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New CA Database Shows How Much Parking Costs and How Little It’s Used

TransForm’s GreenTrips Parking Database provides an unprecedented level of data on the costs of building parking — and how much it’s used — in multifamily housing developments in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Zoning laws in California usually require new developments to come with a minimum number of parking spaces. Housing, restaurants, stores, movie theaters — everything requires some number of parking spaces, theoretically based on the best available data.

Each of these empty underground parking spaces typically costs about $80,000. Image: Pixabay.com

Usually that data is whatever is listed in the Institute of Transportation Engineer’s (ITE) Parking Generation Manual. Since that manual has long been the only source of data on parking usage in the country, planners rely on it to help them figure out how many parking spaces a project should include.

But there are serious limitations with the ITE data, as is noted in the manual itself. As Professor Donald Shoup, UCLA’s “parking guru,” explained in a paper [PDF]: Providing too much parking encourages driving, thus contributing to congestion, and discourages walking and bicycling (unless you love walking across hot expanses of pavement to your store).

Plus, building parking is expensive.

A new tool, the GreenTRIP Parking Database, can help by providing better data on actual parking usage at multifamily housing units. This is only one of the many land use categories about which planners seek data, but it is a key one.

The database, created by TransForm, an Oakland-based advocacy group that focuses on better land use and transportation policies, tracks more than just parking usage. Data is available about the number of parking spaces per unit, how much of that parking sits empty, what percentage of the building is affordable housing, whether residents pay for parking separately from their rent, what level of transit service is available nearby, whether residents are offered transit passes or carshare membership, what if any parking management exists on surrounding streets, and other data relevant to parking usage.

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New Planning-Savvy Advocacy Group Pushes for a People-Friendly Oakland

Oakland, criss-crossed with freeways and overly-wide streets, could become people-friendly with the right leadership, says a new group called Transport Oakland. Photo via Transport Oakland

A group of planning-savvy Oakland residents and workers has formed Transport Oakland to advocate for sustainable transportation and livable streets.

With declining car traffic and exciting developments on the way like bike-share and bus rapid transit, the group says the growing East Bay port city could become a people-friendly mecca — given the right leadership.

Transport Oakland “started informally,” said Liz Brisson, a spokesperson for the group, who works as a San Francisco transportation planner, along with some of the other members. “A group of planners and advocates got together to talk about what we would like to see in the city, and why there are problems preventing things from happening.”

While Transport Oakland is working with groups like Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, Bike East Bay, and TransForm, the group takes a different approach to organizing for better transportation choices, such as making candidate endorsements and offering nuanced recommendations on local transportation reforms. “It’s an interesting group, and different than a typical advocacy group, in that a lot of people involved are planners or engineers that just happen to live in Oakland,” said Brisson.

Unlike other similarly-sized cities, Oakland has no transportation department or director to oversee funds and projects — its transportation planners work within the Public Works Agency. Its city council also has no transportation commission appointed to help inform decisions about transportation issues, and the city has no overall strategic plan or vision for transportation.

The city even has $15 million in earmarked transportation funds that haven’t been used for unclear reasons, the group found in its research. The numbers come from audit reports from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission on Measure B transportation sales tax revenue [PDF] and the Vehicle Registration Fee program [PDF], both approved by Alameda County voters.

Transport Oakland decided that its most effective first action would be to encourage city leadership on improving transportation in the upcoming election. “There are three different levels of involvement that affect transportation outcomes,” said Brisson. “There are policymakers, there’s staff, and there are advocates. We agree that Oakland could use more involvement from all three. We have specific ideas modeled after other cities about how transportation should be planned, funded, and delivered, and we need policy maker involvement to create those changes.”

Transport Oakland’s first step was to interview and endorse candidates for mayor and the three city council seats that are up for election next month. “We’re not a PAC (Political Action Committee), we’re just volunteers,” said Brisson. But the group aims to influence city policymakers by publicly endorsing candidates with progressive views on transportation. In the interview process, they also aimed to educate candidates about smarter transportation policy.

