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SF Planning Unveils Design for a More Ped-Friendly Broadway in Chinatown

A rendering of the plan for Broadway at the east tunnel entrance. Images: SF Planning Department

The SF Planning Department this week unveiled its final design for pedestrian improvements on a stretch of Broadway in Chinatown.

The design, which was narrowed down through an extensive community planning process, would add sidewalk extensions, crosswalk improvements, trees, seating, lighting, and bike sharrows between the Broadway Tunnel and Columbus Avenue.

The plan [PDF] would not reduce any of the four traffic lanes or include bike lanes, as was originally proposed in other design options, but those changes could still come in the future. Lily Langlois, the lead planner on the project, said workshop participants showed little support for bike lanes until substantial bike improvements are made in the frightening Broadway Tunnel, which would most likely require re-purposing a tunnel lane for bicycles in each direction. (A bike-activated beacon signal was installed, then upgraded, by the SFMTA, but few, if any, bicyclists seem comforted by it.) She said the real estate for conventional bike lanes outside of the tunnel could come from a westbound traffic lane, though the bulb-outs seem to make a potential protected bike lane more difficult to implement.

Also dropped from an earlier proposal was a pedestrian scramble at Stockton. Langlois said staff determined that the intersection was too wide for a scramble, but that corner bulb-outs should sufficiently reduce crossing distances, which she said was the primary concern at the intersection voiced by participants.

The improvements in the current project are expected to create a more welcoming environment for people on the three blocks of Broadway between the east opening of the tunnel and Columbus Avenue. The project is the fourth and final phase of a 20-year effort to improve Broadway following the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway. The intent is to make the street “a destination, as opposed to a freeway connector, and a place to pass through,” said Deland Chan, senior planner at the Chinatown Community Development Center.

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Chinatown Businesses Thrive During a Week Without Car Parking

What would happen if, one day, the city decided to make better use of the car parking on a commercial corridor like Stockton Street in Chinatown?

“What about the businesses?” opponents might exclaim. “Where would their customers park?”

The myth of the urban driving shoppers was debunked again over the past week or so, when community leaders in Chinatown repurposed parking lanes on the most crowded blocks of Stockton to make more room for merchants and shoppers during the busy Lunar New Year season. If the still-overcrowded sidewalks were any indication, the parking didn’t seem to be missed.

“If anything, we’ve benefited from it,” said Brian Kan of Pacific Seafood Trading Company, who was selling groceries from a stand off the curb like many other merchants. “We think it’s brought us a lot of business, actually, instead of losing business. And it’s a great way for us to interact with the people walking around, too.”

While giving public parking spaces to private businesses may not necessarily achieve the same goals sought by public space expansions like parklets and plazas, the experiment highlighted the competing demands for street space in the densest neighborhood west of the Mississippi. In Chinatown, a disproportionate amount of real estate is devoted to moving and storing cars despite having the city’s lowest car ownership rate of 17 percent. According to a Department of Public Works press release, a study by the SFMTA estimated the corridor sees about 2,000 pedestrians per hour — and that’s on an average day.

The temporary transfer of space was a coordinated effort between Chinatown neighborhood and merchant associations, the mayor’s office, and a slew of city departments “to enhance and improve the experience in Chinatown during this peak holiday time,” said D3 Supervisor David Chiu in a statement. “Chinese New Year is celebrated by thousands and we want to provide an environment that supports the small business community and improves pedestrian flow along Stockton and connecting streets. We are creating a public space that meets the growing needs of this community and beyond.”

Cindy Wu of the Chinatown Community Development Center said that drawing shoppers to linger on already congested sidewalks didn’t necessarily help the crowding problem, but she believes the street needs some changes. She wants to explore how to allocate more space on Stockton for merchants and pedestrians in a way that is most beneficial to the neighborhood.

“There are so many competing uses of the street, and parking plays a role in that,” said Wu, “but we need to figure out, for however many feet from storefront to storefront — Stockton Street is wide — what is the use that benefits the most people at one time, or what is the right balance of use?”

