Will SF’s Leaders Turn Transport Policy Innovations Into Lasting Change?

San Francisco was one of two cities this week to receive the Institute for Transportation and Development’s prestigious 2012 Sustainable Transport Award. No doubt, the ITDP award was well-deserved for the SFMTA’s successful implementation of the groundbreaking SFPark program, as well as the SF Planning Department’s proliferation of parklets under its Pavement to Parks program. Those efforts have grabbed attention around the world.

SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan (left), Supervisor Scott Wiener (center), Mayor Ed Lee, and SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin at an SFPark press conference. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/mayoredlee/6522660507/sizes/l/in/set-72157628447198843/##Mayor's Press Office/Flickr##

But whether San Francisco will live up to its promise as a leader in sustainable transportation in the coming years depends on the political will of city leaders like Mayor Ed Lee and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin to make bold improvements to our streets. Lasting change will come from policies like extending parking meter hours, consolidating bus stops, implementing a strong pedestrian safety action plan, and the swift build-out of safer, more comfortable bikeways to increase bicycle ridership.

“San Francisco has indeed never been so poised to leap ahead and build on the successes of the past few years by committing to and vigorously pursuing a sound strategy that will get the city to its goal of 20 percent of trips by bicycle by 2020,” said San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) Deputy Director Kit Hodge. “San Francisco loves bicycling and is more ready than ever to take even bigger steps forward, beginning right now with the implementation of the crosstown bike routes in our Connecting the City vision.”

This month, the SFMTA approved its 2013 – 2018 Strategic Plan [PDF], setting out to reduce car use from 62 percent of all trips to 50 percent. And San Francisco’s goal of reaching 20 percent trips by bike by 2020 is uniquely ambitious among American cities. But for the reality to match the rhetoric, change will have to happen faster.

To use the example of bikeways and complete streets, the agency’s current rate of delivery on protected bike lanes doesn’t seem sufficient to meet the city’s targets. The SFMTA has struggled so far to keep up with the bold ten-year plan envisioned by the SFBC in its Connecting the City campaign, which calls for 100 miles of bikeways by 2020. The city’s first parking-protected bikeway is only expected to begin construction this week after a year of delay, and fixing the crucial bicycling link on just three blocks of Fell and Oak Streets will have taken over a year and a half from conception to implementation. Planners on that project have said the time required is partly due to the search for new car parking spots to make up for the spaces the bikeways will replace.

Meanwhile, New York City has built about twenty miles of protected bikeways in recent years, and aims to build up to ten more in Manhattan by 2013. Traffic injuries to all users have dropped as much as 35 percent on streets with protected bikeways, and the reallocation of space from traffic to pedestrians in Midtown has produced even more impressive safety gains. Overall, the city’s pedestrian fatalities have declined by 40 percent since 2001. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel quickly installed the Kinzie Street bikeway last summer, and wants to build 100 miles — the same number envisioned by SFBC within the decade — before his first term is over.

San Francisco’s SFPark program, while highly successful, could extend to more neighborhoods and cover additional times of day when it is sorely needed. The program is perhaps the most visibly noted accomplishment by the ITDP, but it is being tested by a backlash as the SFMTA seeks to expand it into the neighborhoods around Mission Bay. Whether neighbors have valid criticisms of the agency’s outreach or they just don’t want to pay for parking, SFPark manager Jay Primus announced this week that the agency will postpone taking the expansion plan before the SFMTA Board of Directors. Meanwhile, Mayor Lee has backed down on extending meter hours that would allow SFPark to be used most effectively. Eyes are on city leaders and staff to see how willing they are to stay the course with a groundbreaking, progressive and effective program.

San Francisco has made some important advances in sustainable transportation. But to meet — and perhaps exceed — the expectations set by the ITDP’s award, Mayor Lee and other leaders must commit to the changes San Francisco needs to achieve safer, more livable streets.

  • mikesonn

    If they continue to give out awards for big talk with little action, then Ed Lee will be just fine.

