Red Lanes Concerns Dominate 16th Street Meeting with SFMTA

Updated: May 11, 2019

Approximately 75 people attended a meeting with the SFMTA to discuss transit changes, infrastructure upgrades, tree replacement, and small business support for the Mission portion of the 16th Street corridor upgrades, but much of the attention ended up focused on impacts of the red transit-only lanes portion of the project.

Community members and SFMTA officials discuss proposed red lanes and other transit changes on 16th Street at Centro del Pueblo. (Photo MissionWord)

Community residents, small business owners, and neighborhood advocates attended a meeting hosted by the SFMTA and United to Save the Mission organizations led by the San Francisco Latino Democrats to discuss the 16th street transit and infrastructure changes scheduled to begin its “Phase 2” this fall in the Mission. The total cost of both phases of the project is $67.5 Million, and now includes the extended 22 Fillmore bus service.


While the meeting also entailed discussion of tree replacement, traffic changes, streetscape additions, small business support during construction, and more, most of the community speakers focused their comments on concerns about the red transit-only lanes portion of the project.


Paula Tejada, who owns Chile Lindo on 16th Street and spoke to MissionWord following the meeting, said the red lanes have in many ways become an emotional symbol of the community fight to survive amidst complex changes that don’t seem intended to benefit them, and that the red transit lanes can cause an emotional response for those who have been in the neighborhood a long time and are battling to stay here.


“It seems to signal that we’re being trampled on,” she said.


Tejada gave SFMTA officials credit for hosting the meeting with community members and listening to residents speak passionately about their concerns. She said that she hoped that they would keep listening and making changes based on the suggestions they were hearing. “[And] not just use it to check off a box,” she added.


Many of those at the meeting cited worries about potential impacts from the red lanes on business, local bus service, and the culture of the neighborhood, based on what they had experienced after red lanes were put in on Mission Street in 2016. Speakers also cited a lack of community engagement before either 16th Street or Mission Street changes were approved, and what they perceived as the SFMTA’s history of inequitable processes that create transit projects that impact vulnerable communities such as the Mission without meaningful neighborhood input to shape the project.


SFMTA officials acknowledged some of these historic shortcomings at the meeting and promised to move in a new direction with the community.


Kevin Ortiz, an officeholder with the Latino Democrats, who helped host the meeting, said that he considered the night a success in that community members were heard, especially given the lack of an inclusive process in the past on the project.


“We wish we were reached out like this earlier, but we’re happy the SFMTA came out, presented the project, and listened,” said Ortiz. “I think the community felt heard, and that’s a great first step.”


Ortiz said he was also pleased to hear the SFMTA commit to another meeting to gather more input from community members and a willingness to revisit parts of the project that were causing concern, such as the red lanes. “We want to make sure the community ends up with a project that meets their needs, and respects their voice. In the end, if people decide the community would be healthier without these new red lanes, another solution should be chosen,” he said.

Chris Buck from the Department of Public Works fields questions from community members regarding the removal and replanting of trees on the corridor. (Photo MissionWord)

At the conclusion of the meeting, SFMTA officials promised a follow-up meeting to delve deeper into solving community concerns including the need for red lanes on the corridor, a change they noted was approved years ago by the SFMTA board.


The Department of Public Works also had a representative on hand with a list of the more than 50 trees scheduled to be removed, and another list with pictures of the many types of trees they may be replaced with. He fielded questions and wrote suggestions on the board behind him from a small but steady group of local residents who stopped at his table to talk.


An SFMTA representative and a representative from the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development answered questions at another nearby table, where they shared information regarding plans for small business support during the construction period, and listened to potential concerns from small business owners and community members.


A recent survey of the small businesses on Mission Street by the Mission Economic Development Agency showed that nearly 40% of the businesses on the corridor still had concerns about the way the red lanes on Mission Street were affecting their businesses. An earlier survey of the corridor by representatives from the Mission Merchants Association shortly after the lanes were installed found an even wider report of lost revenues, with accompanying layoffs and business closures.


Chile Lindo owner Tejada told MissionWord she had concerns regarding the way the project and its red lanes might affect both her business and the neighborhood as a whole, especially since both are already facing hardship in the face of an enduring crisis.


Based on the impacts she saw from the red lane changes on Mission Street, and knowing the many stresses businesses like hers were already under, including the ongoing loss of much of her customer base due to gentrification, Tejada said she was worried about what the impacts might be from any new street changes on 16th Street. She said she was especially concerned about changes to parking and loading zones. With so many demands, regulations, and pressures already on small businesses, Tejada said she was concerned that any additional strain could cause a shop like hers to decide to close its doors.


“It’s just this last thing that says, ‘I’m closing,’” she said.


Tejada said that the transit project plans hadn’t yet taken into account the neighborhood it was working in, and bringing in another complexity that the residents who hadn’t asked for it would have to deal with it, particularly given that the neighborhood has many new immigrant families who may have added difficulties navigating such changes.


“The last thing we need is more rules and tickets for not abiding by these new rules, which are confusing.”

Small business owners and community members talk to members of the SFMTA and the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development about plans to support small businesses during the 16th Street transit and construction project. (Photo MissionWord)

A number of community members voiced their displeasure when two policemen appeared at the Tuesday night meeting. After a quick discussion with community representatives, the SFMTA asked the officers to leave. This appearance prompted one meeting attendee to later raise the issue of policing with regards to transit project changes. He said that the police had recently tried to ticket him on the Mission Street red lanes while he was attempting to park, and that his experience was a good example of why there was concern that transit changes such as red lanes lead to an increased policing of people of color in the neighborhood.


At the meeting SFMTA officials noted that amendments had already been made to the 16th Street project based on observing issues with the Mission Street red lanes, such as forced left turns being in place only for limited hours instead of 24 hours, reducing the number of bus stops removed, and avoiding any forced re-routing of traffic as was done on Mission Street at the Cesar Chavez “wall” as many residents came to call it. Mission advocates have long sought to fix elements of the Mission Street changes in an effort to reverse small business impacts, the sense of cultural disruption shared by many Latinos in the neighborhood, and the reduction in transit access caused by the removal of more than a half-dozen bus stops.


SFMTA officials have stressed that the red lanes reconfiguration of 16th Street will not be as significant as was required for Mission Street, where the removal of thousands of cars per day was necessitated by the reconfiguration of the street from four to three lanes in order to add the red transit-only lanes. This car reduction was principally achieved by the institution of forced right turns throughout the now lone northbound lane, which are also not a part of the scheduled 16th Street changes.


The 16th Street project, recently officially renamed the “22 Fillmore Transit Priority Project,” does, however, share some similarities to its Mission Street counterpart, such as limiting left-hand turns off the corridor. It also contains a much greater construction element as old pipes will be dug up and replaced all along the corridor, part of the reason that City departments are working on a mitigation program to support small businesses on the corridor, another of the popular subjects of discussion at the May 7th meeting.


More details of the plan can be found at: https://www.sfmta.com/projects/16th-street-improvement-project-phase-1-and-phase-2

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