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Sunday Streets to Expand With Neighborhood-Oriented “Play Streets for All”

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San Francisco’s Sunday Streets will continue to grow next year with a new program designed to bring more neighborhood-oriented car-free street events to places that lack park space.

Kids playing at a Sunday Streets event in the Tenderloin. Photo: Bryan Goebel

“Play Streets For All,” a collaboration between Livable City, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency, and public health organizations, will introduce a smaller-scale version of Sunday Streets, making it easier for residents to close a block or two to cars and open them up for play and community-building.

The pilot program, which will be held in addition to regular Sunday Streets events, will target neighborhoods that suffer from high rates of childhood obesity and lack safe places for kids to play.

“We need to remember that keeping kids active isn’t a secret — sometimes the answer is simply providing places for kids to be kids,” said Mayor Ed Lee in a statement. “Play Streets for All will build on our Sunday Street resources and organizing expertise to create family-friendly, safe recreational space in neighborhoods that need it most.”

Sunday Streets organizer Susan King said four neighborhoods are set to see Play Streets next year: the Tenderloin, Chinatown, Bayview, and the Western Addition. The exact dates and locations, along with the rest of the Sunday Streets schedule, will be announced by early January, she said.

“Due to its great success, the current demand for Sunday Streets outpaces our capacity to reach every community that wants to host these events,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin in a statement. “Play Streets for All is a simple, straightforward solution that will help make more of our streets available for kids of all ages to enjoy in safe, fun and healthy ways.”

The program should provide an easier channel for residents to hold smaller, community-based car-free street events, which have been tough to organize because of an arduous bureaucratic process and a host of questionably high fees levied by city agencies. By minimizing city staffing costs and simplifying the process, the Play Streets program “presents a nimble and inexpensive approach for creating temporary open space,” a news release said. The effort will include local workshops, led by Sunday Streets and the non-profit organization SF Beautiful, to get neighborhood organizers up to speed on “best practices” for holding successful events, said King.

“The idea behind Play Streets for All,” she said, ”is to provide support for neighborhood activists to produce and manage their own car-free streets events on a smaller scale to make the opportunities provided by neighborhood open streets events (like Sunday Streets) happen more often in areas that lack open space and recreational resources.”

Play Streets will have a stronger emphasis on improving public health than the regular Sunday Streets program — it’s funded in part by a $50,000 grant from California Blue Cross and Anthem Blue Shield, and one of the organizers is the Partnership for a Healthier America — created in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign – which is launching Play Streets programs in ten cities.

“We can’t wait to see the initiative in action,” said PHA President Lawrence Soler, ”to see kids running around these new spaces and to hear sounds of traffic replaced by sounds of kids at play.”

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Livable City: With Smarter Land Use, SFCTA Could Avert “Total Gridlock”

San Francisco’s South of Market district will be crippled by gridlock within a generation unless the city makes major improvements to its transit, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure and implements policies that entice commuters to travel by means other than driving.

That’s according to planners from the SF County Transportation Authority who aim to avert such a scenario by implementing a long-range transportation blueprint over the next 25 years [PDF]. But the blueprint misses some major opportunities to pursue transit-oriented growth, say advocates. In effect, they argue, planners are making it much harder to avoid a traffic-choked future than it has to be.

To avert “total gridlock” in SoMa, planners estimate that the anticipated increase in driving brought on by population and job growth must be curbed by about 20 percent, with another 20 percent reduction needed to have “a livable, functional, flowing system, that is meeting the needs of bicyclists and transit,” said Tilly Chang, the SFCTA’s deputy director for planning. “We’re talking about quite a big reduction in travel demand by car in the peak period in order to meet these basic functional network goals.”

The projected traffic tsunami comes from an anticipated 101,000 new households and 191,000 new workers between now and 2040, mainly in downtown and along the city’s eastern waterfront, according to the SFCTA. Under the status quo, that growth is expected to generate approximately 412,000 daily car trips, which is about how many are currently made across Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge combined. Chang noted that 80 percent of downtown driving commuters are San Franciscans, while 50 percent of downtown transit commuters come from within the city. “We have a lot of work to do,” she said.

