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Enrique Peñalosa in SF: A Livable Streets Visionary Shares His Wisdom

This weekend, San Francisco was treated to a visit by Enrique Peñalosa, the livable streets visionary who spearheaded a transportation revolution as mayor of Bogotá, Colombia by championing ideas like car-free streets, bus rapid transit, and protected bikeways. Peñalosa, who now professes his vision to city leaders worldwide, spoke at Sunday Streets in the Mission and at a SPUR forum.

Enrique Peñalosa speaking in front of Mission Playground during Sunday Streets, with Livable City’s Tom Radulovich behind. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Sunday Streets, of course, was inspired by Peñalosa’s Ciclovia program, which opens many miles of streets every week.

“Why is it so special? Why is it so magical?,” Peñalosa asked during a speech on Valencia Street. “It’s like a ritual of reconquering the city for human beings… it’s always fun to do the things that we are not allowed to do.”

In thinking about how cities use street space, Peñalosa emphasizes the importance of equity and democracy as a rubric. “Road space is one of the most valuable resources a city has,” he said. “San Francisco could find oil or diamonds underground and it would not be as valuable. The question is how to distribute this road space between pedestrians, bicyclists, public transport, and cars. There is no technical way of doing it. There is no legal way of doing it.”

In San Francisco, like most cities, the vast majority of street space is devoted primarily to moving and storing private automobiles. In many neighborhoods, even the sidewalks are used for parking — an absurd situation Peñalosa took on as mayor in Bogotá.

“Sidewalks are much closer relatives to parks than to streets,” he said. ”To say that on a sidewalk, there is enough space to park cars as well as for people to walk by, is equivalent to saying that we can turn the main park or plaza into a parking lot — so long as we leave enough space for people to walk by.”

Many of SF’s battles over re-allocating street space for people focus on maintaining car parking. To that, Peñalosa says, ”We should remember that parking is not a constitutional right.”

Peñalosa pointed out that there’s no other piece of personal property for which the public provides free space for its storage. When someone buys a refrigerator, for example, the public isn’t obligated to provide a kitchen.

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New Planning-Savvy Advocacy Group Pushes for a People-Friendly Oakland

Oakland, criss-crossed with freeways and overly-wide streets, could become people-friendly with the right leadership, says a new group called Transport Oakland. Photo via Transport Oakland

A group of planning-savvy Oakland residents and workers has formed Transport Oakland to advocate for sustainable transportation and livable streets.

With declining car traffic and exciting developments on the way like bike-share and bus rapid transit, the group says the growing East Bay port city could become a people-friendly mecca — given the right leadership.

Transport Oakland “started informally,” said Liz Brisson, a spokesperson for the group, who works as a San Francisco transportation planner, along with some of the other members. “A group of planners and advocates got together to talk about what we would like to see in the city, and why there are problems preventing things from happening.”

While Transport Oakland is working with groups like Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, Bike East Bay, and TransForm, the group takes a different approach to organizing for better transportation choices, such as making candidate endorsements and offering nuanced recommendations on local transportation reforms. “It’s an interesting group, and different than a typical advocacy group, in that a lot of people involved are planners or engineers that just happen to live in Oakland,” said Brisson.

Unlike other similarly-sized cities, Oakland has no transportation department or director to oversee funds and projects — its transportation planners work within the Public Works Agency. Its city council also has no transportation commission appointed to help inform decisions about transportation issues, and the city has no overall strategic plan or vision for transportation.

The city even has $15 million in earmarked transportation funds that haven’t been used for unclear reasons, the group found in its research. The numbers come from audit reports from the the Metropolitan Transportation Commission on Measure B transportation sales tax revenue [PDF] and the Vehicle Registration Fee program [PDF], both approved by Alameda County voters.

Transport Oakland decided that its most effective first action would be to encourage city leadership on improving transportation in the upcoming election. “There are three different levels of involvement that affect transportation outcomes,” said Brisson. “There are policymakers, there’s staff, and there are advocates. We agree that Oakland could use more involvement from all three. We have specific ideas modeled after other cities about how transportation should be planned, funded, and delivered, and we need policy maker involvement to create those changes.”

Transport Oakland’s first step was to interview and endorse candidates for mayor and the three city council seats that are up for election next month. “We’re not a PAC (Political Action Committee), we’re just volunteers,” said Brisson. But the group aims to influence city policymakers by publicly endorsing candidates with progressive views on transportation. In the interview process, they also aimed to educate candidates about smarter transportation policy.

