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Transbay Transit Center to Fill Downtown With People, Not Cars

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The new Transbay Transit Center is expected to transform San Francisco’s downtown core by focusing new development around a massive regional transit hub in eastern SoMa. Scheduled to open in 2017, it will link 11 transit systems and eventually CA High-Speed Rail. Some have called it the “Grand Central of the West.”

Renderings via

The SF Planning Commission last week approved an influx of high-density office and housing redevelopment, including the West Coast’s tallest skyscraper, in the neighborhood surrounding the new station at First and Mission Streets, known as the Transbay Center District. To ensure that new workers and residents come by transit, foot, and bike instead of clogging the streets with cars, the plan would make sweeping streetscape improvements and limit the amount of car parking in the area.

“This is going to be one of the best examples of transit-oriented development in the world,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the SF Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR). “We’re going to be putting in $4 billion in transit infrastructure and then putting our tallest buildings right on top of it. It’s going to be studied and emulated all over the world if we get this right.”

The hub, which replaces the old Transbay Terminal, would connect to transit systems in all nine Bay Area counties, including Muni, BART, AC Transit, SamTrans, and Golden Gate Transit. Caltrain would operate on an electrified system connecting directly to the station, thanks to a recently-approved plan to extend tracks from the 4th and King station. Caltrain would share those tracks with high-speed rail trains.

Streets within the plan area — bounded by Market Street to the north, Steuart to the east, Folsom to the south, and just short of Third to the west — would be transformed with improvements for walking, bicycling, and surface transit.

Major streets — Mission, Howard, New Montgomery, Second, First, and Fremont Streets — would get wider sidewalks, road diets, transit lanes, and boarding islands. The planning department is also looking at creating a transit-only plaza on Mission between First and Fremont.

Read more…


Six Ideas for Saving Bay Area Transit

[Editor’s note: This article is re-published with permission from the transit-themed March issue of The Urbanist, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association’s (SPUR) monthly member magazine. The article, written by SPUR Regional Planning Director Egon Terplan, is based on a discussion paper developed by the SPUR Transportation Policy Board. Read the full paper at]

Improving transit by changing financing, fares, speeds, metrics, territory and maps.

Every day, Bay Area residents and visitors take more than 1.4 million trips on one of 27 different public transit operators. But for more than a decade, the costs to operate these transit systems have been increasing far faster than any improvements in the service. Unless we make changes now, the system will not be sustainable in the future.

Regionwide, transit carries one in ten people to work. It costs more than $2.2 billion to run these 27 transit systems each year. More than $700 million comes from fares and $1.5 billion is a direct subsidy from a hodgepodge of sources (sales taxes, federal funds, state gas tax revenues). By looking out to 2035, these systems will face a combined $17 billion capital deficit and an $8 billion operating deficit.

In recent years, the costs of running these transit systems have increased far faster than inflation, even as ridership on some bus systems has declined. About 14,000 people work full time for the region’s public transit systems. Wages and fringe benefits account for more than three-quarters of the operating and maintenance costs of transit, and the cost of fringe benefits in particular is rising fast. At the same time, budget shortfalls, unpredictable revenues and service cuts are degrading the quality of public transportation. Transit systems face competition from an underpriced alternative — driving — and often operate in low-density and auto-oriented environments that are not conducive to growing ridership.

Unless there is some change to costs and revenues, with corresponding improvements in service, the viability of transit in the Bay Area is at risk. Recognizing this looming crisis, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the regional agency that funds transportation, launched the Transit Sustainability Project (TSP).

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What SF Needs to Catch Up to NYC’s Bicycling Success: Political Leadership

New York City's Prospect Park West parking-protected bike path. Photo copyright Dmitry Gudkov

New York City has raised the bar in recent years for rolling out bicycle improvements and reclaiming public space from automobiles. While San Franciscans have come to expect major delays for bike projects as the norm in their city, New York, the only American city more dense than SF, has zoomed ahead by adding roughly 20 miles of protected bike lanes since 2007, with more on the way. After each new NYC bikeway is built, injuries to all users decline and bicycling increases along the corridor.

