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Masonic Avenue safety improvements remain a work in progress

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A bicyclist makes his way down a new elevated bike lane along Masonic Avenue near Grove Street, a part of the Masonic Avenue Streetscape Improvement Project, on Tuesday, August 14, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

There were smiles andd cheers Tuesday on Masonic Avenue, as a full decade of advocacy came to fruition in the form of pedestrian, bicycle and traffic safety improvements.

But the completion of the Masonic Avenue Streetscape Improvement Project is not the end of the road, according to Mayor London Breed, other officials, and advocates.

“I know there are some concerns about protected bike lanes, which we will address,” Breed said, speaking at a ribbon cutting at Masonic Avenue and Geary Boulevard.

The corridor has been upgraded to include wider sidewalks for pedestrians, water and sewer upgrades, new lighting in the roadway medians, lighting explicitly for pedestrians on the sidewalks, new trees, and the public plaza at Geary Boulevard where Breed and other officials made their remarks.

SEE RELATED: After nearly a decade, Masonic Avenue streetscape project finally set to break ground

The plaza looked so new it resembled a design sketch made real — replete with palm trees, art installations and wooden benches for pedestrians to sit, and soak in the fog.

A bright green bike lane also runs through the new plaza, straight between two slabs of curb that protect cyclists from nearby traffic. But that’s the end of the protection offered, and the beginning of cyclists complaints. The bike lane that proceeds south toward the Golden Gate Park Panhandle is a “raised” bike lane, separated from vehicles by the slightest inches of elevation.

“We’ve seen some reports of people parking on it, of delivery vehicles using it for loading,” said Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. The “raised” bikeway design was “considered state of the art” eight years ago when it was designed, but urban designers have learned since than “that if a driver can park on something, they will,” he said.

Wiedenmeier said the coalition also hopes the SFMTA will fix the approach to the Panhandle, which right now mixes auto traffic confusingly with the bike lane at Fell Street. “If you’re not an experienced rider, an older or younger person, that’s a really scary intersection,” he said.

The $26 million project, which broke ground in 2016, was led by San Francisco Public Works, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Public Utilities Commission, and ushered in by activists who saw their neighborhood as unsafe for those walking and cycling. From 2009 to 2014, there were 113 traffic collisions on Masonic Avenue between Fell Street and Geary Boulevard, which is the scope of the project.

This includes two fatalities. Cyclist Nils Linke, 22, was struck and killed by a drunk driver on the corridor in 2010. The German tourist’s death grabbed headlines and galvanized the long-languishing safety project, said Michael Helquist, a writer and neighbor who was among those instrumental in advocating for the street changes.

Linke’s death “was a sad situation to get through,” Helquist said.

But Supervisor Vallie Brown, who represents one neighborhood the project cuts through and worked to usher in the project as a legislative aide, was hopeful Linke’s death will ultimately make a difference, through the safety improvements presented today, and also through future ones she promised to pursue.

“We had the tragedy of a cyclist being killed,” she told the crowd Wednesday. “It also gave us the power to keep moving. We’re not done.”

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