Guest Editorial: Better Market Street Falling Short on Disability Access

by Bob Planthold on July 31, 2013

Recently, the Better Market Street [ BMS ] project finished its first scheduled series of public forums. Regarding planning for disabled access, one City Hall insider said afterwards “This time, we want to get it right. ” Somehow, they widely missed the mark. Maybe it’s because environmental reviews don’t have to consider non-polluting aspects of human behavior.

There are safety problems, especially for vulnerable pedestrians, with
* the narrow width of the proposed elevated cycle track:
* the separation of rapid / limited bus line stops from those for local lines;
* the injury likelihood if impacted by bicyclists traveling at 12 to 14 miles per hour; and
* the common practice of bicyclists to blow through crosswalks, stop signs, and stop lights.

Cycle tracks have two options, one for Market and another for Mission.
Each proposes a slightly-elevated [ 3 inches ], curbside cycle track — 6.5 to 7 feet wide..
Possibly the elevation of the cycle track is meant for better visibility of the bicyclists.
Yet this elevation will cause loading and safety problems for paratransit passengers and vehicles.
Three inches may not seem like much — to the able-bodied.

Some paratransit vehicles and cabs are wider than the 6.5 to 7 foot width proposed.
Which means that when they are at the curb, trying to load / unload a passenger, part of the paratransit vehicle / cab will protrude beyond the narrower cycle track, sticking out into the active motor vehicle lane.

Even if drivers notice a vehicle protruding into their lane, they may not realize that the tilt of the paratransit vehicle / cab will cause the top left edge of that vehicle to stick out farther than the bottom left of the vehicle –due to the 3 inch cycle-track elevation.

Exterior rear view mirrors and fenders are the likely collision points. Think what that will mean if a passenger is on the lift.

As well, nobody has tested whether all types of paratransit vehicles and cabs, when tilted, can consistently deploy their lifts. Another human factor will arise when bicyclists follow their common practice of riding between the curb and a moving transit vehicle. Paratransit vehicles, including cabs, may have to wait in an active traffic lane until a clear enough span of the cycle track is open so as to allow adequate time to pull in to the curb.

Which means bicyclists will then have to swerve around the paratransit vehicle / cab, down to the regular blacktop lane, and then back up.

Here’s two potential sets of problems:
1 ] when a bicyclists is turning right, from a north-of-Market St., onto outbound Market, someone in a wheelchair, while using a rear-deploying lift directly in the pavement of the cycle track curb lane, may not be noticed. A personal injury collision could result
2] When several cabs, paratransit vehicles, and personal motor vehicles are all trying to accommodate passengers –at destinations such as the Orpheum, Fox Plaza, Nordstroms’s, or the “twitter” building, there can be a snake-like sinuosity of bicyclists weaving in and out amongst all these passenger vehicles.

There’s more.

One option calls for separating bus stops–and therefore passengers –so that limited / rapid bus lines stop by up to 1 block.away from stops for local lines. MUNI itself has never set up transfer points with that much space in between transit lines. This line separation option seems to ignore that transit riders will transfer between lines. So, think if you have crutches, a baby in a stroller, and a toddler –as I did
–and have to transfer all of us by traveling up to one block.

Or think of these scenarios:
… if you’re osteoporitic and have arthritis in some of your joints —
— if you use your own muscle power to propel yourself in a wheelchair–
… if you’re shepherding a group of young children on a field trip —
and have to transfer from the 38 L to the F line.

BMS blithely recommends requiring all these groups, as well as all other vulnerable passengers, to travel up to one block along Market St. BMS has decided transit passengers must be exposed to all the vagaries of life that happens along Market St. Must we be so exposed?

Next BMS claims that faster-moving buses, along Market St., means people get to their destinations faster. BMS failed to calculate the added time to get off one line, travel between rapid and local lines, and then board the other type of line.. The added transfer time means a trip could be even longer, especially when propelling a wheelchair along one block along Market, or shepherding young children along one block of Market ?Time saved? Not really.

There’s another safety problem with the BMS expectations for bicyclists using the elevated cycle track. BMS calculates they could travel anywhere from 12 to 14 miles per hour.

Somehow, the lessons learned from the ban on Segways on sidewalks, due to their top speed of 12 -14 mph, has not been learned. As well, the simple high school physics formula [ Force = Mass x Acceleration ] has been forgotten. Imagine the effect of being hit by 200 pounds [ weight of an adult, a simple cruiser bike, and modest backpack ] traveling at 12 mph. That’s almost like getting hit by some NFL defensive backs!

Bicyclists have an unfortunate reputation for blowing through crosswalks, stop lights, and stop signs. Even along Market St., on a recent Sunday, I observed such scofflaw behavior — on Market & Stockton/ Ellis.

Since some MUNI stops are at some center lane boarding islands., that means all passengers must cross this proposed bike-track. Worse, pedestrians crossing Market Street will have to cross BOTH cycle-tracks.

That means vulnerable pedestrians, such as some seniors and people with disabilities, might not see, or be seen by, a 12-mph bicyclist in time to avoid each other. People in wheelchairs often are lower in height than others, and also necessarily have to look down and ahead, to find a safe way across. Imagine the same crossing scenario for some who are blind. Couple all these scenarios with the implied expectation by BMS planners that ALL bicyclists ALL the time will be fully observant of ALL who are in the crosswalks.

Then, think when there’s a heavy fog or when it’s nighttime. Not all bicyclists wear helmets, display lights & reflectors, or wear light /bright/ reflective clothing when cycling at night. Passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists alike might not see each other –especially with bicyclists traveling at 12 mph.

So, how can pedestrians, MUNI passengers, paratransit & taxi customers, and delivery drivers protect themselves from the unsafe behavior of too many cyclists, and of bad planning efforts by BMS staff?

Regrettably, this highlights problems never addressed by Environmental Review requirements –and ignored by those who wanted to “reform” such. All the above problems are human factors, not directly related to pollution –noise or air or water. So, all the above human factors are not studied in any environmental review.

This BMS process is quite far along in developing options There will be another presentation [ 30 minutes] to the 13 August meeting of the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee, at 6 pm in Room 400 of City Hall.. Will any City Hall official will have the courage, integrity, and sensitivity to say:
Stop! Go back to the drawing board!

Since environmental analyses are supposed to have a “no build” alternative / option, it may be that those who see the hazards of these BMS options will have to push that ” no build” option –or seek redress through court action.

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