By Thomas K. Pendergast
After a two-year pandemic-related hiatus, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has rolled out a revamped plan to restructure traffic lanes on Geary Boulevard between Stanyan Street and 34th Avenue for streamlining bus and taxi services.
Formerly known as the Geary Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit (Geary-BRT) plan, it is now called the Geary Boulevard Improvement Project and is significantly different from the earlier version.
The Geary-BRT plan would have eliminated the center traffic islands and ripped out all the trees along them, then run Muni buses down the new lanes created, with the long-term goal of making space for a light-rail train to eventually roll down one of the most heavily traveled commercial corridors in the City.
For the near future, however, this plan has been derailed in favor of buses and taxis running down the outside lanes on both sides of the roadway.
SFMTA Deputy Spokesperson Stephen Chun said a center-running alternative would have cost more than five times as much as the new plan and caused more construction disruption. It also would have removed a total of 60 parking spaces from the estimated 4,180 parking spaces along this stretch of the boulevard, even after parking is added at the old bus stops after they are moved to the center lanes.
The new plan is estimated to cost $49 million.
Construction is expected to start late this year and take two years to complete, depending on the scope of potential coordinated work sponsored by other city agencies involved in sewage, water and paving work.
The SFMTA says the benefits of this plan will begin sooner because the previous center-running project would not be operational until completely designed and built, which is more costly and could possibly take several years of construction, disrupting the businesses along this commercial corridor.
The agency hopes it will improve bus performance by more than 10% when it is finished, providing faster and more reliable service.
With the new plan, less than 50 parking spaces would be lost. However, the bulk of the lost parking spaces fall between 14th and 28th avenues – a net loss of 41 parking spaces between them, most of them between 19th and 27th avenues – as a result of converting diagonal parking spaces to parallel and adding new bus stops.
Of those lost parking spaces, the concentration is highest between 19th and 23rd avenues, which will lose 22 spaces.
The loss of parking concerns some local merchants along this particular stretch of the boulevard.
Sean Kim is the owner of Joe’s Ice Cream, which sits between 18th and 19th avenues. While the Geary Boulevard Improvement Project might work fine east of Stanyan down to Market Street, he said, the Richmond District is “a little different.”
“We have a merchant corridor, so from 15th to 28th (avenues) we have angled parking,” Kim said. “A lot of people need parking to come to businesses, buy something, do something … but right now (the SFMTA) thinks converting to parallel parking spaces is easy work because all the other Geary Boulevard has already a parallel street, so they want (it) uniform.
“It’s a big problem,” he said. “My customers are families with little kids. The mom has young, two or three kids, they cannot use (public) transportation. So most of them, they use the car.
“My staff, some of them use the car. And then we already have a hard time to find the parking. So, if we lose 10% or 20% of parking space, it could cause a lot of problems.”
Victor Collaco thinks the timing of this plan, as businesses that survived the pandemic are starting to recover, is problematic.
“My number one concern is that the proposed changes are coming at a time when business owners are exiting from the pandemic,” Collaco said.
He suggested that not everyone has returned to the workplace yet, so the demand on Muni services is not as it was before and might not come back to pre-pandemic levels.
“The work habits have changed,” he said. “We know that people are working from home because of COVID.
“And the major proposal from the SFMTA on this corridor is to change diagonal parking to parallel parking. The statistics in the surveys taken so far and given to us, suggest that 600 people were surveyed, and of that survey the majority were in favor. My question to the SFMTA is ‘did you specifically interview business owners, non-profits or any organizations in this corridor that may be impacted by that change?’”
Chun responded in an email that the survey was publicized through mailers to residents and businesses within two blocks of Geary, posters at intersections along the boulevard and two pop-up events: one at 17th Avenue and the other at 20th Avenue.
While there were no questions identifying merchants or residents, Chun said, they did ask for zip codes. From that they concluded 98% responding were from the City and 76% were from the Richmond District between Stanyan and 34th Avenue. Furthermore, Chun said, the SFMTA did a merchant loading survey last year to learn about curb space needs. They received surveys from almost 100 businesses and used this data to develop a block-by-block proposal.
There are several grocery markets along these blocks that regularly get large delivery trucks, sometimes maxing out the yellow loading zones and instead forcing the trucks to double-park on side streets. Chun said the agency is considering adding loading zones to side streets around there.
It is unclear, however, how that would work with the bicycle sharing stations and parklets already on some of these streets.
In spite of three loading spaces in a yellow zone near his grocery store, New World Market’s owner Boris Fudym said they are shared with other businesses and often simply not enough.
“There is no other choice,” Fudym said. “They will eliminate double parking? How? We’re still going to operate. The truck will come and it will double park. What else can they do?”
Vahid Sattary owns a structural engineering business, where he often has to meet with clients to discuss projects. While Zoom meetings might work for this, some of his neighbors don’t really have that option.
“In my building, there is an optometrist,” Sattary said. “There is a constant flow of people who come, park, go into the optometrist’s office, have their eyes checked and they move out. They won’t come here if there is no parking.
“There is an accountant, there is a real estate agent, all of these people will be affected by this change.”