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Committee Punts San Jose Sidewalk Cycling Ban to City Council

Seniors, most in favor of an ordinance to prohibit cycling on sidewalks in downtown San Jose, wait to address the city’s Transportation & Environment Committee on Monday afternoon. Photo: Andrew Boone

After hearing over an hour of public comments on Monday afternoon both strongly supporting and opposing a ban on cycling on sidewalks in downtown San Jose, the city’s Transportation and Environment Committee chose not to recommend to the City Council any ordinance that would restrict sidewalk cycling. Seniors, speaking in favor of banning cycling on downtown sidewalks, far outnumbered younger residents, who urged enforcement against reckless cycling rather than an outright ban.

“This March, our friend Ms. Nee was walking in the morning and was hit by a bike, and she died the next day,” said former Senior Citizens Commissioner Margaret Young, who also described a September 2013 incident in which another senior was hospitalized after being struck by bicyclist while waiting for a city bus. “I’m asking you to protect our seniors. Give us a safe sidewalk and a safe San Jose.”

“The [Senior Citizens] Commission strongly urges an ordinance prohibiting bicycle riding on a defined section of the streets in downtown San Jose,” said Chair Joyce Rabourn. ”There are signs all over the place, ‘Walk Your Bike’, and they totally ignore it,” complained downtown resident Ann Webb.

Despite the signs, San Jose’s existing ordinance regulating sidewalk cycling does not prohibit it, but states instead that the operator of a bicycle shall, “upon approaching a sidewalk or the sidewalk area extending across any alleyway, yield the right-of-way to all pedestrians approaching on said sidewalk or sidewalk area,” (San Jose Municipal Code 11.72.170).

Buses and other vehicles often park in and block San Fernando Street’s buffered bike lane, which is partly located in the door zone of parked cars. Photo: Richard Masoner

The ordinance, suggested by Department of Transportation (SJDOT) Director Hans Larsen, would prohibit anyone over age 12 from riding a bicycle on the sidewalks along a total of ten miles of city streets in the “Greater Downtown area.” Most of those streets have bike lanes, except for busy Santa Clara Street, which has five lanes, no bike lanes, and no plans for bike facilities. The proposal would also set a citywide speed limit of 5 mph for bicycling on any sidewalk.

Opponents of the ban at the meeting agreed that fast bicyclists should ride in the street, but that motor vehicle traffic is a much greater hazard, and that a ban would punish bicyclists who ride on sidewalks to avoid unsafe traffic conditions.

“I’ve been hit while riding in the street three times by cars — once I was in a bike lane,” said downtown resident Melanie Landstrom. “It’s dangerous to be shoving bikes into the street.”

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Caltrain and High-Speed Rail Pursue Level Boarding, Compatible Platforms

California High-Speed Rail (foreground) and Caltrain (background, right) will have to share Transbay Center platforms. Image: CAHSR Authority

Correction 10/8: Caltrain and the CAHSRA haven’t agreed to create a joint specification for train cars, but will explore options for platform compatibility.

Officials representing Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority recently announced that they’ll work closely together over the next several months to explore what options are available from train car manufacturers to allow for level boarding, examine the potential benefits of platform compatibility, and the impacts on the operation of each transit system of doing so.

The cars would allow both systems to board trains from high-level, shared platforms at the future SF Transbay Transit Center, Millbrae, and San Jose stations. The announcement was made last Monday at a meeting hosted by transit advocacy group Friends of Caltrain in Mountain View.

“Level boarding,” so called because passengers will be able to walk directly from platforms onto trains without any steps, maximizes passenger capacity by speeding up boarding. It’s crucial that these three stations have platforms that work for both Caltrain and CAHSR, to maximize flexibility and to reduce redundancy.

Still, many transit advocates remain skeptical that the CAHSRA is sincere about pursuing shared level platforms. The agency issued a Request for Expressions of Interest on October 1 specifying single-level train cars with a floor height of 51 inches above the rails, incompatible with most of the available bi-level electric commuter trains that Caltrain is considering. CAHSR officials insist they have not ruled out alternative platform heights, but say that trains operating at speeds of 220 mph work best with a floor height of around 50 inches.

Average weekday ridership on Caltrain has doubled since 2004 to 59,900 passenger trips in June of this year, fueled by robust employment growth in both San Francisco and throughout Silicon Valley. Rush-hour crowds continue to grow, and up to one-third of passengers are unable to find a seat on the most popular trains and instead pack into aisles and vestibules.

“I’ve heard stories of standees crowding three or four into a bathroom because there are not enough seats on these trains to handle the volumes of customers we have,” stated Caltrain Modernization Project Delivery Director Dave Couch.

