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Why We Still Oppose SFMTA’s Quick-Build Project

Opinion: Why we still oppose SFMTA’s Quick-Build project. Graphic by Seamus Geoghegan.

By Fred Muhlheim, Michael Adams, and Jean Barish

City College of San Francisco, one of the City’s most beloved institutions, is again under attack. After facing the loss of accreditation in 2012, a revolving door of Chancellors, and drastic class cuts, now safe, adequate access to the school is at risk.

Claiming that it will make Frida Kahlo Way, the main thoroughfare to CCSF, safer and more convenient, SFMTA is moving forward with a “Quick Build Project” on this road. Quick-Build projects are part of SFMTA’s Vision Zero Program and are intended for streets on San Francisco’s Vision Zero High Injury Network. SFMTA describes them as projects that are “reversible, adjustable traffic safety improvements that can be installed relatively quickly…”

But the Frida Kahlo Way Quick Build Project is much more than that. It is a major reconfiguration of the street. It includes a two-way bikeway that would eliminate parking, and bus stops that would create transit boarding islands in traffic lanes, clogging traffic. In a word, it’s taking a safe and orderly transit corridor and creating a mess. This is the same misguided agency that added center-lane bike lanes on Valencia Street that many cyclists hate; created a Quick Build project on Geary Boulevard that threatens the viability of the business corridor, and decimated Taraval Street during a torturously slow construction project. Why should it be trusted to do what’s right for the City College community?

In an opinion piece written by SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin recently published in The Guardsman, Mr. Tumlin paints an unrealistic rosy picture of the project, claiming that it will make the street safer and more convenient for cyclists, pedestrians, buses and cars. But safety data provided by the agency shows that Frida Kahlo Way is not a High Injury Corridor. In addition, the changes will create traffic congestion as cars are stuck behind buses and search for parking in surrounding neighborhoods. Further, contrary to what Mr. Tumlin claims, the project was planned by SFMTA with little input from the CCSF community.

The plan must be redrawn. According to Madeline Mueller, long time CCSF faculty member serving for over 50 years on the college’s Facilities Master Planning Committees: “The SFMTA proposal to drastically re-engineer City College’s major thoroughfare, Frida Kahlo Way, is a total design disaster. It supposedly will protect bicyclists and thousands of students/pedestrians while improving public transit stops and reduce the need for cars. But it fails on all counts! Instead, every group listed is placed in increased danger from the badly conceived and drawn plans.” 

Mr. Tumlin admits that Frida Kahlo Way is not a high injury corridor, but that surrounding streets are. That is why we propose an alternate plan that increases the safety of the high-injury area, but does not impact access to or reduce parking on Frida Kahlo Way. Unfortunately, this alternate project has been ignored by SFMTA’s staff and Mr. Tumlin.

As a commuter school, many CCSF students depend on their cars so they can travel between jobs, home, and classes. They require parking. The loss of street parking in the proposed plan may seem nominal, but in combination with the loss of 1100 parking spaces in the Lower Balboa Reservoir Lot for the construction of the Balboa Reservoir Residential Project it will result in loss of access to affordable educational opportunity for students from throughout the city and beyond.   

Biking to school doesn’t work for all students. While public transit is efficient for many, depending on where you live the commute time to the college can be unrealistic. And while Mr. Tumlin claims the project will encourage the use of public transit, the proposal does not include increasing frequency on lines serving the college or free MUNI passes for students.

Additionally, there are several large construction projects planned for both sides of Frida Kahlo Way, including the Performing Arts Education Center, a CCSF Garage and the Lower Balboa Reservoir project, that will reveal the changes needed to Frida Kahlo Way and adjacent streets. CCSF HEAT (“Higher Education Action Team”), a group of students, faculty and community members recommends that SFMTA works with CCSF to coordinate altering Frida Kahlo Way in view of this current and future construction. Implementing the proposed project now is unnecessary and disrupts safe shared traffic patterns. It must not go forward at this time.   

And, too, SFMTA is facing a fiscal cliff that will cause a significant budget shortfall in the coming years. The agency is struggling to find ways to increase revenue and reduce costs. Soaking money into this project during a financial crisis cannot be justified. It is an unnecessary, unaffordable extravagance.

