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Human Life Wins: Masonic Ave Redesign Survives Tree Removal Appeal

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The Masonic Avenue safety overhaul will move forward after the SF Board of Appeals upheld tree removal permits protested by a handful of neighbors at a hearing yesterday.

Ariane Eroy. Image: SFGovTV

Ariane Eroy. Image: SFGovTV

The project calls for the removal of 49 trees. Even though each tree that will be removed will be replaced with three new trees, neighbors filed an appeal to preserve all the mature trees.

“When one considers that trees are living members of our communities, one must recognize that they also have rights,” said appellant Ariane Eroy. “They cannot merely be removed without damaging us as a community.”

The Masonic project was initiated in 2010 after a “grassroots campaign from residents,” noted Tim Hickey, president of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association. “It is unfortunate that trees have to be removed, however we are looking forward to the greater number of trees, and we are more concerned about the safety of the street overall.”

Elroy, who complained that she wasn’t made aware of the tree removals, said she didn’t live in the neighborhood when the community outreach meetings were held.

While she passionately defended trees, much of Elroy’s testimony consisted of downplaying the danger on Masonic that threatens human life, even though her sister was killed by a driver who ran a red light. “There have been some injuries and some fatalities” on Masonic, she said, but “thousands of cars move safely and smoothly on a daily basis.”

The city has seen “a rise in impetuous, if not reckless, driving,” Elroy admitted, then said “it’s naive to think that the Masonic Avenue Streetscape Project will improve safety.”

“To claim that the city could effectively reduce one of its busiest throughfares of six lanes to two and diminish the rate of fatalities on this strip of Masonic seems fantastical.” (The lanes will be reduced from six to four, and raised protected bike lanes and a tree-lined median will be added.)

Nine trees on a concrete triangle at Masonic and Geary Street will be replaced with a plaza with many more trees. Image: DPW

The appellants focused on nine trees that will be removed to create a plaza, where many more new trees will be planted, at the southwest corner of Masonic and Geary Street. Elroy said that filling in the roadway, which has a right-turn traffic lane and two parking lanes that separate the sidewalk from the existing concrete triangle, will somehow lead to an “exponential increase” in injuries.

Among Elroy’s other talking points: Police say there are “a hundred hit-and-run accidents on a daily basis now,” and “buses, bus routes, and bus stops are some of the most dangerous vehicles and sites on our public thoroughfares.”

Members of the Appeals board did ask follow-up questions after some of these claims, but none seemed to seriously consider upholding the appeal.

Department of Public Works landscape architect John Dennis told the board that moving the redesign forward is key to “the saving of human life as the highest priority.”


How Many People Will Get Hurt If the Masonic Redesign Gets Delayed Again?

Opponents of the safety overhaul of Masonic Avenue complain in particular about removing nine trees on a concrete triangle at Masonic and Geary Street, where a plaza with many more trees (shown) will be built. Image: DPW

Another sorely-needed street safety redesign could be threatened by neighbors protesting the replacement of trees, even though, when all is said and done, the number of trees in the project area will double.

The overhaul of deadly Masonic Avenue could be delayed or altered if the SF Board of Appeals upholds an appeal against tree removal permits at a hearing on Wednesday.

The redesign, which was supposed to start construction this summer, was recently delayed by at least six months, the SF Examiner reported earlier this month. The addition of underground utility upgrades to the scope of work pushed back the start of construction to 2016, with the project scheduled for completion a year later.

The Masonic plan requires the removal of 49 trees, 17 of which are unhealthy and “unsafe,” and the planting of 185 new trees. It’s “a more than three-to-one replacement ratio,” Department of Public Works landscape architect John Dennis said in a statement. Overall, the current count of 145 trees will increase to 282.

“In order to construct our project some trees need to be removed and replaced,” Dennis wrote in an email blast to supporters of the redesign, encouraging them to urge the Board of Appeals to approve the permits. “This is unfortunate, but a small price to pay in exchange for a safer Masonic Street for all users.”

“We have been diligent in our efforts to save existing trees along the corridor,” he added.

As with the Van Ness Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project, which 16 speakers protested last week over tree replacements, a handful of neighbors are threatening to slow down the Masonic plan, which has been in the works since 2010. The Masonic tree removal permits were issued in May, but they were appealed by two neighbors.

