D8 Supervisor-Elect Scott Wiener Holds Promise on Livable Streets Issues

Photo:
Although he owns a car, D8 Supervisor-elect Scott Wiener says he mostly gets around on Muni and on foot. Photo: Dennis Hearne Photography

When some very vocal Noe Valley residents went Tea Party over a plan to convert street space into a trial plaza on Noe and 24th streets, closing a portion of the intersection to cars, District 8 Supervisor-elect Scott Wiener stood firm in his support for the project despite the risk of losing a few votes.

“I thought we should try it and see if it works,” Wiener said in a recent interview with Streetsblog. “I’ve definitely been willing to put my money where my mouth is in terms of different uses of our streets.”

Eventually, outgoing Supervisor Bevan Dufty caved in to the opponents, along with the Mayor’s Office, and the plan to transform the heart of the neighborhood into a bustling social center died. It’s illustrative of the kind of battles that may lie ahead and having Wiener at City Hall may help shepherd much-needed projects to improve the pedestrian realm, transit and bicycling in District 8.

Wiener, currently a deputy city attorney who won the D8 supervisor seat last month, doesn’t take office until next month, but he’s already signaled he is serious about livable streets issues with the hiring of Gillian Gillett as one of his staffers. Gillett, one of two aides who bikes regularly and takes Muni, is a respected sustainable transportation advocate who chairs SPUR’s transportation committee and has spearheaded a number of traffic calming projects. She was largely responsible for the San Jose/Guerrero Pavement to Parks plaza.

“One of the many reasons that I hired Gillian is if there’s anyone who understands the minute inner workings of the MTA it’s Gillian Gillett,” said Wiener, who believes that the collective bargaining mandated by Prop G and the implementation of the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) are the two big tests the SFMTA will face over the course of his term as supervisor.

“I’m going to be paying very close attention to what MTA does. I want to support their efforts to improve transportation in the city, but I’m also going to call them out when they’re not doing enough,” he said.

Wiener’s transportation habits center mostly around Muni and walking, although he does own a car. “I hate driving. I mean, I drive when I need to in the city but I don’t like it.”

He doesn’t ride a bike, but said his 72-year-old father is a “big cyclist” who still goes on 40 to 50 mile rides. When he was younger, not riding a bike was in some way a rebellious act since his father was always nudging him to ride.

Wiener speaking at the opening of the Pavement to Parks plaza in the Castro. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamison/3529224464/##Jamison Wieser##
Wiener speaking at the opening of the Pavement to Parks plaza in the Castro. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamison/3529224464/##Jamison Wieser##

“I’m very supportive of biking in the city but I just don’t do it myself,” said Wiener. “I thought about possibly getting a scooter, which I guess is going part of the way.”

Although he supports the concept behind the SFBC’s Connecting the City project, an ambitious plan to build out a network of fully separated connected bikeways, he said it would have to be on a case-by-case basis.

“I support cross-town bikeways, but I would need more information about the specific proposed routes/reconfigurations and the resulting trade-offs. As with bicycle boulevards, this strikes me as a case-by-case determination,” he wrote in his candidate questionnaire [pdf] for the SFBC.

He did indicate support for physically-separated bikeways, eight bike projects in the Bike Plan that are still awaiting approval, transit-oriented development and reforming the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“The fact that the MTA may need to conduct some huge CEQA review about bus stop consolidation is just insane. It makes no sense,” he said, before railing on CEQA’s relationship to the Bike Plan and injunction. “For the whole bike plan? It makes no sense whatsoever and so obviously that’s a change in state law, but I intend to advocate for that,” he said.

In District 8, his priorities include improving service along the J-Church line — a problem he said he’ll inherit from Dufty — and the Glen Park Community Plan .

“We have a lot of opportunities in Glen Park to make transit improvements there in terms of physical changes to the edges of the BART station to make it easier for Muni and corporate shuttles to sort of pull over and have better connections. In the Glen Park plan it calls for a number of transit hub changes around there and I’m very into that because that intersection is a mess,” he said.

Pedestrians crowd one of the crosswalks on 18th Street at Castro. Wiener wants a pedestrian scramble installed at this intersection. Photo: Bryan Goebel
Pedestrians crowd one of the crosswalks on 18th Street at Castro. Wiener wants a pedestrian scramble installed at this intersection. Photo: Bryan Goebel

He also wants to widen the sidewalks in the Castro — a plan developed by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District — and improve the transit stops there. In addition, he would like to see a pedestrian scramble installed at the intersection of Castro and 18th Streets.

“It would improve traffic flow so you would have less back-up,” said Wiener, who added that he hasn’t spoken to one merchant or resident in the Castro who doesn’t like the idea. “It would be a nice pedestrian experience when you can cross diagonally,”

Parking issues, however, are another story. Wiener does not support extending parking meter hours and is reticent about removing parking.

“I’ve not spoken to a single merchant in my district who supports extending it. They believe that it will injure their businesses,” he said.

