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Who’s Not Against Cars-First Prop L? Supes Tang, Farrell, Yee, and Mayor Lee

Supervisors Tang, Farrell, Yee, and Mayor Lee have not opposed Prop L, a Republican-crafted measure to enshrine cars-first policies. Photos: Aaron Bialick

With only a few days left until the election, four elected officials have yet to take a stance on Proposition L, the Republican-crafted measure that misleadingly urges San Francisco to “restore transportation balance” by giving priority to private automobiles and free parking.

Supervisors Katy Tang, Mark Farrell, Norman Yee, and Mayor Ed Lee apparently see no need to come out against the measure, which has been renounced by the other eight supervisors and almost all of SF’s political establishment, including their own SF Democratic County Central Committee.

We reached out to each of their offices to explain their position three days ago, and not surprisingly heard no response from Farrell or Lee.

Supervisor Farrell launched a campaign against parking meters, which led to the supervisors voting to hamstring the SFMTA’s ability to expand them. Yet even his most vocal ally in that battle, Supervisor Malia Cohen, came out against Prop L after her district’s Potrero Hill Democratic Club became the first neighborhood group to do so.

As for Mayor Lee? Well, he’s done more than anyone at City Hall to keep driving cheap, even if that means streets are more dangerous and congested. Lee reversed Sunday parking meters, even though they reduced traffic, and dropped his support for putting a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot. Then, he vowed to punish the supervisor majority who put replaced it on the ballot with Prop B, Supervisor Scott Wiener’s alternative transit funding measure.

The only public statement Lee has given about Prop L was this cryptic dismissal, in an interview with the SF Chronicle editorial board: “I’m not worried about it.”

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Great Cities Don’t Have Much Traffic, But They Do Have Congestion

Places with less traffic have more congestion. Graphic: City Clock

Here’s a great visualization of what cities get out of the billions of dollars spent on highways and road expansion: more traffic.

Justin Swan at City Clock made this chart showing the relationship between congestion levels, as measured by TomTom, and car use. (Yes, it has no X axis — here’s Swan’s explanation of how to read his chart.) The pattern that emerges is that the places with the most traffic and driving also have the least congestion.

We know from the work of Joe Cortright that the traditional definition of congestion is a poor way to measure people’s ability to get around their city – because it doesn’t reflect the actual time people spend traveling. Drivers in Dallas and Houston may stew in gridlock less than people in other cities, but they spend more time on the road.

Swan notes that the most congested places are also the places where people have good travel options that don’t involve driving. His chart suggests that car congestion itself is not the problem that needs to be solved — as long as there are other ways to get around, in a congested city few people will actually have to sit in traffic.

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CA Environmental Groups Grade Legislators

The California League of Conservation Voters scorecard is available here.

It’s scorecard season in California. Advocacy groups are giving grades to legislators based on how they voted on bills in the last year’s sessions, and releasing the scores just in time to influence next week’s election.

The California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) and the Sierra Club both scored legislators according to how they voted on environmental issues, some of them germane to transportation.

The Sierra Club’s scorecard headline is: 2014: Environmental Power Unifies and Wins.

The CLCV added an additional score this year, dinging fifteen Assemblymembers who signed a letter to the California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols begging her to postpone the application of cap-and-trade to fuels in January.

“Considering the severity and scope of the assault on AB 32, CLCV takes the historic step — the first time in more than forty years of scoring the Legislature – of negatively scoring the signatories to the letters as if they had cast a vote against AB 32 implementation,” said the League in a press release. ”We take this unprecedented action to make it clear to lawmakers that their public support or opposition to state laws that tackle climate change will be part of their permanent record of environmental performance we share with our members, other environmental advocates, and the media.”

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Halloween: A Lot Less Scary If Drivers and Roads Were Safer

Halloween is fun because we get to be afraid of things that we know aren’t really scary. But for little trick or treaters in the United States, the danger posed by reckless drivers and unsafe roads is real.

A 2012 study by insurance company State Farm found that motorists kill more children on Halloween than on any other day of the year. Reported LoHud:

From 1990 to 2010, 115 pedestrians under the age of 18 were killed by motor vehicles on Oct. 31, an average of 5.5 fatalities a year during that period.  There are an average of 2.6 child pedestrian deaths other days of the year, the report found.

Above is a tweet from the Maryland State Highway Administration, which is loaning reflective vests for kids to wear tonight. The agency has a tip sheet for pedestrians and motorists, but holiday-themed PR campaigns are not a substitute for streets that are safe for walking 365 days a year.

Yet that doesn’t stop us from victim-blaming. ”Crowds of trick-or-treaters traveling the streets contribute to the increased risk,” wrote LoHud.

