Remake Way For Tech Buses

After 31 traffic-related deaths on San Francisco's streets in 2014, Mayor Ed Lee set an ambitious goal of reducing traffic fatalities to zero by 2020.

To do that, city transit planners are reducing the width of streets, widening sidewalks, and making other pedestrian safety improvements, as they did at the intersection of Diamond and Bosworth streets — a major transit hub near the Glen Park BART station where three busy Muni lines as well as tech buses for Google, Yahoo, and Genentech load up daily — last year at a cost of $2.8 million.

But thanks to city engineers' miscalculation, all that extra concrete had to be torn up and removed, because those new, safer streets were too narrow for Muni and — wait for it — tech buses to navigate.

“It's very unfortunate,” says David Greenaway, project manager on the snafu for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which doesn't know how much extra the error will cost to fix — but “hopes” it won't be more than $80,000.

Turns out, when designing the intersection to accommodate the large vehicles that would be navigating its corner, SFMTA engineers used the wrong template. In fact, they didn't plan for a bus at all. “They used a fire truck,” Greenaway said, “when they should have used a bus.”

There's a reason why: The safety improvements' biggest roadblock has been the Fire Department, which is concerned tiny streets in places like Glen Park will become impassable to emergency vehicles if the streets are narrowed further.

The SFMTA discovered last fall that buses were either hitting the new median or couldn't make the turn from Diamond onto Bosworth. The agency acknowledged in November that the median and sidewalk would need to be ripped up and rebuilt, but it knew before then trouble was ahead: Some locals noticed as early as May 2013 that the turn could be a problem, according to neighborhood newspaper Glen Park News.

“Given these warnings, I don't understand why the city would have ignored them and proceeded with a plan that didn't make any sense,” said resident Simona Agnolucci, who's lived on Diamond Street for seven years. “I find it very troubling. It seems like a very basic calculation that should have happened.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose district includes Glen Park, called the errors “incredibly unfortunate.” He's adamant the SFMTA's other work in the area, including the installation of traffic lights at two nearby intersections, won't be compromised or canceled as a result of the mistake.

For now, the narrow turn has been fixed, and the city expects to put the finishing touches on one of the corners by the end of March, Greenaway said.

Angolucci says what should have been a simple task instead led to a months-long disruption of the intersection, without improving the situation.

“There was never an apology. There was never a 'We screwed up' or a recognition that this was wrong and a waste of taxpayer money,” Agnolucci said. “When I've asked them to explain how it's safer, they've completely failed to respond.”

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