The forecast even accounts for major transit projects currently underway, like Bus Rapid Transit routes on Van Ness Avenue and Geary Boulevard, the Central Subway, the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project, and the Transbay Center, as well as planned biking and walking improvements, Chang said.

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Board of Supervisors Approves Bill Permitting Citywide Parking Rentals

A bill allowing many residential parking spaces to be rented to residents citywide was passed unanimously by the SF Board of Supervisors yesterday despite criticisms that it could encourage car commuting and discourage property owners from converting garages to housing units.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Image: SFGovTV

At a board meeting last week, D5 Supervisor Christina Olague proposed postponing approval of the legislation for further analysis in response to a letter from Jason Henderson, a geography professor and chair of the Market and Octavia Citizens Advisory Council (and occasional Streetsblog contributor).

Henderson, along with Livable City’s Tom Radulovich, argued that the measure had not been properly vetted by advocates and staff from the Municipal Transportation Agency for the impacts of allowing most residential parking to be rented to anyone in the city, eliminating the existing requirement that renters live within 1,250 feet of the parking space.

But the bill was pushed through after other supervisors said they felt further consideration unnecessary. The provision removing the 1,250-foot rule was one piece of a larger, generally popular proposal to simplify procedures for collecting the parking tax from property owners who own five or fewer parking spaces.

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Livable City: Expect More Traffic If Parking Rental Rule Is Changed

A proposal to allow residential car parking spaces to be rented out to anyone living in San Francisco has drawn fire from livable streets advocates who say it would encourage more car commuting and discourage property owners from converting parking spaces to housing units.

Under a new proposal, residential parking garages in small buildings could be rented to anyone in the city, potentially drawing car commuters. Photo: Rahim Rahman/Flickr

The proposal is part of legislation [PDF] headed to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The provision would remove an existing requirement that anyone who rents a residential parking space live within 1,250 feet of it, opening such spaces up to car owners citywide. The change would apply to buildings with five or fewer parking spaces, clearing the way for residential buildings near workplaces to be used, essentially, as commuter parking. It’s worth noting that 70 percent of downtown rush hour driving is done by SF residents, according to the SF County Transportation Authority.

“Those spaces would no longer be residential spaces. We’re changing the use of them entirely,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “Five [spaces] or fewer is pretty much every residential parcel in this city… We’re a city of small apartment buildings.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who introduced the ordinance, said the current limit is impractical to enforce, and that allowing property owners to rent parking spaces to a broader market would make it easier to “unbundle” them from apartment rentals.

The larger part of the legislation, which is meeting with little opposition, would reform payment procedures for a parking tax that has gone almost completely uncollected on non-resident rentals since it was put in place in the 1970′s. The entire bill was passed by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee within the last week.

In an email to the Board of Supervisors, Radulovich argued that removing the 1,250-foot rule would go against the city’s policies which “maintain that existing neighborhood parking should be prioritized for residents and for local businesses, and that parking policies should discourage drive-alone commuting in favor of sustainable transportation modes.” His statement reads:

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Planning Commission OKs Parking-Saturated Condo Project at Embarcadero

Not pictured: a 400-space undergound parking garage and all the car traffic it will generate. Image: Hutner Descollonges via 8Washington.com

A luxury waterfront condo and parking garage development is on its way to the central Embarcadero, even though it would add three times the number of residential parking spaces allowed by law, plus 255 public spaces, to one of San Francisco’s most transit-rich destinations.

The SF Planning Commission approved the environmental impact report for the 8 Washington Street project in a 4-2 vote yesterday after a joint hearing with the Recreation and Parks Commission that lasted seven hours. The project must still be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

The garage would include a parking spot for each of the 145 units (three times what the planning code permits) and 255 public spaces, which the Port claims are needed to replace other nearby parking being removed. The project would bring some park space and pedestrian enhancements, but the enormous underground public parking garage will wipe out any benefit by serving as a magnet for car traffic in an area that already caters too much to the automobile, even after its revitalization following the removal of a freeway.

“We think it’s a terrible idea,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich, who argues the area already accommodates excessive amounts of car parking given its proximity to multiple downtown transit options. “With the exception, maybe, of Midtown Manhattan and the Chicago Loop, I can’t think of a place in the United States that has got more transit service.”

