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Posts from the "Livable City" Category

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Commentary: Why SF Housing Props G and K Matter for Smart Growth

Editor’s note: This is a guest op-ed authored by Urban Habitat, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, and Livable City tying sustainable transportation to two housing policy measures that will be put to voters on Tuesday. It does not necessarily reflect the views of Streetsblog.

Smart Growth at a Crossroads: It’s time to stand up for our true values, vote YES on Propositions G & K

We have known for a long time that urban development is at a crossroads. By all ecological and social measures, the car-oriented model of suburban expansion is no longer tenable. We know that we must re-orient regional development toward compact, diverse, human-scaled urban neighborhoods built around robust public transit: we must return to the City and its neighborhoods as the model of future sustainable development.

Cities like San Francisco are at the heart of this model, as we build out abandoned train yards and shipyards, as we “infill” old gas stations and parking lots, build up along one-story commercial corridors, and rebuild our public realm of transit, streets, sidewalks, parks and recreation spaces. We call this “Smart Growth.”

The beauty of this model is that it does not pave over our greenbelts and farmlands, but rather protects them, by reinvesting in urban centers that our economic development models ignored for over half a century, and reinvigorating them as vibrant neighborhoods that can, as the charter of the Congress for New Urbanism states, “bring people of diverse ages, races, and incomes into daily interaction, strengthening the personal and civic bonds essential to an authentic community.”

But we also know that this path is fraught with dangers: the gentrification of hip urban neighborhoods, the displacement of long-term renters, seniors, neighborhood-serving businesses, and blue collar jobs, and the struggles over who can claim and occupy “the public realm.” The vision of a diverse and vibrant City, the ideal of “City air makes you free,” as they used to say in the European Renaissance, is threatened by the very same market forces that are once again reinvesting in the City.

As our movement has matured over the last two decades and we’ve been able to reflect on the results, studies have shown the link between public investment in transportation and the influx of luxury developments and high-income newcomers that push out the working-class and immigrant communities who have called these neighborhoods home for generations. This is a troubling unintended consequence of the Smart Growth vision we all aspire to.

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

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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.”

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

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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

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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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SFTRU, Livable City Want CEQA Review of Sunday Parking Meter Repeal

Updated 4:16 p.m. with comment from Supervisor John Avalos.

Livable City and the SF Transit Riders Union have filed an appeal claiming that the SFMTA’s vote to repeal Sunday parking meters requires California Environmental Quality Act environmental review.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Given that the policy change is expected to double the average time drivers take to find a commercial parking spot on Sundays, among other impacts, SFTRU’s Mario Tanev says the policy shouldn’t be changed without an environmental impact report. SFTRU also submitted a petition with more than 200 signatures in support of Sunday meters.

“Sunday meters were instituted after a wide outreach, yet are being discontinued based on the whim of one person in City Hall,” Tanev said in a statement referring to Mayor Ed Lee.

The appeal, first reported by the Bay Guardian, claims:

The enforcement of parking meters on Sunday in San Francisco has been doing exactly what it was designed to: reduce traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase parking availability (including in commercial areas), and increase revenues for the City and County of San Francisco (City). Yet SFMTA is proposing without any meaningful analysis to stop enforcing this policy even though it provides benefits to the City and local neighborhood communities. By taking away these benefits, the Decision also increases automobile traffic in direct contradiction to the City’s Transit-First Policy, and, notably, on Sundays, a day when pedestrians and families spend significant time outdoors walking and traversing the streets to enjoy City events.

SFMTA specifically failed to analyze and consider the traffic and environmental impacts of its Decision as required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA is designed to inform decision-makers and the public about potential, significant environmental effects of the Decision. Here, the public and decision-makers were not fully informed as to the impacts of the Decision – in fact they were given almost no information at all – and the purpose of CEQA was thwarted.

The appeal argues that although CEQA doesn’t require environmental review for fee hikes, such as expanding parking meters to Sundays, the act of removing fees (or Sunday meters) doesn’t fit within an exemption meant to allow for speedy municipal budget balancing.

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Warriors Arena Moving to Mission Bay: A Win for Transit Accessibility?

Third and 16th Street, the new proposed site for the Warriors arena. Image: CBS-KPIX

The Warriors announced this week that the site for the basketball team’s proposed arena would be moved from Piers 30-32 on the Embarcadero to Mission Bay, quelling opposition from waterfront development foes. Whether or not the new site will work out for better or worse in terms of accessibility to regional transit, however, is still up for debate.

