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Got a Minute for the Minutes of a Traffic and Parking Meeting?
By Alison Pence
I hate meetings. As anyone who has been to one can attest, the chairs are murder on your back and bottom. There are always a few citizens who have to get to the point by going around the barn, and, of course, the evening lengthens and nothing is decided and the room swims and becomes airless to the point of making you faint. (Okay, enough already.)
Well, this meeting was different. On Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m., two neighborhood associations -- the East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club and the Friends of Noe Valley -- held a joint meeting at the Noe Valley Library on Jersey Street. Chairing the event was Paul Kantus, longtime president of East & West.
The subject of the meeting was traffic and parking congestion on 24th Street. (In last month's Voice, I reported on a DPT survey that measured peak traffic times on 24th Street. FYI, the crunch times are midday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 6 to 7 p.m. in the evening. Try to avoid them.)
On hand to address the issue were four representatives from the Department of Parking and Traffic (DPT), Officer Lorraine Lombardo of Mission Station, Alan Wikburn of the Department of Public Works (DPW), Rich Borghello from Sunset Scavenger, Ron Wilson of Real Foods, and Gary Grossetti and Enrico Fornesi from Bell Market. About 30 people from the neighborhood had gathered to hear what they had to say.
With that many movers and shakers -- and because the groups had to be out of the library by 9 p.m. -- meeting chair Paul Kantus made sure the meeting clipped along. As each speaker took the floor, I became more fascinated by the discussion.
Soon, I was on the edge of my seat. All in all, it was a good meeting. And judging from the hum and buzz of the conversation afterwards, I would say people felt like they were finally getting somewhere on the traffic score.
But far be it from me to editorialize. Here's my roundup of the meeting. And note I am being kept on the straight and narrow by recording secretary Edith Kantus (Paul's wife). Thank you, Edith, for allowing the Voice to incorporate your minutes into the following summary.
Yes, We Are in a Hurry
Officer Lorraine Lombardo, who often patrols 24th Street on her bicycle, spoke first, since she was on duty and could be called away at any time.
Lombardo said that lately she'd sensed a change in the traffic pattern: Everyone was in a hurry and impatient with the lack of parking, she said. Even the threat of a $250 fine didn't deter some drivers from parking in the bus zones.
Lombardo cited an example of "road rage," when a jaywalking pedestrian and a driver got into a fight after the jaywalker threw a set of keys and shattered the driver's windshield.
We all agreed with her point: People should slow down and think.
Shops Want More Meters
The owner of Graystone Liquors, Hugh Stone, then appealed for parking help on his block, the 4100 block of 24th (from Castro to Diamond). As it stands now, the block has no metered parking, and residents' cars are parked from one street-cleanup day to the next, leaving no spaces for shoppers, he said. Stone noted that there is one green zone, for short-term parking, above the bus stop on his corner. Could meters be installed in the lower third of the block, where most of the businesses are located?
The reps from Parking and Traffic responded that it was up to us to pursue these problems by forming a committee of interested groups. Then we should come up with specific proposals for more parking spaces and bring them to the city for action. (Some merchants have suggested eliminating bus zones and installing bulb stops in their place, as well as putting diagonal parking on Castro from 24th to 26th streets.)
Bill and Carol Yenne -- who own Small Frys on 24th below Castro -- presented their case that Noe Valley should have some of its parking spaces returned, particularly those which the city has taken away over the years without first consulting with local residents and merchants. Bill Yenne also tried to pin down the DPT as to how long it would take to have a request acted upon by the city.
Ricardo Olea, an engineer with DPT, said that with a concerted effort, a plan might pass through the city bureaucracy in six months. But to be successful, the request has to have the solid backing of the neighborhood.
"Diagonal parking is feasible, for instance, but it will only become a reality if the community presents a united front," Olea said. He alluded to instances where even one citizen objection could put the brakes on a project.
Dave Monks of the Noe Valley Democratic Club agreed, suggesting that a committee be formed, with representatives from each of the neighborhood groups, to draft a petition and follow it through at City Hall. Go, Dave.
What About Delivery Trucks?
Next in the hot seat were representatives from the two big grocery stores in Noe Valley. The market managers have been cornered by some testy residents lately, due to a rise in double-parked delivery trucks and noise on our commercial strip.
Gary Grossetti and Enrico Fornesi of Bell Market admitted that almost all their store deliveries took place on 24th Street. They explained that their loading dock on Elizabeth could not be used as such, because the dock is three stories above the main store level on 24th Street.
Grossetti said Bell allows delivery trucks in its customer parking lot in the morning starting at 6 a.m., and in the evening after 9 p.m. But the rest of the day, the store may have to unload from trucks parked (or double-parked) on 24th Street. However, "we try to park in our lot whenever we can," he said.
Ron Wilson, manager of the Real Food Company, said his store also received merchandise starting at about 6 a.m. But he acknowledged that many deliveries were made from 5 to 6 p.m. -- a heavy traffic time. On Wednesday, his slow day, pallets are put on the sidewalk and quickly unloaded into the store.
Several residents complained about the large 18-wheelers on the street, and asked whether there was any way to limit the size of delivery trucks. DPT's Olea responded that unless a street has a posted tonnage limit, there is no limit to the size of vehicles that can use it.
One audience member suggested restricting double-parking of trucks to one side of the street, and the store owners said it might be worth trying. But the consensus was that it might not be practical.
More Garbage Pickups on 24th
The news from Rich Borghello of Sunset Scavenger was that he'd seen a hefty increase in trash on city streets over the '90s. That's why his trucks must now do five pickups a day on 24th Street.
"Recycling is five days a week, the composting truck goes by six days a week, trash is every day seven days a week, and the litter can pickup is seven days a week, twice a day. That's a lot of trucks," Borghello said.
Until we reduce our trash -- or the number of businesses on 24th Street -- we'll have to put up with the commotion.
Still, Sunset Scavenger is making an effort to keep down the noise. In response to residents' complaints, "we have kept the hopper switch quiet and changed the compost truck's schedule to a later time," Borghello said.
Alan Wikburn of DPW pointed out that the city's streetsweeping trucks also made daily sweeps of 24th Street. They work Monday through Friday on alternate sides of the street. He added that 24th Street has a live human sweeper too, who pushes a broom along our sidewalks every day.
Wikburn went on to introduce the city's Adopt-a-Street program, whereby merchants or resident make a commitment to keep their block clean with help from DPW. To find out how to adopt a block, call 554-6929.
Everybody's Got Their Own Van
As the meeting was breaking up, Friends of Noe Valley member Eleanore Gerhardt came up to me to talk about my traffic story in the October Voice. She said she had gone out to 24th Street at 8 a.m. on Oct. 5, a Tuesday morning, and actually counted cars and trucks for 30 minutes. Her total was similar to the city's traffic count in August. But where the DPT study did not distinguish between trucks and cars, she did.
Of the 240 vehicles Gerhardt counted, 56 were trucks. What impressed her the most were the number of specialty trucks delivering products. There was an Odwalla truck, a Nantucket Nectar Truck, a Coors, Anchor Steam, Semifreddi's, Grace Baking, etc.
"It seems as if there is a separate specialty truck for every store that carries that specialty item," she said. "Can't they combine their deliveries?"
Good point. And can't the neighborhood groups continue to combine their meetings in the future?
Regular meetings of the East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club are held on the first Wednesday of the month at 7:30 p.m., at the Noe Valley Library, 451 Jersey St. The Friends of Noe Valley and any other local residents are welcome to attend.