8 Washington will be located within walking distance of numerous neighborhood amenities and transit lines, including Muni light rail and BART stations. Radulovich also noted that future transit projects like high-speed rail are poised to make it an even more ideal spot for reliable car-free travel.

Jonathan Stern, the Port’s director for waterfront development, argued to the Planning Commission that the parking is needed for Ferry Building customers who drive to “carry large objects” and who compete with driving commuters for spots, also noting that the underground garage will be “out of sight.” The Port says that 961 parking spaces within a 15-minute walk of the building, including the 105-space parking lot currently located on the 8 Washington site, have recently been removed or will be removed in coming years.

Advocates who’ve looked at the numbers say the Port’s parking supply analysis is severely flawed. Existing parking garages and lots in the area are poorly utilized, according to Radulovich, who says that more than enough parking would be provided by converting underused commuter parking spaces to short-term parking for Ferry Building visitors who drive, though that could be challenging to do in private garages.

“The Port’s taken this position that the high watermark of parking, the maximum number of historic parking spaces, is the natural or logical number of parking spaces,” said Radulovich. “We think that’s kind of a bogus approach.”

A 2005 study [PDF] by the SF County Transportation Authority found that despite “a perceived shortage” of parking in the area, off-street lots and garages were occupied at a rate of just 21 percent and on-street parking 70 percent. “This could be because some garages are less visible or in areas that less familiar to tourists,” the study says, “which implies that better driver information systems, even just better signage, would improve the parking situation today.” It also noted that luring drivers into garages with comparatively lower prices, as the SFPark program is currently doing, would help optimize use of the existing parking.

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Growing Momentum for a Car-Free Market Street Ahead of 2015 Repaving

An unprecedented planning effort is currently underway to redesign Market Street, and transform it into a grand car-free thoroughfare in 2015, when it’s scheduled to be repaved. But why should we have to wait that long for a car-free Market Street? There is a growing momentum to do more aggressive trials that would inform the Better Market Street planning process, and divert more private automobiles off Market to improve conditions for people who ride transit, walk or bike.

“I do think that now is the time to accelerate our efforts to improve Market Street,” said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu.

The District 3 supervisor and mayoral candidate introduced a resolution [pdf] yesterday that calls on the SFMTA to implement more “near-term pilot projects, including increased private automobile diversions, to speed up transit along Market Street while improving the safety and comfort of people walking and biking, and supporting the local commercial and cultural function of the street.”

His comments at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting followed a q-and-a session with Mayor Ed Lee, who was asked by Chiu if he supports more trials to improve Market, and specifically what “on the ground pilot programs should happen soon while the long-term planning process goes on.”

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Will New Trader Joe’s in Nob Hill Bring More Car Traffic?

The current Cala Foods on Hyde Street is fronted by a parking lot. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Trader Joe’s announced last week that it is moving into a new location on Nob Hill, at the southwest corner of California and Hyde streets, where the lease for Cala Foods expires in late December. It’s a dense, transit-rich neighborhood that sits along the California cable car line. Given the popularity of TJ’s four other San Francisco locations, which cater largely to motoring shoppers, will it bring more cars and congestion to the neighborhood?

“The plan is to keep the parking configured exactly as it is right now. There will be about 80 spaces total after we’ve re-striped the garage and complete the work,” said Dan Safier, the president of the Prado Group, the developer. “Plus, you have a lot of people who live in the area who just don’t live with cars, so shoppers will be using public transportation or arriving on foot.”

Trader Joe’s recently abandoned plans for a Castro location because neighborhood groups courageously pushed for no parking. The chain ultimately pulled out, according to Supervisor Scott Wiener, because “the location was not going to work for its business model, one that is fairly reliant on automobile visits.”

Safier said Trader Joe’s plans to occupy a little over half of the 25,000 square foot building on Hyde and will begin construction in early 2012. Because the change in tenancy doesn’t require a change of use, it doesn’t trigger a Planning Department review, similar to the process for the Whole Foods that recently replaced another Cala Foods location in the Haight. (Update: According to the SF Planning Department, because Trader Joe’s is formula retail, it will actually require a conditional use permit. It’s possible the Planning Department could require that Trader Joe’s take measures to prevent a vehicle queue and address pedestrian circulation at this location).

