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Overcoming the Barriers to a Seamless Bay Area Transit Experience

Transit fragmentation can take many forms. Funded and managed by the City of Oakland and operated by AC Transit, the free B shuttle in downtown Oakland was a new transit service added to existing AC Transit and BART services.

Transit fragmentation can take many forms. Funded and managed by the City of Oakland and operated by AC Transit, the free B shuttle in downtown Oakland was a new transit service added to existing AC Transit and BART services. Photo: Sergio Ruiz

Ratna Amin is SPUR’s Transportation Policy Director. This piece originally appeared in SPUR’s The Urbanist.

The Bay Area’s prosperity is threatened by fragmentation in the public transit system: Riders and decision-makers contend with more than two dozen transit operators. Inconsistent transit experiences and disjointed planning and investment make our transit system less efficient, less usable, and less likely to help us meet our goals for a thriving and sustainable region.

The Bay Area economy and labor market is increasingly regional: 29 percent of Bay Area commuters cross a county boundary to get to work each day. These long commutes, many of which traverse the bay, put incredible stress on constrained transportation corridors. Two-thirds of Bay Area commuters drive to work alone, creating significant congestion on the region’s freeways and bridges. Dramatic growth in employer-run shuttles over the last few years demonstrates the demand for alternatives, both to car travel and to regional transit such as BART and Caltrain, which are running short on room for passengers. As people move further out to find affordable places to live, the expectation is that regional travel will grow.

For these reasons and others, such as managing sprawl and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Bay Area invests heavily in transit. It is spending $21 billion over the next 25 years to build public transit infrastructure and $159 billion to operate and maintain the transit system. Despite similar expenditures in the past, overall transit ridership has not been growing in the Bay Area. Most trips within the Bay Area are still made by car, with transit accounting for only 3 percent of all trips. Part of the reason it’s hard to increase transit ridership here may be due to how fragmented our system is compared to others.

Many could benefit from more integrated transit

We have the opportunity to increase the market share for transit in places where there is significant demand for regional travel. Half as many people travel from central Alameda County to San Francisco as travel from the Peninsula/Silicon Valley/San Jose to San Francisco, for example. However, 44 percent of the Alameda County trips use public transit while just 17 percent of the Silicon Valley trips use public transit.

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Walk SF Gives City a Mixed Score on Street Safety Progress

A recently-completed bulb-out at McAllister and Hyde Streets near City Hall. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Walk SF today released its second annual Street Score Report Card [PDF], which it bills as the “only comprehensive review of the City’s progress towards improving pedestrian safety and walkability.” The report is the first thorough attempt to assess how well the city has followed through on the mayor’s 2013 Pedestrian Strategy.

SF agencies’ progress remained subpar on many of Walk SF’s nearly 40 metrics, though the city did exceed its goals in a few key areas, such as the installation of bulb-outs.

The report tracks progress in six categories: Reducing injuries, installing engineering upgrades, focusing enforcement on the most dangerous traffic violations, delivering education campaigns, adopting local and state legislation to enable safety measures, and reporting progress data to the public.

“We can’t measure what we don’t count,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Ferrara in a statement. And by the most important measure — fatal and serious injuries sustained in traffic — SF didn’t hit its mark.

Last year, 96 people were killed or suffered severe injuries on SF streets, higher than the goal of 82 laid out in the Pedestrian Strategy. Walk SF also notes that the share of pedestrian deaths involving seniors was higher than the city’s target.

Image: Walk SF's Street Score

Image: Walk SF’s Street Score

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Not All City Hall Electeds Up to the Challenge of Riding Muni for 22 Days

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Six supervisors did not hesitate to commit to the SF Transit Riders Union’s challenge to ride Muni for 22 days starting on June 1, but five supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee haven’t signed on. The split is a good indicator of who supports transit at City Hall — for the supervisors who have a record of legislating to improve transit, riding Muni every day is no biggie, and some do it already.

Supervisor John Avalos, one of six supes to get on board with SFTRU's 22-day Muni riding challenge, tweeted a photo early.

Supervisor John Avalos, one of six supes to get on board with SFTRU’s 22-day Muni riding challenge, tweeted an early selfie.

Supervisors David Campos, Jane Kim, Scott Wiener, Julie Christensen, John Avalos, and Eric Mar committed to the challenge at Tuesday’s board meeting. Mayor Lee and the other five supervisors have either declined the challenge or haven’t responded to Streetsblog’s request for comment.

