north or south. The road parallels 19th Avenue, a major California highway with heavy traffic much of the time.
Two alternative plans for 20th Avenue were recently presented to the public by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), at an open house held in Christ Church Lutheran’s auditorium.
The main difference between the plans is whether or not six roundabouts would be included in some intersections (three are circular and three are oval). One plan includes all six roundabouts, and the other none.
On 19th Avenue, left turns are prohibited so drivers must make a right turn and go around the block, or make a legal U-turn, to make a left turn. The roundabouts would assist drivers making a U-turn. The roundabouts would be placed along 20th Avenue at the intersections of Kirkham, Lawton, Pacheco, Rivera, Ulloa and Vicente streets.
According to Dan Provence, the SFMTA’s project manager, a single traffic circle can cost between $20,000 and $30,000.
In both alternatives, bike lanes going uphill will have painted buffer zones so bicyclists going slower are further separated from cars. A painted buffer is planned so people can still access their driveways. Downhill, motorists and bicyclists will share traffic lanes that use “sharrow” road markings, so bikes going faster can match the speed of vehicles.
The plan will also include speed humps which will be spaced along 20th Avenue, at two per block, except between Lawton and Moraga streets.
“Twentieth has been a bike route for a long time, and that’s based on a few different things, including topography and the spacing of bike routes,” Provence said. “Seventh Avenue is to the east. Thirty-fourth is to the west. So, Twentieth is kind of right in between. It leads to two parks, Stern Grove on the south and Golden Gate Park on the north, so it provides a nice connection for people getting to those destinations.
“It’s also wider than a lot of the north-south streets in the Sunset. For instance, 21st Avenue is 40-feet wide. On 20th, we have six more feet – it’s 46-feet wide, so we can put a bike lane in. We would be more limited on a narrower street,” he said.
According to Provence, the SFMTA’s research shows that between January of 2012 and December of 2016, there were 34 injury collisions along this stretch of 20th Avenue, and 10 more with property damage only.
“It’s important to note that these are only the reported collisions. A lot of collisions go unreported and the police don’t go. These are based on police reports,” said Matt Lasky, an SFMTA transportation planner.
According to department statistics, the number of vehicle trips in a one-day period on 20th Avenue, between Quintara and Rivera streets, was 3,017, while on 18th Avenue, between Rivera and Santiago streets, the number was 2,960. On 21st Avenue, between Lawton and Moraga streets, the number was 984.
One of the two alternatives, the option that includes the construction of traffic circles, would convert the angled parking on the east side of 20th Avenue, in the two-block stretch between Lawton and Noriega streets, to back-in angled parking. This would require the loss of five parking spaces between Lawton and Moraga streets, and another three parking spaces removed between Moraga and Noriega streets.
“The reasoning behind it is really just to reduce conflicts,” Thalia Leng, a transportation planner, said.
The other alternative would leave the angled parking as it is now.
In both alternatives, two parking spaces between Lincoln and Irving, and two more between Irving and Judah, would be removed for bulb-outs. They are slated to be installed at the intersections of Judah and Taraval streets due to those streets’ light rail lines.
Local transit “watchdog” David Pilpel was also at the open house meeting. He was skeptical of the proposed changes.
“I’m not a fan of traffic circles; I think they’re unusual and people don’t know exactly how to deal with them,” Pilpel said. “There are two new traffic circles on McAllister that just slows down the buses and don’t do much to help anybody else.”
He does not see much improvement regarding safety from things like bulb-outs and other “traffic-calming” measures, and thinks the money would be better spent hiring more police officers.
“Meaningful traffic enforcement is required in order to improve safety and reduce speed. That doesn’t seem to happen. The police need to do a better job of traffic enforcement throughout the City,” he said.
The SFMTA is still seeking input and suggestions from the public. In June, the transit agency is scheduled to meet with stakeholders regarding design specifics. From that, it will arrive at a final design “based on community feedback.” After that, there will be another official public meeting to get community feedback.
Once the SFMTA finalizes its plan, it will then go to the SFMTA’s board or directors for approval. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in early 2019.