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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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SF Bicycle Coalition Welcomes Tyler Frisbee as New Policy Director

Tyler Frisbee is the SF Bicycle Coalition’s new policy director, filling the shoes of Deputy Director Kit Hodge. Hodge left SFBC last month to start a company that will lease family-friendly cargo bikes.

Tyler Frisbee. Photo: SFBC

“We’re honored to have her national expertise to our local issues,” the SFBC wrote in a blog post:

For the last five years, Tyler worked as an aide to Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, serving as one of Congress’ key bike and pedestrian advocates… In her new role at the SF Bicycle Coalition, Tyler will be overseeing our terrific Program, Outreach and Education teams, helping to craft our strategy for big and small campaigns alike, and working on Connecting the City with protected, crosstown bikeways.  She’ll be one of our key voices at City Hall, speaking up for you and your commute, and helping to win important funding and support for the bike projects you care about most. This month she’ll be focusing most on bike funding, working to ensure that biking gets more than the abysmal 1% of the SFMTA’s transportation budget.

Frisbee told Streetsblog she sees the bike movement, in SF and nationally, as being in a “fascinating transition, where [previously] we’ve been outside, riding in the streets Critical Mass-style, having to be very aggressive and vocal and visible about what we want and need. And because of the really strong advocacy work that has happened, and I think San Francisco is an incredible example, we are now at a point where we’re not necessarily out on the streets rallying. A lot of times, we’re helping to make these decisions, we’re part of the bigger transportation world.”

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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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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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SFMTA’s Draft List for the Next Generation of Bikeways

Image: SFBC

The SFMTA has released a draft list of the 68 street segments it’s looking to include in the next wave of improvements to the city’s bicycle network [PDF]. The SF Bicycle Coalition mapped out the list and is asking its members to weigh in on a survey about which streets should take top priority.

The SFMTA’s list ranks 150 miles of street segments with the highest demand, according to bike counts and focus groups. Tim Papandreou, the agency’s director of strategic planning and policy, said planners are also targeting hot spots that see frequent bicycle crashes.

Under the “Strategic Plan Scenario” of the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy – the middle ground of the three scenarios — the agency plans to “enhance” 50 miles of the existing bicycle network and add 12 new miles by 2018. The 150 miles in the current list will be narrowed down to those final 62 miles.

Here are the SFMTA’s top ten “highest demand” street segments in the existing bike network. The asterisks denote streets where projects are already being planned or constructed:

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Long-Delayed Polk Contra-Flow Protected Bike Lane Jumpstarted by DPW

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DPW crews at work today on the contra-flow protected bike lane at Polk and Grove. Photo: SFBC/Facebook

In a surprising development, the Department of Public Works broke ground today on a contra-flow, protected bike lane on the two southernmost blocks of Polk Street, from Market to Grove Streets (at City Hall), which are currently one-way southbound. By Bike to Work Day, two of the city’s busiest bicycling streets are expected to be linked with the first bike lane in San Francisco to be protected with a landscaped median, against the flow of motor traffic.

The short but vital connection, first proposed by the city ten years ago and included in the SF Bike Plan, was threatened with yet another year of delay due to poor coordination and a missed contracting deadline. But DPW Director Mohammed Nuru was apparently convinced by the SF Bike Coalition that the project should become a top priority. The SFBC credits Nuru with kickstarting construction, said Executive Director Leah Shahum.

“When they see there’s a problem, there’s often more they can do to get things back on track, and they were able to do it in this case,” she said. “I can’t emphasize how important these two blocks are for so many people. This is going to be a game-changer for helping people ride where they need to go in a safer, more legitimate way.”

Currently, bicycle commuters have no legal way to turn from eastbound Market onto northbound Polk, except to travel a block ahead to Larkin, a one-way, heavily-trafficked three lane street with no bike lane. They must then turn left onto Grove to get back on to Polk.

To access the new contra-flow bike lane, which will replace an existing car parking lane, people bicycling on eastbound Market will have a new bike box to wait in at the intersection with 10th Street before making the turn on to Polk.

“With all the new developments, this is going to be a great way to connect a whole new community in mid-Market with the businesses on Polk Street,” said Shahum.

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Imagine No Deaths: Supes, Safe Streets Advocates Call for “Vision Zero”

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Duboce Avenue at Noe Street. Photo: Aaron Biailck

A coalition of safe streets advocates, community organizations, and city supervisors have launched a campaign for San Francisco to join leading cities in adopting a “Vision Zero” goal — an end to traffic deaths on city streets within ten years.

“We need a culture shift in San Francisco, and it has to start from the top down,” said Supervisor John Avalos, also the chair of the SF County Transportation Authority, in a statement. “We’re calling for our mayor, our police chief and our SFMTA director to commit to allocating resources to the three areas that we know can save lives,” he said, referring to engineering, education, and enforcement efforts to reduce crashes.

Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee. Image: Board of Supervisors

Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee. Image: Board of Supervisors

Leaders in Chicago and New York City have adopted Vision Zero policies, following the lead of Sweden, which launched the official campaign in 1997, though the country’s traffic deaths have been declining since the 1970s despite increasing population.