Development at San Francisco’s Transbay Center will add thousands of Caltrain passengers every day. Image: Transbay Transit Center

About 20 percent more seats will be available on many rush hour trains by mid-2015, after a $15 million project to lengthen trains from five to six cars, using 16 surplus train cars purchased from LA’s Metrolink.

But Caltrain’s ridership growth shows no signs of letting up, as cities located along the rail line increasingly focus commercial and residential development within walking distance of Caltrain stations along El Camino Real.

“We’re anticipating to take on 200,000 new jobs and another 94,000 units of housing by 2040, primarily along the Caltrain corridor and Market Street,” said Gillian Gillett, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s transportation policy director. “People want to live here, and companies want to stay here and grow here.”

Capacity on an electrified Caltrain could eventually double from today’s levels, to over 9,000 passengers per hour, if eight-car trains were run eight times an hour, according to an analysis conducted by Friends of Caltrain. But running such frequent service requires both level boarding and shared platforms, so that Caltrain could use any of the Transbay Center’s six proposed platforms even after CAHSR service starts in 2029.
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San Jose DOT: Ban Sidewalk Cycling Downtown, 5 MPH Speed Limit Elsewhere

Santa Clara Street Car Traffic

Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose, where SJDOT is proposing banning anyone over age 12 from bicycling on the sidewalks. Photo: Google Maps

On Monday afternoon (October 6), San Jose’s Transportation & Environment Committee will review a proposal by the city’s Department of Transportation (SJDOT) to ban bicyclists over the age of 12 on sidewalks along ten downtown streets, and to set a speed limit of 5 mph for bicycling on every other sidewalk citywide.

The city has been inching towards a sidewalk cycling ban ever since it was first proposed by City Council member Sam Liccardo in March 2013, following complaints by downtown residents who said “they’re afraid to walk on the sidewalks because adult men zip by at unsafe speeds, startling them with a series of near-misses,” and cited injuries suffered by pedestrians. Jack Licursi, Sr., owner of a barber shop on Santa Clara Street, was hospitalized due to a fall he suffered after a bicyclist collided with him when he stepped out of his shop and onto the sidewalk.

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“Public education materials” that SJDOT concluded were unsuccessful at convincing sidewalk bicyclists to share the street with auto traffic. Image: City of San Jose

A coalition of local non-profit groups, including the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC), Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Greenbelt Alliance, and TransForm, supported an ordinance that would define and prohibit reckless bicycling, but opposed an outright ban on sidewalk cycling.

“[A ban] would criminalize a healthy behavior (bicycle riding) being undertaken by those who likely do not ride in the street because of health, age, or safety concerns,” wrote Corinne Winter, Jessica Zenk, Michele Beasley, and Chris Lepe in a joint April 2013 letter.

SJDOT concluded that “Walk Your Bike” signs, pavement markers, and banners installed in late 2013 haven’t convinced enough bicyclists to join the fast-moving bus and truck traffic present on many downtown streets, and so now proposes a sidewalk cycling ban instead. Anyone over the age of 12 could be ticketed for bicycling on the sidewalks of Santa Clara Street and on every street with bike lanes within the “greater downtown area”: Almaden Boulevard, Woz Way, and San Fernando, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 10th, and 11th streets.

But traffic conditions, even on streets with wide buffered bike lanes, present too great a hazard for many people to safely navigate by bicycle. These include high-speed traffic, large vehicles like trucks and buses, cars merging across the bike lanes to make turns or park, and vehicles blocking bike lanes that force cyclists to merge into adjacent traffic.

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San Jose Candidates Campaign at Bike Party, Bike Life Festival

Don Gagliardi and Sam Liccardo at Sep 19 2014 San Jose Bike Party

District 3 City Council candidate Don Gagliardi (left) and Mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo (right) get ready to roll at San Jose Bike Party on September 19. Photo: Andrew Boone

Mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo and District 3 City Council candidates Don Gagliardi and Raul Peralez all sought to demonstrate their support for improving cycling conditions in the state’s third-largest city at both September’s San Jose Bike Party and the inaugural San Jose Bike Life Festival.

Gagliardi and Liccardo both spoke briefly to the over 2,000 bicyclists gathered in the ample County Government Center parking lot ahead of San Jose Bike Party’s 18-mile “Science Ride 2” on September 19. Both candidates presented themselves as leaders who have defended, and will continue to promote, innovative bicycle infrastructure like the green buffered bike lanes installed on Hedding Street in June 2013, along the ride’s route.

“I’m the candidate who doesn’t just talk the talk, I ride the ride,” said Don Gagliardi, who says that he often talks up better bike infrastructure, even to voters who complain to him that new buffered bike lanes have slowed car traffic downtown. “I tell them: I’m sorry, I’m for the bike lanes because that’s our future.”

