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Why SF Should Strive to Replicate the Polk Contra-Flow Protected Bike Lane

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A family rides the new Polk Street contra-flow bike lane to City Hall on Bike to Work Day. Photo: SFBC

On the two southernmost blocks of Polk Street, between Market Street and City Hall, the new contra-flow protected bike lane creates a unique street layout for San Francisco. For the first time on a downtown street, people on bikes are accommodated in a way that people in cars are not. Bike traffic goes both ways, while cars only go one.

It’s one of several ways in which this short stretch is more powerful than the sum of its two blocks. The Polk contra-flow lane is the best segment of bicycle infrastructure in San Francisco, acting as a real-world showcase of what’s possible for a citywide network of high-quality bicycle routes.

The Polk contra-flow lane is “a game changer, without a doubt,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “People can now see with their own two eyes and ride on what is a model for a great bike facility. We don’t have to theorize about what could be, or show pictures of European cities. We can literally look at what is a well-designed, inviting and safe bikeway that lives up to the ’8-to-80′ promise that city leaders have committed to.”

The new bike lane is the first to be separated from motor traffic with a concrete planted median, with parking spaces acting as an extra buffer at some spots. It features bicycle traffic signals, green paint for high visibility, and clear pavement markings at the Market Street intersection to guide bike commuters to the entrance.

Where the protected bike lane ends at Grove Street, and two-way motor traffic returns, riders aren’t totally thrown back into the fray, either. A green bike lane segment was added across the front of City Hall, and it was made safer with car parking re-configured to back-in angled parking. This treatment goes to McAllister Street, where the rest of Polk is being re-designed as a separate project.

“They’re now seeing those bread crumb trails, where they can get from point A to point B,” said Tim Papandreou, the SFMTA’s director of strategic planning and policy. Papandreou is overseeing the development of the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy, a guide for the city’s next generation of bicycle improvements.

The SFMTA created a metric called “Level of Traffic Stress” to measure the quality of bike route segments. It is based on how easy and comfortable a bike route feels for the average person. The Polk contra-flow lane is a prime example of “LTS 1,” the lowest level of stress, meaning the street is considered to be accessible by San Franciscans of all riding abilities, says Papandreou.

“When we point now to Level of Traffic Stress 1, comfortable cycling for everybody, that’s exactly what we’re talking about,” he said. ”With the will of the leadership, and funding, we can do more of that.”

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Muni Tests Train With More Standing Room, Supes Breed and Wiener Approve

Photos courtesy of Supervisor London Breed’s office.

A Muni train car re-configured with fewer seats and more standing room was put into Metro service this week. According to the SFMTA, 14 “double-wide” seats were replaced with “single-wide” seats, adding a net capacity gain of “at least ten” riders to the car, which is a pilot project to squeeze more capacity onto Muni’s trains.

SFMTA officials, along with Supervisors London Breed and Scott Wiener, rode the car on the N-Judah yesterday morning. I was also supposed to be there, but in regular Muni fashion, the train wasn’t on time — in fact, it was inexplicably half an hour early. Fortunately, Breed’s office passed along some rare photos of public officials riding Muni.

While Muni riders wait for a fleet of 200 new train cars, “I am committed to doing everything possible to help Muni riders, and I look forward to hearing directly from them about this pilot design,” said Breed in a statement. “This design will create more space for Muni riders, who are too often forced to wedge onto full trains or wait at the station in hope for room on the next one.

From left to right: Supervisor London Breed, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, Supervisor Scott Wiener, and Muni Operations Director John Haley enjoy the additional standing room.

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

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

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

Photo: Aaron Bialick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clipper Card Upgrade Could Bring Seamless Regional Travel, Or Not

Transit riders can transfer between BART, Caltrain, and SamTrans bus services at the Millbrae Transit Center, but riders must pay each transit agency’s full fare. Photo: BART

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission will soon renew its contract for Clipper, the Bay Area’s “all-in-one transit card.” Transit advocates are urging MTC to use the opportunity to create a more seamless fare system, and remove barriers that could allow Clipper payments on both the region’s transit agencies and “first-and-last-mile” trip services.

