Scott Wiener’s Last Meeting about the 17th Street Bike Crashes – Oct 6, 2016.

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Meeting notes from October 6, 2016 Meeting held at 4:00 at Supervisor Scott Wiener’s Office at SF City Hall, Room 274. – Note these unabridged notes are for neighbors who were unable to attend in person but need all details from the meeting in order to participate in ongoing group process and upcoming meetings.

Please also note that I was writing fast and met Luis Montoya and Neal Patel for the first time at this meeting. Both men sat to my right and it was hard to get the right name next to their quotes in all cases. They both work for Livable Streets Division of SFMTA. Keep that in mind for quotes attributed to either of these gentlemen. Also, note that my ability to take notes is superb but has its limits. Quotes are very close but not perfect.


Attending: Andres Power (Representing Sup. Wiener), Mike Sallaberry (Senior Engineer, SFMTA), Oliver Gajda (Transit Division, SFMTA), Neal Patel (Livable Streets Division Project Liaison, SFMTA), Luis Montoya (Livable Streets Division Director, SFMTA), James Campbell (Resident), Rachel Masters (Resident), Howard Fallon (Resident), Vivienne Loveland (Resident), John Entwistle, Jr. (Resident).

Unable to attend this meeting in person: Janice Li (SF Bike Coalition), Jiro Yamamoto (Resident), Bob Planthold (Resident), Alan Uy (Transportation Engineer, SFMTA)


Andres Power, Supervisor Scott Wiener’s Legislative Aide started the meet. He referred to the earlier meeting as an introduction and framed this meeting as ongoing in the process of asking the MTA to look and think and come back and input more ideas, then take more input. Andres sees this as leading to a series of meetings in the neighborhood. He reminds us that “some will object.”

[For those who don’t know, Andres has some relevant experience. Prior to working for the District 8 Supervisor, Andres worked at the Planning Department in the Pavement to Parks Program. He was also injured on the tracks.]

Neal Patel picked up the presentation from that point. [Neal was the SF Bike Coalition Planning Director before joining the SFMTA.] Neal commenced by pointing out that this problem is very familiar to the bicycling community in San Francisco. Everyone knows someone who has been hurt on these tracks was his basic point.

Speaking for himself and his colleagues at SFMTA Neal said that they are going to show why this is a priority every time they present to the public about this area. Neal spoke tactically about the need to focus on identifying the problem prior to pushing premature solutions which could incite emotional responses from those unfamiliar with the goals at hand.

Neal explained that right off the top SFMTA discussed several ideas to solve the problem. First they asked the question: “How could we get bicyclists to take other streets?”

The second idea is major capital changes to the rail, moving the rail, decommissioning part of the rail, or what not. The idea would be to make serious capital improvements to the rail that’s on that block and off those intersections.

As Neal put it, “Those idea’s we’ve discussed a lot about, don’t really seem to be feasible. The solution that we do want to move forward with is this thing about how to create the dedicated bicycle facility on 17th Street especially between Sanchez and Church. That block is the most problematic according to our numbers and according to what we hear and Mike has some pretty great ideas for what we might want to do going forward.”

Mike Sallaberry picked up the presentation with a compelling observation. He noted that they were initially focused on the intersections but are now aware of mid-block crashes as well. Mike said that the “latest round of crash data that we get from the city concludes, and we found out, there’s 13 crashes involving bikes and tracks between Market and Church. Of the 13, 12 were on this block. And, also, another thing that was interesting was that of the 12, 3 were people going west and 9 were people going eastbound.

That was also a bit of a surprise.” Mike Sallaberry went on to say that “using that information… the parking is the thing that would give us opportunity to do something that really separates the cyclists from the rail and the traffic. And because we have crashes in both directions the solution we have to look at is removing parking from both sides of the street, having a protected bike lane similar to what you have at Oak and Fell.”

Mike continued, “We’ve made near term changes, with paint, and paint signs, we’ve got pothole patching. We requested curb ramps to help people with wheelchairs cross the rails… We’ve picked all the low hanging fruit but we think the next step really is to look at doing one way separated bike facility on each side of the street for that one block. A two-way facility on the north side of the street which was proposed by John; it requires people to cross those tracks twice. And so that may solve one problem in one area it may create other problems in other areas.”