The 22 days represent the 22 years since SF voters approved Prop AA, an advisory measure which stated that “city officials and full-time employees [shall] travel to and from work on public transit at least twice a week,” according to SFTRU:

22 years later, this policy agreement has never been acted on, and now is a chance to make up for lost time!

When they regularly ride public transit, city officials better understand the rider’s daily experience and prioritize funding and planning a more reliable, robust, and visionary transit system to support it. This is an opportunity for our city officials to promote their own commitment to public transportation, showcasing that they care about the future of Muni.

Here are SFTRU’s guidelines for the challenge:

Participating officials will tweet while riding, walking to, or waiting for transit every day for those 22 days, posting it to Twitter with an optional photo using the hashtag #OnBoardSF. If they don’t take transit for one of those days, they will tweet their reason why with the same hashtag.

Supervisor Wiener said he’s been a daily Muni rider for 18 years. “I’m lucky that I live in the Castro,” where “we have really strong transit access.” But he plans to up his game and “try some of the lines that are a little bit more challenging.”

“I should assume everyone is doing [the challenge] unless otherwise stated,” Campos said on Tuesday. “So count me in.”

Supervisor Kim said she “will be participating,” but that since she lives within walking distance of City Hall, “it would actually be very hard for me to take Muni versus walking. So I will do my best to go take Muni for a stop.” Supervisor Christensen said she walks and takes Muni most days. “In addition to riding Muni, I’m also trying to expand it,” presumably referring to her push to extend the Central Subway.

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Supervisors Want More Bicycling Classes in Their Districts at Less Expense

An SFBC Family Biking class on the John F. Kennedy Drive parking-protected bike lane in Golden Gate Park. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

Several supervisors say they’d like to see city-funded bike education classes distibuted more equally among their districts, and to attract more participants to reduce the per-person cost of the program.

Locations of bicycling classes in SF. Image: Google Maps via SFBC

At a recent committee meeting of the SF County Transportation Authority Board, which is comprised of supervisors, members raised their concerns when they approved a nine-month extension of their contract with the SF Bicycle Coalition and the YMCA YBike program, which taught bicycling skills to over 1,800 kids and adults last year.

Supervisors Mark Farrell and Norman Yee said their districts appear “underserved” among the several dozen class locations. “We have a ton of bicyclists in District 2,” said Farrell, including kids and tourists on rental bikes. “We have bicycle shops all over the place, we have people cycling down the waterfront, through the Preisidio… It’s really challenging to look at this and say this is a great thing when I look at two locations in the district.”

Matt Lasky of the SFMTA said the locations are chosen based on neighborhood density, but that they will look into re-distribution.

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Does a Helmet Law Make Sense in California?

Riders roll into the South Gate community of South Los Angeles during the Ride4Love. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Riders roll into the South Gate community of South Los Angeles for the Ride4Love. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The proposed California-wide bicycle helmet law has stirred up a passionate debate on blogs and bike club lists as well as in the media. Unfortunately, many discussions have degraded quickly into name-calling and personal insults–like the oh-so-droll “hard-headed bicyclists” headline several media outlets thought was so clever. Many people also expressed off-the-point misunderstandings of objections to the proposal, and questionable statistics have been endlessly repeated.

But there’s no need to settle the question of whether, in total, a helmet law will make bicycling safer. What’s at issue is whether it’s a wise idea for the state to pass a law that would require every bicycle rider to wear a helmet.

I propose a thought experiment: let’s explore some potential outcomes of a helmet law. The points below are not meant to be arguments for or against S.B. 192. Instead, they are an attempt to think through as many different possible repercussions of a mandatory helmet law in California as possible. If something is missing, add it in the comments.

If California were to pass S.B. 192:


Alameda’s Second Parking-Protected Bikeway Takes Shape on Shoreline Drive

Alameda’s Shoreline Drive was just striped with a new, 1.8-mile parking-protected bikeway. Image: Robert Prinz, Bike East Bay

The East Bay’s island city of Alameda has laid down its second parking-protected bikeway along Shoreline Drive.

The paint has barely dried on the 1.8-mile, two-way bikeway, but Alamedans are already using it. The city is adding finishing touches before a ribbon cutting set for March 7. Bike East Bay Education Coordinator Robert Prinz, a former Streetsblog intern, captured the below time lapse video showing a roll down the bikeway.

It’s one of only a handful of parking-protected bikeways in the Bay Area, and the first to be installed since SF’s John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park was striped in 2012.