Transit riders can currently use the Clipper card to pay fares on the Bay Area’s seven largest transit agencies (Muni, BART, AC Transit, VTA, Caltrain, SamTrans, Golden Gate) and the San Francisco Bay Ferry, and it’s set to include several other smaller transit agencies by 2016. While using a single card is certainly more convenient for customers whose trips take them across seemingly arbitrary transit agency service boundaries, it hasn’t made those trips faster or more affordable.

“Take the trip from U.C. Berkeley to Stanford: important destinations that are both inherently walkable places with daytime populations in the tens of thousands,” SPUR Transportation Policy Director Ratna Amin wrote in a blog post last week. “It’s logical to think they’d be linked by high-quality transit connections. But even during the morning rush hour, this trip takes nearly two hours.” It also costs $10.10, or about $400/month for a weekday commuter.

Clipper transit card reader

Clipper transit card reader. Photo: Dan Honda/San Jose Mercury News

“In other regions where transit works better, you don’t have to think about what brand of transit you’re taking or who operates it,” said Adina Levin, co-founder of Friends of Caltrain. “And you don’t pay a lot extra to take different brands.”

Even many shorter trips are either cost-prohibitive or time-prohibitive on transit. A one-way trip during rush hour between Daly City and Menlo Park, located 25 miles apart in San Mateo County, takes under an hour via BART and Caltrain, but costs $8.80. SamTrans’ ECR route is available for just $2, but takes about 2.5 hours. By car it takes just 45 minutes during rush hour, and for less than half the BART + Caltrain fare in gas money. Residents who can’t afford $17.60/day in transit fare and also can’t afford five hours of travel time drive instead for such trips, adding significantly to traffic congestion on the Bay Area’s highways.

“The Bay Area needs a regional transit fare policy… that doesn’t penalize customers who transfer between systems,” wrote Egon Terplan, SPUR’s regional planning director, as part of the urban think tank’s “Six Ideas for Saving Bay Area Transit.”

One proposal by MTC that would at least reduce the transfer penalty is a standard 50-cent fare discount that transit riders would receive when transferring between transit agencies. Although such a small discount won’t boost transit ridership, it would at least remove one barrier to regional fare integration by making discounts the default type of fare agreement between transit agencies in the Bay Area. Another MTC proposal is to enable future Clipper cards to charge passengers daily and/or monthly fare maximums. This would be similar to existing daily and monthly passes, except that riders wouldn’t have to “commit” to any minimum number of trips, or even sign up to receive a discount for heavy transit use. This concept could be expanded to apply to trips between transit agencies, thus creating creating daily and monthly regional transit passes.

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Oakland’s Telegraph Gets “Pop-up” Protected Bike Lane on Bike to Work Day

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan rode on the “pop-up” bikeway, looking very happy. Photo: Dave Campbell, Bike East Bay

Yesterday, on the Bay Area’s 20th Bike to Work Day, Bike East Bay and Walk Oaklad Bike Oakland demonstrated what a block of Telegraph Avenue would look and feel like with a parking-protected bike lane. Without help from the city’s Public Works Department (but with city approval), the two advocacy groups created temporary bike infrastructure by painting green lanes and bike stencils, putting down planters, and turning the adjacent traffic lane into a parking lane.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was joined by City Council Members Rebecca Kaplan, Dan Kalb, and Lynette McElhaney, as well as several city planners and engineers on a test run of the lanes, all of whom generally gave it a big thumbs up. One city engineer, after riding the lane, said, “I want this, right now!”

Mayor Quan said “this demo is very helpful to see what Telegraph Avenue could look like with a protected bikeway,” according to a press release from Bike East Bay. “I’m very interested in seeing how the project develops.”

Quan rode from MacArthur BART station on a borrowed bike from Bay Area Bike Share to celebrate the system’s expansion into the East Bay expected next spring. “Oakland is regularly ranked in the top 10 U.S. cities for the percentage of our commuters who cycle, and we’re committed to maintaining that leadership role and building on our successes,” she said in a statement, noting that she lobbied for the BABS expansion.

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Bike to Work Day: Oakland to Demo Telegraph Protected Bike Lane, Parklet

A protected bike lane and parklet like this will temporarily transform the experience of traveling on Telegraph. Image courtesy City of Oakland, for illustrative purposes only.