How can San Francisco emulate New York’s success? In short: San Francisco’s public officials need to exert bold leadership to hasten a painstakingly slow planning process intended not so much to achieve specific goals, but to avoid rocking the boat. That was the general sentiment at a recent forum where local bike advocates popped questions at Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, New York’s leading advocacy organization for bicycling, walking, and transit.

“New York’s success, tenaciousness, vision, and drive have been guiding the way for other American cities,” San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) Executive Director Leah Shahum told an audience at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association last Thursday, where she and White discussed the state of the bicycling movement in the two cities.

“We all know that we talk about Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, and Barcelona as being these wonderful bicycling cities, and many getting better and better, but [with] that European model, you really lose people,” said Shahum. “To have a great American city guiding the way in being a great bicycling space, and really reclaiming space from the automobile and creating public space for people, frankly, is making our job a lot easier in San Francisco.”

NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has earned a reputation for pursuing groundbreaking projects like the two-way bikeway on Prospect Park West, which produced major benefits and, despite high-profile resistance from a small group of politically-connected NIMBYs, has been largely embraced by the public.

“We’ve been very lucky to have such great leadership that has managed, nevertheless, to involve communities and be very democratic while at the same time acting swiftly and decisively to implement safer streets,” said White. “I think one way to cut through the red tape, and maybe some of the needless process, is to appeal to safety, and say that every day that a street goes without pedestrian or bike infrastructure is putting people in danger.”

“There’s enough data now to show that it’s simply inhumane not to add bike lanes and pedestrian infrastructure when there’s an opportunity,” he added.

One of the main barriers preventing San Francisco from experiencing the same “impressive explosion” of visible change, said Shahum, is that SF transportation officials and politicians like Mayor Ed Lee haven’t been as willing to commit to completing bike projects, and that New York planners don’t have “to go through as much process as we do in San Francisco.”

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SF Bike Share Will Be “For Anybody Who Wants to Make a Short Trip”

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The SFMTA has released a preliminary map of potential bike-share station locations (H/T Cyclelicious for inputting them into Google).

San Franciscans are burning with curiosity about the imminent arrival of bike share this summer. At a forum held by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association yesterday, participants wanted to know details like where the stations will be located and what color the bikes will be.

Officials working on the project say they can’t provide answers until the vendor is selected (expected by April), but Cyclelicious provides an early map of stations proposed by the SFMTA. Project manager Heath Maddox said that while the pilot’s 50 downtown stations won’t serve as wide an area as the world’s leading systems, the stations will be close enough together to achieve a similar “blanket-style” coverage within the service zone.

“The most important thing is to have a density of coverage that works,” Maddox told Streetsblog after the presentation [PDF] yesterday. “The regional system is really set up — and it makes sense — to be the first and last mile for regional transit, but the nature of what we’re doing in San Francisco is very different. It’ll be [for] anybody and everybody who wants to make a short trip via bicycle.”

Maddox said the station proposals are still very premature, and that the SFMTA will collect feedback on them through public hearings, an online map, and a possible town hall-style meeting.

As far as the potential for expansion after the pilot, planners couldn’t say much, but Maddox did present a citywide map of areas that are “ripe” for bike share, mainly featuring transit-accessible commercial corridors. Karen Schkolnick, the program manager for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said planners hope to use the information gathered from the regional 1,000-bike pilot to develop a “seamless transition to the next system.”


SPUR: How Will 1.7 Million More People Cross the Bay?

Crossing the Bay from SPUR on Vimeo.

SPUR has produced a new video that asks: How will 1.7 million more people cross the Bay? From the SPUR blog:

In the last century, visionary planners made major investments linking San Francisco and the East Bay. When the 20th century dawned, the only way to get from San Francisco to Oakland was by ferry. We built the Bay Bridge during the Great Depression and the BART tunnel in the early 1970s. It’s been nearly 40 years since then, and the Bay Area has grown by 2.7 million people. Yet we’ve added no new capacity. Even the new Bay Bridge, currently under construction, won’t help: It will be much more resilient to earthquakes, yet no bigger than the bridge it replaces.

