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Posts from the "Livable City" Category

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Livable City: Ticket Fee a Smart Way to Fund Transit to Warriors Arena

A rendering of the proposed Warriors basketball arena on the Embarcadero. Image: Golden State Warriors

Transporting folks to and from a new Warriors arena, condo, and hotel development planned for Piers 30-32 along the Embarcadero will require smart planning and the money to fund improvements for transit, walking, and biking to avoid clogging the waterfront with cars.

But Muni typically gets shorted when it beefs up transit service to bring fans to major sports and music events around the city, says Supervisor Scott Wiener, who yesterday proposed adding a $1 to $3 transit surcharge to tickets for such events. Wiener asked the City Controller’s Office to study the impacts of such a fee, and he says preliminary estimates indicate it could bring in anywhere from $3 million to $22 million per year for Muni, depending on the size of the fee and which venues pay it.

“Muni doesn’t have enough light rail vehicles, its vehicles frequently break down, and service has degraded,” Wiener said in a statement. “With a growing population and a possible new sports/concert arena at Piers 30-32, now is the time to ensure that Muni can meet not only today’s transit needs, but also the transit needs of the future.”

“Currently, the Muni underground is overwhelmed whenever there’s a Giants game. With the addition of the new arena, the strain on Muni service will be even more severe.”

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and president of the BART Board of Directors, said the proposal “would certainly help Muni run the extra service,” for which the agency often pays transit operators overtime.

Radulovich pointed out that the surcharge wouldn’t necessarily come out of fans’ pockets, since venue managers would likely lower their ticket prices to match the going rate. “If they could charge two bucks extra on a ticket already, they’d be doing it,” he said. “They price them to fill the seats.”

An even better proposal, Radulovich noted, would be for event tickets to include a free Muni ride to encourage attendees to take transit instead of drive.

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Livable City: Parking Lot on Ferry Terminal Plaza Would Be Shameful

Equity Office's rendering of a parking lot in the middle of the plaza with temporary improvements around the edges. (Pay no attention to the cars!)

The plaza behind the Ferry Building, known largely as a farmer’s market venue and a place for ferry commuters to pass through, could be temporarily turned into a 64-space part-time parking lot during weekdays under a plan being considered by the Port Commission. Equity Office, which leases the Ferry terminal, is pushing the 18-month proposal as a way to generate revenue to underwrite pilot public space improvements around the plaza’s edges during that time.

“To turn this open space into a parking lot is just shameful. No city worth its salt would do that,” Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich told the Port Commission at a hearing on Tuesday. The proposal, he added, would draw more traffic to “one of the most transit-rich places on the continent,” while running “completely contrary” to city and port policies to expand open space at the waterfront and to remove, not add, car parking (especially over water). Furthermore, he argued, past cases have shown that “temporary” parking is rarely temporary.

“If the proposal before you today were an authentic proposal to activate this public space, we would laud it, but it is not,” Radulovich wrote in an email to the Port Commission. “At most times, this plaza will be used to store private cars, which at most times blight and deaden this space, increase traffic along our waterfront, and impose new dangers on pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders in the surrounding streets and public spaces.”

This isn’t EO’s first attempt to turn the plaza into a parking lot. Radulovich said livable streets advocates managed to convince the Port Commission to reject a similar proposal in 2009.

The new proposal was presented to the commission for informational purposes; it wasn’t up for a vote this week. Commissioners won’t voice positions on it until they have more information to consider how it would fall in line with Port plans and policies. EO didn’t say how much revenue would be generated by the parking.

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How Car Parking Can Make Earthquakes More Dangerous in San Francisco

Can you tell why this building might collapse in an earthquake? Photo: Aaron Bialick

The threat of earthquakes that could destroy the homes of thousands at any moment has always loomed over San Francisco. In a bid to to reduce that risk, the Board of Supervisors is expected next week to mandate seismic retrofits for nearly 3,000 wood-frame “soft-story” buildings with five housing units or more that are potentially in danger of collapse.

But what may be overlooked in the discussion about earthquake safety is how it ties in with city parking policy: Many of the apartment buildings with weak ground-floor structures, or “soft-story” buildings, were built that way to make room for car parking.

“These are buildings that have larger openings on the ground floor, either due to garages or storefronts,” said Patrick Otellini, San Francisco’s director of earthquake safety. Many soft-story buildings were constructed before 1978, when modern engineering standards were set, he said.

