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SFMTA approves controversial L-Taraval changes in name of safety

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A woman prepares to board an L-Taraval Muni train at 22nd Avenue and Taraval Street in San Francisco’s Sunset District Wednesday, March 4, 2015. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Taraval Street will be transformed in the name of pedestrian safety and speeding up the L-Taraval Muni light rail line by about three minutes in each direction.

The street changes were hotly combated by dozens of furious neighbors at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Board of Directors meeting Tuesday, who feared construction of concrete boarding islands would harm parking and businesses, but the board ultimately approved the L-Taraval Rapid Project unanimously.

The board cited safety as a top concern on Taraval Street.

“We’ve tried baby steps, and they’re not working,” said Cheryl Brinkman, the board’s vice chair.

Muni’s L-Taraval line carries 29,000 riders a day. The approved project includes the construction of 15 boarding islands so riders can disembark more safely on Taraval Street, painted zones in four intersections instead of boarding islands, the reduction of nine stops to speed up trains, and a transit-only lane for the train between 15th and 46th avenues.

Nearly 60 community members turned out for the board meeting, many of whom spoke against the project.

However, in a striking difference from past community meetings on the L-Taraval Rapid Project, numerous transit riders spoke out in favor of it as well.

Janelle Wong, a Sunset District resident, said her two elementary school-age sons will soon be old enough to ride the L on their own, and they need concrete boarding islands so they won’t step off a train directly into traffic.

“Both my sons have a safe place to get off” the train, she said.

In the past five years, 45 pedestrians have been struck by cars along the stretch of Taraval Street on which the L travels — and 22 of whom were hit while getting off the train at stops without islands.

Roland Wong is an L-Taraval rider who uses a wheelchair. He also favored the boarding islands, which provide ramps for access.

“For me to get on the wayside platform, I need to drive myself seven bus stops in order to get on the platform by the Zoo at 46th [Avenue] and Wawona [Street],” he told the board, calling the lack of boarding islands “not equitable.”

Residents in opposition said the perpendicular parking created on side streets for the project would be hazardous for neighbors backing out of their garages, and that business would be harmed by the relocation of parking spaces.

From elderly citizens to a mother carrying a baby in her arms and tens of those who only spoke Cantonese speakers, many neighbors also said the reduction of nine L-Taraval stops would create a burden for those who have trouble walking.

Resident Paula Katz brought a petition with 400 signatures to add to another petition she previously turned in of 1,600 signatures of what she said were L-Taraval riders against the elimination of stops.

Supervisor Katy Tang, whose district includes Taraval Street, sent an aide to speak in favor of the project, but also asked the SFMTA to study impacts to parking along Taraval Street.

Assessor Recorder Carmen Chu, a former supervisor of District 4, spoke against the L-Taraval changes, citing community concern.

Sean Kennedy, project leader of the Muni Forward effort, said the painted zones are not as safe for those disembarking trains as boarding islands.

“It’s not as much protection,” he said.

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