SPUR’s first recommendation is to get more people on buses by building what would be a relatively cheap short-term solution: a contra-flow westbound bus lane on the Bay Bridge that would accommodate up to 10,000 new passengers an hour. Its second recommendation calls for incremental improvements to BART, including a better train control system along with trains that have more doors. The third is a long-term recommendation that would require big capital dollars: constructing a second transbay tube to boost BART’s capacity, and potentially accommodate high-speed rail.

The video is SPUR’s first entry into animation and video making. It’s a product of the organization’s 2009 project and report, “The Future of Downtown,” which focused on reducing job sprawl and strategies to expand job growth in San Francisco’s transit-rich downtown. It argued that downtown SF, namely SoMa, has “by far the greatest near-term potential to accommodate regional employment growth with a low carbon footprint.”

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SPUR: Let’s Not Miss the Boat on What America’s Cup Could Do For SF


The extension of the historic F-line streetcar to Fort Mason would serve the anticipated spectator venues from Crissy Field to Aquatic Park. Image: Rick Laubscher

Editor’s note: The following is being republished from SPUR, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. Visit their blog at

When it comes to global sporting events, almost as intense as the competition between star athletes is the competition between cities to play host.

That’s because hosting a major international sporting event presents a unique opportunity for a city to redefine its development goals, stimulate investment and boost tourism.

Just last month it was decided that San Francisco would host the 34th America’s Cup. There is no doubt that the San Francisco Bay will provide a breathtaking venue for yacht racing, and no doubt that there will be an infusion of spending in the city tied to the event.

But the real opportunity comes from leveraging the America’s Cup to make some major long-term investments in our city.

SPUR calls for the City to come together to make some important public realm improvements before the race happens; and to make sure we get high-quality private development that will stand the test of time.

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Commentary: Why This Working Family is Supporting Muni Reform


Photo: foonus

Editor’s note: On Friday, we presented an op-ed opposing Prop G. Today, Gillian Gillett, a transit advocate who is the chair of SPUR’s Transportation Committee, explains why she’s voting for Prop G.

Living in San Francisco provides families with many unique opportunities for learning, entertainment, and other benefits of a diverse, urban environment. However, families also face some unique challenges, as San Francisco has the lowest percentage of children of any American city, and parents like me with children in San Francisco’s public school system face additional challenges day to day. That’s why a well run Muni is absolutely critical for both working families, and for San Francisco as a whole – without it, San Francisco doesn’t function. That’s why my working family is supporting Muni reform.

Let’s look at some of the challenges kids in public school face right now.

The San Francisco Unified School District is considering cutting 57 percent of its transportation budget. That means 900 more kids won’t have a way to get to school, and at least 950 won’t be able to attend after school programs, which we know are vital for working families. 
This is especially troubling considering the fact that in many neighborhoods, kids outnumber [pdf] the available desks at school facilities. For example, in my neighborhood, the Mission, there are 2000 elementary school students, but only 1100 spaces in the elementary schools, and 40 percent of households do not own a car. 
Thus, when people suggest that parents of public school kids don’t send their kids to local schools because they “don’t like them,” they do not understand how the public school system sometimes works. This is also why a functioning Muni is absolutely critical for these families to succeed at work and at school.

In a time of economic crisis, we have to spend every dollar as effectively as possible to get the most benefit, and Muni is no exception. For the last several years, Muni has been making significant cuts to service. Even with the minor restoration of service, many families, particularly those who depend on Muni, are having a harder time juggling school, after school activities and work, when they have to wait longer and longer for a bus that may never arrive, or find themselves stranded when a connecting bus is late, or cannot get on a bus because it is overcrowded. If the current Muni trend of cutting service and charging more for it continues, people will choose cars over a slow, expensive transit system or decide to move out of San Francisco. I’d love to think everyone would switch to bicycles, but that’s not an option everyone can enjoy.

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Muni Charter Measure Supporters Take to the Streets to Collect Signatures

IMG_1793.jpgSupervisor Sean Elsbernd canvasses near West Portal station this morning. Photo: Michael Rhodes

People catching Muni near West Portal station this morning were greeted by an unusual sight: Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf, and a team of volunteers were out canvassing the avenue to gather signatures for a ballot measure that would change the way the city sets Muni operator salaries.