  • Anonymous

    “Lasting change will come from policies like extending parking meter hours, consolidating bus stops, implementing a strong pedestrian action plan, and the swift build-out of safer, more comfortable bikeways to increase bicycle ridership.” Interesting that there is absolutely no mention of improving public transit and increasing service to Mission Bay neighborhoods that are “testing” SFMTA’s utopian master plans.

  • Aaron Bialick

    “Consolidating bus stops” was mentioned as an example of one transit improvement which largely depends on political will, which is the focus of this piece.

  • Anonymous

    Consolidating bus stops may make some existing lines slightly more efficient but it’s not going to help areas like Potrero Hill and Dogpatch that are poorly served by public transit. I would like to see political will focused on meeting the needs of ALL residents of SF, including those who live in rough neighborhoods, seniors, families and people with disabilities. You can’t just put everyone on a bike.

  • mikesonn

    “You can’t just put everyone on a bike.”

    Nope, but you most definitely can’t put everyone in a car either.

  • Anonymous

    Which is why we need to work on better public transit.

  • mikesonn

    You are talking like we don’t agree with you. You are fighting a straw man to protect free and/or cheap parking.

    Yes, we all want better Muni, but until we get better enforcement of double parking, bus lane violations, and blocking the box along with better parking management to reduce circling and overall private vehicle trips; Muni is just going to be sitting in traffic wasting money and time. Carrots don’t seem to be working (see T-Line, a very expensive carrot for the southeast), time for the stick of management and enforcement. This is a dense city where people live, not cars.

  • SFPark is a transit improvement — it reduces traffic and helps the transit system run more reliably. Extending meter hours is a transit improvement — it helps the transit system run more reliably and funds the transit budget. Safer walking is a transit improvement — transit trips almost always involve a significant amount of walking. Safer biking is a transit improvement — it extends the range of the transit system and makes it easier to live in SF without a car.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah… thought so. Get rid of cars that people need in an area poorly served by public transit, where service has been recently cut, so that new bus lines will magically appear to take people where they need to go. All I am suggesting is that the city provide better MUNI service to those who can’t ride bikes to their work, schools and doctor appointments so they can drive less. As for the “carrot”, the T Third is an absolute failure, unreliable and terribly slow. It’s gotta be better than that. 

  • mikesonn

    What @BenFried:disqus said.

  • Fran Taylor

    Compare the immediate cave on extended parking meters and removal of parking on Oak and Fell in the past few weeks with the callous attitude toward fare hikes and service cuts to Muni over recent years. When drivers scream bloody murder, City Hall runs for cover. When Muni riders express real hardship over higher fares or reduced service, the bigshots work crossword puzzles and contemplate lunch. Political will is very strong to screw transit users. Otherwise, not so much.

  • marcos

    SFPark implemented along Townsend appears to have diverted former 4th and King commuters to other choices.  Some of them have parked at 22d to hop the train there.  Others have said “fuck it” and mode shifted back to autos.

    Did the MTA coordinate with CalTrain when they changed the parking regime at 4th and King?  Did the MTA consider what would happen when they raised parking prices to more than the operating cost of driving?  Does CalTrain’s brush with bankruptcy have anything to do with parking policy at 4th and King?  Does the MTA not realize that the first and last mile problems are real and that Muni is not dependable for making a train?

    SFPark assumes that circling for parking is a major cause of congestion.  I have not seen data that support this.  The $20m grant that was supposed to set a pay-to-drive cordon around downtown to reduce congestion, a good idea, was, like all good ideas, illegal under CA law.  So SFPark is ‘plan B’ to spend that loot.

    But thinking through SFPark implementing Shoupian variable priced parking to ensure 15% availability, there are problems.  If parking is known to be “always available” where Shoupianism is implemented, then is there really a difference between increased availability and increased supply?  Increased supply, according to an article of faith, is simply an auto trip generator.  Thus, increased availability is tantamount to increasing supply.

    That increased availability/supply will generate VMT.  That added VMT has its on set of consequences, the least of which is auto LOS, the most of which is transit delay.  Yet this SFPark project is being passed as a pilot project that needs no EIR.  EIR or no, is it a good idea to take steps which have a reasonable chance of delaying Muni as we’re asking seniors and disabled hike twice as far and have fare increases on autopilot?

