The 2012 SF Streetsies, Part 1

Here we present Streetsblog SF’s first annual Streetsie Awards to recognize the highlights of 2012. In case you missed it, check out the voting results from last week’s polls in the reader’s choice categories.

Today, we start with the positive, celebrating transportation improvements and leaders. We’ll return with another round next week, and be back to our regular publishing schedule on January 2. Happy New Year!

P.S.: We are getting ever-so-close to reaching our year-end pledge drive goal, so if you haven’t gotten around to it yet, please make a tax-deductible contribution to Streetsblog and Streetfilms and help us bring you coverage and commentary that makes a difference for safer streets and better transportation options in SF in 2013.

Best Livable Streets Story

Photo: ##http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Muni-s-systemwide-all-door-boarding-catches-on-3680371.php#photo-3149507##Sarah Rice, SFGate##

Muni’s long-overdue switch to all-door boarding was voted the year’s top story with good reason: It’s probably the best thing to happen for transit riders in Muni’s recent history. As the SFMTA found early on, the new policy is speeding buses on one of the country’s slowest transit systems, and that saves travelers time and the agency money. While it’s the first policy change of its kind in the nation (other cities are watching the experiment), for many Muni riders, it simply legitimizes the practice of rear-door boarding that they’ve already been doing to move things along more efficiently (or to skip the fare, though inspectors are supposed to take care of that now, and fare revenue apparently hasn’t dropped).

Following close behind in the “best story” category were Chinatown’s successful week without car parking and San Franciscans’ embrace of parklets as an institution in the city’s urban fabric. Both stories helped debunk — yet again — the myth that re-purposing car parking space for other uses will hurt businesses.

Best Bike Improvement

It’s only three blocks long, but the arrival of the Fell Street separated bike lane was huge. It’s already making the Wiggle — one of the city’s most topographically important bicycling routes — accessible to more San Franciscans. And it’s no wonder the project blew the other contenders out of the water: It ended the reign of the “three blocks of terror” (in one direction, anyway) that have, for decades, scared so many would-be bike commuters away from the flattest, most direct central route between the eastern and western neighborhoods. And while 2012 started out with the frustrating news that San Franciscans would have to wait until next spring for a safer bike lane as the SFMTA turned it into a larger project (in part to replace some of the free car parking spots that would be removed), the agency did ultimately seem to make the Fell lane a priority once it was approved by the SFMTA Board, laying down the essential pieces of infrastructure within a month. City Hall followed up with strong support for safer streets, when the Board of Supervisors’ unanimously rejected a meritless appeal against the project filed by a few ardent NIMBYs who threatened to delay construction already underway.

In the next few months, we can look forward to the roll-out of the parallel protected bike lane planned on Oak Street, as well as concrete planters and sidewalk bulb-outs on both streets, bike traffic signals, and slower synchronized traffic signal speeds — all of which will bring some long-needed safety improvements to the neighborhood.

Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfbike/8233244554/in/set-72157632058613939/##SFBC/Flickr##

Of course, the year also brought some other notable early signs of San Francisco’s Copenhagenization (term coined here), especially along what the SF Bicycle Coalition dubbed the “Bay to Beach” route in its Connecting the City campaign. At the junction of Market and Valencia, two of the city’s busiest bicycling streets, the city installed a left-turn pocket and traffic signal for bikes, complete with some pretty large directional signage. It’s perhaps the city’s most visible adoption of the specialized bike infrastructure that’s so uncommon in America, but widely used in the world’s most bike-friendly cities to make cycling as intuitive as navigating a freeway junction.

Connecting Market and Fell, the Wiggle was also graced with a green bike channel at the improved Duboce and Church intersection (along with a package of goodies for pedestrians and Muni riders) and green-backed sharrows, which the SFMTA introduced as a surprise on Bike to Work Day. All the way down at the west end of the Panhandle lies SF’s first parking-protected bike lane on JFK Drive, which planners and advocates have called a learning experience for similar projects in the future.

