San Franciscans are told constantly that we should get out of our cars and ride Muni instead. But a recent decision by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to remove a light-rail stop across from the Safeway on Taraval Street could force some who have been taking Muni to the store to drive there instead.
SFMTA staff want to remove stops to speed up the L-Taraval’s travel time as it heads downtown from the Sunset. According to SFMTA staff at the agency’s Dec. 5 meeting, removing the inbound stop at 17th Avenue and Taraval Street, across from the Safeway, will make the trains run 25 to 30 seconds faster.
Agency staff noted that there would still be stops inbound at 19th and 15th Avenues. People can just get off at one of those and walk a few extra blocks to the grocery store. No big deal.
However, for a senior or a person with disabilities, walking a few blocks — especially when it’s raining and the sidewalk is slippery — can be a big deal. Plus, Taraval goes uphill from 19th to 15th avenues, making those extra blocks even harder for some to negotiate.
The 19th Avenue stop is on the western side of the intersection. Safeway is on the eastern side. At the December meeting, SFMTA staff acknowledged that even shoppers wanting to continue inbound will likely walk from the Safeway to the 19th Avenue stop because it’s downhill from the store, rather than walk uphill the two blocks to 15th Avenue.
This means many shoppers who use Muni will be forced to cross 19th Avenue — a busy state highway — to get to or from the store. This will disproportionally impact seniors and people with disabilities, as they struggle to carry their grocery bags across six lanes of traffic in the 22 seconds when the light is green. Standing on the narrow median island can be terrifying as cars race by at 30 mph (or more) mere inches from where pedestrians stand.
Agency staff claim there have been safety improvements at the intersection, but it’s still a dangerous street. Earlier this month, an elderly woman was struck by a car and killed while crossing 19th at Quintara, three blocks away.
SFMTA staff also claim the three stops on this section of Taraval are too close together; therefore, they must remove the middle stop at 17th Avenue. By stopping less often, the agency says, the trains will move faster, reducing transit travel time.
But one size never fits all. The SFMTA’s own guidelines say the placement of stops should be influenced by a number of factors, including topography and major trip generators. The Safeway at 17th Avenue clearly generates a lot of trips, and, therefore, could be retained.
At the December meeting, agency staff noted that they did not observe people boarding the L-Taraval with “heavy grocery loads that would make walking an additional two minutes challenging.” However, even a “light” grocery bag can be “challenging” to a senior or someone with a disability or a serious illness when they have to carry it for several blocks before they can board the train.
Many people who oppose removing the 17th Avenue stop spoke at the meeting, raising these concerns and others. They presented several alternatives, but agency staff rejected them all. Staff seemed more focused on saving those 25 to 30 seconds in travel time than on ensuring everyone can ride Muni to access the only large supermarket on Taraval Street.
The SFMTA board voted to remove the stop at 17th Avenue — likely to happen in mid-January — but asked staff to study the closure’s impact. Agency staff must do a better job of studying impacts than they’ve done up until now, including talking with a wider variety of community and neighborhood groups and studying rider patterns for more than a few days.
Ironically, a project originally intended to make it safer to get on and off the Muni trains may ultimately make it less safe for some riders to go to Safeway. Speeding up the trains won’t get more people to ride Muni if the trains don’t take them where they need to go, including to the grocery store.
Sally Stephens is an animal, park and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area.