Friday, May 22, 2009

This Intersection Sucks

Despite the streets being wider than those of Paris, I am required to walk on narrow strips of concrete, where any slip or missed step would cause me to tumble into a road where a passing car would undoubtedly decapitate me. ... Any contact with another pedestrian involves invading their personal space and requires that someone yield to the other. This means you cannot walk side-by-side with another person, taking away all the pleasure of walking. -Mathieu Helie
When I read that quote in the blog Emergent Urbanism I immediately related to my experiences walking around San Francisco. While some neighborhoods in this city have held onto luxuriously wide sidewalks, they are almost all dissected by arterial roads. That is, streets that were re-engineered after the rise of auto-centrism to serve as expressways for large volumes of car traffic. Since these streets tend to be not much wider than average, the extra road space devoted to cars usually comes at the expense of pedestrians.

The intersection of Potrero Avenue and 16th Street is one of the worst. This is a major transfer point for several Muni lines (37,572 people ride the 9, 22, 33, and 53 lines every day). As people dash between buses, McDonalds and the Potrero shopping center, they jostle for limited space with each other and with speeding traffic.

The layout of the intersection hampers pedestrian flow and lowers the quality of this space. This broad square enjoys lots of sunshine and great views of downtown and Twin Peaks. This is a historic spot, where Joe DiMaggio played with the San Francisco Seals. But it's a miserable place, to be avoided even by those who pass through out of necessity; and it doesn't have to be that way.

Bus stops and shelters overflowing with patiently waiting Muni riders clog the flow of pedestrians into the Potrero Center and down the length of Potrero. The wide roads and narrow sidewalks make for long crossing times. Compounding that problem, the signal times are geared for auto traffic flow. Long periods between short walk signals make it difficult to cross Potrero to transfer buses.

The status quo. Narrow sidewalks, crowds of bus riders and shelters, newspaper racks and other street furniture make the intersection very unfriendly to pedestrians

The solution to these two major problems is simple: bus stop and corner bulbouts. Here is an aerial view of the intersection as it is

And as it could be.

This simple change wouldn't require any reconfiguring of the traffic lanes. The only affect it would have on the cars that drive through the intersection would be for those in the right lane who get stuck behind a stopped bus. This minor (and rare) inconvenience is regrettable (I guess) but it fulfills the Transit First policy in San Francisco's City Charter and should not be reason enough to prevent the improvements.

To show what a difference the extra sidewalk space would mean, I've done some rudimentary Photoshopping:

This extra space would allow the intersection to finally handle the amount of foot traffic it currently has, and has the potential to make the space more attractive to more pedestrians.

Potrero Avenue in general is in need of a less traffic sewery design, but these bulbouts at this intersection could have the biggest impact for the cost. Bus stop bulbouts have proven successful where they've been implemented on other busy arterial streets. The city should take every opportunity it has to install new ones at every bus stop.


Marc said...

How much does it cost to build bulbouts and who will pay for them?

Pedestrianist said...

Some cursory Googling didn't turn up the average cost of a bulbout. The cost can vary depending on drainage and utility changes that need to be made.

I know that DPW is the agency responsible for upgrading corners for ADA accessibility. This particular intersection has already been redone, which was a missed opportunity to expand the corners.

I'd suggest that as DPW continues to replace old corners with ADA ramps, they work with other city agencies to add corner and bus bulbouts wherever they can in order to reduce the overall costs.