With the political momentum for protected bike infrastructure building, and the SFMTA set to unveil its promising Bicycle Strategy in January, expectations are high for an accelerated roll-out of protected bike lanes on the streets where they’re needed most.

Biggest Stride Toward Kid-Friendly Streets

Photo: Meera Sethi for Walk SF

Streets surrounding 181 schools in San Francisco now have signs marking 15 MPH zones, telling drivers to take extra caution when motoring where lots of children roam. Those zones encompass a significant chunk of the city’s streets, and SF is the first city in the state to launch such a widely-scaled program. The next step is to implement physical traffic-calming measures on those streets, and the new speed limits should make that easier under state law, which, in the fashion of backwards, 20th-century car-centric logic, can actually prohibit safety measures on streets where the speed limit is deemed too high.

Most Anticipated Transportation Improvement for Next Year

Will BART remove the rush-hour bike ban in 2013? Streetsblog readers certainly seem to hope so: The move was voted the most anticipated transportation improvement in the coming year. BART’s trial run during four Fridays in August went as well as — if not better than — normal. It’s certainly a crucial change for the agency to make if it’s to meet its target of doubling bike-to-BART ridership in the next ten years (as are its plans to expand bike parking).

Two other repeatedly delayed transportation amenities were also high on readers’ wish lists: Red-colored transit-only lanes on Church Street and the launch of bike-share in downtown SF and Silicon Valley. However, by the time it arrives — next summer at the earliest — the excitement around a bike-share system with just 1,000-bikes and 100 stations spread across five cities might have well died down. At this point, the delay will have reached at least a full year.

City Hall’s Most Active Transportation Reformer

Scott Wiener. Photo: Dennis Hearne Photography

Sustainable transportation advocates may not always agree with Supervisor Scott Wiener’s arguments, but he certainly deserves credit for taking more action than any of his colleagues to improve the city’s transportation and land use practices. Whether it’s finding ways to help bring more funding to Muni, re-working parking ordinances to expand car-share, or raising pedestrian safety issues in the political discourse, Wiener grabs the year’s Streetsie for the most active politician at City Hall trying to improve transportation policy.

Wiener persistently opposed free Muni for youth in favor of funding vehicle maintenance first. Transit advocates have fallen on both sides of that fence, but Wiener’s enduring stance showed that improving Muni was a top priority for him, and that he’ll fight to ensure decisions benefit riders the way he sees to be most effective. And it’s unfortunate that Wiener’s fellow supervisors let their Muni-riding constituents down by voting against his latest attempt to boost funds for transit improvements.

Still, there’s one stance of Wiener’s that we can’t let him off the hook for: That’s his uniquely vocal opposition to enforcing parking meters on Sundays. It was sort of baffling to hear, since Weiner is the type of politico who’s expected to understand that, when it goes into effect in January, the policy change will improve transportation for just about everyone — even the vociferous churchgoing opponents who will actually have an easier time finding a nearby parking spot legally (though they’ll probably still get free double parking). We’ll have to hope that in the future, he doesn’t bend to inflammatory rhetoric and oppose other sensible transportation improvements.

Biggest Political Victory for Transportation Reform: Sunday Parking Meters

Putting that last note on Wiener aside, we can celebrate the fact that San Francisco’s parking meter enforcement schedule will no longer be stuck in 1947, when no shops were open on Sunday. When this change kicks in next month, I know I’ll be keeping an eye out to see if there’s a noticeable reduction in car traffic needlessly circling for parking.

Largest Demonstration for SF’s Bicycle Movement… Ever?

With estimates as high as 10,000 participants, the Critical Mass 20th Anniversary ride may have been the biggest yet in the movement’s city of origin. Travelers came from across the globe to take part in the celebration, and as we noted, the mostly positive public reaction represented huge progress from the early years of police crackdowns. Love it or hate it, Critical Mass has played a key role in boosting the movement for better streets for bicycling.