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, explained that San Francisco set minimum residential parking requirements for new buildings in 1960, but those policies didn’t account for parking’s impacts on structural integrity. “If you’ve created a soft-story with parking additions, still in most places in the city there isn’t a way to get out of that, even if it compromises the safety of your building,” he said.

Radulovich said many buildings in American cities during the 1960s and 70s were built with ground floors completely devoted to parking, leaving little structural support, though they’re less common in SF, than, say, Los Angeles. For these buildings, he used the nickname “dingbat.”

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Cleaning Up SF’s Car-Littered Sidewalks Will Take More Than Parking Tickets

Cars littered on San Francisco’s sidewalks are a painfully common sight. The problem is perhaps most prevalent in outer neighborhoods like the Sunset and Bayview, where, for decades, homeowners with residential garages have paved over their front yards. The pedestrian environment on these streets is left degraded, with swaths of dead space where families and people with disabilities are often forced to walk around an obstacle course of cars and driveway ramps.

Make no mistake: It’s illegal to park on any part of a sidewalk or in a “setback” between the sidewalk and a building. The practice of paving over front yards was also banned in 2002.

Yet conditions in these neighborhoods make clear that the SF Municipal Transportation Agency does not enforce sidewalk parking on sight (though officials have claimed that’s the policy). Meanwhile, the Planning Department says it only fines homeowners who pave their yards when someone files a complaint. The issue recently got some attention in an SF Chronicle article last week, as well as the latest segment of KRON 4′s People Behaving Badly.

With all this space physically molded for car storage — practically every last inch on many streets – Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich said cleaning up San Francisco’s car-littered sidewalks will take more than getting parking control officers to hand out tickets. The Planning Department — which has no staff to proactively enforce rules against illegal setback pavings, according to the Chronicle — would have to crack down on violators, reversing decades of institutional tolerance for the practice.

“The city has turned a blind eye for so long that they have created a de facto entitlement” to illegal parking, Radulovich said. “City agencies have created an uncomfortable dilemma for themselves – start enforcing the law and deal with the fallout, or continue to ignore the problem and watch it grow worse.”

The setbacks, side yards, and backyards required in the city’s planning code ”were intended to create usable open space and/or gardens, not open parking,” said Radulovich. Greenery lost to pavement also means more stormwater flowing into the often-overloaded sewer system.

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Survey: SF’s Top Transpo Priorities Are Fixing Muni, Safer Walking and Biking

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San Francisco’s scarce transportation funds should be used to make streets safer for walking and biking, and to make existing Muni service more reliable before expanding it, according to city residents who were asked to choose how to prioritize public spending.

The findings come from the “Budget Czar” game, an online budgeting simulator recently used by the SF County Transportation Authority to survey the public about how to spend discretionary funds in the agency’s 25-year San Francisco Transportation Plan.

Of the $64 billion in transportation funding the SFCTA expects to spend over the next 25 years, just $3.14 billion — 5 percent — is not already committed to maintaining the existing state of street and transit infrastructure, or to transportation projects already in the works.

When the more than 800 “Budget Czar” participants were asked how they would spend that slice of the pie, they heavily favored improving the core of the existing Muni system rather than expanding it. Of the six spending categories that participants were asked to weigh in on, the top three where they want to see an “aggressive” increase in funding were bicycling (45 percent), walking and traffic calming (40 percent), and “Muni enhancement” (35 percent), according to an SFCTA presentation [PDF] last week.

“It’s great to see that the transportation priorities of the San Franciscans who played the budget game resonate so well with Livable City’s,” said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City.

“San Franciscans understand that investments in active transportation — walking and cycling — are cost-effective and sustainable, and deliver a range of benefits — improved health, neighborhood vitality, less traffic and pollution, a more equitable city, a safer city for children and seniors, and greater enjoyment,” he said.

Respondents also heavily favored improvements to existing transit service over more costly capital projects. The SFCTA laid out a list of 33 proposed transportation projects, including everything from new Bus Rapid Transit projects to new BART stations to removing the Central Freeway. According to an SFCTA report [PDF], the top-ranking projects were the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project, the Muni Transit Performance Initiative (a set of fixes for “key bottlenecks” like a Muni Metro turnaround at Embarcadero Station), the Better Market Street Project, and Geary BRT.

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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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