“So we’re really thinking in purely technical engineering approach that removing parking from both sides of the street is technically the best thing to do but we understand that that may not be shared by everybody involved, everybody in the neighborhood. So that’s where the outreach has to happen in terms of the community.”

Rachel Masters pointed out the problem of cars using the bike lane as drop off spots. Mike said that the barrier he is picturing would be solid and prevent that physically from being able to happen.

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17th Street during the Everett Middle School double parking drop off period every morning.

James Campbell brought up the issue of parents dropping off kids at the local school and the chaos that creates on the bike path in the morning.

This elicited an insightful response from Neal Patel. “… while we have a good conceptual idea there are still a lot of points to be made…. It all comes down to the details. How is the curb being used right now? What are the demands on it? Because those demands are not going to go away and we need to make sure that our design can respond to those demands, address that or get it to work.”

Rachel Masters mentioned that she felt more comfortable riding on 16th even with all the traffic and stuff.

Mike Sallaberry has given great thought to this issue of routes and choices and he remarked that “each street has its pro’s and con’s for cycling. We found from different counts that twice as many people are on 17th than 18th and 5 times more people on 17th than 16th.” Mike’s analysis continued, “18th is narrow and has heavy traffic; it has buses. 16th has buses, heavy traffic. 17th has all the issues that we’re all aware of so there’s no clear winner here.”

He concluded by concurring with Neal that “even if we did do something on another street, while some cyclists may shift over, a lot of people will still use 17th street and that issue would still be there. That’s what we think would happen based on the bicycle route network, topography, traffic, and available street width.”

James Campbell stated that the bike route is definitely traveled a lot. During his 7:00 am morning walks to the gym he sees a lot of bikes and twice a week somebody falls down.

Mike Sallaberry used this as a point to segue to the statistics and reports available. He said that “we working on information that we have which is from reported crashes to the police. We’re also working with the Department of Public Health and they said they would get that information to us as soon as possible: admittance to the trauma unit at General Hospital.”

Rachel Masters interjected from the first person, injured party point of view to say, “I never reported my crash, would it be helpful?”

Rapid discussion followed with Mike noting that her crash should be included in the data on order from the Health Department and Howard and John saying emphatically that it should definitely be reported. Mike agreed that the more info we have, the better. But a lot of questions remain about how to report these accidents. Howard volunteered to draft a short guideline based on his experience and research for publication to clarify this important issue once and for all. [Here is the page that came from that report.]

John Entwistle asked if any one has any ideas to “cool down” the intersections where drivers have unlimited options for turning which overwhelms the ability of bike riders to scan and negotiate a safe passage through these collision zones.

Neal Patel asked, “do you think the turning vehicles are leading people to fall on the tracks?”

Howard Fallon interjected an immediate yes and pointed out that in the recent case of his daughter getting hit at Church and 17th Street she was distracted by the tracks and overwhelmed by the car turning left.

John Entwistle explained that when a bike rider has to track a lot of moving objects at an intersection it creates a high level of difficulty to safely cross. In other words, the “hot” intersections are a contributing factor in the crashes.

The short answer from the SFMTA guys was no, we really haven’t got any proposals thought out to address cooling down the intersections on 17th Street. But we are realizing now that both the midblock stretches and the intersections are areas of concern. They said the plan is to address the intersection turn options as part of the ongoing discussion with the greater community in future local meetings.

John Entwistle asked if any thought has gone into creating reverse angle parking on Sanchez Street.

Neal Patel spoke to this point saying, “that would be part of the overall parking dynamic but doesn’t really address the crashes that relate to the tracks.”

John asked about the issue of driveways on the South side of 17th Street and how those might affect plans for a protected bike lane. The response from SFMTA: “We’ve surveyed all of 17th Street from Church to Market and where the driveways are… it’s not ideal but we can work around driveways.”

John Entwistle asked if the SFMTA engineers had weighed the pros and cons of a 2 ½ block or a 3 block long cycle track? John pointed to the benefit of keeping the bikes out of traffic entirely as being a good thing.

Neal Patel concurred that was good “until you get to the intersections and that’s where some of our concerns are. If you have a two-way path and a two-way roadway immediately adjacent to each other, crossed by two way streets, you’re creating an unexpected movement by cyclists and again, I think you would be creating another unexpected movement that may solve one problem but create other problems. So that’s why we’re kind of cool on that design.” [We wrote up a post with diagrams explaining SFMTA’s concerns in great detail here.]

