Traffic guru creates drop-off strategy

Writing tickets for a living was not Bashir Algaheim’s ideal job.

Of course, he has experienced the frequent, notorious arguments between parking control officers and drivers.

“There’s always those, yeah,” he said, but that wasn’t necessarily the big issue.

“I’d rather work on long-term solutions,” is how he put it.

Lucky for Algaheim, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency recognized he has a talent for planning. Now, he’s still technically a PCO, as those who issue tickets are called, although his job is now completely different than a typical “meter maid.” He’s a school traffic guru.

Algaheim’s job description radically changed two-and-a-half years ago. He visits each of the San Francisco Unified School District’s elementary schools and develops congestion plans.

Every morning, hundreds of parents drop their kids off at any of SFUSD’s elementary schools. It’s Algaheim’s job to help make that less of a headache for schools. His traffic plans for schools are designed to prevent the double-parkers from ever materializing, so parking control officers are rarely needed.

It’s not just about double parkers, but safety too.

“One school may have more of a hazardous safety issue over the other one,” he said, like blocking bike lanes, or prompting unsafe driving behaviors.

Algaheim works on a complaint basis, whether those complaints are from City Hall, a supervisor’s office or 311. He also works within the school crossing guard program — also under the umbrella of the SFMTA — and is tipped off by what the crossing guards see.

Algaheim may take anywhere from a few months to a year to develop a traffic plan for parents at schools. He can’t be everywhere, but visits schools that need “immediate attention,” he told the San Francisco Examiner.

At one time, George Moscone Elementary School in the Mission was one such school. But the day the Examiner visited in November, it was clear those problems were in the past.

Migeul Calul, whose 9-year-old son attends George Moscone, described the school’s old traffic problems as, “Everyone is crossing, nobody is respecting.”

“It was very crazy,” Calul said. “A line of cars first, some people pushing horns, ‘Hurry up!’ Some people say, ‘Hey, this is my kid,’” by way of explanation for blocking traffic.

Algaheim saw the same thing. “I’d see people parking in the bike lane, double parking, triple parking, parking across the street,” he said. “More than 30 cars trying to double park at the school at once.”

That’s why Algaheim recruited parents like Calul to help. While his son is getting ready for class, Calul is outside in a fluorescent yellow vest running the “kid valet.”

Here’s how the system works: The SFMTA paints white zones in front of the school, in areas where no parking is allowed, and runs orange cones all along the white zones one lane away — the lane parents are directed to pull into.

Parents like Calul walk up to each car as they approach the front of the school and help kids out safely. Parents at either end of the lane help move along the vehicles.

As the Examiner watched, parents waved and said “Hello” to Calul, and kids in the cars farther back in line pulled their backpacks on, awaiting the yellow-vested parent to open the door.

Everyone is familiar with the system, it seemed, and the Examiner did not witness a single double-parker during the hour we stood outside George Moscone.

Cars moved in, and out, like a well-oiled machine.

Many students also walked, their parents eschewing driving altogether. Algaheim noted that, too, eases traffic congestion.

He reaches out at Parent Teacher Association meetings, and other school gatherings and says he works hand in hand with school administrations all over The City.

Algaheim’s helped restructure traffic at a little more than 20 schools so far, and has a special passion for helping these schools because he’s a San Francisco native, he said. He went to Betsy Carmichael Elementary, though he’s never had to manage their traffic (they figured it out before he began his job, he said).

One of Algaheim’s most unique traffic problems so far has been at Sherman Elementary School, on Union Street and Franklin (coincidentally, the same grade school this reporter attended).

“At the end of [Franklin Street] they have to make a left turn,” he said. “They wait almost the entire cycle just to make one turn, and it jams everybody.”

Franklin Street is an unusually long block, which means the light traps an unusually high number of cars.

So Algaheim asked a bevy of SFMTA street engineers to help restructure turns, curbs, and more in order to smooth traffic by the school.

Still, despite Algaheim’s elevated role in managing school traffic, he’s technically a parking control officer, in the eyes of the SFMTA.

“I can legally still write tickets. But, it’s very rare. Very rare,” he said. The last time he wrote one was months ago, he said, because “my goal isn’t to be out here to write tickets. It’s to work with parents to get their kids to school.”

He still has the ticket book in his car though, he said. Just in case.

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