A block of Telegraph Avenue in Oakland will get a protected bike lane and parklet for one day — Bike to Work Day, this Thursday. Bike East Bay and Walk Oakland Bike Oakland will set up the demo on the southbound side of Telegraph between 27th and Sycamore Streets, providing a taste of the transformation possible with the city’s plans to redesign the street.

The parklet will be one of many Bike to Work Day stations around the Bay Area where bike commuters can pick up goodie bags and fuel up on snacks and coffee. Visitors can also fill out a short survey about their experience riding the protected bike lane.

Whether protected bike lanes are made permanent in the Telegraph redesign will depend in large part on community feedback. You can weigh in on the project by checking out the proposed design options on the city’s website and downloading a comment card [PDF] to email to Jamie Parks of the Oakland Public Works Department by May 19.

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Polk Street Contra-Flow Bike Lane Opens to the Public

Cheryl Brinkman, Vice Chair of the SFMTA Board of Directors, rides the new Polk bikeway to City Hall for the first time. Photo: Stan Parkford.

City planners, politicians, and bicycle advocates gathered this morning for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony of the contra-flow bike lane on Polk Street, a two-block protected cycle track from Market to Grove Streets. Just in time for next week’s Bike to Work Day, the opening ceremony came after a decade of delays and a great deal of pressure from advocates like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, who were excited to see the critical connection opened to the public.

In attendance for the ceremony were District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, SFMTA’s Ed Reiskin and Cheryl Brinkman, Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum, and a large crowd of supporters. “The new Polk contraflow bikeway is a hallmark of complete streets that prioritizes comfort, connectivity and design,” Shahum said in a statement. “Though only a few blocks, this gorgeous bikeway offers a crucial connector between the business corridors of Market and Polk Streets, making it easier for people to get to work and shop at local businesses by bike.”

Shannon Dodge, who works in affordable housing development, echoed that this “small but mighty” project is a step toward San Francisco’s goal to design complete streets that are safe and convenient for the city’s most vulnerable street users.

The critical two-block connection comes with a wide planted median fully separating bicyclists from motor traffic, the first of its kind in San Francisco. The project also adds bulb-outs for pedestrians crossing Grove Street, green-painted bike lanes in front of City Hall and running south on Polk, bike signal lights at three intersections, and left-turn queue boxes on Market Street, directing bike traffic to and from the contra-flow lane.

The project, which was originally proposed a decade ago and was included in the SF Bike Plan, suffered various delays due to poor coordination and missed contract deadlines. Nuru of DPW, who oversaw the project, ensured that it was fast-tracked back in January, just in time for the twentieth anniversary of Bike to Work Day.

Excited advocates use the new left-turn queue boxes, which direct bicyclists to and from the Polk Street bike lanes. Photo: Stan Parkford.

Trying out the new left-turn queue boxes, which direct bicyclists to and from the Polk Street bike lanes. Photos: Stan Parkford.

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Protected Bike Lanes Key to a Calmer, Thriving Telegraph Avenue in Oakland

Drivers encroach on the crosswalk on Telegraph Avenue, where people often have to wait extensively for traffic to stop before crossing. Photos: Melanie Curry

At an open house meeting on proposals to redesign Telegraph Avenue in Oakland Saturday morning, attendees arrived to find the street blocked off by police investigating a hit-and-run crash in which a driver killed a pedestrian. The scene underscored the need to make the commercial corridor safer for people walking and biking, though the proposals to remove traffic lanes and add improvements like protected bike lanes, landscaped medians, and sidewalk extensions still saw opposition from a few at the meeting.

About fifty people attended the second of three open houses hosted by the city to hear from residents and merchants about the proposed options for Telegraph. The third open house will be held this Thursday evening.

Posters presented copious amounts of information about conditions on Telegraph, including a map of crashes in the area, and research showing the economic revitalization that results when streets are redesigned to become destinations, not just throughways. A recent survey of people who use Telegraph found that 60 percent wanted protected bike lanes on the street, including 53 percent of “frequent drivers.”