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Supes Committee Approves Lower Car Parking Maximums in SoMa

The Yerba Buena parking garage. Flickr photo: mlinksva

As developers bring more residents and employees to the South of Market (SoMa) district, the number of parking lots and garages they build for automobiles will largely determine how much the new tenants and commuters will drive.

But even in a downtown area like SoMa, developers are bound by antiquated planning codes to provide a minimum number of off-street parking spots.

Transit advocates are looking to reverse those restrictions with a piece of legislation [pdf] approved by the SF Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee yesterday. The ordinance would shed the city’s planning code of car parking minimums in SoMa and replace them with parking maximums in some areas. It’s expected to be confirmed by the full Board of Supervisors in the next few weeks.

“This is the next step in comprehensive parking reform in San Francisco,” said Tom Radulovich, the executive director of Livable City, who drafted the legislation along with former D6 Supervisor Chris Daly when he was in office last year. Daly’s successor, Supervisor Jane Kim, took over the legislation as its sponsor.

Among a host of progressive parking reforms, the proposal would bring consistent maximums to the SoMa district, which planning ordinances passed over the years have set differently within individual sections. It would also prohibit office parking garages closest to the downtown job center from structuring parking prices in a way that lures driving commuters.

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Mayor Lee to Bring Sunday Streets to Chinatown and North Beach This Year

Mayor Ed Lee with (left to right) Livable City Program Manager Susan King, Supervisor David Chiu, and SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director Bond Yee. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Chinatown and North Beach, the “densest neighborhoods west of the Mississippi,” are set to be graced by Sunday Streets for the first time this year, Mayor Ed Lee announced today. City leaders and advocates said they’re eager for the opportunity to let residents experience Grant Avenue and California Street free of car traffic.

“Sunday Streets will be different from a street fair. It will allow residents to explore all uses of the streets,” said Mayor Lee. “This is about working with all of the elements of the community and breaking down bureaucratic walls to make things happen.”

The growing demand from neighborhood and merchants associations had initially put Sunday Streets on the horizon for next year, but a 2011 date is being chosen at the insistence of Mayor Lee, said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich.

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CPMC Hospital Stirs Concern Over Transit, Traffic, Pedestrian Impacts

Visual simulation of the proposed Cathedral Hill hospital. Images: CPMC.

Visual simulation of the proposed Cathedral Hill hospital. Images: CPMC.

Transit advocates have joined a broad coalition of opponents mounting a fight against California Pacific Medical Center’s (CPMC) long range development plan for its San Francisco facilities, decrying the significant increase in parking being proposed, and the attendant impact that will have on traffic, transit and pedestrian safety. They argue the increase in parking supply will induce more driving to already crowded streets and will deteriorate Muni service and cause conflicts with pedestrians and bicycle riders.

They also say the DEIR fails to adequately address those concerns, in no small part because the Planning Department’s guidelines still don’t explicitly correlate parking supply with driving demand, the same argument brought against the City Place mall project on Market Street. Whether the advocates who appealed and are considering a lawsuit against City Place will do the same with CPMC is uncertain, though more will likely be known after the first Planning Commission public hearing on the project today.

Of the five CPMC locations studied in the DEIR, the most significant net increase in parking will also be at the facility located in one of the most transit-rich and congested parts of the city. The enormous new Cathedral Hill complex will occupy two blocks of Geary Boulevard on either side of Van Ness Avenue, the future crossing point for the city’s two planned bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors. During the first phase of construction between 2011 and 2015, when Cathedral Hill will open, CPMC plans to build a 555 bed hospital and a large medical office building (MOB) to complement an existing MOB it owns at 1375 Sutter.

The combined facilities will have over 1200 parking spaces, with a net increase of 650 from current conditions. While the 513 spaces at the hospital are significantly more than code would allow (95 spaces), the 542 spaces at the new MOB are less than half the quantity that the planning code for MOBs mandates, so the MOB will “borrow” from the hospital spaces to make the entire facility compliant within a range that’s allowed in code.

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