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Posts from the "Community, Advocacy and Labor" Category

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sunday Meter Repeal Needs No CEQA Review, Say SFMTA and Planning Dept.

An appeal claiming that the repeal of Sunday parking meters is an action that requires environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act is baseless, according to responses issued by the SFMTA and Planning Department this week.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

The appeal, filed by Livable City and the SF Transit Riders Union, is set for a hearing and vote at the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The board will not vote not on the merits of running parking meters on Sundays. Instead, the board will vote on whether CEQA would require an environmental impact report for the SFMTA’s new budget, which directs the agency to stop charging for meters on Sundays. The supervisors’ decision is expected to be largely informed by the recommendations of the SFMTA and the Planning Department.

The policy change is expected to remove $11 million per year in transit funding, as well as double the average time that drivers take to find commercial parking spaces on Sundays, according to an SFMTA study [PDF] of the benefits that Sunday meters garnered in their first year. The appellants argue that impacts like increased traffic congestion and pollution, reduced parking turnover for businesses, and lost transit funding warrant an EIR.

“Our appeal insists that CEQA doesn’t allow an exemption for lowering of parking fees, when such an action would clearly impact the environment,” said Mario Tanev of SFTRU.

But the SFMTA maintains that the act of removing fees (e.g., Sunday meter fees) fits within a CEQA exemption meant to allow for speedy municipal budget balancing. The agency argued in its memo [PDF] that the loss of $11 million is not of significant impact because Muni fares, parking ticket fines, and parking permit fees for construction contractors were increased to make up for it:

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SF Bicycle Coalition Welcomes Tyler Frisbee as New Policy Director

Tyler Frisbee is the SF Bicycle Coalition’s new policy director, filling the shoes of Deputy Director Kit Hodge. Hodge left SFBC last month to start a company that will lease family-friendly cargo bikes.

Tyler Frisbee. Photo: SFBC

“We’re honored to have her national expertise to our local issues,” the SFBC wrote in a blog post:

For the last five years, Tyler worked as an aide to Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, serving as one of Congress’ key bike and pedestrian advocates… In her new role at the SF Bicycle Coalition, Tyler will be overseeing our terrific Program, Outreach and Education teams, helping to craft our strategy for big and small campaigns alike, and working on Connecting the City with protected, crosstown bikeways.  She’ll be one of our key voices at City Hall, speaking up for you and your commute, and helping to win important funding and support for the bike projects you care about most. This month she’ll be focusing most on bike funding, working to ensure that biking gets more than the abysmal 1% of the SFMTA’s transportation budget.

Frisbee told Streetsblog she sees the bike movement, in SF and nationally, as being in a “fascinating transition, where [previously] we’ve been outside, riding in the streets Critical Mass-style, having to be very aggressive and vocal and visible about what we want and need. And because of the really strong advocacy work that has happened, and I think San Francisco is an incredible example, we are now at a point where we’re not necessarily out on the streets rallying. A lot of times, we’re helping to make these decisions, we’re part of the bigger transportation world.”

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SAP Arena Wants Parking Crater Around San Jose Diridon Caltrain Station

SAP Center Parking Lot

SAP Center called San Jose’s plans to reduce parking demand with transit improvements “highly speculative”, and wants over 20,000 new parking spaces built near the Diridon Caltrain Station. Photo: Richard Masoner

SAP Center, the corporation that owns the 19,000-seat arena across Santa Clara Street from San Jose’s downtown Caltrain station, doubts that the next 30 years of transit improvements will bring more visitors to events at the “Shark Tank.” Instead, they insist that 20,000 new car parking spaces be built within its redeveloping neighborhood.

“It is unlikely that public transportation will allow convenient transportation from throughout the area the Arena draws from,” wrote SAP Center Vice President Jim Goddard in the Arena’s EIR comment letter on the draft Diridon Station Area Plan, which aims to guide future development toward land uses that support transit ridership, and to “create a world-class cultural destination” within the walkable radius (1/2-mile) of the Diridon Caltrain Station. The plan will allow 2,600 housing units, 420,000 square feet of retail space, 5,000,000 square feet of office space, and 900 hotel rooms — and up to 11,950 new car parking spaces to support this infill development — over the next 30 years.

