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Revamped Bike Parking Requirements Clear Final Hurdle at Board of Supes

A citywide overhaul of bicycle parking requirements for new development will be adopted after the Board of Supervisors approved the legislation unanimously on Tuesday.

Bike parking at Zynga. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

The ordinance will, by and large, increase bike parking requirements for new residential and commercial buildings, which have been put in place on a piecemeal basis since 1996. Planning Department staff said the legislation will set consistent, stricter standards that are more in line with those set in cities like Portland, Vancouver, and New York.

Whereas the guidelines adopted about a decade ago generally required one bike parking space for every 50 tenants, the new ordinance will help provide “infrastructure to support bicycling for the 21st century,” said Supervisor John Avalos, who sponsored the legislation.

The overhaul would apply to new construction and building expansions, and bike parking requirements would vary according to a building’s size and type. Residential buildings with four or more units will be required to provide one secure bike parking space per unit. Smaller buildings would only have to meet the standard of providing indoor storage space, like inside a garage.

Commercial developments would also have to provide more bike parking for customers and employees. For example, under the old planning code, a new grocery store of 30,000 square feet would have been required to have only three bike parking spaces, be they provided with secured lockers or cages (“class one” spaces), or outdoor racks (“class two”). Under the new requirements, such a store must have at least four class-one spaces and 12 class-two spaces.

A new office building of 100,000 square feet would have previously only needed 12 bike parking spaces. Under the new regulations, it must provide 100 class-one spaces and 22 class-two spaces.

Existing city-owned and -leased buildings and parking garages will be required to retrofit facilities to accommodate bikes. ”We want the city to be a model in providing bicycle parking,” said Kimia Haddadan of the Planning Department at a recent supervisors hearing on the ordinance.

Developers can also pay a fee in lieu of providing some of the required class-two parking spaces, said Haddadan. The fee is $400 per space (or $800 per rack), which would go toward a citywide bike parking fund managed by the SFMTA.

“We need to help people live and work in our urban environments,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “That is the way of the future, and we need to think diversely about how we’re moving people.”

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SFCTA Board Approves Funding For Masonic, Second Street, and More

The Masonic re-design will now be fully funded. Image: SF Planning Department

Federal funding for street redesigns on Masonic Avenue, Second Street, and other improvements was unanimously approved yesterday by the Board of Supervisors, acting as the board of the SF County Transportation Authority.

The projects selected to receive a chunk of the regional One Bay Area grant also include a bike/ped path on Mansell Street in McLaren Park, pedestrian safety improvements on Broadway in Chinatown, and bike and pedestrian upgrades on streets around the Transbay Transit Center. Altogether, $35 million in OBAG funds will go toward projects in SF.

A crash between a car and a fire department truck seen last week, after the car driver reportedly ran a red light. Photo: Michael Helquist

The most anticipated project in the package — and the most contentious – was the overhaul of Masonic, a deadly street which is slated to get raised bike lanes, reduced traffic lanes, a tree-lined median, bus bulb-outs, and other pedestrian safety upgrades. Of the estimated $18 million needed for the project, OBAG will provide $10 million, while the SFMTA is expected to provide the remaining $8 million.

SF Bicycle Coalition Communications Director Kristin Smith wrote in a blog post yesterday:

This is a huge win for safer, more complete San Francisco streets — especially on Masonic Avenue, one of San Francisco’s most deadly streets. In the last five years, 122 people have been injured and two people killed, just on 2/3 of a mile of Masonic. Thanks to today’s funding decision, this deadly corridor will be transformed into a safer place for all road users.

Even though the Masonic project was approved last September after several years of planning and extensive outreach, a few dozen residents at the hearing told the board to reject funding for the plan because it would remove all on-street car parking on Masonic. They claimed that the safety upgrades were actually dangerous, would add congestion, and that they weren’t notified about the planning process. Almost as many speakers who backed the project attested to the long-overdue need to save lives and make the street more accessible to bicycling.