    Look, we should be increasing the cost of parking.  But I have grown used to the lack of critical thinking amongst the “alternative” enviro crowd.  But this is a Swiss watch and small changes can have large deleterious consequences for issues that are important to us all.  Eliciting mode shift away from CalTrain for long haul and towards auto in the City based on increased availabiity are deleterious consequences that we need to be avoiding.  Further, increases in parking prices need to be done in a way that is not overly antagonistic lest the MTA diminish its dwindling political base as it seeks more resources.

    Our North Mission neighbors concede that the era of free parking is over.  RPP for residents and school and business workers and meters for visitors is the reasonable compromise that moves us towards market pricing for parking.

  • marcos

    The MTA CAC heard staff on the MTA strategic plan in December.  One goal of the plan was to increase safety.  The three objectives were to police Muni.  I made a motion that carried unanimously to include safety metrics for bikes, peds and people with disabilities.  It was a no-brainer.

    Our chair presented our recommendations to the MTA Board.  MTA staff proposed their original proposal which the directors passed unanimously.  Safety on transit is important.  But safety for peds, cyclists and people with disabilities is nowhere on the MTA’s strategic radar and they appear to want to keep it that way.

  • marcos

    @BenFried:disqus  How do we know that SFPark will not increase VMT due to increased parking availability? 

    How do we know that circling is a major cause of congestion? 

    How do we know that SFPark revenues will go to Muni, not flow through the sieve like MTA?

    How is it just to people with disabilities and seniors to consolidate/eliminate bus stops and not keep the number of seats at shelters constant at the remaining stops?

    How does the MTA expect to enjoy political support by taking steps that exclusively place the burden of improving transit on the backs of the 99%?

    How can we get people to walk and bike if the MTA is not making safety for peds, cyclists and people with disabilities a strategic priority?

    Excuse me for not trusting the MTA and SPUR.

  • mikesonn

    “Others have said “fuck it” and mode shifted back to autos.”

    Caltrain ridership is up.

  • marcos

    SFPark for Townsend was approved in the fall of 2010.  I am not sure when the meters were installed.

    CalTrain takes annual ridership statistic data in Jan/Feb of each year.

    We do not know if the last data available, 2011, account for SFPark meters at 4th and King.  We do know that many 4th and King park and riders parked around 22d Street station. 

    We do not know how many of them will say “fuck it” if the MTA meters 22d Street station and ditch the train for the car schlep down the peninsula if the costs are constant and driving saves time.

  • marcos

    The delta between 2010 and 2011 AM Peak Southbound boardings from 4th and King was a whopping 118.  2222-2104 as the tech economy bubble was re-reinflating.

  • mikesonn

    First hand experience, ridership is up. Way up.

    This POV is equal to your, but I’d argue greater than, assumptions about people saying “fuck it” and driving. Most of the vehicles parked on that stretch of Townsend were RVs. Maybe they moved to Potrero and aren’t going to be asked to move again.

  • marcos

    Folks at the North East Mission community meeting on Monday conveyed as much.  I biked down Townsend at 5:15 on Tuesday and there were a handful of cars parked on the south side of Townsend when that had not been the case before the meters went in.

    Are you trying to suggest that there is infinite price sensitivity to the cost of parking plus the cost of transit?  That would seem to run at odds with Shoupian market theory that price sensitivity can be used to change behavior.

  • mikesonn

    “Are you trying to suggest that there is infinite price sensitivity to the cost of parking plus the cost of transit?”

    I’m not implying any such thing. The spots, now vacant on Townsend, held RVs and were not used by commuters. Overall, there is no change in park’n’ride users of 4th/King because there weren’t any to begin with.

  • Anonymous

    I work in the Financial District, and here at least, SFPark is working beautifully. The streets are much less crowded during the day and there are always a few spots open for people to park in front of shops.

    Doubters in this neighborhood are now Shoupistas!