“We really think of this as our first complete street,” said Lucy Gigli of Bike Walk Alameda. “There’s vehicle travel, there’s wonderful bike lanes now, and the path and sidewalk are so much more comfortable for people walking.”

Like other parking-protected bikeways in cities like New York, the Shoreline project uses paint and concrete islands, with a car parking lane between the bikeway and the motor traffic lanes. A buffer zone allows for room to safely open car doors. The curbside bikeway runs along Alameda’s beach and next to a major shopping center (surrounded, unfortunately, by a giant parking lot). 

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New Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf: “Time to Re-Envision Our Roads”

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New Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf showed promise as an executive with a smart vision for her city’s streets at the annual kick-off party for Young Professionals in Transportation’s SF Bay chapter this week.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf: “Our roads were built to accommodate more cars than they need.” Photo: Cynthia Armour/Twitter

In an interview at the event with Sam Greenspan of the podcast 99% Invisible, Schaaf said “it’s time we re-envision how we use roads” and that “we need to create a physical environment that encourages active transportation.”

An Oakland native and former council member, Schaaf was endorsed by Transport Oakland, a group formed last year to advocate for safer streets and better options to get around the city.

Here are some highlights from Schaaf’s appearance this week:

  • “I think it’s time we re-envision how we use roads. It’s their public right-of-way. We’ve got a great story to tell at Lake Merritt… There used to be a freakin’ freeway on either end of the lake, and we removed multiple lanes of traffic, we put in a public plaza on one end, where there are free Salsa dance lessons — I mean, it is a party going on every weekend where there used to be roads… Nobody misses those lanes of traffic at all. Our roads were built to accommodate more cars than they need.”
  • Schaaf intends to hire Oakland’s first mayoral transportation advisor, whom she “plans to announce soon.”
  • When asked about how she sees Vision Zero, she said “twenty is plenty” (referring to the UK-based campaign for 20 mph speed limits), and noted two recent pedestrian fatalities within the past week. “I don’t think anybody supports traffic fatalities,” she said.
  • “Oakland is multi-modal… we need to create a physical environment that encourages active transportation. It’s good for our health, for our social interactions, for our humaneness.”
  • When asked about expanding Oakland’s bike network, Schaaf pointed to the city’s first protected bike lane going in on Telegraph Avenue this year. She also emphasized the need to re-pave the city’s roads since potholes “can be deadly” for people on bikes, and because the costs of road maintenance increase dramatically when neglected for too long.
  • Schaaf plans to campaign for a transportation bond measure in 2016 to add to Measure BB, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by Alameda County voters in November that will raise $7.8 billion in transportation funding over 30 years.
  • On the proposals for streetcars on Broadway and San Pablo Avenue, and the contrast with bus rapid transit improvements, she said “that’s going to be a big hot debate — one (bus transit) is more of a transportation solution, and the other is more of an economic development solution.”
  • “The issue about bus vs. rail is part of the gentrification and equity conversation… it’s incredibly important to educate our elected officials not to always just look at the shiny, pretty thing, because buses are what we need to actually get people to their jobs.” (No comment specifically on the Oakland Airport Connector, though it sounds like her take could apply to that project.)
  • Schaaf noted the blight caused by freeway underpasses, and suggested turning them into a “tunnel of wow” possibly with decorative features, shops, and amenities to make them feel safer and more attractive. “What about those freeways?” she asked, stopping short of mentioning freeway removal.
  • On the proposed second Transbay BART tube through Alameda and Mission Bay: “It will not be cheap… I think it will really reduce congestion. I hella love Oakland, but we do need to think regionally, and it would make a lot of sense for the region.”
Streetsblog LA
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California Bicycle Coalition Announces Its 2015 Legislative Agenda

The California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike) released its ambitious agenda for the 2015  legislative session. Their top priority is to increase funding for cities to build complete bike networks — not just piecemeal bikeways.

CalBike thinks bicyclists would learn more from skills classes, like this one offered by Bike East Bay, than from paying traffic fines. Photo: Melanie Curry

Also on its agenda is the less glamorous but equally important task of clarifying some outdated regulations that prevent people from riding bikes. The list includes:

  • Defining low-speed electric bikes and allowing them on bike paths
  • Creating subsidies for electric bikes
  • Clarifying vehicle code rules including what happens at inoperative signals and when protected bike lanes cross intersections
  • Insurance reforms to help bicyclists collect damages in near collisions
  • Ticket diversion programs for cyclists

Funding for Bicycle Networks

CalBike’s goal is to create a funding source for competitive grants that could fund larger projects than the current Active Transportation Program (ATP) can support. Although the details are not yet fully fleshed out, the new grants would require the development of a complete, connected bicycle network, thus creating an incentive for cities to think more broadly about bike planning.

