Making up for a lost generation of Muni improvements

Around Potrero Hill, buses sleep, but they hardly run.
There are two Muni yards in the Mission near Potrero Avenue and two more in Dogpatch. Buses, trolleys and streetcars return to these yards after lumbering for hours throughout
San Francisco.

With all this metal resting nightly around our neighborhoods, one would think it would be relatively simple to improve transit service on this side of town, especially in the midst
of the current building boom in Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, SoMa and Mission Bay.

But instead, east side residents have had to ponder a riddle over the last two decades: How do you accommodate so many new residents, many without parking, while failing to expand transit?

During the dot-com bubble at the turn of the century, thousands of “live-work” lofts were built in the Mission, Showplace Square and Potrero Hill while receiving full exemptions from customary impact fees for infrastructure — which led to de facto homes on streets without sidewalks or streetlights, let alone parks or schools or bus stops.
The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan of 2008 was meant to correct those planning errors, but compounded them instead. That rezoning covers 22 percent of The City’s land area and created the conditions for today’s building boom. And yet, in the shadow of the Great Recession, developer fees were cut from the levels necessary to mitigate impacts, and, most importantly, no plan was implemented to use increased land values (via property taxes) to pay for transit improvements.
So here we are, in neighborhoods snuggled among two freeways, seeing a doubling of our population in the next few years and few transit improvements to move our new neighbors around. Is it any surprise at all that car ownership rates have been increasing on this side of The City over the years? Or that the eastern neighborhoods have asthma rates far higher than other parts of San Francisco?

In the midst of this smoggy outlook, there are a few glimmers of potential, if the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and City Hall could manage to implement a couple of new ideas from the neighborhoods.

Muni recently launched the immediately popular E-Embarcadero line — historic streetcars, traveling along the waterfront to the Fourth and King Caltrain station on weekends. The Market Street Railway, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the historic streetcars, has a well-designed proposal (at streetcar.org) to extend that line to Pier 70, operating seven days a week. Such a line would deliver people to AT&T Park, UCSF, the new Golden State Warriors arena, Dogpatch and Pier 70, while cutting down on the switchbacks on the T-Third line that regularly plague Bayview residents.
Those streetcars already return to the Muni yard at 25th and Illinois streets at the end of their shifts. The Market Street Railway’s plan would simply extend the line where the streetcars already go.

A new Muni bus line — the 11 North Point line — is on the way, designed to improve service for the northeast neighborhoods, Rincon Hill and Mission Bay. But as designed today, the 11 would die in Mission Bay.

Why not further connect the eastern neighborhoods by routing the 11 through the densest developments of Potrero Hill and Dogpatch to the notoriously underserved 22nd Street Caltrain station and, eventually, Pier 70?

The Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association, in our efforts to design a community-serving public shuttle, identified significant unmet transit demand among this precise route. We know that a complete 11 route would have the residential, commercial and employment density necessary to fill the buses.

The SFMTA has the same data we do about our neighborhoods’ explosive growth and ridership potential. But so far, the 11 route is still designed to die in Mission Bay.

The City and the Warriors are getting well-deserved public pressure to fully plan for the local transit and traffic impacts of their proposed arena, welcoming up to 17,000 people a night for up to 200 nights a year.

Around Potrero Hill, we are bracing for a similar amount of new residents and workers each and every day and night of the year. The neighborhoods need a full-court press for transit and traffic planning, just like the Warriors do.

Over the last two decades, there has been a lost generation of potential Muni improvements for The City’s eastern neighborhoods, even as those same neighborhoods absorb the overwhelming majority of San Francisco’s growth.

The City has a chance right now to begin correcting this longstanding failure, and all it has to do is accept the solutions being handed to it by the neighborhoods.

J.R. Eppler is president, and Tony Kelly is vice president, of the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association.

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