Elsbernd, who first introduced the measure late last year only to see it receive an icy reception in a Board of Supervisors committee, said getting it on the ballot through a signature campaign was a daunting task, but so far people are receptive.

"If they give you that two seconds to talk to you about it, they'll sign it," he said. "It's just whether or not they'll give you that two seconds."

After twenty minutes of standing out on West Portal Avenue, Elsbernd said he'd collected about 15 signatures. To get on the November ballot, 70,000 of San Francisco's half-a-million registered voters must sign a petition in support of putting the measure on the ballot.

"We've got a lot of signatures we've got to collect in the next few months," Elsbernd acknowledged.

The measure would remove language from the City Charter that currently sets Muni operator salaries and benefits at the average of the two highest-paying large transit agencies in the country, instead of through a collective bargaining process. The measure's supporters argue that the charter provision has been too costly for Muni and has given management less flexibility to negotiate better work rules.


MTA Board May Finally Get Creative on Funding, But Obstacles Remain

IMG_5750_1.jpgMTA Executive Director Nat Ford and Board members Jerry Lee, James McCray, and Chairman Tom Nolan.

Could the bleakest budget in the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's history force its directors to finally get creative in funding Muni?

The answer, judging from Tuesday's MTA Board meeting, is yes. Fresh off approving a 10 percent cut to Muni service to balance this year's budget, MTA directors appeared eager to close the agency's massive budget gap in the upcoming two years without cutting more service or raising fares.

MTA staff presented $75 million in solutions that the agency could enact without going to the ballot box, but more than a third of that would come from charging for transfers and cutting even more service -- ideas quickly shot down by the board.

The remaining solutions, including a plan to extend parking meter enforcement hours, add up to about $40 million annually. That's far less than the $56.4 million shortfall the agency is projected to face next year, or the $45 million shortfall projected for the year after that.

But for the first time in the MTA's ten-year history, the board seems serious about going to the ballot box to stave off further service cuts. Transit supporters say it's a noteworthy shift.

"It is a really good sign to see the MTA trying to get ahead of things now and come up with a long-term revenue strategy so they're not facing a crisis every single year," said Gabriel Metcalf, Executive Director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), an urban planning think tank.

Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of Livable City and a member of the BART Board, also called it a welcome development. "This would be the MTA Board for the first time not being totally passive about creating new revenue and actually being proactive," he said. "It's late, but it's progress."

The directors will have to maintain their resolve during what is certain to be an uphill battle. MTA staff presented five potential ballot measures to the board on Tuesday, and the directors themselves suggested two more. Each of the seven faces formidable hurdles.


Are More Service Cuts the Last Straw For a Public Fed Up With Muni?

tax_the_rich.jpgPhoto: blarfiejandro

Widespread outrage at the MTA Board, so visibly on display at today's meeting on Muni service cuts and fare increases, appears to be driving a growing surge of organizing that transit supporters hope might finally create a sustained movement with the potential to pressure the MTA into developing long-term fixes for Muni.

Most members of the public testifying at the meeting today were livid about the MTA's approach to the budget, illustrated by loud outbursts from speakers and thunderous applause by the more than 200 people who filled the overflow South Light Court at City Hall.

Long-time Muni organizers and transit wonks were hopeful the momentum that helped turn out so many people would continue beyond today.

"I'm thrilled. I think it's word of mouth, it's gotten around," said Sue Vaughan, a member of the MTA Citizens' Advisory Council and an organizer with Transit Not Traffic. "It's got a life of its own and it's gaining momentum."

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who roamed the overflow room and spoke with a number of people who gave public testimony, was awed by the turnout. "I'm incredibly impressed about the volume of people that have come out. They're well organized, and their passion is right on and felt by many of us."

"As far as I'm concerned, you've got a mini-movement that's not going to fade away."

An abundance of different groups were represented at the meeting, including advocates for improved transit, affordable housing, people with disabilities, youth, seniors, and more, as well as plenty of unaffiliated Muni riders who were deeply concerned about the MTA's proposals for balancing its budget.