  • marcos

    “The spots, now vacant on Townsend, held RVs and were not used by commuters” 

    That simply is not true.  Between 7th and 4th, there were perhaps 8 cars parked.  I used to bike that route daily and there were mostly autos parked in all of those spaces.  Where did those autos all go?

    Why then would the MTA be noting more CalTrain commuter parking near 22d and propose installing meters there all around the station as well?

  • Townsend 4th & 7th:  There were a lot of habitation vehicles before the back-in parking and meters went in.  Maybe not RV’s, but panel vans and station wagons and jitney buses that never seemed to move.  Many co-workers would walk in the street on what’s now striped as bikelane rather than the blocked not-really-a-sidewalk and witness one more sex-act in a parked car while walking through discarded waste from tent/encampments on the fence.  It’s a much less unpleasant walk these days.

  • Here’s my problem with Alison’s rant. Transit to that neighborhood has had issues for a long time – I used to live there, and the 48 is my weak sauce MUNI option for getting from Noe to Caltrain. So this isn’t exactly unknown.

    Alison and the rest of the Omegas had their little dance on Jay Primus’ face at the SFMTA hearing, fine. Where was this unstoppable civilian force the last ten years demanding better transit for Potrero Hill? Nowhere. In my world you don’t get to claim the “there is no transit argument” unless you’ve tried to fix it.

    The parking issues in Potrero Hill aren’t going away. You can rally the troops to demand better from SFMTA or sooner or later you’re going to get parking meters anyway.

    Your turn.

  •  Dude – NOBODY ever drove to 4th and King and parked. Even if parking were FREE at 4th/King, 22nd Street is a better option because there is hardly any parking at 4th. Prior to the meters, all Townsend Street served as was SRO housing for hippie buses and RVs

  • mikesonn

    Why are we even arguing? I’m looking at SFPark.org and the south side of Townsend west of 4th and the north side west of 5th aren’t even metered by them.

  • Anonymous

    I wasn’t at the hearing, never danced on Jay Primus’ face, but I bet your neighbors in Noe Valley would be screaming bloody murder if outsiders from SFMTA started experimenting on them. Hah! Like that’s ever gonna happen.

  • Anonymous

    I wasn’t at the hearing, never danced on Jay Primus’ face, but I bet your neighbors in Noe Valley would be screaming bloody murder if outsiders from SFMTA started experimenting on them. Hah! Like that’s ever gonna happen.

  • mikesonn

    “Outsiders” – Ha.

    Is it one if by land, two if by sea in Potrero as well?

  • Clearly you weren’t at the meeting because you don’t really care if transit improves.

  • We have meters. We have a lot of RPPs. More RPPs have come in over time. The meter rates have been rising. We removed 4 parking spots for parklets.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, clearly. Because everyone who cares about public transit went to a meeting. 

  • @mikesonn:disqus what is it like for you to be right all the time and for everyone else to be wrong?  Why can’t everyone else just do what you say?


  • @twitter-14678929:disqus , @RoyCrisman:disqus We planned extensively for Townsend on the WSOMA task force and I commuted down Townsend for some time in the late 2000s.  Townsend is not an accepted street.  it does not have proper sidewalks and drainage.  CalTrain and HSR potentially will remake that block and SPUR has their wet dreams on–wait for it–additional heights over the train tracks.  What is being done is transpiring in fits and starts as the various transportation planning agencies move forward without coordination on their various projects.  I tried to get the SFCTA to perform a SAR on Townsend Street Futures to scope out potential paths forward based on contingencies in the big projects but they balked.

    There was some long term parking abuse there but parking there was also used by motorists.  I remember this because they would pull in and out when I was biking and I had to contend with them.

  • @murphastoe Potrero got Extra Special Treatment in the TEP.  Unfortunately, if there is a network PDF map of the TEP proposals, I can’t find it online right now.

  • Fran, the problem is that Muni riders do not express real hardship over higher fares and those who are supposed to be organizing Muni riders don’t organize riders, they cover for management and they get a seat at the table.