See more photos after the break.

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Planning Department Releases Tentative Street Redesigns for Broadway

Option C. Image: SF Planning Department

The Planning Department, working with the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC), the SFMTA and SFDPW, recently released three options for dramatically improving the pedestrian environment on a two-and-a-half block stretch of Broadway, a high-volume two-way arterial that cuts through North Beach and Chinatown, a neighborhood that is “the most densely populated urban area west of Manhattan.”

Chinatown has the city’s lowest car ownership rate, and yet its residents — mostly low-income, elderly and monolingual immigrants who primarily walk and take Muni — have to deal with some of city’s worst automobile traffic. Broadway between Columbus Avenue and the Broadway Tunnel is lined with bustling grocery stores and restaurants, including some that have been fixtures in the neighborhood for decades, along with community-based organizations and Jean Parker School.

CCDC, the Planning Department’s outreach partner on the Chinatown Broadway Street Design project, stressed that Chinatown’s 15,000 residents have been historically underrepresented in transportation planning. As an environmental and social justice issue, CCDC has undertaken a collaborative process with the city to bring about a street redesign with strong community input. The effort is part of a Caltrans environmental justice grant.

“There’s some institutional biases going on in terms of planning processes in general, and that’s part of our goal, is to balance a little bit,” said Deland Chan, the senior planner at CCDC. Working with Planning, she said, another objective has been to make the process engaging for Chinatown’s residents, and the materials easy for the non-planner to understand.

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Board of Supes Resolution Urges Free Muni Passes for Low-Income Youth

Flickr photo: catbagan

A growing number of low-income youth who depend on public transit in San Francisco are finding it harder to afford the trip to class, but a resolution introduced by Supervisor David Campos this week could pave the way toward providing free Muni passes for the rest of the school year to thousands of students who are regular Muni riders.

“For many poor families in San Francisco, public transportation is actually the only option,” said Mattias Mormino, the project coordinator at the Single-Room Occupancy (SRO) Families United Collaborative, a community-based organization that partners with the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) to provide transportation for homeless and displaced students. ”It’s not like they can choose to leave the car in the garage.”

A survey [pdf] of SFUSD high school students showed nearly 70 percent commute by public transportation while the number of students who come from families with incomes low enough to qualify for free or discounted lunches is up to 61 percent this year.

Despite those numbers, last May the SFMTA Board  voted to increase the price of Youth Muni Fast Passes from $10 to $20. Recently, the SFUSD Board cut fifty percent of the district’s school buses, eliminating another transportation option for many students. As more families face economic hardships and federally-supported student transportation programs are cut, Mormino says the number of families struggling to afford transporting their children to school is growing by the month.

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Chinatown Group Analyzes Pedestrian Safety, Offers Plan for Improvements

Photos: CCDC

Photos: CCDC

Chinatown’s crowded sidewalks, unsafe crosswalks and poor pedestrian signage are not likely to be among the endearing physical characteristic featured in any tourist brochure. Yet in a recent study — the San Francisco Chinatown Pedestrian Safety Needs Assessment [pdf] and Safety Plan [pdf] conducted by the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC) — those issues were identified as several of the highest priority concerns for tenants, merchants and visitors to the popular area.

Chinatown is the densest neighborhood in San Francisco, according to the study, and has the lowest rate of automobile ownership, at 17 percent. The neighborhood is made up of a large percentage of transit users and pedestrians, many of them seniors. From the report:

The 2000 Census reported the median income for the neighborhood as $18,339, with a median age of 50. The proportion of the population living below the poverty level in 2000 was 21 percent versus 11 percent citywide.

Although Chinatown has the lowest rate of car ownership, it has the highest volume of traffic of any San Francisco neighborhood. Seventy eight percent of households live within 150 meters of a truck route. The proportion of Chinatown households living with traffic-related air quality hazards is 100 percent compared to 68 percent citywide.