The Mission Bay site at 16th Street and Third Street is nearly two miles from the nearest BART Station, out of normal walking distance for most visitors. Instead, fans taking BART will be expected to transfer on Muni lines such as the T-Third on the Central Subway corridor, which will stop right out front, and possibly the 22-Fillmore, if extension plans for that line are constructed in time. The distance from BART may be a loss in the eyes of some transit advocates, but it does have its upsides, argues Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and a BART Board member.

Ultimately, Radulovich thinks the Warriors are best off staying at the existing Oakland Coliseum, which is close to BART and the Amtrak Capitol Corridor, making it a more transit-accessible location than either of the proposed San Francisco sites. But the Mission Bay site does leave open more opportunities for nearby transit access than the Embarcadero piers, given all the transportation plans in the works for Mission Bay.

At the proposed Pier 30-32 site, the 0.7-mile walk from Embarcadero BART “was far enough from BART to dissuade many folks from walking,” said Radulovich. He pointed out that once the Central Subway opens in 2019, riders reaching BART via rail would rely on the N-Judah (which Giants Ballpark visitors already cram on to) and the future E-Embarcadero historic streetcar line, as the T-Third will no longer run on the Embarcadero. “Historic streetcars are expensive to operate, low capacity, and have accessibility challenges,” said Radulovich. Additionally, he said, “It would have added to the capacity problems at Embarcadero Station, which is currently the most crowded BART station.”

Furthermore, arena parking would be especially problematic by the Embarcadero. “The auto traffic that would have been generated by the hundreds of planned arena parking spaces would crowd streets like The Embarcadero and Second,” said Radulovich, “where we’d like to see the city reduce the roadway width to improve sidewalks and create protected cycle paths.”

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Supes Hamstring SFMTA’s Ability to Expand Progressive Parking Policy

In a setback for progressive parking policy in San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors voted last week to eliminate the SFMTA’s ability to install any significant amount of new parking meters under a new five-year contract to upgrade existing meters.

The $54 million contract originally covered 25,000 parking meters that accept credit cards and multiple forms of payment to replace existing meters, plus 10,000 for backup stock and some potential expansions, which would require a separate public planning process before installation. But supervisors appear to be going along with the anti-meter campaign led by Supervisor Mark Farrell, amending the contract to remove half of the additional 10,000 meters. SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said that only leaves room for the agency to fill “very small-scale requests” for new meters from merchants.

Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich called the supervisors’ stance “disappointing”:

Parking meters are essential to San Francisco’s policy of prioritizing on-street parking for local merchants and residents before drive-alone commuters. As land uses diversify across the eastern neighborhoods of the city, there will continue to be a need for new metered areas to ensure that commuter parking not displace the short-term parking that supports neighborhood-serving businesses. A cap on parking meters will limit MTA’s ability to manage on-street parking for the benefit of local merchants and their customers.

No supervisors opposed reducing the number of meters to be purchased in the contract. Supervisor John Avalos, who introduced the contract amendment, said the SFMTA is expected to allocate the 5,000 additional meters like so: 1,200 to replace meters on Port property, 2,800 to replace damaged meters, and 1,000 “to be used as a maintenance flow.”

“There will be no expansion of meters,” said Avalos. “If that’s gonna happen, it’ll be another go-around from the MTA to describe how they will implement and with a lot of outreach to the public.”

Even though SFMTA officials stated in no uncertain terms that the location of any significant expansion of meters could only be initiated through a publicly-vetted planning process, supervisors unanimously approved the amendment, citing a lack of confidence in the SFMTA’s outreach process. The SFMTA Board of Directors voted last week to require more stringent outreach measures for new parking meters.

The lone vote against the contract from Supervisor Jane Kim apparently wasn’t intended as a stand for rational parking policy. Instead, Kim said she wanted the contract to include provisions that would bind the SFMTA to adhere to its allocation plan for the meters — an authority that the Board of Supervisors doesn’t have, according to the City Attorney.

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City’s First “Play Streets” Event Kicks Off in the Western Addition

Photos: Aaron Bialick

Two blocks in the Western Addition were closed to cars and turned into a neighborhood gathering space Saturday for the city’s first “Play Streets” event. The program is an effort to build on the success of Sunday Streets and provide smaller-scale car-free spaces where people can play and socialize on a more frequent basis.

“This is an attempt to do all the great things that we do on Sunday Streets — creating a place for outdoor recreation, for neighbors to gather, for people to connect — but to do it on a small scale, and allow communities to self-start,” said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, which organizes Sunday Streets. “Sunday Streets is a big operation, and can be complicated. With Play Streets, we want it to scale down so any neighborhood can take back their streets for a day, or part of a day, and make them community space where kids can play and neighbors can be together.”

