The Board of Directors of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on Tuesday approved a new series of Slow Streets, all of which fall in neighborhoods that did not have any of the partially car-free corridors to date during the pandemic.
However, a vote on four of the nine new streets that needed to be approved was postponed after agency staff asked for an additional four weeks to respond to community calls for deeper engagement and greater contact with residents on planned closings respond at Bayview-Hunters Point.
Tom Maguire, Street Director at SFMTA, described the “key tension” the agency faces in implementing transformative changes like Slow Streets as a choice between acting quickly to achieve its goals and moving more carefully.
“We know that if we are to do any substantial, community-led work, we must pay special attention to how deep our reach is in it,” Maguire said at the board meeting on Tuesday.
Back in November, the SFMTA touted its outreach plan for this fourth wave of slow streets, which aims to provide urgently needed open spaces and mobility access to “historically underserved” districts that historically have often only been told by the public to agencies about what is happening to their communities instead of being involved in the decision-making process.
Over a period of about a month, the SFMTA concentrated its reach on 10 districts.
It sent direct mail home, hosted four virtual events and three neighborhood events, posted flyers along the suggested corridors, and distributed neighborhood-specific surveys that yielded 1,278 responses.
But Shamann Walton, the manager who represents Bayview-Hunters Point, said the agency fell short in his district when he asked for a list of community groups and residents with whom the SFMTA had worked to conduct effective public relations he said the agency could not provide details.
“People always want to play a role in the discussion about what is happening to their neighborhoods,” he said. “At the very least, MTA should be able to tell who they met and who they reached. They haven’t made it yet. “
Erica Kato informed the auditor that in addition to the above efforts, the agency provided feedback from the Bayview Hills Neighborhood Association on January 6th to the Bayview Citizen Advisory Committee and the Bayview Hills Neighborhood Association on February 1st, soliciting them and hosting four virtual office hours .
She also said the staff discussed Slow Streets with “community group representatives,” but did not provide any additional information about who they were or who they represented.
Walton urged the transit agency to think beyond online reach, a tool that fails to reach many of its constituents and that is gathering responses from a limited segment of the city’s broader population, and instead consider diversifying contact methods.
In a sort of mea culpa, the SFMTA admitted that it could have done more to adjust its approach to Bayview, for example, but also stressed the challenges of face-to-face interaction during this time.
Maguire said the agency recognized that the “cookie cutter view” of online and virtual workshops is not working effectively, and going forward, SFMTA would not simply assume that the tools that work elsewhere are the answers there too .
“We want to acknowledge the fact that we have been asked to do more,” he said of the need for a four-week delay before voting on the four Bayview-specific proposals for the Slow Street Corridor.
Delaying the vote on approval should not delay implementation. Due to the ongoing shortage of materials in the construction of the demarcations and barricades that signal a slow road, all new rollouts will be suspended for at least a few weeks.
The Board almost delayed the vote on the entire fourth wave of Slow Streets at the recommendation of staff, but after violent testimony during public comments calling for action, it decided to separate the five corridors in higher density neighborhoods, in those who had not been raised with the same concerns about reach and move forward with them.
Local residents and supporters of SoMa’s road safety were particularly strong in public comments and expressed their “complete disappointment” with the idea of further delays. Many of them have been calling for a car-free corridor since the start of the Slow Streets program in April 2020.
“SoMa has very fast traffic, it is dangerous for pedestrians and there is tremendous support for slow streets in the neighborhood,” said supervisor Matt Haney, reiterating her frustration. Residents have asked, fought and asked for SFMTA to create slow roads in SoMa and throughout District 6. We cannot accept any further delays. “
With board approval, implementation will begin as soon as materials become available, which the SFMTA is expected to conduct in the spring of this year.
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