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Dreaming of Pedestrian Heaven on San Francisco’s Oldest Street

IMG_1981.jpgEnjoying a car-free Grant Avenue at Noodle Fest. Photo: Michael Rhodes

Could San Francisco's first and oldest thoroughfare become the city's first true pedestrianized street?

Since the day in 1835 when William Richardson drew the first map of Yerba Buena that included just one street, called "Calle de la fundacion" -- Foundation Street, which ran along the lines of present-day Grant Avenue, the city's oldest street has gone through several transformations. First, it was renamed Dupont Street, in 1847, then Grant Avenue, in 1886. But the coup de grâce to the old Calle de la fundacion was the 1906 earthquake, which leveled everything but the hills.

On a bright afternoon last Sunday, less than a block from where Richardson first made his home in 1835 near Grant and Washington Street, there were signs Grant might be ready for another transformation. This time, the center of the transformation was not fire or renaming, but noodles.

Thousands of people packed into a few blocks of Grant Avenue where it intersects Broadway, the traditional boundary between Chinatown and North Beach. Noodle Fest 2010, put on by the Chinatown Community Development Center and the North Beach Merchants Association, sought to bridge two neighborhoods that four lanes of traffic on Broadway have long kept apart.

Merchants reaped the benefits of a lot of extra exposure, while everyone got a tantalizing look at what a pedestrianized Grant Avenue could look like.

"For the merchants who participated in Noodle Fest, they were extremely happy to see all the attention their restaurant received by so many people who hardly venture into either neighborhood," said CCDC's Vivian Chang, who helped organize the event.

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Chinatown Students Conduct Thorough Surveys of SFMTA Bus Stops

Bill_Yu.jpgCCDC volunteer Bill Yu measures the width of a sidewalk for a bus stop survey. Photos: Matthew Roth

One of the central criticisms of Muni's objective to consolidate bus stops is that it hasn't conducted thorough demographic analysis of the people who use each stop, particularly seniors and the disabled. Rather than rely solely on the distance between stops and the incline of the streets, say critics, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) should make nuanced decisions about each stop based on the amenities near the stops and the people who use them.

But one community group isn't waiting on the SFMTA to do the legwork.

Staff at the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC) and approximately twenty students with clipboards and measuring tape analyzed 34 bus stops in Chinatown, an initiative the group hopes will be a model adopted by other neighborhood groups and the SFMTA itself. The students who conducted the surveys are part of CCDC's Youth for SROs Leadership Empowerment program, most of them children of recent immigrants to the United States.

"We're trying to offer a community perspective of how people use a bus stop," said CCDC's Deland Chan, who coordinated the surveys with Judy Kuang. "We're trying to capture exactly the value of a bus stop, not in terms of the spacing, but in terms of its importance to community uses, in terms of who uses a bus stop and what the people think they would like to improve with the transit system they encounter on a daily basis."

As part of the rationale for the survey, CCDC said bus stop spacing should be part of the larger goal of facilitating transit as an attractive alternative to driving, integrating design features that improve public health and safety, and ensuring that existing transit services complement and encourage travel by foot.

"Because the MTA do not include the demographic and the land use data, we are collecting all the data," said Bill Yu, a high school senior. Yu said that without looking at neighborhood amenities, a bus stop placement policy would fall short of community needs. "I think this is really helpful for the community, especially the Chinatown neighborhoods. The people who live here need bus stops because they need to take the bus to buy food and other stuff for their basic needs."

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Reminder: SFMTA Board Vote on Two-Year Budget Tomorrow

4516374359_1700a631c1.jpgFlickr photo: eviloars

It may not be at the most convenient hour to make a trip to City Hall, but tomorrow's SFMTA Board meeting at 2 p.m. could be the last chance to speak up before Muni service cuts are extended for the next two years.

