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Safety improvements to ‘most dangerous’ SF street languishes in delays

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Despite efforts otherwise, plans to improve bicycling conditions on Masonic Avenue have stalled for the past five years. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

Petra Linke still remembers when she first taught her son to ride a bike. Blonde haired and slender, 5-year-old Nils Yannick Linke swiftly learned to navigate the streets of Berlin.

He didn’t need training wheels, his mother said. She would run next to her son as he pedaled confidently.

“He was very fast,” she said, “and he learned very quickly.”

Nearly two decades later in 2010, 22-year-old Nils Linke was struck and killed by a drunk driver at Masonic Avenue and Turk Street. The tourist’s death grabbed city headlines.

Linke’s candlelight memorial was attended by members of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors, neighbors and transit activists.

Advocates say his death, and others killed and injured along Masonic Avenue before and after, spurred the SFMTA board to approve the Masonic Avenue Streetscape Improvement Project.

It aimed to make Masonic Avenue safer for cyclists and pedestrians alike.

Thursday was the fifth anniversary of Nils Linke’s death, and not one shovel has broken ground on the project. Five years later, the effort to re-engineer one of San Francisco’s most dangerous streets languishes in delays.

“It shouldn’t be taking this long,” Supervisor Eric Mar told the San Francisco Examiner. Mar’s district includes part of the project. “Masonic,” he said, “is a deathtrap.”

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition also expressed frustration.

“Everything is in place,” said Noah Budnick, the coalition’s executive director. “The neighbors have spoken loud and clear. There’s political support for safety improvements, and the funding is in place. It’s time to get it done.”

San Francisco Public Works is now the lead on the project. Initial estimates said it would take a few years from 2012 to complete. Later, construction was set to begin in summer 2015 and complete in 2016, according to a joint SFMTA/public works planning document.

Now the public works’ website states construction will begin in 2016, to be completed in 2017.

Cristina Calderón Olea, a project manager at San Francisco Public Works, said additions to the scope of the project caused the delays. Also, she said, when one city agency breaks ground on the street, other agencies often coordinate underground work — so multiple agencies don’t dig in the same street twice.

A childhood photo of Nils Linke, who was struck and killed by a driver on Masonic at the age of 22. COURTESY PETRA LINKE

A childhood photo of Nils Linke, who was struck and killed by a driver on Masonic at the age of 22. COURTESY PETRA LINKE

“Sewer and water lines will be replaced and rehabilitated by the project,” Olea wrote to the Examiner in an email. “And the roadway will be repaved from Fell to Presidio.”

This coordination led to additional delays. Public Works is scheduled to advertise the construction contract this month, Olea said. Construction is expected to begin in 2016.

The $18 million improvements would completely reshape Masonic Avenue from Geary Boulevard to Fell Street. Instead of six lanes of auto traffic, Masonic Avenue would sport only four, accompanied by pedestrian bulb-outs, cycle tracks, landscaped medians and more than a hundred new trees.

Nicole Ferrera, head of the advocacy group Walk SF, said these types of delays are common. “There are lots of projects going on, and lots of priorities,” she said, and the best way to speed them up is to contact officials and ask for change.

Advocates say they’ve waited much too long to see Masonic Avenue become safer.

Michael Helquist, from the group BIKE NOPA (North of the Panhandle), long advocated for Masonic safety. He was a member of a similar group, FIX Masonic, which presented former SFMTA-head Nathaniel Ford with 500 neighbor signatures for Masonic Avenue improvements in 2008.

“Linke’s death helped spur The City to move forward with the Masonic project,” Helquist said.

Seven years, three fatalities and more than 100 traffic collisions later, the improvements have yet to be seen.

Petra Linke told the Examiner that she is grateful some good could come of her son’s death.

“He came to San Francisco on Thursday, and he was killed Friday,” she said. “Why not use that fact to make things better for cyclists? I think it is the right thing to do.”

Below, Stanley Roberts, host of “People Behaving Badly,” outlines the need for Masonic avenue changes in 2011.

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