cover-crosswalk.jpgThe San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors decided to go ahead with a bicycle and pedestrian safety project along three blocks of Oak and Fell streets this afternoon.

The board unanimously approved designs along Fell and Oak streets between Scott and Baker streets that would include eliminating a lane of traffic and constructing a “cycle track” bikeway, 12 “bulbouts,” or sidewalk extensions, traffic signal changes and other traffic calming efforts.

The plan calls for a wider bikeway, sidewalk greening and other enhancements that will take curbside space currently used for car parking along the three blocks near the Panhandle.

As part of the proposed project, designers will remove about 100 parking spaces, mostly on the south side of Oak Street and Fell Street between Scott and Baker streets.

To accommodate the loss of parking, the SFMTA plans to consolidate bus stops on Hayes Street and put in angled and perpendicular parking on Baker Street between Fell and Haight streets and other nearby roads.

At today’s meeting, dozens of residents, bicyclists, motorists, pedestrians and community activists spoke in favor and against the plan.

North of Panhandle resident Richard Boardman said he is a cyclist and owns a car and he supports the project, which requires compromise from the bicycle and motorist community.

He called the project “a compromise for everyone.”

Deane Hartley, a self-identified avid cyclist, called the changes “marginal improvements” that force nearby residents, business owners and tourists to make sacrifices for the bicycling community.

Sixty-year-old Richmond District resident Terry Rolleri said he doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for people criticizing the plan just because it eliminates parking spots.

“I’m not going to ride a heavy-loaded bicycle with groceries up a steep hill,” he said, addressing suggestions to modify hilly Hayes or Page streets for bicyclists to use as a thoroughfare instead of Oak and Fell streets.

Fell Street resident Howard Chabner told the board in his motorized chair that the project discriminates against those with mobility issues.

He said he considers the loss of access to the curb for segregated bicycle lanes and the fewer parking spaces unnecessary difficulties for those like himself who depend on cars or Muni buses to get around the city.

The bicycle and pedestrian advocacy community came out in support of the project, which has undergone intensive neighborhood input with meetings and notices throughout the past year.

Walk SF executive director Elizabeth Stampe is particularly eager to see the “bulbouts” extend the sidewalk and shorten the crosswalks.

Another design element she supports is the “day lighting” intersections that help improve pedestrian visibility by removing cars at the corner of the street.

“When people start seeing these types of improvements…they’ll start happening all over the city,” Stampe said.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has flagged this area as crucial for bicyclists who use Oak and Fell streets as part of the “Wiggle” bicycle route that connects the Panhandle and western neighborhoods to Market Street and downtown.

The coalition has been advocating for these changes that include a bike path separated from street traffic.

Neal Patel with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition spoke at this afternoon’s meeting reiterating that the three-block stretch on both streets terrify bicyclists with its fast drivers and cramped and shared bike lanes.

Stampe, who said Walk SF and the coalition worked separately but with the same goal, highlighted several proposed changes that are “taking some of the space back for people who aren’t in cars.”

The $1.26-million project will begin in the coming weeks, with the full project aimed to be completed by summer 2013.

Luis Montoya, the project manager with SFMTA, said much of funding for the planning and construction comes from a streets bond.

The first changes of the approved project include changing parking spaces and starting construction on the Fell Street bicycle track and then Oak Street, which unlike Fell Street does not currently have a bike lane.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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