  • Marc – I tried to find it the other day too. Really all they got was the “58 bus” which is basically “What the 48 is now”. Which is better *for Caltrain* than the old 48, but still not really attractive to Caltrain riders.

    alison – suffice to say, I have zero evidence of Potrero Hill advocating for any transit fixes, to make me believe the cries of “we can’t have meters because there is no transit” are just hollow arguments. Seriously, I don’t care if you get meters or not. I just would love to see all this energy screaming “WE NEED BETTER TRANSIT” turn into action from the citizenry of PoHill. I would absolutely chip in.

  • Anonymous
  • if they were pulling in and out, were they going to Caltrain? More likely Academy of Art. 22nd Street is so much more accessible via auto than 4th. Places closer to 4th require you to sit stuck on the Embarcadero or 4th. Places in between, 22nd is better because the train arrives 22nd 5 minutes later.

    Suffice to say in 14 years I would ride up onto the sidewalk by the taxi stand, I never saw any pedestrians coming from the South.

  • alison – that slide seems pretty

    1) superficial
    2) weak

    do you agree or am I reading it wrong?

  • Anonymous

    It illustrates the general strategy to bring the transit corridor down to 16th Street to better serve Mission Bay at the expense of PH. The 22 was rerouted from 18th Street in the process. There were meetings. SFMTA didn’t listen. Please don’t generalize about the people who live on Potrero Hill and in Dogpatch and our motives. 

  • Gneiss

    I commute by bicyle on Townsend every day and rarely saw people walking north or south between 7th St. and 4th St. where the new parking meters have gone in.  They can’t.  There are no sidewalks on either side of the road, and the angled parking on the south side of the street had an imposing fence at the edge of the cars there.  To suggest CalTrain commuters used this area is laughable.  It was simply not an inviting place to walk to and from, particularly after dark.  The cars I saw parked here looked like either second vehicles that owners need to stash because they had no parking near their house or by people who worked at the US Postal substation or MTA golf-cart yard on Townsend.  I don’t recall very many RVs, though, and if you look at Google Street View, you’ll see there aren’t that many.

    One other thing to consider.  The meters went in after the Giants finished their season, and I’d imagine that they will end up getting much more use when the season starts up again.

    If walking on this strech of Townsend was actually made pleasant, I’d bet you would have more people using CalTrain to commute to work at Adobe, Academy of Art, or the other businesses past 8th Street.  As it stands, it remains a pretty nasty bit of road until you get past 4th. 

  • When you all adopt a meme, lowbaggers parking near the train station instead of commuters, you don’t go half way do you? 

    Used to bike down at 7:30 in the morning and saw people walking to the station from parking on the south side of Townsend.  It was not pleasant but they managed to figure out how to make it.

  • @alisonsfca:disqus you posted a link to the EN Trips transit improvements that do little more than paper over the transportation failings of the Eastern Neighborhoods rezoning.  EN was a process characterized by ADD where once the developers got their “TOD” upzonings by coopting the nonprofits into a crappy affordability deal on housing, the Planning Department lost interest in the rest of  comprehensive planning.  EN only passed when the Planning Commission passed a CEQA statement overriding the significance of transit delay impacts on every major Muni line in the Mission.  This is why I am concerned that SF Park might increase VMT due to pricing to encourage availability because transit is not an infinite sink.

    I was referring to the Transportation Effectiveness Project, the Muni redesign of the network to achieve various policy goals like reliability, speed and realigning routes to reflect land use and population changes.  My recollection was that there were several lines that went through Potrero.  My impression 3 years ago was that they got good treatment and more intense transit service.  But those maps have evaporated.  I’ve probably got them on some disk somewhere.

  • Anonymous

    Marc, I don’t understand all of your acronyms and that was all I could find. Keep in mind that we have a hilly landscape which makes walking and biking difficult for some of us. The T Third is a joke… it’s often faster to walk. The 53, which connected north and south was discontinued in 2009. There was a great deal of anger over the re-routing of the 22 to better serve Mission Bay. From what I understand the potential high speed rail tracks might make the new route on 16th difficult so for now we still have it running on 18th Street. And the 10 was extended to better serve the Hill. But there is nothing intense about public transit here.

