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Plan for red transit lanes on 16th Street draws ire

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The city says the lanes speed up public transit, but angry neighbors deem them markers of gentrification

A bus pulling up to a Market Street stop in a red transit-only lane.
A red transit lane on Market Street.
Photo by Pi.1415926535

In 2016, the city painted the bus-only transit lanes on Mission Street red, a move that makes the critical byway safer and faster for drivers, pedestrians, and Muni.

Neighborhood groups and activists who loathe the red carpet treatment, on the other hand, allege that the scarlet lettering scared off shoppers from local businesses. The newly painted lanes were viewed as another harbinger of culture-destroying gentrification, with terms like “the Valencia-ization of Mission Street,” and the “ethnic cleansing of the Mission” leveled during public comment at community meetings.

The red marks stayed despite the controversy—and so did the anger.

Now the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is in the midst of what it deems the “16th Street Improvement Project,” a $67.5 million Public Works plan meant to “improve transit reliability and travel time, while addressing safety and accessibility for all users” on 16th Street and that includes more new red transit lanes.

The crimson gutters are part of a sprawling refurbishment, which stretches from Church Street to Potrero Avenue.

But Mission Local reports that many residents who showed up to a recent community meeting on Valencia Street to discuss the project were once again seeing red, with critics like Lucia Obregon, a manager with the Mission Economic Development Agency, declaring, “The Mission has been planned on top of without its input.”

Others shouted at SFMTA representatives, “Who pays you?” as anger and suspicion boiled over despite officials’ attempts to make peace.

The meeting was hosted by United To Save the Mission, which describes itself as “a coalition of a dozen longtime neighborhood groups and organizations that works to enhance and protect the lives of low-to-moderate income residents, Latinx culture, artists, community-serving businesses, and blue-collar workers.”

Commenting on Facebook after the meeting, United supporter Robert Francis said, “I found the SFMTA planners to be patronizing, arrogant, and condescending.”

Francis accused the city transit agency of “contributing to the gentrification and re-segregation of black and brown communities across San Francisco” and alleged that red lanes are part of a plot to drive merchants out of business so that buildings may be redeveloped.

The 16th Street Improvement Plan is scheduled to continue through 2021. In addition to red transit lanes, the city plans on adding new bus shelters and boarding islands along the route, traffic signals that prioritize bus lanes, and “new trees and landscape improvements.”

The project budget as laid out in 2014 includes $5 million for fire hydrant improvements, $4 million for streetlights, $4.5 million for “streetscape improvements.”

The biggest expenditure is $20 million for the 22 Fillmore Travel Time Reduction Proposal, the part of the project that includes adding the new red transit lanes.