A Feb. 5 headline in the San Francisco Examiner — “Poll: SF residents split on transit-only ‘red carpet’ lanes” — was highly problematic. The poll, in fact, shows 55 percent support for the red lanes, and 30 percent opposed, which is close to 2:1 in favor. It could also be characterized as overwhelming support. To say opinion is “split” is unfair to all the riders who support and benefit from these red lanes. To say we “remain divided” diminishes the clear favorability of transit lanes shown in the poll.
Apparently, to offer a counterpoint to the transit-positive numbers in the poll, the Examiner zooms in on the issue in the Mission District, where there are real concerns about community displacement.
There are more than 65,000 people riding the bus daily along Mission Street, and about 8,000 in cars (before the red lanes). Think about the busload of 60 passengers stuck behind the one person who’s double-parked or stuck behind the line of 10 drivers in 10 cars, and you get an idea of the efficiency and importance of the red lanes to move people around in a dense urban area.
We know riders are happy about the smoother, safer, quicker and more reliable ride they get with the red lanes. We hear support in our conversations with riders, during our forums and meetings and on social media (plus our staff take the Mission red lanes every day). And, of course, the data laid out in the article speaks for itself. The unfortunate truth is riders often don’t speak up in public comment at City Hall and often don’t get fair representation in stories about important transit improvements.
Strong public transit is absolutely essential for creating a sustainable and equitable San Francisco. Only with robust public transit will we get more people out of their cars — an issue of environmental health, public health and access to opportunity. Public transit needs to be reliable and efficient, so people can get from one end of town to the other in closer to 30 minutes than an hour or more. Red lanes can do that, which can make public transit viable.
The red lanes along Mission Street have also made it calmer and safer. Fewer accidents should be something everyone is happy about. A calmer street makes it more pleasant to walk and do shopping. One could seriously argue Mission Street is more accessible now to more people.
We do understand that the Mission District is facing serious challenges. Mission Local published an in-depth look at the issues on Jan. 31. A decline in the Latino population is undeniably affecting the Latino businesses. Massive Bay Area population growth, with no comparable growth in housing, is going to create severe pressures on real estate. These are difficult issues. Displacement is complex and needs to be addressed.
But public transit serves everyone; it helps the locals who have been here for generations, as well as the newcomers, access jobs, education, shopping and family.
Rachel Hyden is executive director of the San Francisco Transit Riders, a rider-based grassroots advocate for excellent, affordable and growing public transit.