Masonic nightmares may fade

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Masonic Avenue, a four-lane thoroughfare that connects Pacific Heights to the Haight-Ashbury, acts as a key north-south connecting point for motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and public transit.

And it’s loud, overcrowded and unfriendly to bikes, and residents say it’s a nightmare to anyone living in its general vicinity.

Residents on the Masonic corridor, particularly in the area just north of the Panhandle, have long pleaded with city officials for changes. To address those concerns the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency created a series of traffic-calming proposals, including separate initiatives that would take away parking, eliminate half the lanes during nighttime hours and add a much-needed bike lane.

“It’s clear that Masonic Avenue is a failed corridor in all aspects,” area resident Dan Nguyen-Tan said.

Fears about the dangerous thoroughfare were validated Friday night when a 21-year-old German tourist was killed in a hit-and-run while riding a bicycle southbound on Masonic Avenue near Turk Street. Nils Linke was struck and killed by a 1989 Mercedes-Benz that also was traveling southbound on Masonic, according to police.

Although recently the speed limit was reduced, the multilane setup, hills and sequenced traffic signals regularly encourage motorists to speed, and that’s the top concern of residents, Nguyen-Tan said.

The SFMTA, which oversees traffic operations in The City, has presented four plans for Masonic Avenue. One option is to remove two traffic lanes from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily. Three of the options propose removing some or all on-street parking. All four options include adding bicycle lanes of varying designs.

Renee Rivera, acting director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said adding bike access to Masonic Avenue is crucial.

“Masonic is one of the few north-south connecting points for cyclists, but it’s very difficult to bike on,” Rivera said. “Traffic is really fast, and there really isn’t space to bike because of all the parked cars.”

Masonic Avenue does have wide sidewalks, but walking can still be an uneasy experience, particularly when pedestrians try to cross the street, said Manish Champsee, president of Walk SF. He said slowing down traffic would greatly enhance the pedestrian environment.

Michael Helquist, a resident of the area who writes the blog Bike NOPA, said the community has been very receptive to the ideas put forth by the SFMTA, although he would have liked to see more emphasis on landscaping improvements.

Not everyone in the neighborhood thinks Masonic is in dire need of change. Rob Anderson — who successfully sued The City over its bike plan proposal — said Masonic Avenue is working just fine.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, whose district includes the corridor, said with major local projects looming, including the addition of a new Target chain store on Geary Boulevard and Masonic Avenue, the street needs to be upgraded in a positive way.

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