By Jack Quach
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) announced in July that it has completed Segment A of its L-Taraval Improvement Project, a nearly two-year-long effort that aimed to improve transit and landscaping in the Sunset while replacing key sewer and rail infrastructure. Segment B construction is slated to begin in early 2022 and run through the end of 2024.
The first of two segments, Segment A encompassed streets near the L-Taraval line stretching from the San Francisco Zoo to Sunset Boulevard. This section of the improvement project, whose construction phase began in September 2019, was completed on time and within budget, the SFMTA announced. Focus will now transition to the Segment B phase, which will range from Sunset Boulevard to West Portal, with hopes to accomplish its goals in similar fashion. On July 9, the transportation agency held a public event to celebrate the milestone, where local organizers and leaders spoke about the project.
For SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin, the collaboration between departments and local residents allowed for Segment A to finish within its deadline and the budget, which is $90 million for both segments. “The project was a success because it was a partnership,” he said, highlighting organizations such as the Department of Public Works and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.
The effort, which was funded by Proposition K tax dollars, additionally replaced outdated underground utilities along its section of the Sunset District. Tumlin said that the culmination of Segment A “demonstrates that public agencies—when they’re smart and work together—can actually get stuff done.”
At the July 9 SFMTA event, a vintage streetcar commemorating Harvey Milk took center stage — a nod to the project’s emphasis on restructuring transportation and connecting communities after more than a year of physical distancing.
Segment A, which underwent much of its construction during the COVID-19 pandemic, required collaboration with local businesses in order to succeed, according to District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar. Mar worked closely with small businesses “because they were already facing major challenges, especially during the pandemic.”
“This project is an investment in the Sunset and benefits all of San Francisco,” he added. “Investing in transit is investing in small businesses, climate justice, economic justice and better opportunities for working people and families.”
Facilitating communication with local neighborhoods has become a “high priority” for Mar, who promoted meetings with the SFMTA to inform locals about the impacts of upcoming construction, such as loss of parking, and come to agreements about certain aspects including the amount of construction equipment.
One organization that collaborated with the city and the SFMTA was the People of Parkside Sunset (POPS), which represents neighbors and small businesses located within the Outer Sunset. POPS president Albert Chow joined the project in 2015 during its design and community outreach phase. Though he felt that the city initially had not collaborated with the people in the communities affected, he recognized the renewed effort to engage in partnership with residents.
“At the beginning there was not a lot of collaboration,” he said. “But now they’ve turned toward collaboration, taking our input, having us at the table.”
Along with improvements to transportation utilities, the Sunset saw new decorative landscaping, such as trees, colorful sidewalks and public art. Jennifer Cooper, who leads the Landscape Architecture Bureau, managed many of these initiatives. For the people of the Sunset, the development was “really hard, but at the end of the day, if it looks that much better, we hope that that’s a real benefit for everybody,” Cooper said.
Elsley Wynn, a Sunset local, witnessed and was impacted by the progress of the recently finished Segment A.
“When Taraval was closed, it was really difficult for me to navigate around this area, but it’s really exciting to be able to use the space together and to have it clear,” she said.
While working from home during the pandemic, the sound of construction was loud, Wynn said, “but ultimately if it means Taraval is going to be running better then I’m happy about that.”
Matt Lopez, owner of the White Cap, a bar at Taraval Street and 46th Avenue, said that the development process was similarly difficult for his business.
“It was loud, no parking, the traffic’s messed up,” Lopez said. He added that the L-Taraval is now “convenient” and hoped for traffic to improve in the Sunset.
With the upcoming Segment B, SFMTA looks to provide much of the same improvements to the second portion of the Sunset as they did to the first.
Seeing the fulfillment of Segment A within the deadline and budget, Albert Chow is excited for what this next half can bring to the community. While he said that there are always hardships to such infrastructure development, he looks forward to continuing his collaborative work and urged neighbors to support local businesses, “because we truly are the culture of the city.”
As the Sunset looks to the next and final step of the L-Taraval Improvement Project, Mar believes that “very much” can be learned from the successes and challenges of Segment A to benefit the progress of the second segment. Recommending continued communication with local businesses and residents, Mar said that informing those impacted by construction on schedules and planning will allow neighborhoods “to not just get through the Segment A construction phase but for them to thrive and to be sustainable in the long term.”
Photos by Jack Quach