A driver films last Friday's 20th Anniversary Critical Mass ride. Photo: ##http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Thousands-at-Critical-Mass-20th-birthday-3904093.php#photo-3522256##Jason Henry, SFGate##
  • Mario Tanev

    Awesome report! And the award for best transportation journalism in the world goes once again to Streetsblog!

  • Jim Frank

    A big Thanks goes out to SF Transit Riders Union who worked hard to get all door boarding going!

  • David Baker

    Great job Aaron. And kudos as well to the SFMTA staff and board for an enlightened and positive vision of San Francisco streets, and getting a significant amount of stuff done. The 17th Street buffered bike lanes would have been best bike improvement, except that is an unheard of burst of bold nimbleness the Fell Street buffered lane got substantially implemented months ahead of schedule! It must be a dream!

  • The TOOL

    When do the Bikes pay for the roads signs and the signals they avoid but utilize.  Parklets look like crap because most of them are crafted with a bunch of crap.  Theirs one in my neighborhood thats new but looks 10 years old.  There placed in front of favored businesss.

  • The Tool

    Im not on the Wiener band wagon either he favors businesss and has to ask what his job is otherwise.  Remember Weiner you asking me what you should do its your job not mine.  Remember some people voted for you not me. I avoid snake oil salesmen.

  •  I’m not sure why car drivers are under the impression that they pay for the roads and traffic infrastructure in San Francisco when it is not the case whatsoever. In fact, people who don’t own cars clearly subsidize those who do.  Roads are paid for via property tax. Everyone who lives in San Francisco pays property tax in one way or another no matter if they drive or bike. Car drivers do not pay more, even though their mode of transportation inflicts much more damage to the road and much more cost on the city.

    In general, because of Prop 13, people who moved to San Francisco in the last decade pay much more property tax than those who arrived before the year 2000. The newcomers pay for the roads more than anyone else. When it comes to bonds, which the city has recently resorted to in order to pay for street repair and upgrades, people who own homes pay more than renters (landlords can only pass through 50% of bond repayment cost.)

    Going beyond just the cost of street repair, nationally insurance premiums that drivers pay only cover half of the cost that traffic accidents inflict. So each car owner really should be paying an additional $1274 per year to cover the true cost of their accidents. Instead, most of this cost is borne by everyone in the form of unrecoverable health costs that raise everyone’s health care premiums (or medicare costs), clean up crew time, police and emergency personnel time, and lives lost. In addition, drivers pay none of the health care costs of the asthma and cancer their emissions cause. This runs about 15 cents for every mile driven. Instead we all pay for this via increased health insurance premiums or increased medicare costs. We also all pay when the driver’s sedentary lifestyle creates health problems for the driver via obesity, diabetes and/or heart disease and the driver has to consume additional health care, raising everyone’s premiums or increasing medicare costs. Add on to this that any driver that parks for free on the street in San Francisco is receiving $400/month subsidy at the expense of every other San Franciscan who owns a garage, who rents garage, or who doesn’t own a car at all.

    Because bicyclists don’t harm others through their pollution, because they inflict very little damage on the streets, because they take up very little space, because they reduce congestion, and because bicycling improves the health of the bicyclist, (which reduces their consumption of health care, reduces their number of sick days, and improves their performance at work), the city of Copenhagen calculates that every kilometer cycled saves their city 85 US cents.  We know that car drivers, on the other hand, cost the city of San Francisco approximately 24 cents per kilometer driven. (40 cents per mile.)

    I hope this clarifies that all taxpayers, *even people who drive*, are better off the more people bicycle and walk and the less everyone drives. Even if you love, love, love your car and can’t imagine walking or biking or taking transit ever in your entire life, you should really, really, really want everyone else to walk and bike as much as possible. Every step and every pedal stroke saves you money. All those other drivers on the road? They are costing you big time $$$$.

  • “I’m not sure why car drivers are under the impression that they pay for the roads and traffic infrastructure…”

    They vaguely remember paying a small vehicle registration fee years ago and assume that probably covered the costs of the roads in perpetuity.

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