Supervisors — including Eric Mar, Mark Farrell, and London Breed, who penned a joint letter in February urging funding for the project — gave a sympathetic nod to the complainers, but didn’t budge on their commitment to safer streets.

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Board of Supervisors Unanimously Passes Wiener’s Ped Safety Reforms

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Supervisor Scott Wiener’s package of legislation aimed at streamlining pedestrian safety projects was passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors yesterday, and will be incorporated into the city’s administrative code.

Here’s what the legislation will do:

  • Create a Street Design Review Committee to foster better coordination between agencies on street infrastructure projects.
  • Call upon agencies to “modernize street code provisions” and “formulate clear procedures” for coordination.
  • Make it easier for developers to implement pedestrian safety projects as gifts to the city in lieu of impact fees.
  • Define what the city considers an “obstruction” to emergency vehicles under the fire code in order to provide more leeway for sidewalk extensions.

“We have an epidemic of pedestrian accidents on our streets,” Wiener said at a meeting last week. “Despite the priority we have given to pedestrian safety upgrades, even when we have safety projects that have strong support and funding, our process for actually implementing these improvements is flawed and needs to be improved. This legislation would do that.”

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Bikeway on Mission Instead of Market: Does Anybody Think It’s a Good Idea?

Bike traffic is already booming on Market Street, the city's main civic thoroughfare and most direct route to many major destinations. Does anybody really think ignoring this natural traffic pattern is a good idea? Photo: Mark Dreger, San Franciscoize/Flickr

Updated at 9 p.m. with street configuration diagram at bottom.

Two public meetings on Better Market Street will be held on July 17 and 20, and a webinar will be held on July 18.

The idea of building protected bike lanes on downtown Mission Street instead of Market Street, as proposed by the Department of Public Works and the SFMTA, doesn’t seem to have many adherents aside from the planners who proposed it.

The agencies framed the proposal as a simpler engineering task than protected bike lanes on Market — where the vast majority of people already ride, and are expected to continue to ride. But the idea was roundly criticized by advocates and city officials yesterday at the latest Board of Supervisors hearing on the Better Market Street project.

Although SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said the option is worth studying, he also said he “shares many of the concerns” about trying to divert bicycle traffic off the city’s main thoroughfare.

“If it’s not going to be a world-class bicycle facility that will be a better choice and naturally attract cyclists to Mission Street, and many bicyclists still end up on Market Street, then it won’t have achieved its goal of trying to de-conflict transit and cycling,” said Reiskin.

Paul Valdez, a bicycle commuter who spoke against the Mission option — as did every other speaker who commented on it — called it “absurd.”

“Scratch that option. Please re-focus your energies, time, and resources” on improving Market Street, he said.

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Wiener’s Proposals to Streamline Ped Safety Upgrades Pass Supes Committee

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A package of legislation aimed at cutting through the bureaucratic red tape that encumbers the city’s progress on life-saving pedestrian safety measures was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee yesterday. The full board is expected to approve the proposals in the coming weeks.

Supervisor Scott Wiener's legislation is aimed at improving coordination between agencies in making pedestrian safety improvements. Advocates hope that would get DPW to save money by adding bulb-outs when tearing up sidewalks, which it failed to do when adding these curb ramps. Photo: SF DPW

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who proposed the legislation, said it’s aimed at reforming several city procedures that often delay pedestrian safety projects, and that it should help the city meet the goal set out in the SFMTA’s draft Pedestrian Strategy: cutting pedestrian injuries by 25 percent by 2016, and by 50 percent by 2020.

“Pledges and good intentions only get us so far, and in fact, money only gets us so far,” said Wiener. “The process we have in place to implement needed pedestrian upgrades is lacking. We don’t have enough inter-agency coordination, and we have outdated codes.”

Last year, police reported that 964 pedestrians were injured on San Francisco streets — “the largest number since 2000,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe. Nineteen of those people were killed, and, she pointed out, 20 to 25 percent of trauma victims in SF hospitals are hit by cars. “That’s a huge amount,” she said. “Too often, the projects to fix these dangerous streets just take too long, and the bigger projects often get whittled down.”

