Skip to content

Posts from the "Community, Advocacy and Labor" Category

14 Comments

SPUR Ocean Beach Erosion Plan Shelves Road Diet for Great Highway

SPUR will not pursue its vision for narrowing Great Highway from four lanes to two, as neighbors fear that traffic will divert onto their streets. Image: SPUR’s Ocean Beach Master Plan

SPUR has set adrift its proposal to halve the size of the Great Highway along Ocean Beach, as the group strives to avoid distracting attention from implementing the other priorities in its Ocean Beach Master Plan. A road diet may be revisited later, once more pressing concerns have advanced.

SPUR calls the OBMP “a comprehensive vision to address sea level rise, protect infrastructure, restore coastal ecosystems and improve public access.” It also includes proposals to remove other sections of the Great Highway that are threatened by severe erosion, in what’s called ”managed retreat.”

One of SPUR’s highest priorities is converting the Great Highway south of Sloat to a trail. Images: SPUR

Ben Grant, SPUR’s project manager for the OBMP, said one of the plan’s most pressing priorities is closing a short, severely eroded section of the highway south of Sloat Boulevard, and replacing it a walking and biking trail. Car traffic would be re-routed onto Sloat and Skyline Boulevards, which still would see less traffic than they’re built for.

But the “most controversial” piece of the OBMP plan, said Grant, was the proposal to remove two of the four lanes on the main stretch of the Great Highway, as well as adding parking spaces along that stretch to replace those that would be removed south of Sloat. SPUR doesn’t want opposition to those elements to distract from the more urgently needed road closure south of Sloat.

“We’ve gotten quite a few strong negative reactions to this,” Grant said at a recent SPUR forum. “We’re not going to be pushing for it at this time, because we have much more core, transformative projects to consider.”

Nothing in the OBMP is an official city proposal yet, but SPUR’s ideas are being seriously considered by public agencies that will conduct environmental impact reports for them.

“It’s an interesting thing to think about,” said Grant. “What if we take our one major stretch of oceanfront road and think of it not as a thoroughfare for moving through — [but] think of it instead as a way of accessing and experiencing the coast, as a coastal access or park road?”

Read more…

1 Comment

After 50 Events, Sunday Streets Director Departs to Spread the Word

This post supported by

Sunday Streets on Valencia Street yesterday. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Susan King is moving on from her position at Livable City as director of SF’s Sunday Streets, after hosting the 50th open streets event yesterday in the Mission. King plans to bring open streets events to cities across the state by establishing the California Open Streets Network (CAOS).

Susan King yesterday speaking with SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin (right) and Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru. Photo: Aaron Bialick

“I feel great that this program is so solid and successful, and there are really fantastic people pushing the ball forward,” said King.

To help other California cities learn from King’s experience in spearheading a nationally-renowned model for open streets, CAOS will provide services like a “calendar, shared resources, peer-to-peer advocacy, one-on-one trainings, regional trainings, webinars, and advocacy on the state level for a framework that addresses some of the barriers,” she said.

When Sunday Streets was first proposed in collaboration with then-Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office in 2008, it saw resistance from merchants who believed that their businesses would be hurt by opening streets to people and closing them to cars. The 50 events since have shown the opposite result, providing a boon for both business and public health. Merchants have since clamored for the event to bring customers to their neighborhoods, with as many as 75,000 regularly attending Sunday Streets in the Mission.

Today, San Francisco has held more major open streets events than any other American city, and Sunday Streets is “mundane, it’s part of everyday life,” said King. “That’s a good thing to create — as a fabric of what a livable community looks like.”

For today’s youngest San Franciscans, the ability to play in car-free streets may even be taken for granted, as a generation grows up with a fundamentally different experience of city streets. King told an anecdote about a woman who said her five-year-old grandson “didn’t know what life was without Sunday Streets.”

“I’m supremely proud to think about the generation that’s going to lead us, that are still in school and growing up in this city with the expectation that Sunday Streets is just part of city life,” said King. “The next generation really has a different idea of how we use and interact with our city streets.”

Read more…

21 Comments

Personal Garages Become Cafes in the Castro, Thanks to Smarter Zoning

This post supported by

This used to be a garage. Photo: Tom Radulovich

Three new cafes and restaurants in the Castro have been created in spaces formerly used as personal parking garages. Driveways and dark garage doors on 18th Street have been replaced with storefronts and inviting patios filled with people.

A few years ago, this would’ve been illegal.

Reveille Coffee Company and Beso, a tapas restaurant, were able to move in and convert these garages this year, thanks to changes in the SF Planning Code’s zoning laws in 2011 proposed by Livable City and former Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi. The provision to allow garages to be converted into shops, housing, and service spaces in “Neighborhood Commercial” zoning districts was part of a package of parking-related reforms.

