SF businesses seeing red over new transit-only lanes

Few foods are as synonymous with Mission Street nightlife as bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

The tantalizing smell of sizzling meat often emanates from Leo’s Hot Dogs, a 19th and Mission streets cart run for more than eight years by husband and wife Adan Gonzalez and Lucero Munos.

“Sometimes when people show up when they’ve had a few drinks, she makes them dance!” Gonzalez said of his wife, smiling, through a Spanish-speaking interpreter Wednesday.

Gonzalez has less reason to smile nowadays. Leo’s may be kicked off its Mission Street corner following the roll-out of one of The City’s new red-painted transit only lanes, the latest in a growing trend of businesses resisting the transit lanes.

San Francisco police told Gonzalez his permit to operate was no longer valid because of the new red Muni lanes, he said. The lane was installed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on Mission Street from 14th to 30th streets in late February.

“Vendors, such as this, can receive a permit from Public Works to occupy a parking space. In this case, one vendor is located in the new right turn pocket, not the transit lane,” said Paul Rose, a spokesman for the SFMTA.

Lucero Muños and Adan Gonzalez stand on the spot where their hot dog stand was once located the corner of Mission and 19th streets in San Francisco, Calif. Tuesday, April 6, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

But the new turn changes accompanied Mission Street’s new red carpet lane. Cesar Ascarrunz, a former mayoral candidate and owner of Leo’s Hot Dogs, said the SFMTA did not contact him about any needed permit changes.

The lanes are for bus and taxi use only, to help transit avoid double parked cars and vehicles waiting to turn. The SFMTA has publicly said these are among the key ways Muni is snarled.

This newest conflict rises as SFMTA’s red Muni lanes meet resistance elsewhere in San Francisco.

On Taraval Street, a proposal to create a transit-only lane to speed up the L-Taraval was critiqued by neighbors for only saving 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 line’s 29,000 daily riders.

In February, the SFMTA decided to implement the transit-only lane as a pilot.

And earlier this year, the agency backed off installing a red lane on Chestnut Street in the Marina that was intended to speed up the commuter-heavy 30-Stockton and 30X lines. Nearby businesses were worried a reduction in parking spaces would drive customers away.

Ariel Kelley, the past president of the Marina Community Association, was a key neighborhood negotiator with SFMTA throughout the process.

“Neighbors saw it as a good idea, but on the wrong street,” she said, adding many suggested the transit-only lane be installed on busy Lombard Street.

If SFMTA had moved the 30-Stockton line, however, many seniors and people with disabilities would need to walk farther for the bus, she said.

Many businesses neighboring Leo’s Hot Dogs are also worried about a lack of customers due to the transit-only lanes. The Examiner spoke to several businesses that did not wish to be identified, but said fewer customers have walked through their doors since the transit lanes were implemented.

Studies conducted by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority in 2013 to make transit-only lanes on Geary Boulevard showed merchants believed 50 percent of their customers drove, and only a quarter used transit to go shopping.

But when the SFCTA surveyed local customers, the data showed the reverse — most customers took transit to shop on Geary Boulevard.

Image courtesy San Francisco County Transportation Authority, via StreetsBlogSF

And an SFMTA report from 2015 showed that red lanes on Church Street, between Duboce and 16th streets, for instance, “largely eliminated congestion-related delay on the J-Church.” It also sped up travel time for the 22-Fillmore bus.

“Muni’s new red carpet lanes will increase the number of people traveling along the Mission corridor and that will be good for business,” said Andy Bosselman, a member of the advocacy group San Francisco Transit Riders.

The transit riders argue that as San Francisco’s population grows, the only way to fix gridlock is to boost public transit.

As for Leo’s Hot Dogs, Rose said, “We are allowing the vendor to continue to use this location until we identify a new location and permit, in partnership with Public Works. Another vendor has already worked with Public Works to move one of their locations.”

But moving the business may hurt Leo’s Hot Dogs, its operators said.

As she spoke to the Examiner, Munos was in tears. She said she fears losing the ability to support their families back home in Mexico, as well as Munos’ three adult children.

When asked what she wants the SFMTA to do, Munos said, “I just want to ask the authorities to allow us to work.”

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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