Wiener said the legislation would push agencies to better coordinate with one another on street infrastructure projects by creating a Street Design Review Committee. It also calls upon agencies to “modernize street code provisions” and “formulate clear procedures” for coordination. One ordinance in the package would make it easier for developers to implement pedestrian safety projects as gifts to the city in lieu of impact fees, and another targets strict interpretations of the fire code that can limit sidewalk extensions.

The SF Fire Department has resisted the fire code amendment, since it would relax the city’s definition of roadway obstructions, which department heads say could inhibit fire truck and ambulance access. Changes to street widths in California must adhere to a fire code requirement that 20 feet of clear roadway be provided, and under Wiener’s proposal, curbs less than six inches high would not be considered an obstruction by the city.

“We want less people run over in the streets,” said Fire Marshal Thomas Harvey. “But we do have difficulty trying to bridge that gap of what provides the best pedestrian safety and what actually allows for our operational needs and does not limit our fire department vehicle access.”

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Neglecting Muni Costs the Economy at Least $50 Million Per Year

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Every time a Muni train breaks down or a bus is stuck in car traffic, San Francisco pays big time.

City staffers are beginning to tally up the economic toll of Muni delays, and presented [PDF] some alarming figures at a hearing yesterday called by Supervisor Scott Wiener.

In April, riders were delayed a cumulative 86,000 hours, or, as SF Weekly calculated, 19 years and eight months. That amounts to an economic loss of $4.2 million, or $50 million per year, according to the City Controller’s Office. And that’s a conservative estimate — it doesn’t account for delays outside of rush hours or the loss of potential customers who might otherwise use Muni to shop if the system were more reliable, a Controller’s Office staffer said.

“The system’s struggles have real-life consequences for our city,” said Wiener. “When service is unreliable, people are delayed and frustrated in getting where they’re going, leading to negative economic impacts and reduced quality of life.”

Last week, the N-Judah — Muni’s busiest line — shut down twice in two days due to damaged overhead wire equipment, leaving trains sitting on the street for most of a 24-hour period. Such meltdowns not only have internal costs for Muni, like overtime labor to run shuttle buses as a substitute for train service and the cost of repairing equipment. They also cost commuters time, and repeated delays lead them to consider other ways of getting around — or to question whether to make a trip at all.

“The bottom line,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, “is the transportation system matters to people when they’re choosing where to live, where they work, what modes of travel they’re going to use, and how they’re going to allocate their household budget between housing and transportation.”

With Muni being deprived of funding for decades — a situation that’s only getting worse — the system’s outlook is grim. Here are the stats, as reported by Muni and summed up by SF Weekly, since July:

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Supervisor Mar: Abysmal Funding for Bicycle Infrastructure “Not Acceptable”

It looks like Supervisor Eric Mar is ready to make some noise about the need to fund the SFMTA’s vision for a major expansion of bike-friendly streets — which Mayor Ed Lee hasn’t prioritized at all since the agency released its Draft Bicycle Strategy earlier this year.

Supervisor Mar speaking at last week's Bike to Work Day rally. Photo: Aaron Bialick

At yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Mar issued a request to the City Budget and Legislative Analyst and the Controller’s Office for a report on potential opportunities to increase the abysmal amount of funding currently devoted to bicycle infrastructure — 0.46 percent of the city’s capital budget.

“It’s time that the city walks the walk when it comes to funding bike improvements,” said Mar. “Less than a half of one percent is not acceptable.”

While pro-bike talk from elected officials abounded at last week’s Bike to Work Day rally, Mar noted that ”there were no commitments to step up and deliver the funding that our fledgling bicycle network needs.”

In February, when Mar asked Mayor Ed Lee how he planned to help fund the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy – a vision for making bicycling a mainstream mode of transportation – the mayor made it clear that he has no plans to back up his pro-bike rhetoric with a commitment to implementation.

