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Transportation advocates across political spectrum unite against proposal to split SF transit agency

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Muni passengers get on and off the L-Taraval line in San Francisco on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (Daniel Kim/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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A day before two supervisors are set to introduce an amendment to The City’s charter to split up the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, an unusual coalition of local transit advocates announced its opposition to the plan.

On Monday, SPUR, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, San Francisco Transit Riders and Walk San Francisco issued a joint letter voicing opposition to the upcoming charter amendment proposal by supervisors Ahsha Safai and Aaron Peskin.

“The SFMTA is an imperfect institution, and we acknowledge that much must be done to improve its responsiveness and performance,” the organizations wrote. “Rather than fixing the SFMTA’s shortcomings, however, this charter amendment will compound them.”

The proposal would see the SFMTA split into two distinct entities: Muni and a Livable Streets Department to manage streets, parking and traffic. It would also create more legal mechanisms for the Board of Supervisors to intervene in transportation projects that politicians have publicly criticized as slow, and contrary to the will of San Francisco residents.

“More micro-neighborhood issues are overlooked and forgotten [by the SFMTA],” Safai told the San Francisco Examiner. “The way this agency was set up was intended to create efficiencies, but it drowned out the voices of neighborhood.”

The joint opposition letter unites groups that seldom partner together on city transit issues. SPUR, an urban policy think tank, has rarely advocated alongside the politically separate bike coalition, Walk SF and Transit Riders.

The joint letter claims Safai and Peskin’s proposal would increase government bureaucracy, create “unnecessary politics” and contradict San Francisco’s “transit first” law.

“It brings a hammer to a problem that requires a scalpel,” the letter’s authors wrote.

Jim Lazarus, vice president of public policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said “it’s clear to me” supervisors want more input into SFMTA’s decision making.

“The question is, how do you do that that maintains a quasi-independent transportation agency and doesn’t flood the supervisors with lengthy appeals?” Lazarus said.

Before 1999, when a ballot measure consolidated Muni and the Department of Parking and Traffic into what is now the SFMTA, Board of Supervisors meetings were flooded with requests to talk about stop sign and street changes, the joint letter from the transportation advocates noted, a problem they said the charter amendment may resurrect.

Safai denied that critique. “I think we’re open to the conversation” about how much input the Board of Supervisors would have in minor street changes, he said.

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