December 16th is a day that North Beach should look forward to. It’s the day when Jeff Tumlin takes over the reins as the new SFMTA Director. For our neighborhood, Jeff’s approach gives us hope that a bundle of transit improvements that have been quietly swept under the rug may be given a second chance.
The list of lost projects is long. Funds pledged to study pedestrian and bicycle network improvements along Kearny Street in 2015 were swiftly diverted when a new supervisor took office. The start of bicycle facilities on Columbus Avenue, from Washington to Broadway, never saw the light of day. And much-needed 30 bus improvements that would have brought red lanes to Columbus Avenue are stuck in a back cabinet at 1 South Van Ness Avenue.
Not to mention a Central Subway that could have included a station in North Beach if there had been political leadership.
The economic costs for choosing to forgo these transit upgrades are clear. Our neighborhood’s commercial vacancy rate stands north of 20%, a testament to the ineffectiveness of giving away the majority of our open space to parked cars and roadways, despite knowing that 86% of shoppers on Columbus Avenue arrive by modes other than private vehicles.
Most critically, these delays have been deadly. Much of Columbus Ave, Francisco, Bay, and Broadway are High Injury Corridors, a classification reserved for the most dangerous streets in The City. And within a single block where North Beach and Chinatown meet at Powell & Broadway, three people were killed in traffic violence last year alone.
To be clear, none of these projects were perfect. Some likely wouldn’t have panned out. But most never even made it to public discourse. That should alarm those who value good governance and checks and balances. We hope that Director Tumlin can minimize the obstruction that our corner of The City has sadly become so accustomed to. As he recently stated, “My job is to stand up and make the hard decisions.” In that case, you’ll feel right at home in North Beach, Jeff. We look forward to working with you.
Danny Sauter is the president of North Beach Neighbors, a neighborhood association founded in 1981 with 300+ due-paying members.