When TransForm’s Joél Ramos led the community outreach charge on the International Boulevard Transit-Oriented Development Plan in Oakland, he went to “ridiculous lengths” to bring everyone to the table.
“He really educated people on the potential of the project so they could plug in in a way that’s really more sophisticated,” said fellow TransForm advocate Marta Lindsey. “By the time it got to the city council, there was no one to get upset and surprised.”
With Ramos’ reputation as a sustainable transportation advocate dedicated to social justice issues, advocates couldn’t be happier about his nomination to the SFMTA Board of Directors yesterday by Mayor Ed Lee.
“The guy is a dedicated activist and he knows the policy. He’s a perfect appointee,” said Dave Snyder, Relaunch Director/CEO of the California Bicycle Coalition and former coordinator of the SF Transit Riders Union. “I’ve spent time with Joél on the 14-Mission, reaching out to riders in Spanish and English, urging them to get involved with actions to improve service for everyday riders.”
Ramos currently works as a community planner at TransForm , an Oakland-based advocacy group for walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly communities in the Bay Area and across California. Last year, he helped win approval from the Oakland City Council to move a bus rapid transit plan on International Boulevard forward.
“As a regular transit rider and a daily bicyclist, Joél Ramos will bring valuable experience to the SFMTA Board as he is passionate about all modes of transportation, is a team builder that works with the community, and is focused on a transit-oriented city,” Mayor Lee said in a statement. “His service on the SFMTA Board will have lasting impacts on our city’s transit system to ensure it is safe, reliable and affordable for all users.”
Ramos is expected to be confirmed by the Board of Supervisors and told Streetsblog he’s “absolutely honored and humbled” by the nomination. He said he’s ready to move the discussion forward on implementing effective strategies to make an efficient Muni system and increase safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.
“First and foremost, you can bet that I’d be doing whatever I can to advocate for more funding to go to Muni from the state and federal budgets,” said Ramos. At TransForm, he’s already been lobbying at both levels  of government .
Beyond that, he’s “confident that there are ways that have been laid out already that we can pursue to make our system safer, more efficient, more sustainable, and make the city a better place overall.”
Seeing the Transit Effectiveness Project  (TEP) implemented is listed among his top priorities. “The TEP is a fantastic plan that really shows us the way in allowing us to maintain what we have,” he said.
From Japan to Portland to Paris, Ramos says first hand experiences with safer streets and model networks for transit and bicycles in other cities have inspired him about the potential for San Francisco.
“I had the terrific opportunity to go to Cleveland and ride the full Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system there,” he said. “Experiencing what it’s like to have Proof of Payment, level boarding, all-door boarding, dedicated lanes, to see what we can accomplish with minimal resources is incredible.”
Ramos’ record of educating the public on transportation issues is promising for advancing the discussion on some of the most politically contentious strategies for improving transit. Extending parking meter hours, demand-based parking pricing, and bus-stop optimization are some of the known best practices that could use his community outreach expertise.
“We need to have the conversation about bus stop optimization,” said Ramos, “recognizing that we’ll prioritize addressing those that have mobility issues, making sure that we strengthen service for those folks as opposed to making it more difficult for them to navigate.”
“That population is only going to grow over the next ten years. If we want to make sure our service is there for people with disabilities and seniors, we need to make it more efficient.”
Accurately priced parking is also vital for improving transit service by improving speeds and increasing revenue, he says. “The amount of people driving around looking for parking or taking unnecessary trips in their cars slows down the overall system by getting in the way of transit, and that’s another source of drain on the system.”
On Central Subway, an issue that has divided many transit advocates, Ramos said it is vital for the Chinatown community, which has voiced broad support for the project.
“This is a community that’s typically not at the table, they’re not represented,” he said. “Anyone who rides the 30-Stockton knows that it’s unbearable for the folks who ride that line. Something needs to happen as soon as possible, and the Central Subway is slotted to be that opportunity.”
Chinatown Community Development Center Senior Planner Deland Chan said the organization is encouraged by Ramos’ nomination.
“His background as a transit justice organizer in low-income communities of color is very applicable to San Francisco and Chinatown in particular,” she said. “We hope that he will continue to bring those communities to the table, to ensure that the voices of transit-dependent monolingual seniors and immigrants are heard in transportation planning, to ensure that those communities represent and speak for themselves.”
Improved conditions for walking and biking would also be a top priority for Ramos, who, as a car-free resident of the Inner Sunset, has daily first hand experiences in both modes.
“People say the time is now” to improve pedestrian safety “but I would say the time was actually many years ago before we’ve lost the lives that we have to collisions with automobiles.”
He also voiced full support for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s (SFBC) Connecting the City campaign for separated bikeways. “I really want to make bicycling more safe for everyone,” said Ramos. “As a regular bicyclist, I know first hand what it feels like to be able to ride around in protected bike lanes.”
The SFBC “commends the Mayor’s choice,” said Executive Director Leah Shahum. “Mr. Ramos is one of the seven in ten San Franciscans who rides a bicycle in the city, so his perspective will be valuable as demand grows in San Francisco for more inviting, comfortable bikeways for the growing number of people riding.”
Ramos’ Mayoral nomination is expected to go to the SF Board of Supervisors Rules Committee within the coming weeks, along with the reappointment of Director Jerry Lee.