With the SFMTA set to approve its next two-year budget a year from now, “Now is the time where we can start planning and working proactively to make these plans a reality,” said Mar.

Mar pointed to SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin’s remarks at last October’s NACTO Conference in New York, reported by Streetsblog, when Reiskin stated that “the most cost effective investment we can make in moving people in our city is in bicycle infrastructure.”

The efficacy of bicycle infrastructure is already evident in neighborhoods like the Inner Richmond, which Mar represents, where bicycle commuting increased by 167 percent from 2000 to 2010. During that time, bike lanes were installed on Arguello Boulevard and Cabrillo Street. Mar also pushed for the recent implementation of the Fell and Oak protected bike lanes, which now provide a safer commuting route for District 1 residents. “I think the improvements to bike lanes, making them safer for families, has had a real impact in the Richmond,” said Mar.

“We know that improving the bicycle network in San Francisco leads to healthier communities, less car congestion, less pressure on Muni lines already at capacity, healthier commuters, and many other economic benefits,” he added.

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Bike to Work Day at City Hall: Lots of Pro-Bike Talk, Few Real Commitments

Elected officials and thousands of commuters took to two wheels for the 19th annual Bike to Work Day, welcomed by the new protected bike lane on Oak Street and the city’s first bicycle counter on Market Street. As in the past few years, the mayor and city supervisors gathered on the steps of City Hall to give speeches cheering bicycling, with some calling for the implementation of more bike lanes.

Supervisor David Chiu neglected to mention Polk Street in his Bike to Work Day speech. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The event saw record-breaking bike traffic counts, according to manual counts by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency, which found that bikes accounted for 76 percent of eastbound vehicle traffic on Market at Van Ness Avenue between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. — a three percent increase in bike traffic over last year, and a nearly 30 percent increase since 2009.

By 9 a.m., the new digital bike counter on eastbound Market between Ninth and Tenth Streets displayed a total of 1,300 bicycle commuters. (That may be an underestimate, as riders who didn’t run over sensors in the bike lane appeared to not be counted.)

While city leaders had a few recent improvements to point to, important issues went unaddressed. At the podium, Mayor Ed Lee made no mention of the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy, which he has so far refused to fund.

Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors’ supposed bike champion, David Chiu, said nothing about Polk Street – the vital bicycling corridor on which the rally was held, where the SFMTA has ruled out plans for protected bike lanes on all but six blocks. His omission didn’t seem to sit well with several rally attendees, who, after Chiu’s speech, shouted “Polk Street!”

Mayor Ed Lee made no mention of the need to increase funding for bicycle infrastructure on the 19th annual Bike to Work Day. Meanwhile, Morgan Fitzgibbons (out of the frame) holds a sign in the back reading, "19th Annual Photo Op & Empty Promises Day.” Photo: Aaron Bialick

After the rally, when Chiu was asked if he planned to take a stand for protected bike lanes on Polk, he declined to do so, instead characterizing himself as a mediator between street safety advocates and parking-obsessed merchants. “I think there has not been enough dialogue between the various sides of this perspective,” he said. “On the one hand, we’ve had significant safety issues for pedestrians and cyclists on a thoroughfare that is used every single day by thousands of folks. On the other hand, the plight of our small businesses is very, very real.”

“I do hope we will have more protected bikeways around the city,” he said. “The question is if that should be for all of Polk Street.”

Chiu, along with Supervisors Scott Wiener and David Campos — who represent San Francisco on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission – did call for an increase in the city’s abysmal level of investment in bicycling, currently 0.46 percent of the capital budget.

“We’ve got to get real here,” said Wiener. “If we don’t put our money where our mouth is and start investing in bike infrastructure, in Muni, it’s not going to happen as fast as we need it to happen. I want to move fast, and I want us to invest and transform our city into a city where we can get around in all sorts of different ways, including biking.”