But SAP Center claims that its customers will always drive in, and that they will demand an extra 8,050 parking spaces, creating a parking crater in downtown San Jose. “Vehicular access will be the most significant method for our patrons and their families to attend Arena events for the foreseeable future,” wrote Goddard. ”Any limitation in the effectiveness of vehicular access to the Arena… would degrade the customer experience and discourage attendance at the Arena.”

Future Diridon Station Area - Facing Downtown San Jose

Electrified Caltrain, BART, High-Speed Rail, and BRT lines will all connect at Diridon Station in 15 years. Mid-rise office and housing development are planned for the area. Image: California High-Speed Rail Authority

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SFTRU: Mayor Lee Keeps Giving Muni Riders the Short End of the Stick

Reps from the SF Transit Riders Union today said Mayor Ed Lee’s recent repeal of Sunday parking meters and abandonment of the vehicle license fee add up to an attack on transit riders.

“Somehow riders keep coming up at the short end of this stick,” SFTRU spokesperson Daniel Sisson said in a statement. “It is extremely difficult to see our city’s actions as anything but entirely hostile to the 700,000 transit riders each day. It’s a complete failure of leadership.”

Forget “Transit First.” Mayor Lee’s backtracking on two of the most promising transit efforts to come out under his administration reflect a “transit last” stance, SFTRU said in a press release. “In a time when we should be rising to meet the demand for transit today, and the increasing demand for transit in the city’s future, Ed Lee refuses to prioritize Muni at every turn.”

Lee announced this week that he would abandon support for the proposed ballot measure to restore the vehicle license fee within SF, which would raise about $1 billion over the next 15 years to re-pave roads and improve Muni, walking, and bicycling. That measure, which would reverse Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2004 cut to the VLF statewide, is the only proposal from the Mayor’s Transportation 2030 Task Force that specifically asks drivers to contribute to the transportation network in a way that starts to reflect the disproportionate costs they impose on it. Lee said there isn’t enough voter support to restore the VLF, based on a poll that found 44 percent would vote for it.

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CalBike Pushes for Protected Bike Lanes, Vulnerable User Laws in Sac

The California Bicycle Coalition held its Advocacy Day this week in the state capitol to lobby legislators on several key policy reforms to promote bicycling.

Joined by local bicycle groups from around the state and participants who finished the California Climate Ride in Sacramento, CalBike met with state legislators and staffers and urged them to support two bills currently in play: one that would codify “separated bikeways,” or protected bike lanes, into state law and another that would increase penalties for drivers who injure vulnerable road users, primarily bicyclists and pedestrians. Advocates also urged lawmakers to support increased funding for projects that promote “active transportation,” a.k.a. walking and bicycling.

At CalBike’s Advocacy Day, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) promotes his bill, A.B. 1193, which would institutionalize protected bike lanes in California. Photos: Melanie Curry

Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) showed up to stump for his bill, A.B. 1193, which would require Caltrans to develop standards for protected bike lanes, also known as “cycle tracks” or “separated bikeways,” which are not currently defined by statute in California. The state’s Streets and Highways Code currently defines three types of bike facilities: “paths,” “lanes,” and “routes,” each of which provide bicyclists with a different level of physical separation from motor traffic, and thus a different level of comfort and safety. “Cycle tracks,” which are on-street bike lanes separated from traffic by landscaping, parking, or a wide painted divider, don’t fit easily into any of the categories currently defined.

Although Caltrans recently endorsed the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Street Design Guide, which does include guidelines for creating cycle tracks, no standard for them currently exists in California law.

Protected bike lanes, common in many civilized nations, are already being built here and there in California. Long Beach and San Francisco have had them for several years, and new ones were recently opened in SF and Temple City. But these have been the result of long and arduous planning processes, and advocates hope that changing the statute will allow Caltrans and local agencies implement them more easily.

The bill would also remove the requirement that local agencies apply the Caltrans Highway Design Manual’s design criteria to all bike facilities, even ones located on city streets and not state highways. Removing this requirement would allow city planners to rely on other criteria like the NACTO Street Design Guide.

Streetsblog will continue to cover A.B. 1193 it as it moves through the legislature. The bill has already passed the State Assembly, and is currently scheduled for a hearing in the Senate next week.

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