The board, which is appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, is set to vote on a two-year budget that, if passed, would continue 10 percent Muni service cuts through fiscal year 2011, with a plan to restore half that service in fiscal year 2012.

Cuts are already slated to begin on May 8 as part of a measure to balance the budget through the end of the current fiscal year, June 30. The SFMTA still has a deficit of as much as $19 million to fill by then.

But transit advocates hope those cuts won't be continued into the next two years.

Members from various community groups will be out in force at the meeting, including a coalition that includes the Chinese Progressive Association, Chinatown Community Development Center, Community Tenants Association, and People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER). According to a press advisory, they'll call on the SFMTA Board to "take service cuts off the table, and balance the budget by cutting SFPD work orders and instituting progressive revenue measures."

If you're planning to drop in to the meeting quickly to comment, you can follow the San Francisco Transit Riders Union Twitter feed, which will provide updates on when you can comment. Streetsblog will also be Tweeting major developments. 

If you can't make it to the meeting, you can send an email to the Mayor at gavin.newsom@sfgov.org and the SFMTA Board at mtaboard@sfmta.com.

SFMTA Board meeting with possible vote on FY11-12 budget, Tuesday, April 20, 2 p.m., in City Hall Room 400. The budget is item 11 on the agenda

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Dufty Still Deliberating as Garage Legislation Vote Looms

IMG_1213.jpgPreparing for a new garage addition. Photo: Michael Rhodes
Supervisor Bevan Dufty says he is still considering how he will vote tomorrow on legislation that would limit new garages in existing buildings in Chinatown, North Beach, and Telegraph Hill and eliminate minimum parking requirements in those neighborhoods. Advocates are urging him to support the measure, but Dufty said he's still deliberating as he continues to receive waves of feedback from supporters and opponents of the plan.

The Board of Supervisors will take a second and final vote tomorrow on the legislation, which passed in a first reading by a 7-2 vote, including an aye from Dufty. Since the Mayor hasn't come out with a position on the legislation yet, proponents hope Dufty will vote in favor of the legislation again, giving it an eight-vote supermajority in case the Mayor vetoes it. (Supervisor John Avalos was absent from the first vote, but the measure's supporters are hopeful he will lend his support tomorrow.)

While he voted for the measure on February 9, Dufty said he did so at the time to give it further study before a final vote. He is reportedly being heavily lobbied by garage addition companies and other groups that oppose restrictions on condo-conversions (including the group Plan C, the Examiner reported.)

"I have not decided what I'm going to do, but I definitely plan to talk to David Chiu before mid-morning tomorrow and let him know what my thoughts are," Dufty told Streetsblog today. "I suspected that I was going to have some concerns, and I definitely have concerns."

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City Leaders Gather for Central Subway Groundbreaking Ceremony

IMG_1473.jpgMayor Newsom addresses supporters of the Central Subway. Photo: Michael Rhodes

Dozens of local elected officials and community leaders donned their novelty hard hats today for a Central Subway groundbreaking ceremony under the I-80 freeway overpass. Tunneling for the subway won’t start for at least another two years, so a utility relocation project at the future site of the tunnel’s SoMa portal had to suffice.

“We’re here specifically to mark the beginning of the last month of relocation of utilities to make room for the tunnel portal that will start under this freeway and end at Moscone station,” explained MTA Executive Director Nat Ford.

Led by Mayor Newsom and Ford, an array of speakers praised the project as an important transportation link for the city’s eastern-most neighborhoods. The project is set to open in 2018 and would extend the T-Third Street light rail line from the 4th and King Caltrain station to mid-Chinatown, diving underground at the I-80 overpass in SoMa.

“We view this project as – it’s about Chinatown – but more importantly, connecting important places in San Francisco: Bayview-Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley, the entire eastern seaboard, Mission Bay, Chinatown, North Beach,” said Gordon Chin, Executive Director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, which has pushed for the project since before its inception.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu called the project a “vision of turning San Francisco into a true 21st Century Transit First city.”

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