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Oakland Unnecessarily Pits Safe Bicycling vs. Transit on Telegraph Avenue

At two workshops last week in Oakland, attendees overwhelmingly called for a bolder plan to make Telegraph Avenue safer and include protected bike lanes. Oakland planners ditched their original proposals for parking-protected bike lanes, instead proposing buffered, unprotected bike lanes on most of the street. In Temescal, the street’s most dangerous and motor traffic-heavy section, planners insist on preserving all four traffic lanes, with only sharrows added. But when asked to choose between removing parking or removing traffic lanes, it was clear that the majority of residents who attended both meetings would be willing to give up parking.

The majority of residents who attended two workshops would be willing to give up parking for protected bike lanes on Telegraph Avenue. Photo: Melanie Curry

Still, a few kept the discussion circling back to the potential tradeoffs between bike safety and transit reliability. Oakland city planners trying unsuccessfully tried to get traction on the idea of moving the bike route a block away to Shattuck Avenue, despite Telegraph being a clear magnet for bike traffic even without any bike infrastructure.

Several people at the workshops argued adamantly that sharrows are not a reasonable alternative to bike lanes. “Please remove sharrows as an option,” said one attendee. “I don’t want to share facilities with a car. We’ve tried it, and I hate it. It’s not safe.”

Oakland planner Jamie Parks opened up group discussions at both meetings by admitting that sharrows are “not the ideal bike facility, but this is the most constrained and congested section of the street.”

“The tradeoffs include removing parking or removing a lane of traffic,” he told attendees. “If we were to incorporate continuous bike lanes, what would people be willing to give up?”

“Parking!” one person shouted from the back of the room at one meeting. Discussions at both meetings stayed mostly polite, and there seemed to be general agreement that providing parking was not as important as safety.

But not everybody agreed. One dissenter said, “I just don’t think politics will allow for the abolition of parking.”

Only some parking spaces on Telegraph would need to be removed to provide bike lanes. But the city doesn’t seem to be seriously considering it, despite strong evidence in other cities that as motor traffic is calmed, and bike traffic goes up, commercial corridors tend to see more people shopping by foot and bike. Oakland’s own findings show that parking spaces in Temescal rarely approach 85 percent of capacity, even at peak times, and that better parking management could make even more spaces available.

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SPUR Ocean Beach Erosion Plan Shelves Road Diet for Great Highway

SPUR will not pursue its vision for narrowing Great Highway from four lanes to two, as neighbors fear that traffic will divert onto their streets. Image: SPUR’s Ocean Beach Master Plan

SPUR has set adrift its proposal to halve the size of the Great Highway along Ocean Beach, as the group strives to avoid distracting attention from implementing the other priorities in its Ocean Beach Master Plan. A road diet may be revisited later, once more pressing concerns have advanced.

SPUR calls the OBMP “a comprehensive vision to address sea level rise, protect infrastructure, restore coastal ecosystems and improve public access.” It also includes proposals to remove other sections of the Great Highway that are threatened by severe erosion, in what’s called ”managed retreat.”

One of SPUR’s highest priorities is converting the Great Highway south of Sloat to a trail. Images: SPUR

Ben Grant, SPUR’s project manager for the OBMP, said one of the plan’s most pressing priorities is closing a short, severely eroded section of the highway south of Sloat Boulevard, and replacing it with a walking and biking trail. Car traffic would be re-routed onto Sloat and Skyline Boulevards, which still would see less traffic than they’re built for.

But the “most controversial” piece of the OBMP plan, said Grant, was the proposal to remove two of the four lanes on the main stretch of the Great Highway, as well as adding parking spaces along that stretch to replace those that would be removed south of Sloat. SPUR doesn’t want opposition to those elements to distract from the more urgently needed road closure south of Sloat.

“We’ve gotten quite a few strong negative reactions to this,” Grant said at a recent SPUR forum. “We’re not going to be pushing for it at this time, because we have much more core, transformative projects to consider.”

Nothing in the OBMP is an official city proposal yet, but SPUR’s ideas are being seriously considered by public agencies that will conduct environmental impact reports for them.

