Panel Discussion Takes Aim At West Portal Traffic Plan

Contested plans for improving traffic safety on a critical intersection of West Portal Avenue were discussed at a panel discussion Tuesday.

Train with transit worker.
A train entering West Portal station. | Jerold Chinn/Ingleside Light

Contested plans for improving traffic safety on a critical intersection of West Portal Avenue by restricting some vehicle access was the topic at an hour-long Zoom meeting Tuesday night.

The panel included Matthew Boschetto and Stephen Martin-Pinto, who are both running for supervisor in District 7, accountant and writer Lou Barberini and Pat Dunbar, a West Portal resident of over 20 years and Mike Farrah, legislative aide to District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar. Marie Hurabiell, who founded ConnectedSF moderated the panel. The group has been described as a political pressure group.

Some panelists criticized the SFMTA for rushing its plans and spoke about concerns with other city projects—namely the Taraval Street light rail upgrades, the Valencia Street center bike lane experiment and the Van Ness Avenue dedicated bus lane—that have affected small businesses.

Direction to make traffic changes on West Portal Avenue came from Mayor London Breed and District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar following a fatal crash in March caused by a driver crashing into a bus stop at Ulloa Street and Lenox Way where the family was waiting for a Muni bus. All four family members perished.

A man places flowers at a memorial for a family that died in a crash by West Portal station. | Jerold Chinn/Ingleside Light

The initial plan proposed to restrict some vehicle access on Ulloa Street to West Portal Avenue near the Muni Metro station, which drew anger from nearby merchants. Survey results conducted by the SFMTA showed over 60% of respondents were not in favor of the plan.

In response, Melgar and West Portal Merchants Association President Deidre Von Rock formed a “West Portal Welcoming Committee” to work on alternative plans. The committee has met at least three times since May. Notably, none of its members include people who rely on the subway there, namely M Ocean View and K Ingleside passengers.

“I think that our group, Sensible D7, would like to see a pause until the L Taraval is restored and a pause until people acclimate to the new availability of transit,” said Dunbar, who sits on the West Portal committee.

Martin-Pinto questioned why the Muni bus stop at Ulloa and Lenox was prioritized over other bus stops that appeared to be more dangerous for passengers.

“What is more dangerous about this particular bus stop at Lenox and Ulloa that necessitates such action above all other bus stops,” Martin-Pinto said. He pointed to other bus stops in the city, including at 19th and Vicente avenues, which he said exposed passengers to vehicles traveling 35 to 40 mph.

Barberini questioned the cost of any improvements as the SFMTA faces a projected budget deficit over the next fiscal year.

Boschetto, who was with merchants when the initial proposal was released and participated in drafting a letter to the SFMTA, said merchants were fearful of the plan. “They were really worried about what was presented to them with no time about how it will affect something that is really everything to them, which is their small business,” Boschetto said.

Merchants formed the “Save West Portal” group to oppose the SFMTA’s original plan.

Last Tuesday, Liz Brisson, the transportation agency’s project manager for the West Portal project, presented new proposals, including variations of the first proposal, before the SFMTA board. The proposals were also presented to the West Portal committee with members favoring proposals with fewer traffic restrictions. All options include installing bollards to protect Muni passengers waiting at the transit stop at Ulloa and Lenox where the family was killed.

Steve Heminger, who sits on the SFMTA board of directors, asked Brisson if any of the options would have prevented the fatal crash.

“There's no way to know but it's possible none of them would have,” Brisson said. “The proposals here react to the call to do something and does something for safety first near the state site of the collision but not directly in response to it.”

Directors on the board didn’t favor any proposals and told Brisson they needed more time to review the proposals before giving feedback. Brisson plans to present a staff proposal to the board in July. If approved then, it would be implemented in the fall when the L Taraval line is restored.

“We know that this type of change is hard, but as a city, we have to embrace these changes to become the kind of city where everyone can get around without risking their lives,” said Jodie Medeiros, the executive director of Walk San Francisco.

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