Luis Montoya spoke to the issue of public relations in general terms. He advocated for an approach that is “really focused on the areas with the obvious problem, the obvious crash problem, and we really want to be sensitive that, folks at this table, we all agree that this is an issue but were going to go out and talk to some neighbors who are going to feel real strongly about the parking and we want to be real sure that we’re building a case for where’s the biggest problem and we’re coming at this with a real common sense solution that’s going to focus on that problem.” Luis went on to explain that his idea was essentially to start off with a strong win and build from there.

Rachel Masters then asked: “Now how about ripping out the track just on the curb section on Church and 17th Street?”

Oliver Gajda from the Transit Division answered the question directly and shared a wealth of knowledge with us in so doing. (Oliver is the man who invented the sharrow markings that we see on bike paths everywhere in San Francisco. He did this while working closely with Mike Sallaberry back in 2005. I add this note after the meeting to recognize the years of study that both of these men have invested in this field.)

“All the track that we have is necessary for our movements either from immediate service planning or for emergency situations or for if there’s events that happen. So all the movements are necessary, if anything, I think in San Francisco we’re looking at opportunities to have more tracks and more switches to give us more flexibility and opportunities so that when we do have a situation like we’re having right now on the ground that trains can get around that situation when it does occur.”

“So, as Mike said we looked at the collision pattern and that piece of track that I think a lot of people are focused on, (so far our data, which again is just looking at the police crash data), which is the right off of Church Street onto 17th hasn’t been a primary factor in the information that we’re looking at right now.” [We did an earlier post examining the visual impact of the removal of certain tracks from the corner of 17th St. & Church St.]

Mr. Gajda continued: “And that track movement right there, people are focusing on that, but that movement is necessary because if you lose Church or Castro Station for an emergency situation that is the way the trains would come back around and go back through the Eureka Portal. That is why all that track is still retained through there and that’s why there’s actually a gate at 17th and Castro to allow that movement. Now has it happened in the last decade? No. But when we need it, we’re going to really need it.”

“The other issue you raised, which is filling in the flange and the way the track is. We call that the shoofly track, which is actually a technical term for a rail which is a diversion track to get around obstacles and that flange actually needs to be cleared.” This will very likely occur with the Twin Peaks Replacement Track project and the contractor will likely clear those flange ways and bring equipment through that portal.

Andres Power asked about flange filling material.

First Oliver Gajda explained some of the technical problems specific to the way trains operate and the need for the flange and the problem with flange filling materials when the train isn’t heavy enough to compress the filler. There was a whole complicated calculus that he outlined very rapidly and concisely.

Mike Sallaberry then continued the explanation. Mike researches this question continuously and has followed this issue for many years. It is a question many have raised in many communities and the Bike Coalition also follows this closely. What they have found is that the only product available is for heavy rail, straight sections of tracks for trains going five miles per hour.

Rachel Masters redirected the conversation to the question of what can we do to help solve the problem. Rachel also commented on her personal observations of being a parent who rides her child to school on Dolores between 16th and 17th. She noted that more parents seem to be doing this and that the trend is growing. She also noted that this puts the local bike paths in the focus with all these additional parent/child bike riders commuting to and from the local schools. (Children’s Day School, Everett Middle School, Mission High, and Sanchez Elementary).

Neal Patel urged extreme caution in talking to media such as Hoodline. He pointed out that things can get out of hand if people start responding and organizing before the community understands what we are trying to accomplish and why and how.

“It’s really important to be mindful about how we communicate this before we go to the public. That would be my number one request.” His second point was that we, as locals would need to provide the local level guidance as to who is particularly sympathetic and helpful and also we can reach out to local institutions such as schools and bring them to the table.

Rachel Masters mentioned the preschool program operating on Church street across from Everett Middle School and James Campbell noted that he also sees lots of kids going and coming at that location.

John Entwistle took a moment to generally question the plan regarding the South side of 17th Street and basically demanded a deeper look at the premise underlying that idea.

The SFMTA guys agreed that this line of thought had to be examined more closely and they said the idea would be to do that in a larger local group in future meetings.

