This year is still young, but the potential squandering of a yet-undetermined sum of millions of dollars that The City does not have in order to raise Japantown’s Geary Boulevard underpass to street level must be the early front-runner for worst municipal idea of 2008. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who represents the Japantown and Fillmore neighborhoods, said Geary Boulevard has been an “invisible Berlin Wall” separating the two portions of his bailiwick.
Urban and transit planners working in the mayor’s Better Neighborhoods Project apparently agree that raising the eastbound Geary Boulevard/Steiner Street underpass is a perfectly sensible idea, and it will be among the topics for discussion at a Feb. 12 public meeting in the Japanese Cultural & Community Center.
There are quite a few questions we would like to hear asked from the floor at that meeting. Perhaps the most important one is: Since the most effective method of safeguarding pedestrians from fast-moving vehicular traffic on wide thoroughfares such as Geary is to physically funnel the automobiles onto either underpasses or overpasses, why even consider removing such an underpass from what is supposedly the most heavily used pedestrian intersection between Japantown and the Fillmore?
Residents of San Bruno on the Peninsula have been vainly pleading with Caltrans for years to allocate funding for exactly this kind of underpass or overpass protection at a particularly deadly Caltrain rail intersection where flimsy cross-arm barriers to the street-level tracks have not halted a rising body count. If San Franciscans need a closer-at-hand example of what happens when a busy eight-lane arterial street has no vehicle underpasses, just look westward to 19th Avenue, where more than 80 pedestrians have been injured and six killed since 2000.
At exploratory Japantown planning workshops, residents consistently told city planners they are concerned to make Geary Boulevard easier for pedestrians to cross; but they dislike the inconvenience of climbing stairs to the sporadically used pedestrian bridges. A particular type of utopian blindness must be required for the officials to somehow translate this preference into their proposed underpass removal that would make Geary more difficult and dangerous for pedestrians to cross.
Aside from the high expense and worsened safety of eliminating the Geary/Steiner vehicular underpass, a third major reason this is a terrible idea would be the unnecessary additional disruption it caused to parking and traffic flow. The synchronized preparation of the Geary Corridor Bus Rapid Transit project would already create widespread changes along the entire boulevard, with dedicated bus lanes and central boarding islands. No extra construction disturbances should be imposed on Geary.
After this public feedback period, plans for the future of Japantown and Geary Boulevard could be presented to the Board of Supervisors as early as June. By all means, let any further consideration of raising the Geary/Steiner underpass be excised from the Better Neighborhoods Project without further delay.