Tenderloin Still Battling for Two-Way Streets

by on June 6, 2017

Believe it or not, San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood has entered its second decade in its quest for safer and slower two-way streets.

The Board of Supervisors passed the Eddy-Ellis two-way streets measure in 2007.  Mayor Lee and D6 Supervisor Jane Kim strongly support it. But for the SFMTA, this is still not enough.

Instead of implementing the long overdue traffic calming strategy, last Friday an SFMTA hearing officer held yet another public hearing on whether to proceed with the already enacted and decade old Tenderloin-Little Saigon Transit Plan. Incredibly, the SFMTA apparently has the legal authority to kill the plan despite Board of Supervisors adoption in 2007, the original backing of Mayor Newsom and the steadfast support of Mayor Lee.

If I hadn’t already written a book about how local government deters activism (The Activist’s Handbook), I would suggest that one should be written. This is a classic case of an agency claiming to support civic engagement among low-income people working to frustrate this goal.

Never Ending Journey

I first raised alarm about the city stopping two-way street implementation in a March 5, 2012 story, “San Francisco MTA Posts Stop Sign for Tenderloin/Little Saigon Transit Plan.”  I kept writing about the endless delays for making Eddy and Ellis two-way streets—-in 2012, 20132014, and earlier this year.

Some people believe the decade plus Tenderloin two-way streets delay is just standard SFMTA operation. But this project  never approached the scale of  the Geary BRT, the Better Market Streets plan, or other notoriously delayed transit projects.

Those projects were partially delayed by community opposition and/or disputes over the final plan. That’s not been the case in the Tenderloin (though extending the Ellis part of two-way streets was put on hold last year).

No, the Tenderloin delay can solely be blamed on SFMTA folks who treat the low-income Tenderloin residents as a second-class community.  They would never deal this way with the city’s affluent neighborhoods. SFMTA can dispute this all they want, but the proof is in their still placing in doubt a project that should have been completed years ahead of other projects.

The SFMTA’s installation of a dangerous bike lane on Golden Gate and its even worse plan for Turk Street (which led the SF Bicycle Coalition to oppose a bike lane for the first time) establishes an obvious pattern of neglecting the Tenderloin.

Gail Seagraves, a tenant organizer at the Elk Hotel on Eddy Street, knows firsthand the value of two-way streets. Her hotel is on the portion of Eddy converted to two-way years ago. At last Friday’s hearing on the proposal, Seagraves urged the hearing officer to defer to her personal experience. She stated, “I have lived at the Elk on Eddy between Polk and Larkin for about ten years.  It’s two- way on my block until I get to Leavenworth.  I can tell you from personal experience the traffic is much slower than the one way from Leavenworth on to Mason. There is not traffic congestion, and the pedestrians feel safer.”

Isn’t pedestrian safety supposed to be a top SFMTA priority? And hasn’t there been enough pedestrian fatalities to push SFMTA to act?

I think SFMTA hoped Tenderloin residents would just give up. But that just shows how misinformed the SFMTA is about the community.

In the 1950’s, City Hall sought to turn the Tenderloin into a mere traffic corridor to Union Square. City officials transformed the neighborhood’s historic two-way streets into one-way thoroughfares. As I describe in my book, The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco, the shift hurt neighborhood businesses and contributed to its long and steady economic plunge.

That radical transformation of the Tenderloin streetscape took less than a year. Yet residents and businesses, who thought the battle was won at the Board of Supervisors in 2007, are into their second decade waiting for that historic wrong to be reversed.

The Tenderloin is keeping up the fight. We will keep you posted on developments.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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Filed under: Mid-Market / Tenderloin