Wednesday, April 20, 2011

MTA Board Meeting; or How to Make Gridlock

At the 4-18 MTA Board meeting, Director Nat Ford announced three all-day Town Hall Meetings that appear to be the result of cab driver Tariq Mehmood's uprising at the previous Board meeting. The subjects of meetings will be:
  1. Electronic waybills.
  2. Credit Cards.
  3. Possible meter increase.
Ford did not announce the dates  but he did say that they would be conducted by somebody named "staff." Hopefully, this means that Deputy Director Chris Hayashi will be back from vacation to lead them because, if nothing else, she is a true master at such things.

I haven't been to one of these Board meetings in a long time but, after seeing this one, I'm beginning to understand Emile Lawrence.

Emile used to write a newspaper column called the Midnight Cabbie. He went back to school, got a bookkeeping degree but couldn't get a job. He went back to taxi driving and used to show up at the Board meetings to yell at Ford for not hiring him as a bookkeeper. Very entertaining.

Not that I approve of yelling at the Executive Director but, after witnessing the irrationality of the Board's decision making process last Tuesday, I wanted to scream at somebody.

The particular case in point was the Board's decision to turn to Hayes into a two-way street between Van Ness and Gough. In order to reduce the overflow, they planned to channel part of the traffic south onto Van Ness and then change Fell into a two way street between Van Ness and Franklin so that the traffic on Van Ness could take a right turn onto one lane on Fell in order to head to the Sunset.

You professional drivers have doubtless already recognized this as insane. An intelligent ten year old could tell you that this would result in grid-lock on Hayes, Fell and Van Ness. In fact, if you set out to deliberately shut down the area, you'd be hard pressed to find a better way to do it. The only thing that would beat it would be to change Van Ness south into a dead end street - but this plan would effectively do that anyway.

This appeared to be the brainchild of Director Cheryl Brinkman who likes to bicycle and walk and, ironically, is the former chair of the Board of Directors of Livable City San Francisco. She said that she held a meeting at (I think) the Hayes Valley Community Center and nobody spoke against the plan.

She did not mention whether or not she went to the community centers of the Haight or the Richmond or the Sunset or the Parkside and asked the thousands of people that would be brutalized by the plan how they liked the idea of spending a hellish extra hour or two each week on their commutes so that the a couple of hundred people in Hayes Valley might lead more livable lives. But, then, she didn't have to.

A nice young man, appropriately attired in a dark suit, presented a study to justify the plan. He had calculated the number of cars that go up Hayes, then turn on Franklin and Gough. He hadn't bothered to calculate the number of cars on Van Ness heading south or the number on Fell between Franklin and Van Ness. Nor had he bothered to estimate the number of vehicles on Market that were going be stalled at the inter-section of 9th, Market, Hayes and Larkin by the traffic backing up from Van Ness. Nor did he calculate the cost of hiring traffic control officers at said intersection for four hours a day as the only hope of allowing the cars and buses to pass through.

At one point, he said that he wasn't sure where the cars would go. "Maybe they'll go up Larkin," he said vaguely. Needless to say he hadn't calculated the number of cars that currently go up Larkin during rush hour or he would've already known where the cars will go.

They'll go nowhere!

And, of course, he failed to estimate the additional emissions and fumes, the enlarged carbon footprint, that would be poured into the atmosphere by the impeded vehicles and the lengthening of the commutes.

The only member of the MTA Board to vote against the measure was Director Malcom Heinicke.

You know what frightens me about all this?

It's the possibility that the MTA Board was not paid off by the Hayes Valley merchants and that they really think this is a workable idea.



  1. It doesn't seem like a good idea to make that part of Hayes St. two ways. But since it seems pretty much a done deal, one way to get around may be - if you're coming up 9th st, then turn left onto Market and hit Fell St. from Franklin. Or - go up to Grove and get onto Fell St. from Gough or Octavia.

  2. Ed, brilliant -- I think you should be head of the SFMTA, or at least "staff"!


  3. Hard to imagine Emile Lawerence was Midnight Cabbie as goofy as he is.
    I remember one col. where he mentions Yellow is "run by Jews" which was rather inapropriate as most of his utterings are.

  4. Some of the Midnight Cabbie was good.

    As for it being a done deal, I'm hoping not. I very much doubt the MTA ran this by people in the neighborhoods. I sent this to the Board of Supes. I don't thinks the ones in Sunset etc are going to like it..

    Good idea John - except the traffic on 9th is already backed up 3 o 4 blocks much of the day. If this goes through you won't be able to move on 9th at all.


  5. is midnight cabbie different than the night cabbie that ran in examiner and chronicle?

  6. My mistake. It must have been the night cabbie

  7. "Failed to estimate the additional emissions and fumes, the enlarged carbon footprint, that would be poured into the atmosphere by the impeded vehicles and the lengthening of the commutes."

    No traffic-calming/causing measure ever does.

  8. Hi Ed,

    Remember me Daniel Shafer from last August, I saw you in Chengdu with that beautiful lady with the hats. I saw your recent March photo of a Chinese lake in Sichuan and decided to plan a trip to China again. I wrote because I want to take up your advice for a guide since I am black and was unable to absorb the richness of China culture without an interpreter. I wanted to ask if that companion of yours would be interested in showing me places. I am not a rich man but would negotiate to pay her expenses for a month. I know it is hot in the summer so it would be October into November. Ever thought of leading a tour of American cab drivers to China? You seem to know the best cities and their good restaurants? Daniel Shafer

  9. Hi Daniel,

    The lady in question actually isn't in the tour business and is in the U.S. right now.

    I like your idea of leading a tour of American Cab drivers. Maybe she's be interested in planning that. I do know she like money. October and November are the perfect times for China.


  10. Dear Ed,

    Can you ask your lady friend if she can refer me to a relative or friend to be my guide. Last time, I received a lot of stares because I am a weiguo ren. I want to avoid trouble so having an interpreter is indespensible to my safety. I am preparing by learning to converse and read Chinese.

    If you organize a tour, that will solve my problems as long as the other American taxi drivers behave themselves and are responsible when in another country.

    Thank you,

    Daniel Shafer