SF may slow down street repaving projects as costs increase 

click to enlarge McKinnon Avenue — from Upton Street to Barneveld Avenue and Loomis Street in the Bayview — checks in with a Pavement Street Index of 37, among The City’s worst. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • mike koozmin/the s.f. examiner
  • McKinnon Avenue — from Upton Street to Barneveld Avenue and Loomis Street in the Bayview — checks in with a Pavement Street Index of 37, among The City’s worst.

With greater investments made in recent years for San Francisco's streets, including an increase in repaving work, conditions are improving, according to the Department of Public Works. Still, thousands of blocks remain in poor condition, and unanticipated costs could slow down The City's progress by as much as four years.

San Francisco's roads were reported to be in their best condition during the 1980s, but the quality steadily declined in subsequent years, a deterioration blamed on an underinvestment in roadwork.

The road conditions decreased to a point where many blocks were in desperate need of significant repairs or they would rapidly deteriorate, creating a critical issue, as major repairs can cost five to 10 times more than routine maintenance.

A $248 million street repaving bond approved in 2011, along with other funding, has helped The City improve its overall road-condition rating, but even with the improvement, there remain thousands of blocks in need of significant pavement upgrades, the department's data shows.

City streets are graded by a Pavement Street Index where scores of 90 to 100 are new roads, 80 to 89 are considered very good requiring some maintenance, 70 to 79 are good, while those 60 to 69 are fair, reaching a point "where rehabilitation may be needed to prevent rapid deterioration," according to the index. A score below 25 is considered failed.

More than 300 city blocks have a score of 25 or lower, according to recent DPW data. Additionally, more than 2,600 areas have a score of 49 or below, which includes both poor and failed blocks.

In 1988, the San Francisco's roads earned an overall score of 78 out of 100. But by 2005, the score dropped to the mid-60s.

One of the worst streets, with a score of 4, is Toland Street in the Bayview. West Portal Avenue between 14th and 15th avenues has a score of 14, while heavily traveled Geary Boulevard between Steiner and Scott streets scored 18.

The DPW is spending an average of $68 million on roadwork annually and it is having results. A record high of 913 blocks were paved in 2014, an increase from the previous year's 854 blocks. There are 12,893 total blocks across The City, or 940 total roadway miles. The overall pavement condition score increased to 67 last year from 66 in 2013, according to the department.

But a promise made to voters in 2011 of reaching a road score of 70 by 2021 now appears out of reach due to an increase in costs from a federal mandate to install Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant curb ramps with every road-resurfacing project. Instead, The City may push that off by four years to offset those costs. The mandate will increase costs by $6 million annually, according to DPW spokeswoman Rachel Gordon. A typical block costs about $100,000 to resurface but reconstruction can reach $520,000.

"While it may take longer to resurface all the streets in the paving schedule we had set, we will be making our streets more accessible for wheelchair users and others who benefit from ramps," Gordon said of the delay.

Beyond enabling smoother travel for motorists with paving efforts, bicyclists can also benefit from a smoother surface and a safer terrain, officials note. The City can also time repaving projects with better roadway design by adding innovative bicycle and pedestrian measures. This is what's happening with the Polk Street corridor, for example. Such work is in demand, judging by the some 160 requests for site-specific roadway improvements from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Nicole Schneider, executive director of Walk San Francisco, a nonprofit pedestrian-safety advocate group, said that road repaving projects do bring "bundled" pedestrian-safety measures, such as bulb-outs, but she cautioned against using the PSI score as the only measure of the transportation system.

"That's one metric," Schneider said. "It's very automobile-centric. It doesn't include anything about pedestrian incidents. It's one very narrow lens."

In response to the improved conditions, Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement, "We are making greater investments in our transportation infrastructure that will allow our residents to move around the City better, faster and safer."

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