A car prepares to turn as a Muni K-Ingleside train departs from West Portal station. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

West Portal transit-only lane expected to speed up Muni metro service

SFMTA board approved project over objections of merchants who feared impact on business

Merchants in the West Portal area argued that proposed transit-only lanes meant to speed up public transit could hurt their bottom lines, but the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors on Tuesday vocally opted to side with riders.

The city transportation body voted to reconfigure city streets at the mouth of West Portal Station in a six-month pilot program to make for a faster Muni Metro system serving more than 100,000 daily riders.

The project includes a transit-only lane in mornings during commute times only for West Portal Avenue, with turn restrictions that will steer cars away from the mouth of West Portal Station so they don’t delay the flow of trains. A 48 Quintara line bus stop will also be moved across the street near the train station, so riders making transfers would not walk across the path of trains and delay them.

West Portal Station is a crucial pinch point for the K-Ingleside, L-Taraval and M-Oceanview Muni train lines. A single delay there, even one stopped train, can ripple through the entire Muni Metro system and spoil the commutes of tens of thousands of riders. This happens with some regularity, transit officials said Tuesday. But improvements lately have mitigated this.

Parking Control Officers guiding traffic at the mouth of West Portal in recent months have reduced transit delays there by 40 percent, according to SFMTA documents. The hope is that the traffic reconfigurations will further reduce delays for the Muni Metro system.

The West Portal Merchants Association, Greater West Portal Neighborhood Association and the San Francisco Council of District Merchants Associations implored SFMTA to delay the changes by 90 days.

In a letter to SFMTA, the various associations argued that a traffic light would better manage the flow of cars, and asked that a 48-Quintara line bus stop be moved to West Portal Station itself.

At Tuesday’s meeting, merchants said that West Portal businesses saw profits drop 20-45 percent after a recent SFMTA construction project there. Based on their past cooperation, they said, their concerns should be listened to.

“West Portal merchants made a costly sacrifice by being ground zero for an enormous construction project that benefited the entire metro line and the entire city as well,” the merchants wrote in their letter. “We request that you afford us the consideration of a thorough examination of other ideas rather than something that has possibly been on the agenda for over 4 years.”

Karl Aguilar, manager of Papenhausen Hardware, told the SFMTA board the merchants were at their breaking point.

“These businesses can’t weather large disruptions,” he said.

SFMTA board members, however, remained firm.

“I favor this project and I was asked the specific question, ‘What is the hurry?’” said SFMTA board chair Malcolm Heinicke at the board meeting.

“The hurry is this: Every day thousands of commuters are delayed at this intersection in an effort to get downtown,” he said. “If we don’t make this system attractive to other riders they will drive and do other things to put pedestrians in danger. To me, that’s the hurry, and why I will support this today.”

Ultimately, the board told the merchants that if the transit changes truly impact their businesses, they may be reversed. Gwyneth Borden, vice chair of the SFMTA board, said the merchants would be heard.

“You do have our commitment that this is not the end, this is just the beginning,” Borden said.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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