By Thomas K. Pendergast
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is in the final stages of putting together a plan to make Lake Merced Boulevard safer, but at the expense of 190 parking spaces.
The Lake Merced Quick-Build Project proposes “roadway reallocation” on segments of Lake Merced Boulevard, from Skyline Boulevard to John Muir Drive, and to promote “traffic calming.” Reallocation means travel lanes in areas where there is “excess vehicle capacity” around some portions of Lake Merced will be removed, while in other places parking will be removed with the space reallocated to create new protected bicycle lanes.
The SFMTA says Lake Merced Boulevard between Font and Sunset boulevards is part of San Francisco’s High Injury Network, wherein 75% of the city’s traffic injuries and fatalities occur on just 13% of San Francisco streets.
The agency says collision data over a five-year period – from 2015 to 2020 – includes a total of 106 reported collisions on Lake Merced Boulevard between Skyline Boulevard and John Muir Drive. Of those, nine involved a bicyclist and a vehicle, while four involved a pedestrian and a vehicle. There was one pedestrian fatality on Lake Merced Boulevard at Font Boulevard in 2017. Three years later, another fatality took place on Lake Merced Boulevard at Higuera Avenue involving a pedestrian and vehicle.
The Quick-Build Project calls for narrowing travel lanes widths to increase driver awareness and lower motor vehicle speeds.
“The primary reason for collisions along Lake Merced Boulevard is due to unsafe speeds,” the SFMTA claims. “Drivers tend to drive faster when there is more space on the road than there are vehicles. While we don’t believe the volume of traffic will increase along the corridor, we do want to slow traffic down. Slowing down traffic will dramatically decrease the likelihood of a crash, and if there is a crash, it will decrease the likelihood of fatalities and injuries,” according to the agency.
The plan would also refresh road paint to improve crosswalk visibility; install advance limit lines to create a buffer between crosswalks and vehicles at stop lights; upgrade transverse crosswalks (crosswalks outlined by only two parallel lines) to continental (striped) crosswalks; constructing raised crosswalks or speed cushions at slip lanes, where feasible; to slow fast-turning vehicles and also upgrading traffic signal lens size from 8 inches to 12 inches; install on-street bikeways separated from traffic lanes by using raised concrete islands to provide extra protection and comfort for cyclists on the road, particularly on roads like Lake Merced Boulevard, which has speed limits greater than 25 miles per hour.
The project also calls for “reallocating parking and traffic lanes on some segments to provide the opportunity to install upgraded pedestrian, bicycle and transit infrastructure.”
A significant part of that will be the boulevard segment west of San Francisco State University between North State Drive and Higuera Avenue, which will lose 190 parking spaces when both directions are included.
This also happens to be the area where many vehicular-housed people are parked, which the agency acknowledges.
“Homelessness has existed in San Francisco for decades, but has been exacerbated due to the rising cost of housing combined with the ever-increasing cost of living,” agency documents say. “As of July 2021, the median price of homes in San Francisco is $1.88 million and the median rent is $2,795 for a one-bedroom apartment.
“A city tally from June 2021 found 1,010 vehicles being lived in by unhoused people. The highest number of vehicles exists in Districts 7 and 10,” the documents explain. “Within the project area, there are approximately 111 vehicles and RV (recreational vehicle) households that reside along Lake Merced Boulevard between Winston Drive and Higuera Avenue, and along Winston Drive between Lake Merced Boulevard and Buckingham Way.”
The agency notes that District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar (where Lake Merced is located) is working with the Coalition on Homelessness to remove these RVs, taking a “phased approach” for providing an alternative arrangement by looking to find a location for an RV parking Safe Site.
District 11 is having similar problems, apparently, because their supervisor, Ahsha Safai, sponsored an amendment to the San Francisco Planning Code that allows long-term parking and overnight camping in vehicles and ancillary uses for parcels designated and authorized as “Vehicle Triage Centers” or Safe Parking Program sites, as a temporary use for up to five years, with two possible six-month extensions after that.
“A couple of years ago, as we started to notice a rise in the number of individuals living in vehicles – in RVs, vans and cars on our streets – we were able to work with our community and create a safe place for those that were living in their vehicles to access and to transition into more permanent supportive housing,” Safai told the Land Use and Transportation Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
“There are other areas of the City that are experiencing much more heightened numbers on the street than our community has, but we had an opportunity where we’re building affordable housing today, to use that as a demonstration site, as a site that could show the success of this program,” Safai said. “So, we were able to do that back in 2019, and for almost 18 months we had bathrooms, we had services on site, we had 24-hour security, we had lighting and many individuals in the surrounding neighborhood were extremely supportive.”
Since then this approach has expanded to the BayView and other areas of the City looking at expanding this opportunity.
“This change will allow these opportunities to move forward in other parts of the City. They’ll not be subject to Planning Commission hearings, which can take months to calendar and get approval,” he said. “Instead, these sites will be done administratively as a temporary use, saving valuable time that can be used working with neighbors, that can be used working with those living in vehicles to ensure that they transition appropriately and having the district supervisor of the surrounding area, (with) the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, work in a more collaborative fashion and not take time to go through a planning approval process.”
The committee voted unanimously to approve the code amendments and send it on to the full Board.
Agency planners now expect to take the Lake Merced Quick Build Project to the SFMTA Board of Directors in January of 2023.