In addition to the first two garage-to-business conversions on 18th, a third is currently under construction nearby.

“These new businesses are helping make a more walkable (and sittable), vital, and convivial 18th Street,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. He pointed out that the curb space in front, formerly reserved to ensure private garage access, have also become public street parking spaces.

The idea seems to be spreading: Radulovich said the Ocean Avenue Merchants this week endorsed allowing conversions of garages to storefronts in their district, which is zoned as “Residential.”

Radulovich said the 2011 ordinance “also allows the addition of a single [residential] unit to an existing residential building without a new off-street parking space, so long as that unit meets the other requirements of the code, including density limits.”

The entrance to Beso. Photo: Tom Radulovich

46 Comments

Prop L Proponent Makes False Accusations Against SFBC, SFMTA About Polk

Chris Bowman, a Republican proponent of the Prop L “Restore Transportation Balance” ballot measure, aimed false accusations at the SF Bicycle Coalition and pro-bike SFMTA officials in a panel discussion this week.

Chris Bowman, right, with Supervisor Scott Wiener at a panel discussion this week. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Bowman and Supervisor Scott Wiener were featured at the forum, organized by the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, to discuss Prop L. The proposition claims to promote motorists’ interests, calling to enshrine free parking and build more garages. Prop L is funded by tech billionaire and Mayor Ed Lee backer Sean Parker and the SF Republican Party.

Even though nobody else at the meeting brought up the SFBC in discussing Prop L’s implications, Bowman devoted much of his speaking time to attacking bike lanes, and making false claims about the SFBC and SFMTA Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman.

Bowman said that the SFBC urged a boycott of certain Polk Street merchants who had opposed removing car parking for protected bike lanes: ”The Bicycle Coalition, to add insult to injury, got the transcripts from [an SFMTA Board] hearing and put on their website, ‘these people testified, these are their businesses, boycott them because they’re anti-bike’… That is hardball politics and that does not create a respectful dialogue. That never should have been tolerated by anyone.”

In fact, the SFBC did the opposite — the organization has “actively encouraged our members, and the broader bike community, to frequent Polk Street businesses — and show support for biking to local businesses on popular bike routes,” said SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum. ”Those claims are absolutely untrue.”

As to where such misconceptions could come from, Shahum noted that the SFBC did hear from individual members, who had urged the organization to launch a boycott through social media posts on Facebook. She said she suspected that those spreading the lie could have misconstrued such messages, although they were written by individuals who don’t speak for the SFBC.

Read more…

3 Comments

Leah Shahum to Step Down as SF Bicycle Coalition’s Executive Director

Leah Shahum announced today that she will step down as executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, after 12 years at the helm.

Leah Shahum distributing flyers in 2008. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

“Leah leaves behind a legacy of one of the most bike-friendly big cities in America, and one of the most well-organized and effective membership groups in the country,” said Lawrence Li, the SFBC’s Board President. She will continue to serve in the position until the end of the year, and the SFBC’s board has launched a nationwide search to fill the role.

“I’ve never felt more confident in where this organization and city can go, with the kind of leadership and passion and skills that we have on our team today,” said Shahum.

Shahum said she doesn’t have a long-term plan yet after she leaves the SFBC, but that she plans to take part in the German Marshall Fund Urban and Regional Policy Fellowship Program next spring. She’ll head to northern Europe to study how cities like Berlin, Rotterdam, and Stockholm have pursued Vision Zero — an end to traffic fatalities. She noted that she chose cities that have populations, densities, and other characteristics comparable to SF.

Another recent participant in the fellowship was Streetsblog founder Aaron Naparstek. Shahum was instrumental in convincing him to launch Streetsblog San Francisco in 2009. She has since written articles for Streetsblog, sharing lessons on livable streets from her time in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Paris

Shahum started as a volunteer for the SFBC 17 years ago, and eventually became the organization’s program director before succeeding Dave Snyder as executive director. Since then, the SFBC’s membership grew from 3,000 to 12,000 in 2011, making it the largest city-based bicycle advocacy organization in the U.S. Today, SFBC membership remains at more than 10,000, and the SFBC has a staff of 17.

Snyder, who jumpstarted the long-dormant SFBC as the sole staffer in 1996, said Shahum had planned to leave her part-time volunteer coordinator position to pursue a journalism career. “I didn’t want her to leave, so I offered her a full-time job as our first-ever ‘program director.’ I didn’t have the budget for it but I stretched, and the risk paid off,” said Snyder, who today serves as executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition.