“It’s an interesting thing to think about,” said Grant. “What if we take our one major stretch of oceanfront road and think of it not as a thoroughfare for moving through — [but] think of it instead as a way of accessing and experiencing the coast, as a coastal access or park road?”

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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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Prop L Proponent Makes False Accusations Against SFBC, SFMTA About Polk

Chris Bowman, a Republican proponent of the Prop L “Restore Transportation Balance” ballot measure, aimed false accusations at the SF Bicycle Coalition and pro-bike SFMTA officials in a panel discussion this week.

Chris Bowman, right, with Supervisor Scott Wiener at a panel discussion this week. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Bowman and Supervisor Scott Wiener were featured at the forum, organized by the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, to discuss Prop L. The proposition claims to promote motorists’ interests, calling to enshrine free parking and build more garages. Prop L is funded by tech billionaire and Mayor Ed Lee backer Sean Parker and the SF Republican Party.

Even though nobody else at the meeting brought up the SFBC in discussing Prop L’s implications, Bowman devoted much of his speaking time to attacking bike lanes, and making false claims about the SFBC and SFMTA Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman.

Bowman said that the SFBC urged a boycott of certain Polk Street merchants who had opposed removing car parking for protected bike lanes: ”The Bicycle Coalition, to add insult to injury, got the transcripts from [an SFMTA Board] hearing and put on their website, ‘these people testified, these are their businesses, boycott them because they’re anti-bike’… That is hardball politics and that does not create a respectful dialogue. That never should have been tolerated by anyone.”

In fact, the SFBC did the opposite — the organization has “actively encouraged our members, and the broader bike community, to frequent Polk Street businesses — and show support for biking to local businesses on popular bike routes,” said SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum. ”Those claims are absolutely untrue.”

As to where such misconceptions could come from, Shahum noted that the SFBC did hear from individual members, who had urged the organization to launch a boycott through social media posts on Facebook. She said she suspected that those spreading the lie could have misconstrued such messages, although they were written by individuals who don’t speak for the SFBC.

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Leah Shahum to Step Down as SF Bicycle Coalition’s Executive Director

Leah Shahum announced today that she will step down as executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, after 12 years at the helm.

Leah Shahum distributing flyers in 2008. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

“Leah leaves behind a legacy of one of the most bike-friendly big cities in America, and one of the most well-organized and effective membership groups in the country,” said Lawrence Li, the SFBC’s Board President. She will continue to serve in the position until the end of the year, and the SFBC’s board has launched a nationwide search to fill the role.

“I’ve never felt more confident in where this organization and city can go, with the kind of leadership and passion and skills that we have on our team today,” said Shahum.

Shahum said she doesn’t have a long-term plan yet after she leaves the SFBC, but that she plans to take part in the German Marshall Fund Urban and Regional Policy Fellowship Program next spring. She’ll head to northern Europe to study how cities like Berlin, Rotterdam, and Stockholm have pursued Vision Zero — an end to traffic fatalities. She noted that she chose cities that have populations, densities, and other characteristics comparable to SF.

Another recent participant in the fellowship was Streetsblog founder Aaron Naparstek. Shahum was instrumental in convincing him to launch Streetsblog San Francisco in 2009. She has since written articles for Streetsblog, sharing lessons on livable streets from her time in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Paris

Shahum started as a volunteer for the SFBC 17 years ago, and eventually became the organization’s program director before succeeding Dave Snyder as executive director. Since then, the SFBC’s membership grew from 3,000 to 12,000 in 2011, making it the largest city-based bicycle advocacy organization in the U.S. Today, SFBC membership remains at more than 10,000, and the SFBC has a staff of 17.

Snyder, who jumpstarted the long-dormant SFBC as the sole staffer in 1996, said Shahum had planned to leave her part-time volunteer coordinator position to pursue a journalism career. “I didn’t want her to leave, so I offered her a full-time job as our first-ever ‘program director.’ I didn’t have the budget for it but I stretched, and the risk paid off,” said Snyder, who today serves as executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition.

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Streetsblog’s Beginnings: Founder Aaron Naparstek to Speak in SF Tuesday

Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek will be in SF to serve as the keynote speaker at the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Golden Wheel Awards on Tuesday evening. We thought it’d be a good opportunity to look back on how Streetsblog San Francisco came to be, and get Naparstek’s take on what’s changed in the city since we launched at the start of 2009.