The State Farm study also noted that more than 70 percent of crashes that kill kids on Halloween “occurred away from an intersection or crosswalk,” implying that unsafe pedestrian behavior, rather than lack of pedestrian infrastructure, is the issue. State Farm advises parents and kids to “stick to neighborhoods with sidewalks.” While this advice is easy to follow in some major cities, complete streets are not the norm in most of the country.

Suggesting pedestrians wear reflective tape and asking motorists to not kill people isn’t getting the job done. To keep kids safe every day, we need streets designed to accommodate them.

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Portland Suburb: To Fight Climate Change, Expand Highways!

Is more of this the way to reduce carbon emissions in the Portland region? Photo: Bike Portland

Clackamas County, outside of Portland, has some opinions about the region’s plan to address climate change. According to Michael Andersen at Bike Portland, county commissioners have drafted a letter to regional planners saying the right way to control carbon emissions is to build more highways.

Scratching your head? Well, the misguided belief that building more roads reduces congestion, and thus emissions, is still deeply entrenched in American transportation bureaucracies.

Clackamas County wants more roads to be included in the climate plan from Metro, Portland’s regional planning agency. But get this — Metro’s plan already has a lot of road work in the name of reducing emissions, Andersen reports:

Metro’s draft version of that plan (PDF) calls for the region to dedicate 58 percent of related funding over the next 20 years — about $20 billion — to roads, even though the report says that “adding lane miles to relieve congestion … will not solve congestion on its own.”

Metro’s draft plan calls for $12.4 billion to be spent on transit, which it rates as enough to achieve a 16 to 20 percent cut in per-capita carbon emissions. The plan calls for $2 billion to go to improving biking and walking, which it rates as enough for a 3 to 6 percent reduction.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Tour Trolley Driver That Killed Woman at City Hall Cited for Veh. Manslaughter (CBS, Exam, SFGate)
  • Driver Backs Into Woman on 16th Street, Putting Her in Critical Condition (Mission Local)
  • Giants Parade Takes Over Streets Today (Exam); Revelers & Trick-or-Treaters: Beware of Drivers (SFBay)
  • It’s Muni Heritage Weekend (MSR); Historic Buses Will Be Out on the Streets (MSR, SFMTA
  • 10-Townsend Now Runs Until Midnight as Part of “Muni Forward” Changes (SFBay)
  • Parking Meter Signage Hasn’t Caught Up With Mayor Lee’s Sunday Parking Reversal (SFGate)
  • Castro Street Merchants Expect Boom After Construction (KTVU); Upper Haight Plans Develop (Hoodline)
  • 50 Teams Selected for Market Street Prototyping Festival Next April (SocketSite)
  • Oakland Road-Rage Shooter Who Killed Mother Arrested (KRON)
  • Oakland Mayor Jean Quan Faces Lawsuit After June Car Crash (CBS)
  • San Jose Residents Upset as BART Considers Scrapping Plans for Alum Rock Station (NBC)
  • GJEL: Through-Double-Right Turns Are Fatal for Bicyclists by Design

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Sorry, Sean Parker: Fighting Safe Streets With Prop L Won’t Help the Poor

We may never know why Sean Parker decided to pour tens of thousands of dollars into Proposition L, a measure crafted and funded by Republicans who want to enshrine 20th-century car-centric policies in San Francisco. With his contribution, Parker decided to amplify this “primal scream from motorists,” as the Bay Guardian put it.

Sean Parker. Photo: Sean Parker/Twitter

On Tuesday, the measure will go to voters, who will either approve an advisory measure that contradicts SF’s 41-year-old Transit-First Policy, or send a signal that they want to put the era of automobile-centric streets behind us.

If Parker’s recent interview with Fortune Magazine is to be believed, his donation to Prop L was motivated by the sorely misguided belief that it will help less affluent San Franciscans:

It’s hard to figure out Parker’s own politics. His own priority is inequality. His political team – yes, he has a political team – flagged the referendum, called Proposition L, because it struck them as a hidden tax on the poor…

“I have a long-standing frustration that the only people who are significantly disadvantaged by onerous DMV regulations and parking tickets are the working poor,” Parker says.

“However,” as Fortune’s Shalene Gupta explains, ”Parker’s enthusiasm is wildly out of sync with San Francisco’s politics.”

He’s also out of sync with the growing body of research that indicates the working poor in San Francisco are more likely to walk and ride Muni than own cars.

A “Yes on L” flyer.

Fifty-three percent of Muni riders identify as low-income, according to a recent SFMTA survey [PDF]. And while there’s limited data available on the income of car owners, a congestion pricing study by the SF County Transportation Authority found that 95 percent of drivers to, from, and within the downtown area during the morning rush are from households making more than $50,000 annually.

Meanwhile, free and underpriced parking causes drivers to circle around for spots, creating traffic that slows down Muni and its mainly low-income ridership.

“It’s manipulative to say this policy supports low-income workers,” Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider told Fortune.