Read more…

2 Comments

Streetsblog’s Beginnings: Founder Aaron Naparstek to Speak in SF Tuesday

Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek will be in SF to serve as the keynote speaker at the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Golden Wheel Awards on Tuesday evening. We thought it’d be a good opportunity to look back on how Streetsblog San Francisco came to be, and get Naparstek’s take on what’s changed in the city since we launched at the start of 2009.

Streetsblog founder Aaron Naparstek talking about “bikelash” at the National Bike Summit last year. Image: Streetfilms

Naparstek founded Streetsblog in New York City in 2006 as a project of OpenPlans, our non-profit parent organization founded by Mark Gorton. Naparstek was the editor-in-chief until 2010, during which time he launched Streetsblog San Francisco, Los Angeles, Capitol Hill (now USA), and the Streetsblog Network. He recently completed a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and has been working as a Visiting Scholar at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

Naparstek was approached by a group of SF’s sustainable transportation advocates, led by SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum, in the summer of 2008 at the World Car-Free Cities Conference in Portland.

“They said, we think bringing Streetsblog here can really help energize the movement,” he said. “To me it said, there’s a community here that wants it, so let’s try to make it happen.”

With a four-year injunction on bicycle infrastructure in effect at the time, Naparstek said he’d been following SF’s issues for a while. “It seemed like there was all this pent-up demand,” he said. “I thought, San Francisco would be great for this.”

Naparstek and the SFBC worked together to organize Streetsblog SF, raising funds and interviewing candidates for editor. At one point in that process, Naparstek said Shahum recommended interviewing Bryan Goebel, who had volunteered for the SFBC and had nearly 20 years of experience in journalism, primarily in radio. Goebel was chosen to become the editor of Streetsblog SF, and was partnered with Matthew Roth, who moved from New York City after working in livable streets advocacy there. Ultimately, Goebel took me on as an intern and trained me on the job, and I was chosen to fill the position after he left.

Naparstek noted that he was impressed by Shahum’s commitment to helping launch a separate project in an environment where non-profits compete for scarce funds. “A lot of non-profit executive directors would be hesitant to bring us into their orbit because we’re another mouth to feed, looking for progressive transportation advocacy dollars, when it’s not that easy to raise money,” he said. “I was impressed that the Bike Coalition had a broad enough view of the movement as a whole that they recognized that we could help make the pie bigger.”

Streetsblog was formed around the idea of a media outlet that could cover issues around sustainable transportation and livable streets from an advocacy standpoint, highlighting stories not covered by traditional media. The aim is to promote the growing movement and shed light on the responsibility of government leaders and agencies to shape streets in ways that promote safer and more efficient ways of getting around.

Read more…

7 Comments

Supervisor Mar Wants to Study How Lower Speed Limits Could Improve SF

Reducing speed limits could have a big impact on saving lives. Image: PEDS Atlanta

Supervisor Eric Mar requested a city study last week about how lower speed limits could benefit San Francisco. Although lowering speed limits without implementing physical traffic calming measures isn’t a panacea for safer streets, the measure does hold promise as a first step toward saving lives and implementing Vision Zero. San Francisco would follow in the footsteps of New York City, Paris, and the United Kingdom in looking at major speed limit reductions.

Supervisor Mar with one of SF’s 15 mph school zone signs. Photo: Eric Mar

“We must do all that we can do to make sure that our streets are safer for our residents, and a speed limit reduction may have a significant impact on achieving this,” said Mar.

The study requested by Mar would add to a growing body of research showing how lower speed limits would reduce fatal crashes and save money. The UK Department of Transportation, which instituted a “20′s Plenty” campaign that set 20 mph speed limits as the default for residential streets, found that the chances of survival for a person hit by a car at 40 mph are half that of being hit at 30. Fatalities increase six-fold from 20 to 30 mph.

“Getting hit at 20 mph is like falling off a one-story building, but getting hit by a car at 40 mph is like falling off the fifth-floor,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, who called major speed limit reductions ”one of the most important next steps we can take in achieving Vision Zero.”

“We need to look towards our partner cities that have done this successfully, and model our efforts on the best practices,” she said.

Last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation requiring the installation of 20 mph “Slow Zones.” The New York State Legislature also passed a bill to lower New York City’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph. The default speed limit for city streets in California, unless signed otherwise, is already set at 25 mph.

Read more…

Streetsblog LA 7 Comments

Protected Bike Lanes Bill Passes CA Senate Transportation Committee

The “Protected Bikeways Act,” A.B. 1193, passed the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Thursday on a 10-0 vote, despite opposition from some quarters. The bill must still be approved by the full Senate and Governor Jerry Brown.