When asked why he thinks they feel that way, he said, “There is sort of a Gestalt sense in the city that there’s been this continual movement of making it harder and harder to drive and park and more expensive and brain damaging and that it’s, you know, part of a strategic movement toward a reduction of cars in the city, which is partly true.”

Wiener does support SFPark and believes the city should study parking benefit districts “where a portion of the meter revenue in an area remains in the area to make tangible transportation and streetscape improvements.” He wrote this in the SFBC questionnaire:

I support reducing the need for people to drive private automobiles in San Francisco, which will reduce the number of vehicles on our roads. We can do this by dramatically improving Muni’s reach and reliability, by making it easier to bike, by improving our taxi system, by increasing access to car-sharing, and by making our city more pedestrian-friendly.

Wiener said he would also like to see the taxi system reformed by centralizing dispatch and focusing on ridership. “I know a lot of people who would get rid of their car in a heartbeat if they really felt they could get a cab when they needed a cab,” he said.

There were numerous issues I didn’t get a chance to touch on in my interview with Wiener, but we hope to be in touch with him and his staff as he gets to work. Do you have issues you’d like to see addressed in District 8? Please leave them in the comments section. We know he and his staff are Streetsblog readers.

  • Scott Wiener is really a great guy – a good thinker, intellectually curious and honest, he listens, and while he’s very smart and he has ideas, his mind is open. Refreshing. I’m really excited he won this election.

  • Nick

    Physically-protected bike lanes on Upper Market. I’m talking about that area between Castro and School of the Arts.

    Does it really need 4 lanes to handle the traffic volume? Or simply extend the F-Market streetcar line all the way up to Twin Peaks.

    The status quo in San Francisco is that both are equally difficult.

  • It’ll be nice to have someone at the board who actually rides Muni and realized that it’s an important part of the city, not a political football to kick around and do nothing, as is the case with the progressives.

  • Rebecca G.

    I campaigned for Rebecca Prozan but I think Wiener will also be a great Supervisor.

    I like that he’s a MUNI rider. I’m originally from NYC so I just LOVE public transportation. While SF may not be on par with NYC it’s certainly more fun to ride street cars and especially the moving museums like the F or the Cable Cars.

    But I digress. Let’s hope that Mr. Wiener does a great job for the beautiful Dist. 8.

  • BCon

    How funny, I was just walking up Castro yesterday, and thinking, “This is SUCH a wide street, and the sidewalks are so crowded. They really ought to widen the sidewalks and narrow the street to slow cars and provide more pedestrian space.”

    And here’s Scott Wiener supporting widening the sidewalks, yay!

    I believe the only reason the street is so wide in the first place is because there used to be a cable car that ran up the middle of Castro, from Market St over the hill to Noe Valley, and when they removed it, they never filled the space.

    What would be even better (although will probably never happen) is to turn all of Castro from Market to 18th into a pedestrian only street (with the exception of maybe letting Muni busses through). It’s enough of a tourist destination during the day and club scene at night that local businesses wouldn’t have to worry about any loss of business due to the re-routing of cars. If anything, it would make it even more of a destination and gathering place, therefore increasing business.

  • I voted for Mandelman, and was bummed when Weiner won, but this article makes me feel a little bit better about him.

    I intend to contact him on his first day in office to see if he will do anything about sidewalk parking enforcement. If he can be a strong advocate on that, he’ll get a lot of support from me.

  • Brendon –

    Absolutely it should be a transit plaza, continuing the one already started at the top of the hill. Pretty much all of the business streets in our city should be converted from the parking lots & motor thru-ways that they are to transit plazas. I think about it every time I go through 9th & Irving in my neighborhood. And that also includes pretty much the whole Union Square shopping district and Chinatown.

  • If they blocked Castro to traffic from 18th to Market, the Noe Valley mafia would kick up a huge stink and I would toast their misery from our measly little parklets.

  • Michael

    I share the sentiment that while he was not the candidate I voted for, most of his responses here are spot on and reflect well on him as a thinker.

    On the other hand, if he is going to maintain his reputation as intellectually curious and honest (per John Murphy’s first comment), he may want to check out Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking. Anyone who does not support extended meter hours in a place as busy as Castro Street because they believe it inherently makes it harder to drive either hasn’t thought much about the issue or is being dishonest in order to appease constituents. Driving would in fact be much easier if the correct meter rates were set after 6 p.m. It’s about making room for shoppers instead of accommodating long-term parkers who hog spaces in central locations overnight.

    This is not a controversial point among planning scholars or economists, and it’s one that honest, smart politicians shouldn’t be afraid to make to their merchants once they get on solid political footing.

  • patrick carroll

    I don’t think that traffic should be blocked from Castro Street. While the idea may seem appealing on a planner’s diagram, in reality it would be quite different. The area’s quality of life already suffers from the large number of homeless people who are attracted by the area’s tolerant reputation. A transit plaza would vastly increase their number and the attendant squalor that would result. In the 1970’s, Sacramento converted K Street to a transit mall, and it turned into a slum so the city is now cosidering bringing back the cars.