Finally, we have recently learned that the funding for this project was approved by the SF County Transportation Authority (“SFCTA”) in December, 2021. At that time, SFMTA indicated they would do community outreach before any work was done on the project. Despite that promise, the greater CCSF community did not learn about the project until over eighteen months later, in July, 2023. SFMTA’s failure to live up to its promise of community involvement is inexcusable.

Since it was first rolled out last Summer, there has been a growing storm of protest objecting to this project. The project will reduce bus stops, eliminate parking, disrupt traffic, create congestion in the neighborhood, and expose more cyclists to a dangerous intersection at Ocean Avenue. Recently the CCSF Board of Trustees passed a Resolution opposing the plan “…unless and until there are amendments to the plan that resolve the concerns raised by members of the CCSF community …”  The Trustees joined students, faculty, staff, and community members who have voiced their opposition to the project. A growing number of people are signing an online petition opposing the project. 

Yet SFMTA is determined to move forward. SFMTA Engineering on Feb. 23 approved the project to advance to the SFMTA Board of Directors. The board voted on May. 7 to approve the project unanimously.

If SFMTA wants to kill City College, as they are killing small businesses, they could not be doing a better job. This project would reduce educational opportunity for hundreds of CCSF students. This is unacceptable.

Quick-Build Projects should not be implemented until solutions for serious negative impacts to stakeholders are incorporated in plans. CCSF HEAT has several proposals that will increase safety and not compromise access to the school, disrupt traffic, or cause polluting congestion. The motto needs to be “Do No Harm”. As the city is seeing on Valencia St., resolving problems with a Quick-Build Project once in place can be slow, contentious and expensive.

We urge SFMTA to engage with the CCSF community, the cycling community and surrounding neighborhoods to assure that any redesign of Frida Kahlo Way will serve their needs and maximize safe and easy access to City College.

CCSF HEAT Frida Kahlo Way Working Group

One thought on “Why We Still Oppose SFMTA’s Quick-Build Project

  • The Sunnyside community supports the Frida Kahlo Quick Build. A letter sent bt 147 CCSF neighbors follows:

    Neighbors for Slow Hearst is extremely disappointed in the City College Board of Trustees resolution opposing the Frida Kahlo Way Quick Build Safety project.

    Our group of over 140 Sunnyside residents recognizes the proposed project as a common sense safety improvement for people who walk and bike in our neighborhood. The Frida Kahlo Way Quick Build project will connect the Glen Park Bart and Slow Hearst to Ocean Avenue, improve safety for all road users, and provide a critical safe connection for people biking to the campus and through our neighborhood.

    What’s more, the project aligns with City College’s own policies to shift trips to active transportation and out of cars, as well as your recently passed Green New Deal, a bold sustainability plan which promises to bring greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2035. To meet its climate goals, City College will need to invest heavily in shifting more commuter trips to non-car modes.

    As neighbors, we are eager to support the institution in its goal of shifting trips. We recognize that reducing car trips through our neighborhood is one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since transportation from private vehicles is San Francisco’s number one source of emissions. This is why it’s so important to invest in safe infrastructure on our streets like SFMTA has proposed in the Frida Kahlo Project. When streets are safe, more people choose to bike and walk, fewer people drive, and less parking is required to serve commuters.

    These investments in safety and sustainable transportation will only become even more critical as development begins on the Balboa Reservoir project, which promises to bring new neighbors to our neighborhood. To welcome new neighbors while minimizing traffic and parking impacts, City College will need to accelerate its efforts to reduce the number of people who drive to campus alone.

    The Frida Kahlo quick build project has been hearing public feedback since July 2023, and many adjustments have been made to add parking back to the route and accommodate City College’s concerns. In total, the current project replaces approximately 30 parking spaces with safety improvements like bus stops and a protected bike lane, out of the just over 3,000 available to the City College community. This is less than 1% of the total parking available for City College.

    City College’s continued opposition to this project undermines the safety and well-being of our community. We urge you to work together with neighbors in good faith to find a compromise that preserves the protected bike lane and safety improvements the project will bring to our neighborhood, and to move the project forward quickly.

    We call upon city officials to heed the voices of the community and quickly move forward with the implementation of the Frida Kahlo Quick Build. Together we can build a safer, greener, and more accessible future for all residents of our vibrant neighborhood.


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