Two 22-Fillmore Muni buses cross at 16th and Mission streets in the Mission District along a stretch of 16th Street where red transit-only lanes have been proposed on Monday, May 13, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

16th Street neighbors fear red bus lanes drive gentrification

Does the 22-Fillmore serve the Mission’s Latino community?

That’s a question neighbors along 16th Street are asking as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency moves forward with plans for “red-carpet” bus lanes on 16th Street, a $67.5 million project set to be completed by 2021.

Much as in a previous controversy over bus lanes on Mission Street, neighbors say they fear the transit-only lane will increase gentrification and the loss of local businesses.

Those bus-only lanes would speed up Muni service mainly for the 22 line, and also for a Muni shuttle mainly serving UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital workers, the 55-16th Street.

Community advocates are arguing those lines largely serve more affluent, white commuters coming from outside the neighborhood and Mission District community.

In response, the San Francisco Examiner asked the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to provide data on exactly who rides the 22-Fillmore, in terms of ethnic background and in terms of income, and compared it to the 2016 American Community Survey, the most recent data available for District 9, which includes the Mission District and Bernal Heights neighborhoods.

The answer? The 22-Fillmore’s riders do include more white people, and fewer Latinos, than the district as a whole — but they are far from affluent.

The SFMTA data indicates that more than half the line’s riders, or 52 percent, are white, compared to 47 percent in the greater neighborhood. The 22-Fillmore also serves far fewer Hispanic riders than there are District 9 Hispanic residents — 16 percent of riders are non-Black and non-Asian Hispanic, compared to the 36 percent Latino residents captured in the American Community Survey.

Importantly, the terms Hispanic and Latino refer to language and geography, respectively, but are the closest analogues available between the two datasets.

The SFMTA data also shows the 22-Fillmore’s riders are 14 percent black, 11 percent Asian, and 7 percent “other.”

Sources speaking to the Examiner said the demographic data may reinforce Latino neighbors’ arguments that street changes to benefit the 22-Fillmore may not benefit the Latino Mission community as a whole.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the Mission District, said the data “does change the calculation” for local Mission residents, “in terms of the community feeling like the Mission is constantly changing to accommodate people who aren’t the Latino community, and has the effect of pushing them out of where they’ve called home.”

Ronen said she is of two minds about the red lanes. On the one hand, she knows San Francisco must speed up its transit network citywide, to benefit all residents. On the other hand, however, her constituents fear the Mission is being gentrified, and transit improvements including the creation of BART have historically displaced black and brown communities in the name of progress.

From Ford GoBikes hung in trees to e-scooters ripped to shreds, the Mission has expressed its feelings on new transit modes.

“Transportation improvements are not interpreted as benefits for minority communities anymore,” Ronen said. “They’re viewed as additional ways to make the neighborhood more attractive to richer and whiter people who can afford housing in the area and will lead to displacement.”

Perhaps importantly, while the ethnic data’s representation of black San Francisco residents is higher than The City’s percentage at large, and underrepresents Asian San Franciscans (likely due to the 22-Fillmore’s route through the Western Addition), its proportion of white and Latino Muni riders mirrors the overall proportion of white and Latino residents in The City.

The argument over 16th Street echoes an earlier debate over the Mission Street red lane, where a survey conducted by Mission residents found businesses along Mission Street reporting a drop in business they attributed to difficult driving conditions. Those affected included Siegel’s Clothing Superstore, the zoot-suit retailer which closed late last year.

At a community meeting earlier this month, Latino Mission residents said they didn’t want red lanes installed in the Mission, according to news outlet Mission Local.

Kevin Ortiz, an organizer with United to Save the Mission, said residents’ beef with SFMTA was more about process than the red lanes themselves.

“Only two business owners know about it, let alone residents,” he said.

Reacting to the demographic data aboard the 22-Fillmore, Ortiz said “as a San Francisco native those stats aren’t surprising. The 22 and the 55 are very prime examples of segregated buses.”

His view was more nuanced. A lifelong bus rider, Ortiz said that efforts to speed up the 22-Fillmore for those making crosstown trips don’t benefit the neighborhood. Residents, and particularly seniors, tend to use the 22-Fillmore to make trips within the neighborhood.

So when SFMTA proposes removing bus stops to make the 22-Fillmore’s end-to-end service faster, the community loses out.

That’s why “we want to make sure this is a process done correctly, with community input,” he said.

While the ethnic makeup of the 22-Fillmore’s riders may reinforce the point of Latino neighbors that the red transit lanes aren’t targeted at helping them, specifically, the wealth breakdown of 22-Fillmore riders told a different narrative.

The majority of 22-Fillmore riders are low-income, according to SFMTA data.

Roughly 12 percent of its riders make less than $10,000 annually, 22 percent make $10,000-34,999, 21 percent make $35,000-49,999, 23 percent make $50,000-74,999, 10 percent make $75,000-99,999, 7 percent make $100,000-149,999, and a scant 5 percent make $150,000 or more.

Cat Carter, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Transit Riders advocacy group, said “We know that Muni ridership skews lower income, and tends to serve people in the community. It’s good to see this backed up in the data.”

While it is “unfortunate that some see Muni improvements like street priority as tools of gentrification,” Carter said, “better Muni serves local, lower-income San Franciscans by making their trips faster and more reliable.”

The income level of 22-Fillmore riders gave Supervisor Ronen pause.

She said making sure Muni is sped up for the lowest-income people who don’t have other options, who can’t afford to drive, who can’t afford a Lyft or Uber, is crucial.

“That is the hardest for poor people to manage,” Ronen said. “This is why I always have this tug-of-war around this red lane question.”

That tug of war is likely to continue across the city as the SFMTA decides who to best serve with the limited resources at its fingertips.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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