One of the busiest areas of Chinatown, the most densely populated neighborhood west of New York City, has for decades been a frequent bottleneck, created as motorists exiting the Broadway Tunnel cross into the mixed-use corridor where residents of all ages access businesses, institutions, an elementary school and their homes on foot.
Given that dynamic, Broadway street from the tunnel to Columbus Avenue over the years has seen multiple traffic-related injuries and even a fatality. Chinatown community members since the early 1990s have called for traffic calming on the major east-west arterial, and the final phase encompassing those three blocks -- where the problem is most severe -- is within sight.
The Department of Public Works is in the process of completing construction documents on phase four of the Broadway Streetscape Improvement Project, which entails a different median configuration on the block between the tunnel and Powell Street, more trees and a widened sidewalk with a focus on Jean Parker Elementary School. Other features include constructing bulbouts at intersections, adding special paving on the crosswalks to improve visibility, installing bus bulbs and bike sharrows.
"This to us is the most important because it's where the heart of Chinatown is," said Cathie Lam, a senior community organizer with the Chinatown Community Development Center, which partnered with the Planning Department to engage residents and business owners on the project.
The road work, which could go into construction next fall and be completed within a year, follows similar work on earlier phases on Broadway. They included the two blocks between Montgomery and Battery streets completed in 2005, the block between Kearny Street and Grant finished in 2008 and the block between Kearny and Montgomery wrapped up late last year.
Despite the impending improvements, community members are worried about the double left turn from Van Ness Avenue onto Broadway that was approved as part of the Van Ness bus rapid transit system late last year.
"It was approved with the promise that we would be able to do a pilot for it before the BRT was actually built," said Cindy Wu, the development center's community planning manager and Planning Commission president.
"But unfortunately what the County Transportation Authority didn't understand was that there would have to be an environmental impact report, so we're looking for a way to fund that."
Several attendees at an open house on the project Thursday welcomed the traffic-calming measures but wondered why speed humps to slow motorists and a scramble feature allowing pedestrians to cross in all directions at once were not added.
"Some of the more aggressive measures just aren't possible because of what it will do to traffic," explained Nick Carr, a senior planner with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
The final project design and three public-art proposals up for consideration are on display at East West Bank on Stockton Street through the end of July. "Given significant pedestrian accidents have happened in recent years," said Supervisor David Chiu, "this will help our city move toward our Vision Zero goal of no pedestrian fatalities in the coming years."