If the tree appeal does delay the Masonic projects, it will be another case in which the city’s appeals system has enabled a small group of people to obstruct or delay a project even after extensive vetting via publics meetings, analysis, and city approvals. All it takes is one appellant to bring a major safety effort to a halt.

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The Final Tally Is in From the 22-Day Muni Challenge

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The final score at City Hall for the 22-Day Muni Challenge, as shown in a screenshot from SFTRU’s “Leaderboard.”

The final score for the 22-Day Muni Challenge is in. Based on the ride tally, about half of SF’s elected officials took seriously their commitment to get the everyday experience of riding Muni. The supervisors who have a record of legislating to improve transit scored well.

Tomorrow evening, you can join five of the top Muni-riding supervisors in a celebratory wrap-up with the SF Transit Riders Union. On the bill are Supervisors Jane Kim, John Avalos, Scott Wiener, Eric Mar, and Julie Christensen — all of whom logged at least 20 rides during the challenge.

The event will include awards for the supes, and not just for the most rides logged. Trophies will go out for “best interaction with a passenger,” “best picture,” and “crankiest tweeter,” among other categories.

When it comes to quantity of rides, however, Wiener dominated with a grand total of 106. I ran into him last week as I exited a 38-Geary bus with my wife at Geary and Fillmore Streets. (Thanks, all-door boarding.)

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Via Streetsblog California
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Save the Date: CalBike Summit Coming in October

The 2015 CalBike Summit’s theme is equity. Photo: Melanie Curry

The California Bicycle Coalition’s 2015 Bike Summit will take place in San Diego in late October, providign an opportunity for bike advocates from across the state to gather and discuss issues of this year’s theme: equity.

Executive Director Dave Snyder pointed out that equity is becoming a focus in California, especially in the legislature, where climate change legislation increasingly includes requirements to consider fairness across income groups and locations.

“Bicycling is one solution to addressing inequities,” said Synder, “and the more that legislators and the people who elect them understand this, the more success we’ll have in making all our communities healthier, safer, and more prosperous.”

The summit will feature three days of learning sessions and networking events, starting on Sunday, October 25.

“It’s a chance to bring together all of the advocacy organizations around the state to share information and learn from each other,” said Stephan Vance, a planner at San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and a member of CalBike’s board of directors. “It also includes a professional engineering and planning component. Our advocates are very savvy about these topics, and can share information about what cities are doing around the state to help meet our goals. It’s the convening of a high-powered advocacy group with the addition of a professional bike planning and engineering conference.”

Or, as Snyder put it, “It’s our state’s version of three national events, combining the professional quality of the national ProWalk ProBike Conference with the political savvy of the National Bike Summit and the advocacy expertise of the Alliance [for Biking & Walking]’s Leadership Retreat.”

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22-Day Muni-Riding Challenge, Day 10: Checking the Score at City Hall

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A screenshot of SFTRU's "Leaderboard" showing ride scores, as seen this afternoon.

A screenshot of SFTRU’s “Leaderboard” this afternoon.

We’re nearly halfway into the 22-day Muni riding challenge. How seriously are SF’s elected officials taking their commitment to get familiar with the everyday experience of riding Muni?

Eight supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee signed up for the challenge by the time SFTRU kicked it off on June 1. Based on the tally of onboard tweets reported on the SF Transit Riders Union “Leaderboard,” the ride tally is shaping up about how you’d expect.

The most vocal transit supporters are way out in front: Supervisors Scott Wiener and John Avalos have 38 and 35 rides, respectively — nearly four per day (both started early). In third place is Supervisor David Campos, with 23 rides, followed by Julie Christensen (17) and Eric Mar (8).

On the other end of the spectrum, Mayor Lee and Supervisor Mark Farrell have yet to make good on their last-minute sign-ons. Mayor Lee hasn’t logged a ride since he rode a Muni train with a photographer on day one, and Farrell hasn’t logged a ride at all. Supervisors Malia Cohen and Katy Tang declined to take the challenge.

All told, most officials at City Hall don’t seem to follow the advisory measure enacted by SF voters 22 years ago stating that city officials should ride transit at least twice a week.

