SFMTA approves changes to Mission Street transit improvements in response to merchant complaints

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SAN FRANCISCO (BCN)—The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency today voted to partially roll back changes intended to speed up public transit on Mission Street in response to complaints from merchants and drivers.

The agency’s board voted unanimously today to approve changes including the elimination of two forced right turns at 22nd and 26th street and an exemption allowing taxis to make a left turn at 21st street.

Red transit-only lanes and changes including six forced right turns, the elimination of left turns and a reduction in the number of bus stops were introduced on Mission Street between 14th and 30th streets earlier this year in an effort to speed up bus travel times through the busy transit corridor and increase pedestrian safety.

Muni officials say the project has succeeded in increasing Muni reliability in the area by 25 percent, reducing travel time by two minutes in each direction and reducing collisions. Regular transit riders and neighborhood residents have responded positively in surveys, according to agency officials.

Neighborhood merchants, however, have been vocal in their opposition to the changes, which they say have made it harder for customers to reach them and find parking and contributed to a recent drop in business.

Roberto Hernandez, a vice president of the Mission Merchants Association, said the group has found 200 businesses in the area reporting a loss since the program started, substantially more than reported by a Muni staff survey.

Drivers have also complained about the impact of the forced right turns on their ability to navigate the Mission District. The forced right turn at Cesar Chavez Street, in particular, has artificially separated the Mission and Bernal Heights areas and harmed merchants, some residents argued today.

“You’ve basically got a wall on our most important cultural corridor,” said Gabriel Medina, policy manager for the Mission Economic Development Agency. “Forcing us to turn every four blocks is not keeping our Mission whole.”

SFMTA board members said that they were sympathetic to merchants concerns, but emphasized the importance of improving transit speed and reliability for riders, a majority of whom are lower income residents.

Board member Malcolm Heinicke said the conflict between efforts to improve public transit and the needs of merchants was part of a larger conversation taking place in neighborhoods around the city.

“We’ve heard this conversation multiple times,” Heinicke said. “That doesn’t’ mean we’re not sympathetic to what’s happening in this neighborhood. ‘Transit first’ doesn’t mean cars never.”

Board members suggested the SFMTA might look at ways to better manage parking in the neighborhood to help merchants, including encouraging the use of parking garages that are currently underused.

The board also voted to direct staff to develop a 12-month pilot program legalizing median parking along Dolores Street in the Mission District on Sundays.

While parking in the median is currently illegal, it has been a common practice for decades on Sunday among those attending churches in the area and the prohibition is largely unenforced.

The proposal to legalize and regulate median parking is strongly opposed among many residents, with surveys showing that 74 percent support discontinuing it altogether. However, among those who attend churches in the area, 95 percent are opposed to discontinuing median parking.

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