Streetsblog founder Aaron Naparstek talking about “bikelash” at the National Bike Summit last year. Image: Streetfilms

Naparstek founded Streetsblog in New York City in 2006 as a project of OpenPlans, our non-profit parent organization founded by Mark Gorton. Naparstek was the editor-in-chief until 2010, during which time he launched Streetsblog San Francisco, Los Angeles, Capitol Hill (now USA), and the Streetsblog Network. He recently completed a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and has been working as a Visiting Scholar at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

Naparstek was approached by a group of SF’s sustainable transportation advocates, led by SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum, in the summer of 2008 at the World Car-Free Cities Conference in Portland.

“They said, we think bringing Streetsblog here can really help energize the movement,” he said. “To me it said, there’s a community here that wants it, so let’s try to make it happen.”

With a four-year injunction on bicycle infrastructure in effect at the time, Naparstek said he’d been following SF’s issues for a while. “It seemed like there was all this pent-up demand,” he said. “I thought, San Francisco would be great for this.”

Naparstek and the SFBC worked together to organize Streetsblog SF, raising funds and interviewing candidates for editor. At one point in that process, Naparstek said Shahum recommended interviewing Bryan Goebel, who had volunteered for the SFBC and had nearly 20 years of experience in journalism, primarily in radio. Goebel was chosen to become the editor of Streetsblog SF, and was partnered with Matthew Roth, who moved from New York City after working in livable streets advocacy there. Ultimately, Goebel took me on as an intern and trained me on the job, and I was chosen to fill the position after he left.

Naparstek noted that he was impressed by Shahum’s commitment to helping launch a separate project in an environment where non-profits compete for scarce funds. “A lot of non-profit executive directors would be hesitant to bring us into their orbit because we’re another mouth to feed, looking for progressive transportation advocacy dollars, when it’s not that easy to raise money,” he said. “I was impressed that the Bike Coalition had a broad enough view of the movement as a whole that they recognized that we could help make the pie bigger.”

Streetsblog was formed around the idea of a media outlet that could cover issues around sustainable transportation and livable streets from an advocacy standpoint, highlighting stories not covered by traditional media. The aim is to promote the growing movement and shed light on the responsibility of government leaders and agencies to shape streets in ways that promote safer and more efficient ways of getting around.

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Supervisor Mar Wants to Study How Lower Speed Limits Could Improve SF

Reducing speed limits could have a big impact on saving lives. Image: PEDS Atlanta

Supervisor Eric Mar requested a city study last week about how lower speed limits could benefit San Francisco. Although lowering speed limits without implementing physical traffic calming measures isn’t a panacea for safer streets, the measure does hold promise as a first step toward saving lives and implementing Vision Zero. San Francisco would follow in the footsteps of New York City, Paris, and the United Kingdom in looking at major speed limit reductions.

Supervisor Mar with one of SF’s 15 mph school zone signs. Photo: Eric Mar

“We must do all that we can do to make sure that our streets are safer for our residents, and a speed limit reduction may have a significant impact on achieving this,” said Mar.

The study requested by Mar would add to a growing body of research showing how lower speed limits would reduce fatal crashes and save money. The UK Department of Transportation, which instituted a “20′s Plenty” campaign that set 20 mph speed limits as the default for residential streets, found that the chances of survival for a person hit by a car at 40 mph are half that of being hit at 30. Fatalities increase six-fold from 20 to 30 mph.

“Getting hit at 20 mph is like falling off a one-story building, but getting hit by a car at 40 mph is like falling off the fifth-floor,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, who called major speed limit reductions ”one of the most important next steps we can take in achieving Vision Zero.”

“We need to look towards our partner cities that have done this successfully, and model our efforts on the best practices,” she said.

Last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation requiring the installation of 20 mph “Slow Zones.” The New York State Legislature also passed a bill to lower New York City’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph. The default speed limit for city streets in California, unless signed otherwise, is already set at 25 mph.

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