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Mayor, Eight Supervisors Promise to Ride Muni Every Day Until June 22

Supervisor Avalos speaks with Supervisor Wiener and SFTRU's Thea Selby in front of City Hall yesterday. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Supervisor Avalos with Supervisor Wiener and SFTRU’s Thea Selby in front of City Hall yesterday. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SF Transit Riders Union’s challenge to ride Muni for 22 days kicked off yesterday with late sign-ons from Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisors London Breed and Mark Farrell, who had initially declined to commit. Supervisors Katy Tang and Malia Cohen still declined, and Supervisor Norman Yee has not confirmed a pledge since he tweeted a selfie on Muni after the challenge was announced in April.

Supervisors David Campos, Scott Wiener, John Avalos, and Eric Mar came out for the press conference at City Hall yesterday. Supervisor Jane Kim was expected, but reportedly unable to make it. Mayor Lee was also absent, though he signed on to the challenge Friday, according to SFTRU.

In April, when SFTRU announced the challenge to ride Muni for 22 days straight, early commitments came from Supervisors Kim, Wiener, Avalos, Campos, Mar, and Julie Christensen. Tilly Chang, executive director of the SF County Transportation Authority, also tweeted a ride photo and attended the event.

“When city officials regularly ride public transportation, they prioritize funding for a more reliable, robust, and visionary transit system to support it,” said SFTRU organizer Thea Selby at the event. “A commitment to this challenge is a commitment to better serve the needs of the people of San Francisco.”

“There has been a real lack of commitment to making the investments that we really have needed to make at Muni for decades,” said Avalos. “We’re now seeing that they’re finally being made,” he added, pointing to the voter-approved $500 million general obligation bond for transportation and a $48 million increase in the SFMTA’s share of the general fund.

Avalos reminded the crowd that Willie Brown promised to fix Muni in 100 days when he ran for mayor in 1995. After he was elected, “He succeeded in doing just the opposite in taking care of Muni the way it needed to be done.”

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Overcoming the Barriers to a Seamless Bay Area Transit Experience

Transit fragmentation can take many forms. Funded and managed by the City of Oakland and operated by AC Transit, the free B shuttle in downtown Oakland was a new transit service added to existing AC Transit and BART services.

Transit fragmentation can take many forms. Funded and managed by the City of Oakland and operated by AC Transit, the free B shuttle in downtown Oakland was a new transit service added to existing AC Transit and BART services. Photo: Sergio Ruiz

Ratna Amin is SPUR’s Transportation Policy Director. This piece originally appeared in SPUR’s The Urbanist.

The Bay Area’s prosperity is threatened by fragmentation in the public transit system: Riders and decision-makers contend with more than two dozen transit operators. Inconsistent transit experiences and disjointed planning and investment make our transit system less efficient, less usable, and less likely to help us meet our goals for a thriving and sustainable region.

The Bay Area economy and labor market is increasingly regional: 29 percent of Bay Area commuters cross a county boundary to get to work each day. These long commutes, many of which traverse the bay, put incredible stress on constrained transportation corridors. Two-thirds of Bay Area commuters drive to work alone, creating significant congestion on the region’s freeways and bridges. Dramatic growth in employer-run shuttles over the last few years demonstrates the demand for alternatives, both to car travel and to regional transit such as BART and Caltrain, which are running short on room for passengers. As people move further out to find affordable places to live, the expectation is that regional travel will grow.

For these reasons and others, such as managing sprawl and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Bay Area invests heavily in transit. It is spending $21 billion over the next 25 years to build public transit infrastructure and $159 billion to operate and maintain the transit system. Despite similar expenditures in the past, overall transit ridership has not been growing in the Bay Area. Most trips within the Bay Area are still made by car, with transit accounting for only 3 percent of all trips. Part of the reason it’s hard to increase transit ridership here may be due to how fragmented our system is compared to others.

Many could benefit from more integrated transit

We have the opportunity to increase the market share for transit in places where there is significant demand for regional travel. Half as many people travel from central Alameda County to San Francisco as travel from the Peninsula/Silicon Valley/San Jose to San Francisco, for example. However, 44 percent of the Alameda County trips use public transit while just 17 percent of the Silicon Valley trips use public transit.

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Walk SF Gives City a Mixed Score on Street Safety Progress

A recently-completed bulb-out at McAllister and Hyde Streets near City Hall. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Walk SF today released its second annual Street Score Report Card [PDF], which it bills as the “only comprehensive review of the City’s progress towards improving pedestrian safety and walkability.” The report is the first thorough attempt to assess how well the city has followed through on the mayor’s 2013 Pedestrian Strategy.

