If The City were to tear down a pair of Geary Boulevard pedestrian bridges, it would be a loss for local children, seniors and the community.
That’s the opinion of a group of detractors led by Karen Kai, who sits on the advisory board to the Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program Parent, Teacher and Community Council in Japantown.
The bridges allow walkers to safely cross Geary Boulevard’s eight lanes of traffic, but may be torn down under a plan to speed up Muni’s 38-Geary bus.
Kai volunteers at the nearby Rosa Parks Elementary school. The idea of children crossing Geary Boulevard without the bridge, she said, would be “scary.”
The Geary Bus Rapid Transit project, as it is called, is now moving forward with input from people in the community, like Kai, following a hotly contentious meeting Thursday at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority presented the project’s draft environmental impact report to about 200 community members. Some were business owners worried construction would create a dip in customers, others were residents worried for loss of parking.
As the San Francisco Examiner reported, Geary BRT is jockeying for a $75 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts fund, which may be awarded after public input is taken on the draft environmental impact report. Phase 2 of the project is estimated to be between $200 million to $240 million, with Phase 1 clocking in between $60 million to $100 million.
Essentially, BRT means to make the 38-Geary behave like a train — netting up to 15 minute travel-time savings along the route from Ocean Beach to downtown.
In order to serve bus-only lanes, the columns that support local pedestrian bridges must be knocked down, project planners told the Examiner.
One bridge is on Geary Boulevard at Webster Street and the other is on Geary Boulevard at Steiner Street.
The impact report says the bridge ramps are too steep, and do not meet Americans with Disability Act requirements.
The meeting began with a bombastic argument. As Geary BRT consultant Chris Colwick tried to describe the project to the crowd, local merchant David Heller jumped up and began to shout.
Heller expressed concern construction of Geary BRT may hurt his business, SF Beauty Network.
He directed this outrage at Colwick.
Colwick said, “Sir, there are a lot of people who came here to see this presentation.” The crowd applauded.
Heller pointed to a display and shouted “It says this is a public, comment, meeting.”
The format of the meeting did not allow for the community to make public comments verbally. Instead, a court reporter typed written comments from community members in the back of the room.
Tony Yee, a resident of Lake Street, said he was disappointed. “I wanted to hear people.”
Later, neighbors calmly mingled in the room with transit planners, who answered technical questions before oversize maps of Geary Boulevard.
A small group of residents interested in transit issues told the Examiner they attended the meeting on behalf of the “silent majority” – the 55,000 daily riders of the 38-Geary line who may benefit from a faster commute.
The anger from the merchant community “is understandable but misplaced,” said Kevin Dole, who chairs The City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee.
“The goal is to make Geary safer, and faster,” he said.
Eric Young, a spokesman for the SFCTA, said the agency will include written comments from Thursday in the final environmental impact report. This will be sent to decision-makers on the project, including the Transportation Authority Board and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors.
And at those meetings, there will be plenty of opportunity for public comment.