Traffic mitigators vex San Francisco residents

New signs being installed on two major thoroughfares are meant to provide drivers with information, but neighbors say they will send the wrong message.

Construction on the electronic structures, called variable-message signs, has already started on Fell and Oak streets and they will soon display live traffic updates, including information about congestion, parking garage availability and special events.

Panhandle residents, however, are fuming about the move, saying the structures will increase aggressive traffic conditions, blight the scenery and counteract planning proposals for the neighborhood.

Because Fell and Oak streets are heavily traveled by commuters  and have timed signal lights, the two freeway-style signs, located on the thoroughfares near Divisadero Street, will encourage even faster driving speeds, which already frequently exceed the 30-mph limit, according to Michael Helquist, a local resident and member of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association.

“This is a residential neighborhood, but it’s starting to look more like a freeway,” he said.

Along with concerns about the behavior of drivers on the major artery, neighbors say the signs do not address problematic traffic in the area.

Instead of helping to speed up the plodding pace of Divisadero Street, which lies perpendicular to where the signs are placed, the new technology will instead incite more dangerous driving practices on Fell and Oak streets, said Michael Smithwick of the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association.

There’s also concern that the flood of drivers using the Oak and Fell arteries will divert off to smaller streets less capable of handling traffic, based on information they receive from the signs, Smithwick said.

The signs on Fell and Oak streets are part of the first phase of the Municipal Transportation Agency’s SFgo program, which will eventually cost $215 million to be implemented throughout San Francisco. It’s being paid for with local, state and federal funding sources.

The program was proposed as a way to manage traffic, especially Muni vehicles, but some advocates are concerned that the signs on Fell and Oak streets, which don’t have major transit lines, are an ominous beginning to the project.

“SFgo was touted as a transit prioritization project,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “And these signs seem to fly in the face of that philosophy.”

Muni spokesman Judson True said the signs are intended to slow down, not increase, speeds on Oak and Fell streets by alerting drivers of planned and unplanned traffic conditions. He also said the timing of traffic lights — including the one at Divisadero Street — will not be changed.

Muni planning officials are scheduled to meet with neighborhood residents today to discuss the street signs.

“We look forward to continuing dialogue with the NoPa neighbors and all stakeholders on this exciting project,” True said.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Road-improvement projects get going

The Municipal Transportation Agency is planning about $215 million in upgrades to San Francisco streets that are related to its SFgo program.

  • Parking-guidance programs that direct motorists to available spaces and garages
  • Installation of new communications equipment that will give transit priority at signals on 60 different intersections
  • New fiber optic infrastructure, which will help Muni manage congestion remotely
  • Upgrades to Muni’s central SFgo command center

Source: Municipal Transportation Agency

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