SF agencies’ progress remained subpar on many of Walk SF’s nearly 40 metrics, though the city did exceed its goals in a few key areas, such as the installation of bulb-outs.

The report tracks progress in six categories: Reducing injuries, installing engineering upgrades, focusing enforcement on the most dangerous traffic violations, delivering education campaigns, adopting local and state legislation to enable safety measures, and reporting progress data to the public.

“We can’t measure what we don’t count,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Ferrara in a statement. And by the most important measure — fatal and serious injuries sustained in traffic — SF didn’t hit its mark.

Last year, 96 people were killed or suffered severe injuries on SF streets, higher than the goal of 82 laid out in the Pedestrian Strategy. Walk SF also notes that the share of pedestrian deaths involving seniors was higher than the city’s target.

Image: Walk SF's Street Score

Image: Walk SF’s Street Score

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Not All City Hall Electeds Up to the Challenge of Riding Muni for 22 Days

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Six supervisors did not hesitate to commit to the SF Transit Riders Union’s challenge to ride Muni for 22 days starting on June 1, but five supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee haven’t signed on. The split is a good indicator of who supports transit at City Hall — for the supervisors who have a record of legislating to improve transit, riding Muni every day is no biggie, and some do it already.

Supervisor John Avalos, one of six supes to get on board with SFTRU's 22-day Muni riding challenge, tweeted a photo early.

Supervisor John Avalos, one of six supes to get on board with SFTRU’s 22-day Muni riding challenge, tweeted an early selfie.

Supervisors David Campos, Jane Kim, Scott Wiener, Julie Christensen, John Avalos, and Eric Mar committed to the challenge at Tuesday’s board meeting. Mayor Lee and the other five supervisors have either declined the challenge or haven’t responded to Streetsblog’s request for comment.

The 22 days represent the 22 years since SF voters approved Prop AA, an advisory measure which stated that “city officials and full-time employees [shall] travel to and from work on public transit at least twice a week,” according to SFTRU:

22 years later, this policy agreement has never been acted on, and now is a chance to make up for lost time!

When they regularly ride public transit, city officials better understand the rider’s daily experience and prioritize funding and planning a more reliable, robust, and visionary transit system to support it. This is an opportunity for our city officials to promote their own commitment to public transportation, showcasing that they care about the future of Muni.

Here are SFTRU’s guidelines for the challenge:

Participating officials will tweet while riding, walking to, or waiting for transit every day for those 22 days, posting it to Twitter with an optional photo using the hashtag #OnBoardSF. If they don’t take transit for one of those days, they will tweet their reason why with the same hashtag.

Supervisor Wiener said he’s been a daily Muni rider for 18 years. “I’m lucky that I live in the Castro,” where “we have really strong transit access.” But he plans to up his game and “try some of the lines that are a little bit more challenging.”

“I should assume everyone is doing [the challenge] unless otherwise stated,” Campos said on Tuesday. “So count me in.”

Supervisor Kim said she “will be participating,” but that since she lives within walking distance of City Hall, “it would actually be very hard for me to take Muni versus walking. So I will do my best to go take Muni for a stop.” Supervisor Christensen said she walks and takes Muni most days. “In addition to riding Muni, I’m also trying to expand it,” presumably referring to her push to extend the Central Subway.

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Supervisors Want More Bicycling Classes in Their Districts at Less Expense

An SFBC Family Biking class on the John F. Kennedy Drive parking-protected bike lane in Golden Gate Park. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

Several supervisors say they’d like to see city-funded bike education classes distibuted more equally among their districts, and to attract more participants to reduce the per-person cost of the program.

Locations of bicycling classes in SF. Image: Google Maps via SFBC

At a recent committee meeting of the SF County Transportation Authority Board, which is comprised of supervisors, members raised their concerns when they approved a nine-month extension of their contract with the SF Bicycle Coalition and the YMCA YBike program, which taught bicycling skills to over 1,800 kids and adults last year.

Supervisors Mark Farrell and Norman Yee said their districts appear “underserved” among the several dozen class locations. “We have a ton of bicyclists in District 2,” said Farrell, including kids and tourists on rental bikes. “We have bicycle shops all over the place, we have people cycling down the waterfront, through the Preisidio… It’s really challenging to look at this and say this is a great thing when I look at two locations in the district.”

Matt Lasky of the SFMTA said the locations are chosen based on neighborhood density, but that they will look into re-distribution.

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