Not that Prop L’s proponents care about truth or accuracy. They misleadingly tout a false statistic (erroneously reported by SFMTA, and since corrected) that 79 percent of SF households own cars, seemingly arguing for majority rule. The actual number [PDF] is 69 percent, and 41 percent own only one car, giving SF a solid car-light majority.

Most San Franciscans use multiple forms of transportation, and by making it easier to get around without a car, policies that improve transit, biking, and walking also make it easier for San Franciscans to shed the enormous costs of owning, maintaining, insuring, and fueling a motor vehicle. This can drastically lower household costs for working families, but Prop L’s proponents attack efforts to make non-driving choices more attractive.

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San Bruno Voters to Determine Future Downtown Growth with Measure N

The San Bruno Caltrain Station Area, as envisioned by the city’s Transit Corridors Plan with future retail and office development. Planners say the plan depends on the passage of Measure N. Image: Yes for San Bruno – Supporting Measure N

Last week, just two weeks before San Bruno voters choose whether or not to approve the Measure N ballot measure, city officials finally cleared the last legal hurdle for the measure, which would modify building height limits that voters set in 1977 with Ordinance 1284. That ordinance required a “town-hall type of hearing whereby experts, proponents, and opponents may be heard and questioned by voters,” so last Tuesday, a debate was held between San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane and Peninsula Health Care District Board of Directors candidate Doug Radtke.

Ordinance 1284 limits all new building heights in San Bruno to 50 feet or three stories, caps residential zoning densities to those set forty years ago, and bans multi-story parking structures — unless a specific development project is approved by a majority of voters. If Measure N is approved, maximum building heights will increase to 90 feet (five stories) within one block of the new Caltrain station, to 70 feet along El Camino Real, to 65 feet along San Bruno and Huntington avenues, and to 55 feet along San Mateo Avenue. The measure would also repeal Ordinance 1284′s ban on multi-story parking structures, which will “help solve parking needs as the downtown becomes more vibrant and parking demand increases,” according to the city’s Measure N FAQ sheet.

Maximum building heights if Measure N is approved: 90 feet (yellow), 70 feet (blue), 65 feet (green), 55 feet (pink). Image: 2013 San Bruno Transit Corridors Plan

City planners say the higher building heights and residential densities specified in Measure N are critical to implement San Bruno’s Transit Corridors Plan, which aims to enable the development, over the next 20 years, of a higher-density residential and commercial area within walking distance of the city’s new Caltrain station. The station was reconstructed half a mile north of its isolated former location at Sylvan Avenue, opening in April as an elevated structure at the intersection of the city’s two main streets, San Mateo and San Bruno avenues.

“We expect full build-out to result in 4,000 additional jobs, 2,400 of which are a direct result of passing Measure N,” said Ruane, quoting a fiscal and economic impact report authored by consulting firm Economic & Planning Systems. “It would increase the population by 3,784 in the Transit Corridors Area, [with] Measure N accounting for 1,558.”

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Confirmed: Sprawl and Bad Transit Increase Unemployment

Since the 1960s and the earliest days of job sprawl, the theory of “spatial mismatch” — that low-income communities experience higher unemployment because they are isolated from employment centers – has shaped the way people think about urban form and social equity.

But it’s also been challenged. The research that supporting spatial mismatch has suffered from some nagging flaws. For example, many studies focused on job access within a single metropolitan area, so it wasn’t clear if the findings were universal. Other studies looked only at linear distance between jobs and low-income residents, not actual commute times. In addition, researchers including Harvard economist Ed Glaeser have argued that it’s difficult to determine whether neighborhood inaccessibility causes higher unemployment, or whether disconnected areas attract more people who have trouble finding work.

A new study [PDF] from researchers at the U.S. Census Bureau, the Comptroller of the Currency, and Harvard University, however, addresses those shortcomings and confirms the original theory of spatial mismatch: Geographic barriers to employment — sprawl, suburban zoning, poor transit – do indeed depress employment levels.

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Talking Headways Podcast: That Indie Flick You Were Looking For

podcast icon logoIf you’re a Netflix member, you’re part of the downfall of the brick-and-mortar video store. There are all kinds of reasons to be sad about that, but we look at its implications for urbanism and transportation. Besides, now where will you find esoteric foreign films to impress your friends? There are reasons to believe a few hardy indie-shop survivors could keep hanging on for a while (and we encourage you to bike to them).

Next, we shift gears to talk about how Vision Zero is unfolding in New York City. Streetsblog has called attention to the need to go beyond grand policy pronouncements and do the dirty work of changing the very culture that surrounds mobility. Specifically, the police need to stop forgiving deadly “errors” by drivers and start taking death by auto as seriously as other preventable deaths.

And then we called it a day because really, that was a lot.

Tell us about your favorite video store, or your least bike-friendly cop, or whatever you feel like telling us, in the comments.

And find us on iTunesStitcher, and the RSS feed.