SF's new public safety building may pose problems for officers in high traffic area

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KTVU) - The official grand opening of San Francisco's new public safety building on Thursday morning marks a new era for the city.

The building, which houses San Francisco Police Headquarters, the Southern District police station and Fire Station #4, is located at the corner of Third Street and China Basin Street in the middle of one of the city's hottest development zones, the Mission Bay neighborhood.

It is a location that could come with some problems, however, as some people fear that police officers could become trapped in traffic, unable to respond quickly to emergencies, particularly on busy game days when roads leading to AT&T Park are flooded with crowds and cars.

As many as 44,000 fans turn up to the ballpark for San Francisco Giants baseball games, just blocks away from the police headquarters.

The San Francisco Giants game on Wednesday was no exception, with long lines of bumper to bumper traffic along Third Street, creeping past the new public safety building.

For police officers leaving the building's underground garage, it was a slow exit from China Basin Street directly into the game day gridlock.

"We certainly understand the concerns and we're exploring options on how we should proceed," Paul Rose, an SFMTA spokesman, told KTVU.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency acknowledges the challenge police face. The police vehicles are forced to turn right onto Third Street because there is no option of a left turn.

KTVU cameras caught some officers that were waiting in the turn lane, decide to turn around to find another way out.

Changing the intersection, however, isn't as easy as painting new lines. Concrete curbs separate the vehicle lanes from Muni train tracks that run down the middle of Third Street.

"We also have to take into consideration the safety of Muni riders, the safety of the traffic in the area, and the safety of the pedestrians in the area before we make any final decisions," Rose said.

Meantime, the traffic shouldn't interfere with officers' ability to respond to an emergency, according to San Francisco Police spokesman Officer Carlos Manfredi.

"Our officers are constantly going out on patrol, going from one call to another call, so for the most part they're not going to be inside the station," Officer Manfredi told KTVU.

He added that officers' schedules are staggered to avoid long lines of police cruisers waiting to leave the station. If there is an emergency, he says, police dispatchers also have the ability to deploy officers from one of the other nine districts.

"We have officers in the outer districts who can help Southern District with whatever incident arises in the city," Officer Manfredi said.

The area is expected to become increasingly congested with the proposed Warriors basketball arena, the recently completed UCSF Medical Center campus, and new housing developments.

San Francisco Police say they are working on a plan as well, that could change the police district borders to reflect the changing population growth of the Southern district's Mission Bay neighborhood. The plan could involve shifting the busy Market Street area from the Southern district to the jurisdiction of the nearby Tenderloin and Central police districts.

SFMTA's spokesman says they will continue working with police to decide how to address traffic issues around the police headquarters.