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Sunset district neighbors wary of proposed changes to L-Taraval Muni line

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Passengers exit from a Muni L Taraval train on Taraval Street between 28th and 29th avenues in the Parkside neighborhood. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

Sunset district neighbors reached a compromise Wednesday night on changes to Taraval Street intended to make the L-Taraval train safer, despite many expressing fears that the proposal will make the neighborhood less accessible.

Chiefly, neighbors worried that concrete boarding islands would reduce parking and endanger local businesses. People also said newly moved or eliminated stops would force seniors to walk too far for the train.

“I don’t want my stops taken away,” said Nerissa Hu, who identifies as a senior. She said she depends on the 17th Avenue stop, which was originally slated to be removed. Without it, Hu says she will need to walk uphill to make her regular L trip.

The victory for the neighborhood wasn’t complete, neighbors said, but it was a start.

Sean Kennedy, a planner at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, tried to explain the compromise to a room packed with more than 200 neighbors.

It was tough going.

Gathered in Dianne Feinstein Elementary School’s cafeteria, the enraged neighbors lambasted staff at full volume.

They heckled, booed, hissed and yelled.

Kennedy put a slide up on a screen showing a survey of 1,600 Muni riders, 53 percent of whom wanted concrete boarding islands along the L-Taraval, ostensibly so they wouldn’t step onto the street while hopping off the train. Only 36 percent did not want the islands.

“Boo!” cried out one neighbor, “I don’t believe those responses!” another shouted.

Kennedy was tough to hear in the bedlam, which perhaps was worsened because he spoke without aid of a microphone and speaker system.

But in the end, the new L-Taraval proposal met the neighbors halfway, some said, on a number of seemingly unpopular proposals.

“They’re listening to us, but there’s still work to do,” Albert Chow, owner of Great Wall Hardware told the San Francisco Examiner.

Originally, the SFMTA planned to install concrete boarding islands at all stops along the L-Taraval, including five in business districts. Those are the ones that caused the parking fears.

Right now, L riders step off the train onto the street, and must dodge cars on their way to the sidewalk. The SFMTA planned to add 11 new traffic signals, and wheelchair-accessible platforms on 19th Avenue and 42nd Avenue.

Safety is key to the proposal, Kennedy said, as Taraval is also one of San Francisco’s most dangerous corridors. Cathy DeLuca of Walk SF, an advocacy group, said the reported injuries — 22 in the last five years — are likely fewer than the actual number of injuries.

It’s dangerous to get off the L, she said.

Yumi Sam, head of the People of Parkside Sunset merchants group, said she supported safety on Taraval, but many neighbors drive — so a balance is needed between the two concerns.

One neighbor, Paula Katz, turned in a petition with 1,040 signatures against the SFMTA’s original proposal.

Now, the project will move forward only as a pilot. No parking will be moved at four of the
five business-located stops. Instead, the SFMTA will paint white cross-hatches along the traffic lanes, warding cars away, and install new traffic signs.

The pilot will last six months. Success will be evaluated on the percentage of drivers who stop outside of the zones, and by any crashes related to train boarding near the zones.

If the pilot is not successful, boarding islands will be installed per the original plan, according to SFMTA documents.

Regardless, concrete islands will be installed along L-Taraval stops that aren’t near businesses.

A transit-only lane to speed up the L-Taraval was also hotly debated. Neighbors were concerned it would only save two to three minutes per trip on the L. Those who supported the lane noted that two to three minutes adds up quickly for the L’s 29,000 daily riders.

The transit-only lane will now be implemented as a pilot.

At the meeting, as the neighbors shouted down SFMTA staff for threatening their parking, and their businesses, one man spoke against the throng.

Turning around in his wheelchair to address the crowd, Leslie Clark said “I know a lot of people don’t want to lose their parking, but it’s vital for us to have these access points.”

He was one of the only people who would benefit from the concrete islands who spoke. For the first time in the hourslong meeting, those concerned about losing parking were quiet.