    All of SFMTA’s focus seems to be on serving Mission Bay and there is a lot of underlying frustration over that. I think the meter thing just brought it all to the surface. For many it was the final straw.

  • Anonymous

    Marc… one other thing. There is currently plenty of parking here on the Hill. The only exception is by the 22nd Street Caltrain Station. You should come by and check it out on a weekday. Many of the streets included in the plan have considerably more than 15% available spots. Nobody is circling around looking for parking. SFMTA’s meter plan would probably cause people to drive around looking for spots that aren’t metered. We have done well with RPP’s and I think many would like to see that program extended.

  • @alisonsfca:disqus I think we should stop before we start violently agreeing with one another.  I agree that RPP like every other neighborhood has is the compromise for my North Mission neighborhood and Dogpatch/Potrero.  RPP overlaid with meters where RPP overrides meters puts residents first and makes inbound trips pay.  Put meters everywhere but make them transparent to residents.  What is funny about the idea of market pricing for parking is that the anti-car zealots seem to forget that the market allows for people to buy in bulk at a less expensive price, and that is what RPP is.  We will probably need to adapt RPP to a Neighborhood Parking Permit to account for the mixed use character of our neighborhoods.

    The thing that drives all of this is development and the regulatory capture by developers of the Planning Department and the electoral process.  Any elected that crosses developers will be defeated or recalled.  See McGoldrick, Healthy Saturdays and his vote against requiring Mission market rate housing displacement study.

    The T-Third bodes ill for BRT as a solution as the T line is BRT on steroids and it is still slower than slow.  Surface transit is doomed, but subsurface transit is doomed because political considerations dominate and wast precious resources.  I liked the Central Subway 12 years ago when it cost 1/3 as much and did 3x more.  We face an eleven figure investment deficit in rapid transit infrastructure in SF and an additional twelve figure deficit regionally.  None of this TOD is going to work so long as developers get their license to print money by building luxury housing and we lack massive investment in transit.

    FYI, I am a cyclist and my car has not run for 9 years. We do carshare once every three weeks to stock up on heavy items and car rental for trips to nature.  Otherwise we walk or bike to buy fresh provisions in our North Mission neighborhood or take transit.  I’ve also been on crutches for a period, unable to bike barely able to walk and aware of how difficult it is to get to and take Muni when disabled.  I’m all for eliminating autos but we have to do things in order for that to happen, there are legitimate political concerns with progressive transportation innovations involved here because soup to nuts they end up not being sustainable, we can’t just decree everyone do what we say when we have failed to make ditching cars appealing without stoking an immense backlash that will most likely put our cause back.  Single issue people don’t get the big picture and prejudice and hatred of people who don’t think like single issue advocates is as toxic as cars.  Most of these folks have never put together an coalition to successfully prevail in a contested election and are policy wonks, politically unaware.  One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that your good idea probably isn’t and just because one thinks one has a good idea, that does not mean that there are negative unintended consequences that one had not considered.  We should have learned this in the Bike Plan, we should thank Rob Anderson and Mary Miles for forcing the City to study the bike lanes and mitigate transit delay.  Yet the tribalism continues and it is getting increasingly shrill and annoying and unable to make policy gains without suffering tremendous setbacks.

  • 20% by 2020? Ridiculous. The 10% by 2010 goal/slogan didn’t come close, so the SFBC and City Hall set the bar even higher with the new slogan. The city won’t come close to achieving 20% by 2020, either, but the attempt will succeed in making traffic in SF a lot worse than it has to be on behalf of an obnoxious, PC minority. 

  • So why do market pricing supporters oppose volume discounts when residents buy parking in bulk with RPPs?  Isn’t that how market capitalism is supposed to work?

  • Aaron Bialick

    Marc, I think the answer is that RPPs are not the equivalent of buying parking in bulk. The price for RPPs only covers the cost of administering the program and it’s a system that manages parking using an artificial filter based on time limits. While it’s better than nothing (and I think market-rate permits are the way to go for residential areas), this is a far cry from a free market system and absolves car owners of having to provide the city revenue to compensate for the costs they incur.