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Avoiding a ‘Transit Desert’

The pandemic has devastated our public transportation service and revenues. It also provided an opportunity to re-envision our streets and transit services and routes. As supervisor, it is my job to hold city government accountable and carry out necessary plans and operations for residents to safely and efficiently get from point A to point B and ensure we’re truly a transit-first city.

Now is the time for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) to help the Richmond District and our City turn our re-imagined transportation system into a reality. In a year where San Franciscans had to be physically distant from one another, slow and car-free streets gave many of us access to more open space and avenues to walk and bike on. As our economy begins to recover and reopen, we’re seeing the return of traffic and congestion. With reduced transit service and lines, road closures, slow streets, shared spaces, and other temporary changes we’re seeing throughout the west side, our constituents are wondering what the new normal will be. 

We have to ensure the Richmond is home to diverse residents with diverse options of modes of transportation. Road closures on Great Highway and in Golden Gate Park mean more residents feel comfortable biking, jogging, roller skating and walking down these streets. But, for seniors, people with disabilities, families that need to get to work and schools in the north-south direction every day may rely on getting around with their cars. To add to those challenges, SFMTA has informed us that, due to financial constraints and to comply with physical distancing requirements, it can only bring back public transit services at 85% at the end of the year. This means for many of our Richmond District residents, it will force people to drive or, worse yet, be stranded. 

Now we are continuing the work of former Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer with a working group of diverse residents, workers, merchants and organizations on the west side, to re-envision the future of traveling to and within Golden Gate Park. We will expand the reach of the working group to gather community input starting this month.

The accessibility and connectivity concerns don’t end at the park’s borders, however. As a San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) commissioner, I requested a hearing on SFMTA’s transportation plan as the City’s economy reopens. Beyond the public comment provided during the hearing, I’ve heard concerns from all sides of the issue from our constituents: those who are calling for a permanent car-free space, and those who either lack access to transit or physically cannot depend on public transit, biking, or walking to get from place to place. 

That’s why I asked SFMTA to create criteria and metrics to determine what, how, and why temporary road closures, reduced transit service, slow streets and shared spaces will remain in place or come to an end.

My job is to hold all city departments accountable, demand transparency for our decision-making process, and rely on their subject expertise to develop solutions and plans. In this case, I am asking SFMTA to have a comprehensive plan addressing all these issues relative to accessibility and safety for all of our residents. We must work to address all these concerns before we move forward with any decisions. While all are works in progress, I know this one thing for you, and you have my commitment as your supervisor: the Richmond will not be a transit desert. Let’s get to work. 

This article was published in the Richmond Review in April 2021.

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