Supervisor London Breed with community activist Meaghan Mitchell (right) and Plaza East residents.

D5 Supervisor London Breed, who grew up in the immediate neighborhood, spoke at the event along with organizers from Sunday Streets and agencies that helped coordinate the program. In addition to providing a space that’s safe from car traffic, organizers said the aim was to invite residents to participate in community life with a space that feels safer from crime.

“Part of the challenge that we’ve come to face in this community has been kids not feeling comfortable and free to come outside and just enjoy themselves and be themselves,” said Breed. “I believe that we need to block off more streets to allow families and kids to play and be free.”

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New Stats on the Health and Business Benefits of Sunday Streets

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Sunday Streets on outer Mission Street in the Excelsior last October. Photo: Frank Chan/Flickr

When San Francisco streets are opened up to people for Sunday Streets, the influx of foot traffic brings a host of health and economic benefits to the city’s neighborhoods, according to findings presented by Dr. Susan Zieff, a professor of kinesiology at SF State University, at a Board of Supervisors committee hearing yesterday.

Zieff and her team surveyed 600 Sunday Streets participants at events 2010 and 2011, collecting data that makes a strong case for investing in open streets events. One of the data points we reported in late 2011, for instance, is that every dollar spent on running Sunday Streets yields an estimated savings of $2.32 in medical costs.

The studies “have been really invaluable to us,” said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, which organizes Sunday Streets with help from city agencies.

The top reason people come to Sunday Streets, said Zieff, is to enjoy the city’s streets in a way that’s impossible at nearly any other time, when the space is primarily reserved for traffic and parking.

“Over and over again, people talk about being able to walk down the middle of the street with their families, do physical activity in a safe environment, not to worry about vehicle traffic, and generally be around people who are having a good time,” said Zieff.

In Zieff’s survey, 51 percent of participants reported coming from outside the neighborhood, and the average participant traveled 3.25 miles, round trip, to the event. Among those who had attended Sunday Streets more than once, 25 percent reported an overall increase in physical activity since they began participating in the events. And, Zieff noted, the ethnic demographics at Sunday Streets are generally representative of the city as a whole, meaning the events appear to be effective at increasing physical activity among African-American and Latino residents, who tend to suffer the highest rates of cardiovascular disease.

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Central Corridor Plan Envisions Transitways and Safer Streets for SoMa

Fourth Street. Photo: San Francisco in 15 Weeks

The Central Subway is coming, like it or not, and that means Fourth Street will get Muni Metro service starting in 2019. With that in mind, the SF Planning Department recently released the draft Central Corridor Plan, which sets the stage for upzoned transit-oriented development near new stations and street improvements to accommodate a growing population in a rapidly changing section of SoMa.

“The idea is to support development here because it’s a transit-rich area,” said Amnon Ben-Pazi of the Planning Department’s City Design Group. “Between BART, Caltrain, and the new light-rail, you have as much city and regional transit as you can get.”

The Central Corridor Plan, which encompasses one section of the broader Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, is aimed at creating a more people-friendly SoMa — a district which was primarily industrial until recent years. Streets that have served as car traffic funnels since the mid-20th century would be overhauled with improvements like protected bike lanes, new crosswalks, wider sidewalks, transit-only lanes, and two-way traffic conversions.

The Central Subway route along Fourth Street. Image: SFMTA

SoMa’s streets “were designed in a really specific way to accommodate large volumes of very fast traffic and trucks,” said Ben-Pazi. “While that may have been appropriate when this was an industrial area, it’s certainly not appropriate now with what we know about pedestrian safety and how the design of streets really affects the behavior of drivers.”

“If we’re going to go in the direction of having more people live and work here,” he added, “relying on the streets for their everyday circulation, we really need to address what these streets are designed as.”

Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich said the plan seems to be mostly on the right track, though it should include greater restrictions on new car parking that are more in line with the plan for the adjacent Transbay District adopted last year. “With as much development as is planned, and with a desire to reclaim SoMa’s mean, traffic-sewer streets for people and sustainable transportation, the plan has to be truly transit-oriented,” he said.

The plan calls for reducing traffic lanes and on-street car parking to make room for improvements to transit, biking, and walking. Ben-Pazi said the environmental review process for all of those projects would be completed as part of the plan, which is currently set to be adopted in late 2014.

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