  • CBrinkman

    I think we need a white paper version of The High Cost of Free Parking, anyone know of one? I’m fascinated by parking policy and had a hard time getting through The High Cost. I’d be happy to help make sure a white paper version gets to all the Supervisors and other interested parties, merchants included. Jason H, I think we talked about this before, getting a white paper together on this topic.

  • @Patrick: The Castro is a much different place than the K Street Mall. Unfortunately, the reason why K Street seems like such a desolate place is because no one lives around it. Sac County supes have approved endless sprawl instead of creating more dense housing downtown, which would help enliven it. Downtown Sac could really use some dense housing. That’s the reason why K Street has not succeeded .

  • Scott Wiener’s election is one of the best things to happen to San Francisco, and this article helps show why. He’s knowledgeable and thoughtful, and he understands the policies that are needed to make cities into great cities. Scott will do great things for District 8 – count on it. Go, Scott!

  • Jake Wegmann

    Totally agreed on High Cost of Free Parking. But let’s not forget one of its key points: if you want to get merchants to support higher parking charges or longer times for charging for parking, you have to “buy them off” politically. You have to offer them something, because it’s very, very difficult to make the case that the reduced cruising is going to benefit them. It may be true in reality, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to convince a skeptical business owner of that. Good luck trying to convince non-planners about something that — let’s face it — is counterintuitive to the average person, even to the average smart person. (“More expensive parking will bring you more customers!”)

    It seems that Weiner understands this, given his comments about supporting parking benefit districts that funnel parking meter revenues into BIDs, to fund better streetscape amenities, street cleaning, whatever. Turn your local merchants into a constituency with a vested financial interest in more expensive parking, and all of a sudden the whole political dynamic will shift.

    I wish that that part of the Donald Shoup agenda would get more play. Trying to increase parking rates without it is a brave but in most cases uphill and all-too-often futile battle.

    Also, I agree with the skepticism about creating whole car-free streets. There are many, many other failed examples around the country other than the K Street example in Sacto that a previous commenter pointed out. The successful ones — Boulder, Denver, Burlington (Vermont) — are pretty rare. Wider sidewalks and slower traffic, absolutely, by all means, let’s do it everywhere. But we should be careful about car-free streets.

  • CBrinkman

    Good point Jake, about the parking benefit districts. The merchants will be more likely to support managed parking if they know they will get increased amenities. That is a key point of High Cost.

  • Mateo

    Let us not forget that the same Scott Wiener seen posing aboard a muni train, promising muni reform, improving bike facilities, creating parkets etc., is the same Scott Wiener that was a strong proponent for the passage of Proposition L (the sit/lie law). I don’t care how nice of a guy he is, Prop L is unconstitutional. It will be selectively enforced against the less fortunate, and simply goes against the spirit of inclusiveness that San Francisco is known for.

  • Bob Davis

    Regarding the sit/lie law: I’m an occasional visitor to SF, so I’m more likely to read hotel recommendations than folks who live there. Tourism is big business for The City, and it just takes a few unpleasant encounters with the “residentially challenged” for visitors to say, “I’m not going back there!” in a lodging review. We have the “bleeding hearts” who want to be sure the rights of “winos and weirdos” are respected, then we have the residents and storekeepers who are fed up with tripping over and cleaning up after the bums. And I’d suspect that the most radical residents of SF and other big cities wouldn’t mind it a bit if all the derelicts were loaded into cattle trucks and hauled out to stockades in the boonies, where they would be housed in barracks and fed government surplus food.

  • patrick carroll

    Mateo is just pissed that his boy, Rafi lost the election. But actually, Scott is more in tune with the neighborhood. The sit/lie law won handily in the Upper Market/Eureka Valley.

  • Ted

    John Murphy was soup-nazi crazy in his myopic charge to choke-off traffic in one of the main arteries in the heart of Noe Valley. He never considered any traffic or impact studies. He summarily dismissed all ideas and alternative spaces for a communal social spot along 24th street, except for closing down Noe. There is no comparison of a little used adjacent offshoot in the Castro (17th street to Market) to shutting down the major street artery in Noe (Noe at 24th Street). Shut down 18th at Castro — that’ll get more than a mafia reaction.

  • Scott

    Scott didn’t win with 55% of the vote, he had 42%~ of the first choice preferences and enough second choice preferences from the dropped candidates (the ~22% that didn’t choose either of the 2nd round candidates as their first preference)

  • @Scott: Good point, thanks.

  • For a super-accessible and entertaining précis of Dr. Shoup’s masterwork on parking, be sure to check out Elizabeth Press’ great Streetfilm:

    http://streetfilms.org/illustrating-parking-reform-with-dr-shoup/

    Just 5 minutes long, suitable for forwarding to decision makers and others as you see fit . . .