“There’s a lot of antipathy out there for bicyclists,” continued Gagliardi. “The way we meet that, is bicyclists get political consciousness… and you vote for candidates that support you, and that ride the ride.”

Mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo pointed to Hedding Street’s buffered bike lanes, which the San Jose Mercury News has repeatedly criticized since their installation last year.

Hedding Street San Jose Buffered Bike Lanes

A road diet created 1.5 miles of buffered bike lanes on Hedding Street in June 2013. Photo: Colin Heyne, Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition

“There are lots of people who criticize [Hedding Street’s] bike lanes, including my opponent, Dave Cortese,” said City Council member and Mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo. “I hope you’ll support those elected officials who have the courage to push for more bike lanes, more trails… more bike infrastructure.”

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Alta’s Mia Birk Helps Mountain View Kick Off Its Latest Bike Plan

Mia Birk describes some of the keys to Portland’s success in dramatically boosting the use of bicycles for transportation at Mountain View City Hall last Monday evening. Photo: Andrew Boone

How bikeable can Mountain View become? Last Monday, the city welcomed Alta Planning + Design President Mia Birk to help kick off an update to its 2008 Bicycle Transportation Plan. Birk had plenty to share about how Portland transformed itself into one of the best cities for biking in North America.

Birk was hired as the city’s bicycle program manager in 1993. Back then, “people thought of the bicycle as one of two things: it’s either a sport or a toy,” she said. “Those things are true. But bicycling can also be a serious means of transportation — if we take it seriously.”

Portland gradually built an extensive network of “low-stress bikeways” that helped boost cycling dramatically, especially in central neighborhoods where trips tend to be shorter than in the city’s sprawling suburbs. Planners estimated in 2008 that Portland’s entire bikeway network had cost roughly $60 million to construct, accounting for less than one percent of what the city spent on transportation.

Portland’s bike traffic grew faster after various education and encouragement programs were expanded in the early 2000′s. Image: City of Portland

Birk credited Portland’s education programs with boosting the use of bicycles as much as its expansive bikeway network. ”You’ve got to have to infrastructure, but you’re going to be significantly more successful when you encourage people to bike and walk in ways that are meaningful to their daily lives,” she said.

The city’s “personalized travel encouragement programs,” combine materials promoting bicycling and transit with community events like car-free street “block parties” and bike safety education classes.

“We find that we switch 10 to 13 percent of drive-alone trips to bicycling, walking, or transit for about $20 per household,” said Birk. “There have been analyses of these programs years later, and they stick.” Birk also stressed the importance of effective Safe Routes to Schools programs. “These are all about transforming the next generation to just thinking that bicycling and walking is just normal. It’s just how we get around.”

Roughly twice as many people are getting around Mountain View by bicycle since the city’s current Bicycle Transportation Plan was adopted in 2008, according to U.S. Census data. The most recent data available (2013) showed that over 7 percent of the city’s 40,000 employed residents used a bicycle as their primary mode of transportation to work, although one-year estimates have a high margin of error. Data averaged over three years (2010 – 2012) found this figure to be 5 percent for Mountain View residents, having risen from 3 percent just three years earlier (2007 – 2009).

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#MinimumGrid: Toronto Advocates Move Politicians Beyond Bike Platitudes

Bike advocates are putting these questions to Toronto mayoral candidates. Image: #MinimumGrid

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Almost all urban politicians will tell you they think bikes are great. But only some actually do anything to make biking more popular.

In Toronto’s current mayoral and city council election, a new political campaign is focusing candidates on a transportation policy issue that actually matters: a proposed 200-kilometer (124-mile) citywide network of all-ages bikeways.

The campaign, led by advocacy group Cycle Toronto, was given its name by international walking-bicycling advocate Gil Peñalosa. It’s called “#MinimumGrid.” And it seems to be working: Last week, 80 percent of responding city council candidates, including more than half of the council’s incumbents, said they supported building such a system by 2018.

Speaking this month at the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh, Peñalosa (a Toronto resident) explained the concept: to move cities from symbolic investments in bike transportation to truly transformative ones.

“We focus on the nice-to-have,” Peñalosa said in his keynote address at the conference. “Signage, maps, parking, bike racks, shelters. Does anyone not bike because they don’t have maps?”

Those amenities “might make it nicer for the 1 or 2 percent” who currently bike regularly, he said. But “nice-to-haves” won’t deliver the broader public benefits that can come from actually making biking mainstream.

“What are the must-haves?” Peñalosa went on. “Two things. One is we have to lower the speed in the neighborhoods. And two, we need to create a network. A minimum grid.”