The SFMTA guys also mentioned the possibility of locating additional parking nearby to mitigate any losses to the extent possible.

The next step that SFMTA envisions is “a conversation, not with the whole general public at large but rather think about how we can identify people that live on the street within a block away to have a discussion to really emphasis and go over the data a lot, here’s what’s happening here, the crash pattern. Here’s why we’re really talking to you right now. And give a little bit of a teaser of some ideas and proposals. We want to go very slowly and start with demonstrating the need for any kind of a project.”

John Entwistle asked about the lack of representation from the disability community especially in light of our previously stated goal of intentionally bringing in a representative for that perspective to the process at hand.

Andres Power (Supervisor Scott Wiener’s Aide) explained that the point of this meeting was to “circle back with the folks that have reached out to us and as we start to focus in on the actual project we absolutely will include folks like Bob and others.” [Reference is to Bob Planthold who is a disabled individual who has stepped up to the plate to act as our local ADA advisor/consultant. Questions remain as to Andre’s role in not inviting Bob to the meeting and why he made that decision.]

Neal Patel added to this that “when it comes down to an actual project that has to move towards approval we do have reviews that come in and go through disability people on our staff.” [We initially examined 11 pedestrian crossing zones on 17th Street and concluded that serious mobility problems existed at all of them. Click here to read that post.]

Howard Fallon introduced the fact that the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s number one request in a survey was for protected bike lanes. Rachel Masters noted the absence of a representative from the bike coalition at this meeting and questioned their commitment to 17th

Neal Patel jumped in on that and said that the Bike Coalition cares about it. He said he was at a meeting in City Hall that morning about separated bike lanes because the Fire Department is one of our big impediments to that. The bike coalition was at that meeting and the subject of 17th Street did come up.

John Entwistle asked Oliver Gajda when he could expect some answers to the detailed list of written questions regarding rails that John had submitted. Oliver Gajda said it would probably take about a week and he had a few comments right off the top. [Mr. Gajda did come through a week later as promised and you can read his answers here.]

He noted that the movements described for the corner of Market and Church Street would cost millions and millions of dollars and that when prioritized amongst other improvements throughout the agency it wasn’t going to happen.

John thanked Oliver for the explanation while demurring that the need to protect MUNI from litigation eventually needs to be factored in.

John Entwistle then asked Oliver Gajda: “Right of way on a train track, how wide is that from the track?” The answer was wonderfully precise as well as thorough.

“In general terms there’s the gauge side of the rail and the field side of the rail. And in general terms when we’re dealing with the street between the curb face and the rail it is generally, is often times dealt with by the Department of Public Works as far as the maintenance of that and the pavement as far as the paint is dealt with more on the Sustainable Streets side of the house of the MTA. And the MUNI side is actually between the two rails itself which is the gauge side.”

“But when we came out there… we were actually looking at the whole thing in its entirety because we’re one agency. We had Sustainable Streets out there and Transit out there and we identified several locations throughout that length of 17th Street where we perceived there was pavement irregularities that would be addressed with the maintenance of way team.” [Link to article about the visit to 17th Street that Mr. Gajda is describing here.]

John Entwistle raised the question of back in angle parking on Sanchez Street again and received two responses.

First the SFMTA guys reiterated their desire to focus on the biggest problem first. Then Mike Sallaberry elucidated a bit on the general topic and why the slots are angled. It has to do with encouraging compliance although it also decreases the number of spaces available compared to the current system of parking perpendicular to the curb which is dangerous but very efficient.

Some confusion was voiced about the impact of angled parking on the width of the road with John Entwistle pointing out angled parking can eat up an extra foot or three of street width in most scenarios. The Livable Streets guys interjected that angled parking widens the street. [Link to the post that was explains this concept in depth.]

The idea at this point is to figure out our next meeting in two weeks and that it should be in a local venue. Other ideas include walking the street and reaching out to neighbors on the street with perhaps a mailing inviting them to join us on the corner some afternoon. In the meantime, everyone prepares more.

Ultimately after all input and debate the final decision will be made by the MTA Board and the process is not a straightforward vote by neighbors but something that balances that perspective with the needs of the rest of the citizens in the city. At the end of the day there is an overriding safety consideration.


 

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