In a press release, Supervisors Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee said they’ll introduce a resolution calling for a “Vision Zero Plan” based on three major components:

  • The establishment of a “crisis intervention” team by the SFMTA that would be tasked with getting at least two dozen pilot projects into the ground over the next two years, using “near-term, low-cost safety improvements in the areas with repeat traffic collisions.”
  • SFPD to direct its traffic enforcement resources to “cite the most problematic dangerous behaviors and locations.”
  • A “citywide safety awareness program for drivers.” Supervisors Yee and Avalos are “targeting state funding opportunities through the Transportation Authority” to fund it, and Supervisor Kim has called for the formation of “an interagency work group to develop a large vehicle and city fleet driver education program for all city employees or drivers who contract with the city.”

Last year, the number of people killed while walking and biking — 21 pedestrians and four bicyclists –- was the highest since 2007, noted a statement from Walk SF and the SF Bicycle Coalition:

Despite calls for critical safety improvements to the streets and more data driven enforcement of traffic crime and widespread education, the Mayor, Police Chief, District Attorney and SFMTA Director have made only small commitments to street safety and have not committed to any larger vision toward keeping our residents safe on increasingly chaotic streets.

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Eyes on the Street: Folsom Buffered Bike Lane Goes Green

Photo: SFMTA Livable Streets/Facebook

The new, wider buffered bike lane on Folsom Street in SoMa is getting finishing touches this week as the SFMTA adds green paint where drivers are expected to merge with people on bikes.

“We pushed for green paint at the intersections, and we’re thrilled to see that safety element being added today,” the SF Bicycle Coalition wrote in its newsletter. “We’ll continue to monitor this pilot to see how the design works.”

Folsom commuters: How has your experience been? Does it feel safer? Are drivers using the bike lane, as has been often reported with the similar bike lane on Eighth Street? Let us know in the comments.

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SFMTA Crews Installing Buffered Bike Lane on Folsom Street

Photo: SFMTA Livable Streets via Facebook

SFMTA crews are currently installing a widened, buffered bike lane on Folsom Street between 11th and Fourth Streets.

The SFMTA got to work quickly on this bike lane expansion — crews hit the street as early as Friday, just a few days after the project was approved by the SFMTA Board of Directors. It should be finished next week, according to the agency’s Livable Streets Facebook page.

As we reported, the pilot project was well-received when it was presented at a community meeting a month ago. With the space for moving motor vehicles narrowed by one lane, the project is expected to result in a safer, calmer street for everyone using it.

The project is also an example of how quickly the city can implement street safety upgrades when it comes down to it. The death of 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac and the shocking response from the SFPD resulted in a surge in public pressure on the SFMTA to take immediate safety measures in SoMa.

“The Folsom pilot is the result of thousands of San Franciscans, fed up with the tragedies caused by poorly designed streets, emphatically demanding a safer South of Market for people biking from city leaders over the past months,” the SF Bicycle Coalition wrote in its member newsletter today. ”Our next goal is to persuade the city to expand the pilot beyond Fourth Street to the waterfront and to duplicate the effort on Howard Street, another dangerous SoMa corridor.”

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How a Poll Showing SF’s Pro-Bike Attitudes Can Change the Conversation

People ride in a temporary protected bike lane on the Embarcadero during America's Cup this July. Photo: Frank Chan/Flickr

If you listen to the public discourse about re-allocating street space to make bicycling safer in San Francisco, a pattern in the naysayers’ message quickly emerges. “Only a small margin of people ride bicycles, and those people don’t deserve space for safer travel,” goes the refrain. “Traffic lanes and parking for cars are too important to give up — trading them for bike lanes won’t get San Franciscans to ride bikes more, it’ll only result in carmageddon.”

Too often, city planners and political leaders give in to these assertions and try to appease the vocal minority of residents who espouse them, scaling back their efforts to make streets safer and more bike-friendly.

Image: David Binder Research

But the results of a new poll released yesterday indicate that a significant majority of San Francisco voters think the expansion of protected bike lanes, bike-share, and other efforts to make bicycling more attractive should be a high priority for the city. This kind of public opinion data can be extremely useful for city officials, planners, and bicycling advocates to bolster the case for such efforts, rather than allowing the conversation to be framed by the pre-conceived views of a few curmudgeons.

The poll, conducted by David Binder Research and commissioned by the SF Bicycle Coalition, surveyed 400 San Francisco voters in October. Because voters tend to skew older than the general population, Binder Research noted in a memo [PDF], pro-bike “support would be even higher if these questions were asked of all city residents and not voters.”

The SFBC summed up the findings in a blog post yesterday:

  • About three-fourths of voters believe bicycling is good for San Francisco and that bicycling in the City should be comfortable and attractive to people of all ages, from small children to seniors.

  • And voters are not just generally supporting the idea of bicycle riding, but are already out there riding a bike regularly. 43% of voters are already riding a bike, with 25% of voters in San Francisco riding regularly, meaning a few times a month or more.

  • Two thirds of voters support expanding the bike sharing program to 3,000 bikes to serve San Francisco’s neighborhoods.

  • More than two-thirds of voters support the City adding physically separated bikeways to improve safety and traffic flow and to create clearly delineated space for road users.

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