Originally published on the Mission Local.

The bike lanes planned by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency for Cesar Chavez Street were going to be striped this Thursday. Instead, they’re going back to the drawing board, and may not happen at all.

The cause of the abrupt change of plan, said David Beaupre, planner for the Port of San Francisco, was lack of communication between groups working on different transportation plans for the city. “We realized as a city family we weren’t communicating with each other,” Beaupre said, addressing a group of planners and community members. “This may be kind of confusing to the public, but we’re one city.”

Beaupre was addressing a group of about 40 residents who had assembled for a workshop to discuss planned renovations to the section of Cesar Chavez between Illinois and Hampshire (also known as Cesar Chavez East). The meeting wasn’t about bike lanes, per se, but bike lanes were what the group wanted to talk about.

“It’s frustrating to have a whole plan that is agreed upon,” said Dan Sherman, “and then you come in and say it’s not going to work.”

“How much money have you wasted?” one woman asked. “It’s really sickening to think about it.”

Removing one eastbound lane on Cesar Chavez and replacing it with a bike lane on each side of the street has been a part of SFMTA plans for Cesar Chavez since at least 2009. The plans themselves were the result of two years of collaboration between the San Francisco Planning Department, SFMTA, the Department of Public Works, the Public Utilities Commission and multiple community groups.

But, said Beaupre, when SFMTA was planning the Cesar Chavez redesign, the Planning Department’s visions for Cesar Chavez were not taken into account. Although the two agencies have been in talks for many months now, it was only recently that SFMTA abandoned the bike lane plan as it stands now.

The Planning Department’s intentions for the Cesar Chavez/101 interchange are ambitious, and backed by a grant from CalTrans. They include completely rebuilding the on-ramps to make them more logical and less confusing, while also allowing for bike and pedestrian traffic and providing safe, well-lit social spaces where people can congregate and hang out. Parks, trails and art under the overpasses are all components of the plan.

In the meantime, though, Beaupre said that Cesar Chavez is a vital conduit for industrial traffic. The road is estimated to carry 30,000 vehicles daily, moving goods in and out of the Port of San Francisco as well as through the few remaining industrial areas of the city, which are all east of Highway 101.

Turning an eastbound lane of an already narrow and busy street into a bike lane could lead to 1,200- to 1,500-foot-long columns of idling trucks, said James Shahamiri, an assistant engineer for SFMTA. A number of businesses in the area had expressed concern about the lane’s impacts on the flow of goods, he added. Belatedly, SFMTA realized that its project was not consistent with the Planning Department’s goals.

Ilaria Salvadori, a planner with the Planning Department, explained that the department had formulated five concepts to guide the conversation about Cesar Chavez East based on surveys, workshops, a walking tour, and eight stakeholder focus groups. The five concepts were that Cesar Chavez should be:

  • a connector, not a divider, of neighborhoods and communities
  • a vital part of a thriving industrial zone
  • safe and convenient for all modes of transportation
  • more green, less gray
  • a place to be in, not just go through

But a total of three transportation plans are in progress for that area of the city, Beaupre clarified at the meeting — a fact the public was slightly confused about. When the Cesar Chavez redesign was being planned, information about another plan, Bayview Transportation Improvements — intended to develop a more direct auto and truck route between 101, the redeveloped Hunters Point Shipyard and the South Basin industrial area, while reducing truck traffic on Third Street — was not taken into account. That plan depends on Cesar Chavez remaining a place to go through.

This news, like so much news that evening, did not go over well. Fran Taylor of CC Puede lamented that two lanes of trucks were being “shoved down our throats tonight.”

“Nobody wants to get rid of the trucks,” Taylor said. “But we don’t want to sacrifice pedestrians and bikers to keep the mayor happy.”