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Sidewalk Cycling Ban Again Proposed for Downtown San Jose

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A bicyclist navigates between pedestrians on a downtown San Jose sidewalk. Residents have complained of reckless behavior by cyclists on sidewalks for years. Photo: City of San Jose

San Jose Department of Transportation (SJDOT) officials announced at a community meeting Wednesday evening that a downtown sidewalk cycling ban is again under consideration, explaining that the “Walk Your Bike” signs and banners installed in December 2013 had largely failed to convince bicyclists to ride in the streets rather than on sidewalks.

Three members of the city’s Senior Citizens Commission spoke in support of a ban, describing the serious safety hazards that some bicyclists riding on downtown sidewalks have posed to pedestrians.

“I’ve been hit twice on Santa Clara Street,” said Commissioner Martha O’Connell. “If I get hit by a bike, it’s a serious thing for me and a lot of other seniors. Bikers come so close to [pedestrians] that they actually touch their jackets when they pass them.”

O’Connell and other commissioners have diligently documented with photos and written statements the hazard posed by cyclists riding too fast and swerving on downtown sidewalks. ”Adult bicyclists continue to ride recklessly on the downtown sidewalks while the bike lanes remain largely empty,” O’Connell wrote in March 2013, in support of a ban on sidewalk cycling.

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One of 140 “Walk Your Bike” signs installed on sidewalks in downtown San Jose in June 2014. Photo: City of San Jose

In an effort to shift bicyclists from the sidewalks, SJDOT blanketed downtown with “Walk Your Bike” signs: 140 green signs and 170 blue pavement markers. No city ordinance was passed requiring cyclists to walk bikes on sidewalks, though. Educational banners installed downtown also encouraged cyclists to walk on sidewalks and ride in the streets. But SJDOT counts taken at three locations showed no significant shift in sidewalk cycling between December 2013 and August 2014.

“At this point we really haven’t accomplished enough behavior change to say it’s successful,” summarized Active Transportation Manager John Brazil. “Now we’re looking at recommending some type of ordinance to the City Council’s Transportation & Environment Committee.” Under the proposed ordinance described by Mr. Brazil, anyone 13 years and older could be ticketed by the police for cycling on any sidewalk in San Jose’s “Downtown Pedestrian Priority Zone”, a high pedestrian traffic area bounded by Almaden Boulevard, 4th Street, St John Street, and San Salvador Street.

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Oakland Unnecessarily Pits Safe Bicycling vs. Transit on Telegraph Avenue

At two workshops last week in Oakland, attendees overwhelmingly called for a bolder plan to make Telegraph Avenue safer and include protected bike lanes. Oakland planners ditched their original proposals for parking-protected bike lanes, instead proposing buffered, unprotected bike lanes on most of the street. In Temescal, the street’s most dangerous and motor traffic-heavy section, planners insist on preserving all four traffic lanes, with only sharrows added. But when asked to choose between removing parking or removing traffic lanes, it was clear that the majority of residents who attended both meetings would be willing to give up parking.

The majority of residents who attended two workshops would be willing to give up parking for protected bike lanes on Telegraph Avenue. Photo: Melanie Curry

Still, a few kept the discussion circling back to the potential tradeoffs between bike safety and transit reliability. Oakland city planners trying unsuccessfully tried to get traction on the idea of moving the bike route a block away to Shattuck Avenue, despite Telegraph being a clear magnet for bike traffic even without any bike infrastructure.

Several people at the workshops argued adamantly that sharrows are not a reasonable alternative to bike lanes. “Please remove sharrows as an option,” said one attendee. “I don’t want to share facilities with a car. We’ve tried it, and I hate it. It’s not safe.”

Oakland planner Jamie Parks opened up group discussions at both meetings by admitting that sharrows are “not the ideal bike facility, but this is the most constrained and congested section of the street.”

“The tradeoffs include removing parking or removing a lane of traffic,” he told attendees. “If we were to incorporate continuous bike lanes, what would people be willing to give up?”

“Parking!” one person shouted from the back of the room at one meeting. Discussions at both meetings stayed mostly polite, and there seemed to be general agreement that providing parking was not as important as safety.

But not everybody agreed. One dissenter said, “I just don’t think politics will allow for the abolition of parking.”

Only some parking spaces on Telegraph would need to be removed to provide bike lanes. But the city doesn’t seem to be seriously considering it, despite strong evidence in other cities that as motor traffic is calmed, and bike traffic goes up, commercial corridors tend to see more people shopping by foot and bike. Oakland’s own findings show that parking spaces in Temescal rarely approach 85 percent of capacity, even at peak times, and that better parking management could make even more spaces available.

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