Evan DuCharme/Special to The S.F. ExaminerSome fear Chinatown

Pilot program to study Chinatown intersection

When the Van Ness Avenue bus rapid transit plan got the green light last month, a lingering concern among residents in pedestrian-heavy Chinatown was that leaving only one double left-turn lane in the area at Broadway might undo safety measures they've spent years implementing.

Heeding concerns, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority held a meeting in the neighborhood Tuesday afternoon to inform community members about a proposed pilot program to reduce the two left turns to one on southbound Van Ness Avenue at Broadway. If approved when presented to Caltrans at the end of this year, the pilot would include license plate tracking to gather traffic response data with the single left-turn lane.

The Van Ness BRT system, with two dedicated lanes for fast-moving buses for approximately 2 miles, will eliminate all left turns between Lombard and Mission streets except for Broadway. Construction begins in early 2016 for service starting in 2018.

Funneling traffic to Chinatown, the densest neighborhood west of New York City, could be “a recipe for disaster” considering the large populations of children and seniors, said Steve Woo, a senior planner with the Chinatown Community Development Center, a partner in the pilot.

A pedestrian safety study by the development center reported the number of pedestrian injuries on Broadway between 2005 and 2010: eight at the Columbus Avenue intersection, five at the Stockton Street intersection and four at the entrance of the Broadway Tunnel. Chinatown was marked with many high-injury corridors in a map released by The City this year.

The Broadway Streetscape Improvement Project has also been in the works for about a decade. Sidewalk widening, timed traffic signals, tree planting and other measures were completed in phases along the thoroughfare between Kearny Street and Grant Avenue, and capital funding has been allocated for a final phase addressing the section between the Broadway Tunnel and Columbus Avenue.

“We don't want the regional concerns of the Van Ness BRT to override what neighborhoods need to be successful,” said Cindy Wu, the development center's community planning manager. “Commuters will want to get to the Financial District or SoMa and we don't want to send the wrong message about how we set our priorities.”

There are no plans currently to reduce the double left turn for the Van Ness BRT, and the pilot is meant to address concerns with the situation, said Tilly Chang, executive director for the transportation authority.

Based on the findings, Chang said, “We as planners can anticipate ways to either reduce the traffic impact or encourage people to try different ways of getting toward the downtown.”

Safety study to look at District 7 accidents

Until this year, District 7 historically had among the fewest pedestrian injuries and fatalities. But a pedestrian safety improvement report — the southwestern district's first — was released Tuesday to address problems that have recently come to light in the area.

According to the report from the City Controller's Office, District 7 accounted for about 5 percent of The City's pedestrian injuries and fatalities between 2007 and 2011. However, four of the eight pedestrian fatalities in San Francisco through mid-March have occurred in District 7.

“I'm hoping it was a fluke that so many fatalities happened at the beginning of the year,” said Supervisor Norman Yee, who called for the study. “I made pedestrian safety this year's focus because I heard from residents throughout last year that this was an issue.”

Yee, who said being hit by a car downtown in 2006 was a “life-threatening experience,” pointed out that Taraval Street and Ocean and 19th avenues are as dangerous as other high-injury corridors in The City.

The report highlights completed and planned traffic calming measures such as speed humps, bulb-outs and traffic islands, which Yee said are key with several large housing developments coming soon to the district.

— Jessica Kwong

Bay Area NewsChinatownSan Francisco County Transportation AuthorityTransittransportationVan Ness Avenue

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