In a presentation, Phil Erickson of Community Design and Architecture said that the number of people walking and biking on Telegraph have been growing steadily. The city is looking to accommodate all users on the commercial corridor, he said, but it’s rife with problems like driver speeding, inadequately-sized bus stops, and pedestrian crossings that are often dangerous and difficult to navigate. The city has proposed options for three segments along Telegraph, between 20th and 57th Streets. Options for the inner and outer segments include parking-protected bike lanes, though the middle Temescal segment doesn’t, because city planners say it might slow down the higher volumes of car traffic.

Some in the crowd objected to removing traffic lanes or parking because they think it would increase car congestion and air pollution. One man said there would be “strong neighborhood opposition” to any plan that included bike lanes on Telegraph, and another interrupted Erickson’s presentation to say that people on bikes should stick to other routes.

A young woman, brave enough to speak into the charged atmosphere, responded, “But what if my destination is on Telegraph?”

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CA Transportation Choices Summit Tackles Policy Issues

The California Transportation Choices Summit, held in Sacramento this week, was an opportunity for sustainable transportation and public health advocates to spend the day learning about current state policies and legislation in the works to change them.

Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento, discusses bike infrastructure on a pre-summit bike tour along the Sacramento River. Photos: Melanie Curry

This year’s summit was titled “2014: A Year of Opportunity.” The “opportunity” comes in the form of new funds from cap-and-trade and current discussions in the legislature about how to spend that money. As Streetsblog has reportedthese funds are required to be spent on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which could include projects that encourage walking, bicycling, and transit.

The annual summit is hosted by TransForm and a long list of partners across the state including ClimatePlan, MoveLA, Circulate San Diego, the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, National Resources Defense Council, and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. In addition to discussing current policies, the learning day prepared attendees for TransForm’s “Advocacy Day,” in which participants meet with State Assembly members and their staff to talk about the issues that matter most to them and push for legislation.

Summit speakers laid out facts about funding, discussed trade-offs between spending on different programs, and urged everyone to share their personal stories about why their issue is important. “Let’s pull those heart strings,” said Elyse Lowe of Circulate San Diego, “so we can do a better job advocating for good transportation policies.”

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, created an “applause-o-meter” to gauge summit attendees’ views on trade-offs between funding categories. He asked participants to applaud for the categories of activities they thought were most important: planning; bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure; transportation demand management programs like shuttles, carpool programs, and guaranteed ride home programs; affordable homes near transit; and transit capital and operating costs.

The audience, mostly comprised of savvy transportation advocates, applauded for all of these categories, although there two clear “winners”: affordable homes near transit and transit capital and operating costs. These also were the most expensive categories, according to Cohen’s estimate of how much it would cost to fully fund needs in these areas: $6 billion for transit and $1 to $1.5billion for housing.

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Silicon Valley’s First “Bike to Shop Day” Set for May 17

Bike Trailer at Trader Joes

It’s rare for cities in Silicon Valley to accommodate cycling shoppers with adequate parking. Photo: Janet Lafleur

Planning to build on the wave of enthusiasm for bike commuting generated each May by Bike to Work Day, transportation and health advocates in Silicon Valley are promoting a spin-off called Bike to Shop Day on Saturday, May 17, to encourage people to shop by bike at local businesses.

Retail businesses offering discounts to bicycling customers are shown on a smartphone-friendly map on the event’s website. organizers expect many more to sign up in the three weeks remaining before the event. Any retail business located in San Mateo County or Santa Clara County that can offer some type of discount to customers who arrive by bicycle is eligible to participate. Shoppers are encouraged to upload photos of their bikes in action – carrying groceries or other items — to win gift certificates and other prizes.

“For the past 20 years, Bike to Work Day has achieved huge success motivating people to hop on bikes for their work commutes, including me,” said bicycle lifestyle blogger Janet Lafleur, who created Bike to Shop Day in collaboration with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC). “Now it’s time to do the same for their shopping and errand trips that are shorter and easier for most people than commuting to work.”

Lafleur, a marketing professional who writes two urban cycling blogs, Bike Fun and One Woman, Many Bicycles, called for a National Bike to Shop Day last month to promote shopping by bicycle. She came up with the idea after it became clear that Mountain View was simply disregarding the need to improve access and parking for bicycles as part of expansion plans for the San Antonio Shopping Center.

“I can’t see people biking to shop here,” said a planning commissioner at a city meeting on the project. ”Shopping is all about driving your SUV to the store and filling it up.”

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