A plan to remove parking spaces and add bus-only lanes to a major commercial corridor in San Francisco has enraged multiple mom-and-pop shop owners who worry it will put them out of business.
A total of 70 parking spaces would be removed from Geary Boulevard, while 22 new spaces would be created on nearby streets, resulting in a net loss of 48 spaces, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which is behind the plan.
Beyond adding bus-only lanes on Geary Boulevard from Stanyan Street to 34th Avenue, the Geary Bus Rapid Transit plan would also convert angled parking on Geary Boulevard between 15th and 26th avenues to parallel parking. New parallel parking areas would include commercial loading zones where parking is restricted for part of the day.
The plan would also add pedestrian safety improvements such as extending the curb out to the street for easier bus boarding, adding no-parking zones near intersections to improve visibility, and lengthening bus stops for the longer buses that are often used along the boulevard.
SFMTA said an earlier project that added transit-only lanes to a different stretch of Geary between Stanyan and Market streets made the 38-Geary bus service 18% faster.
But business owners are furious with the plans, complaining that the loss of parking will significantly damage their livelihoods.
“We are fighting for our survival,” said David Heller, head of the Greater Geary Boulevard Merchants and Property Owners Association and owner of Beauty Network, a salon in the Central Richmond.
“Angled parking is the lifeblood of small businesses here,” said Sean Kim, owner of Joe’s Ice Cream. “There are lots of little kids and seniors in the Richmond; they need cars.”
Kim said he lost a significant amount of business when the city took up four parking spots on his block for a week while they removed the damaged Alexandria Theater sign.
“That week, we lost 16% of our revenue,” Kim said.
Business owners further complained about the new commercial loading zones, which delivery trucks can occupy for significant amounts of time.
“Customers are going to circle around the block, and they’re not going to have anywhere to park,” said Boris Fudym, owner of the New World Market grocery store. “So they’re not going to come to my business.”
Fudym said the plan would remove five parking spaces from the front of his store for most of the day. He added that delivery trucks come three times a day for 90 minutes each, which would block multiple parking spaces for more than four hours a day.
“It’s not just one box they have to unload," Fudym said. "It's palettes and palettes that I need to run my store.”
Fudym’s block has angled spots marked for commercial loading, which are longer than parallel spaces, so trucks can fit without taking up multiple spaces.
“We’re not asking the city to fix anything,” Fudym said. “We’re asking them not to interfere.”
Heller said people in the Richmond are reliant on cars and questioned the city’s move to take up road space to increase the speed of the 38 bus line that takes people to Downtown, given that area has seen massive decline the pandemic and remains the slowest Downtown in North America to recover.
“People aren’t going to take the bus; that’s the problem,” Heller said. “The buses are not doing well at all. When I see the bus in front of my shop, they’re empty.”
Muni ridership in March of this year was just 57.5% of what it was in March 2019, with 404,460 people boarding buses, cable cars and light rail in March.
Robyn Burke, an aide to local supervisor Connie Chan, said at least 11 merchants on Geary Boulevard have reached out to Chan with concerns about the plan.
“We’ve been in contact with them for a long time,” Burke said.
Chan wrote in an op-ed to the neighborhood’s monthly newspaper the Richmond Review that she supported the plan shifting from center-running bus lanes to side-running bus-only lanes because they are cheaper and buses can travel down them just as quickly.
Chan also said that after negotiations, the transit agency will keep the 6 p.m. parking-meter cutoff for weekends.
According to the agency, the 38 Geary bus line carries 36,000 passengers daily. SFMTA spokesperson Stephen Chun said the bus takes local passengers to Downtown and also brings people Downtown to shops on Geary’s commercial corridors.
The SFMTA said the bus-only lanes are important because buses get stuck behind cars, slowing down service.
“Parking loss is a trade-off for better bus service and safer streets for people walking,” Chun said.
The transit-only lanes are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2023, while permanent pedestrian safety improvements would be added between 2026 and 2027, according to the SFMTA.
A public meeting between Chan and local businesses will be held Thursday at 4 p.m. at Joe’s Ice Cream on Geary Boulevard near 19th Avenue.
SFMTA is yet to make a final decision on the plans.
Garrett Leahy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org