A protected bike lane in Temple City. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The proposed legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would compel Caltrans to create guidelines for protected bike lanes, a type of facility that is not currently allowed under California law.

A second measure in the bill would give local jurisdictions — cities and counties — the freedom to follow Caltrans standards for bicycle infrastructure or to choose some other guidance. Currently all bicycle infrastructure in California must adhere to Caltrans standards, whether it’s built on state highways or local streets. There are a few limited exceptions to this, generally through cumbersome experimental processes, but overall Caltrans’ antiquated standards have limited implementation of infrastructure that has proven safe in other states and other countries.

“This comes down to an issue of local control,” said Ting. “Cities have control over every aspect of their streets except when it comes to bikes.”

Supporters at the hearing included representatives from Napa County, the city of San Jose, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office.

Read more…

30 Comments

Supes Reject Appeal for CEQA Review of Sunday Parking Meter Repeal

The Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 yesterday to reject an appeal, filed by sustainable transportation advocates, to require environmental review of the SFMTA’s repeal of Sunday parking meters. Although the vote was not on the merits of Sunday parking metering, but rather whether the SFMTA violated the California Environmental Quality Act in repealing it, the hearing shed some more light on the political stances of some supervisors.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

All supervisors, except John Avalos and Eric Mar, voted to reject the appeal. Supervisor Scott Wiener argued that, even if supervisors opposed removing Sunday meters and the SFMTA governance structure that allowed Mayor Ed Lee to push it through, CEQA must be applied consistently. “I have enormous respect for the appellants in this case,” he said. “I work with them regularly in our joint quest to adequately fund our public transportation system and have smart transportation policy in San Francisco… but this is about whether the SFMTA correctly applied a CEQA exemption.”

Wiener has been a proponent of reforming CEQA to curb frivolous appeals, which are often used by opponents to delay even environmentally beneficial projects, like bike lanes. Since the Sunday meter repeal was approved as part of the SFMTA’s budget as a whole, and budget adjustments have a statutory exemption from CEQA review, Wiener argued that upholding the appeal would mean it would have to apply to other changes, like the free Muni for low-income youth program.

“Rejecting a correctly applied statuary exemption because one might disagree with the underlying policy decision, and trying to force it into a higher level of CEQA review, has profound implications not just for this issue but for the many, many other situations that MTA and other agencies deal with — situations [like] fees, fines and fares,” Wiener said.

But the appellants, representing Livable City and the SF Transit Riders Union, disagreed. They argued that removing Sunday meters comes with a particular set of impacts, particularly increased traffic congestion, since the SFMTA’s own studies showed benefits such as cutting in half the time that drivers take to find a commercial parking spot.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA No Comments

New Urban Love and Loathing in Buffalo: Jeff Speck Responds

Larkin Square’s Food Truck Tuesdays are one example of Buffalo’s recent successes in revitalizing its urban core. Photo: Larkin Square

As a charter member of the Congress for New Urbanism, I’ve now attended twenty of the organization’s annual conferences. This month’s event may have been my favorite yet, mostly thanks to its location in downtown Buffalo, a place that reminds us so poignantly of both the successes and failures of city planning, as first lovingly practiced and later ruthlessly perpetrated across America.

Most of the local residents in attendance — and there were many — seemed to enthusiastically embrace New Urbanism’s ethos of redesigning our cities around people rather than cars, recognizing how the auto age had perhaps done as much damage to downtown Buffalo as its devastating loss of industry.

But there are always exceptions. In the Buffalo News’ only prominent review of the event, art critic Colin Dabkowski wrote an “open letter to the New Urbanist movement,” that centered upon a damning critique of my community lecture there and also of my book, Walkable City, which he seems to have read in part.

The thoughts that follow are my response to Dabkowski’s review. The Buffalo News worked with me to craft this article as an Op-Ed for Sunday’s paper. Then, three hours from press time, they demanded that I remove most of my references to  Mr. Dabkowski’s error-loaded text. Not excited by that prospect, I am sharing my comments here instead.

I suppose that my biggest surprise in reading the Buffalo News article came from the fact that I had been expecting to hear such a critique sooner. In the eighteen months since Walkable City came out — and over more than 100 reviews — all but the most sympathetic critics seem to have been largely silent. I was waiting for comments like these, but eventually gave up.

The reason I was waiting is because two of the book’s central arguments — “Downtowns First” and “Urban Triage” — imply winners and losers, and I have seen at least the first argument anger people in the past. Folks who don’t live in downtown are often resentful seeing money spent there, whether they find their homes in cash-strapped slums or wealthy suburbs.

Read more…