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Supes Farrell and Cohen Have Yet to Grasp Why Free Parking Hurts SF

Mark Farrell and Malia Cohen emerged as the most vocal proponents of free car parking on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors at a hearing on parking meters last week. Farrell called the hearing in February based on an admittedly “unfounded” suspicion that the SF Municipal Transportation Agency was planning to install parking meters in District 2, which he represents.

Supervisors Mark Farrell and Malia Cohen: Misguided champions for free parking.

Despite the traffic dysfunction caused by free parking, which leads motorists to cruise fruitlessly in search of an open space, Cohen made her anti-parking meter stance clear at the introduction of the hearing. “I’m looking forward to, possibly, [SFMTA Director] Ed Reiskin saying, ‘I quit, you won, we’re not going to be doing parking meters,’” she said, eliciting applause from an audience composed mostly of the city’s usual stable of free parking activists.

Electeds like Farrell and Cohen still see parking as an entitlement for drivers, and tend to resist any effort to encroach on that entitlement. Based on what they said at the hearing, they believe the amount of driving is fixed, and that the demand for car parking is a natural force that must be accommodated, not managed to achieve goals like traffic reduction, transit efficiency, and street safety. They say they won’t tolerate parking reform unless Muni is first improved to their standards. (Oddly, we never seem to hear these folks actually push for more Muni funding, or call for safer streets for walking and biking.)

Meanwhile, the SFMTA’s SFPark program has enjoyed broad political support where it has replaced existing parking meters with smart meters. Those meters adjust prices to demand throughout the day to keep about one parking space open on every block and provide multiple payment options. Prices have dropped about as often as they’ve been raised, so SFPark has actually saved motorists money and reduced citations.

While supervisors and the mayor have gotten behind SFPark as a symbol of San Francisco’s innovation, that’s not the case when it comes to converting free parking spaces to SFPark meters — even in neighborhoods like the northeast Mission, where drivers circle around endlessly for spots on weekday mornings.

At the hearing, Farrell and Cohen waved the flag for the camp that insists San Franciscans shouldn’t pay for car storage. ”What do you do first: Do you make public transportation so attractive that people will voluntarily choose to abandon their cars, or leave them at home, and take public transportation?” said Farrell. “Or do you make it so challenging and frustrating to drive a car, with increased parking rates and what have you, that people are — this is extreme, but — coerced out of their cars? I think I hear from a lot of folks that it’s the latter, not the former.”

The problem with that assertion is that free parking is itself a subsidy that leads more people to drive, creating a traffic-clogged street environment that degrades transit service and makes bicycling unpleasant. That only further coerces people into cars. So while it’s clear that Muni, walking, and biking conditions do need to be improved, continuing to give away in-demand parking spaces for free only perpetuates the vicious cycle.

“We have a charter mandate to” manage parking, said Reiskin. “It would be irresponsible of us to do otherwise.”

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Sup. Wiener: Muni Will Only Get Worse Under City’s Ten-Year Spending Plan

Supervisor Scott Wiener is sounding the alarm that Muni, already the slowest transit system in the country, will only get worse over the next ten years unless officials at City Hall take the initiative to devote more resources to the city’s decrepit transit vehicles and infrastructure.

Under the the latest iteration of the city’s ten-year Capital Plan, a draft of which was approved by the Board of Supervisors last week, Muni will only see more of the breakdowns and crowding that have plagued the system due to decades of underfunding, said Wiener.

While the $330 million currently set aside in the plan for Muni is an increase over the city’s historic spending levels of “basically zero,” Wiener lamented the fact that it comes nowhere near filling the system’s backlog of repairs and equipment replacements, which the SFMTA estimates would require $510 million every year within the ten-year period.

“I think it’s important for all of us to understand that that is not even close to what we need even to improve service levels today, let alone with a growing population and a ten-year older system,” Wiener said at a recent meeting of the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee.

As the SF Examiner has reported, even if voters approve two proposed revenue measures in November 2014, the Capital Plan would include a combined $790 million over the next ten years for transportation and street infrastructure — nowhere near the $3.1 billion backlog, $2.2 billion of which the SFMTA says is for Muni:

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