“We need to more rapidly and more broadly fund bike infrastructure,” said CalBike board member Christopher Kidd. “We’re hoping to change the ways that cities think about bike projects. Much of the time the available funding is so small that it only covers particular bike lanes, individual complete streets projects, and bike paths, and we end up with disjointed, piecemeal bike routes rather than networks.”

“It could be really game-changing for the way we build out our bike networks,” he added.

The existing ATP tends to focus on funding individual bike infrastructure projects rather than encouraging cities to think holistically about how bikes fit into the transportation system. CalBike hopes that with a new, larger funding source, cities and counties will be encouraged to take a much broader look at their bike networks, and address the gaps that remain after they tackle the easy parts first.

“We saw that on Telegraph Avenue [in Oakland],” said Kidd. “If there’s a difficult part of the project, it makes more sense to put it off, and to first do the things that are easy. But that is how we end up with all these gaps. And those gaps are what’s keeping more people from getting on bikes.”

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Oakland Council Approves Protected Bike Lanes on Telegraph Ave

Oakland has approved a redesign of Telegraph Avenue that includes protected bike lanes separated by curbs and parking spots. Image: Oakland Public Works

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a road diet and parking-protected bike lanes to Telegraph Avenue, eliciting cheers from East Bay bike advocates.

The vote allows the city to begin work on the first phase of the Telegraph Avenue Complete Streets plan, which covers the segment between 41st and 19th Streets in downtown. Planners hope to include the road diet and protected lanes in the city’s scheduled repaving of Telegraph Avenue in the spring, using inexpensive materials to get it on the ground quickly.

Of the 20 people who addressed the council about the Telegraph plan, 17 were supporters sporting green stickers that read “Protected Bike Lanes,” and three opposed it. Supporters included reps from Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, Bike East Bay, neighbors, business owners, a developer, and others who bike.

Parking-protected bike lanes are coming to this section of Telegraph, looking towards downtown from 24th Street. Photo: Melanie Curry

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Noah Budnick Named SF Bicycle Coalition’s New Executive Director

Noah Budnick, an accomplished advocate for safe streets and effective transit in New York City, has been named the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s new executive director and will succeed Leah Shahum, who will step down after 12 years leading the organization.

Noah Budnick. Photo: Transportation Alternatives

Budnick has built a strong national reputation among livable streets advocates in his 14 years at Transportation Alternatives, where he currently serves as the chief policy officer. TA is NYC’s advocacy organization for walking, bicycling, and transit, and has 11,000 members — slightly more than SFBC. The SFBC said Budnick was chosen by its board of directors after an “exhaustive nationwide search.”

“Noah comes to San Francisco as a leader and team builder in the movement for bikeable and livable cities,” said Lawrence Li, president of the SFBC board. “He is a well-regarded and proven political and communications expert who inspires, builds coalitions and wins on street changes and laws that create safer streets for all of us. He is a seasoned organizational manager who brings timely and relevant experiences.”

In a statement, Budnick said the selection is “a true honor,” and that the SFBC’s “strong and active membership and the alliances it has formed inspire my work.”

“I’m looking forward to building on the momentum of recent years and the long history of the organization and the bicycle movement to improve San Francisco,” he said. “There is incredible energy across the country to transform cities into healthy, livable places, and I’m so excited to work with communities around the city to put San Francisco on the forefront of this transformation.”

Budnick said he’s worked with Shahum over 10 years — he chairs the board of the national Alliance for Biking and Walking, and invited Shahum to the board, where she’s currently the vice chair.

Although Budnick hasn’t lived in SF, the city has long been on his radar. Budnick’s wife, whom he met while bicycling in NYC, is a San Francisco native, and he told Streetsblog they regularly visit SF to see family members, who happen to be longtime SFBC members. Before moving to NYC, Budnick attended the first Bike Summer in SF in 1999. He grew up in Vermont, and has lived in Boston and Colorado.

“New York and San Francisco have this great sibling rivalry in a way,” said Budnick. “They’re cities that really believe in bicycling and have organizations that are well-established and have really committed and active members. TA staff and SFBC staff have for years worked with each other to compare notes.”

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