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Posts from the "Board of Supervisors" Category

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Supes Hamstring SFMTA’s Ability to Expand Progressive Parking Policy

In a setback for progressive parking policy in San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors voted last week to eliminate the SFMTA’s ability to install any significant amount of new parking meters under a new five-year contract to upgrade existing meters.

The $54 million contract originally covered 25,000 parking meters that accept credit cards and multiple forms of payment to replace existing meters, plus 10,000 for backup stock and some potential expansions, which would require a separate public planning process before installation. But supervisors appear to be going along with the anti-meter campaign led by Supervisor Mark Farrell, amending the contract to remove half of the additional 10,000 meters. SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said that only leaves room for the agency to fill “very small-scale requests” for new meters from merchants.

Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich called the supervisors’ stance “disappointing”:

Parking meters are essential to San Francisco’s policy of prioritizing on-street parking for local merchants and residents before drive-alone commuters. As land uses diversify across the eastern neighborhoods of the city, there will continue to be a need for new metered areas to ensure that commuter parking not displace the short-term parking that supports neighborhood-serving businesses. A cap on parking meters will limit MTA’s ability to manage on-street parking for the benefit of local merchants and their customers.

No supervisors opposed reducing the number of meters to be purchased in the contract. Supervisor John Avalos, who introduced the contract amendment, said the SFMTA is expected to allocate the 5,000 additional meters like so: 1,200 to replace meters on Port property, 2,800 to replace damaged meters, and 1,000 “to be used as a maintenance flow.”

“There will be no expansion of meters,” said Avalos. “If that’s gonna happen, it’ll be another go-around from the MTA to describe how they will implement and with a lot of outreach to the public.”

Even though SFMTA officials stated in no uncertain terms that the location of any significant expansion of meters could only be initiated through a publicly-vetted planning process, supervisors unanimously approved the amendment, citing a lack of confidence in the SFMTA’s outreach process. The SFMTA Board of Directors voted last week to require more stringent outreach measures for new parking meters.

The lone vote against the contract from Supervisor Jane Kim apparently wasn’t intended as a stand for rational parking policy. Instead, Kim said she wanted the contract to include provisions that would bind the SFMTA to adhere to its allocation plan for the meters — an authority that the Board of Supervisors doesn’t have, according to the City Attorney.

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Supervisor Farrell Ramps Up Misguided Campaign Against Parking Meters

Supervisor Mark Farrell is apparently so repulsed by the idea that people should pay for the parking spots they use, he’s lashing out in increasingly irrational ways.

Supervisor Mark Farrell. Photo: SFGovTV

In his most recent stunt, Farrell delayed approval of a $54 million contract that would replace 25,000 worn-out, coin-fed parking meters with modern ones that accept credit cards, and purchase 10,000 additional meters. Before any parking meter could be placed in an un-metered space, it would still have to be approved in a separate public process. Although the contract passed the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee in October, which Farrell chairs, he voted against it, and consideration by the full board has been delayed for reasons that remain unclear.

There are also murmurs at City Hall that Farrell wants to push legislation that would remove sole approval for new parking meters from the SFMTA Board of Directors and require the Board of Supervisors to sign off as well.

“On this matter, I am very, very sensitive,” Farrell told Sonali Bose, the SFMTA’s chief financial officer, at the committee meeting in October, staking out a stance against a “blanket authorization” for funds that could potentially be used for new meters. The only new meters that have been proposed in the city since Farrell took office have been in the northeast Mission, Potrero Hill, Mission Bay, and streets surrounding the University of SF — none of which are in Farrell’s District 2.

Nonetheless, Farrell said the outreach and planning process for those meters, which has dragged on extensively and resulted in several changes, is “lacking,” and that supervisors “are the ones who hear about it all the time” from their driving constituents.

As we reported in February, Farrell’s sudden opposition to new parking meters seemed to arise from his suspicion that the SFMTA planned to add meters in District 2. As if it would be a bad thing to put a price on the limited supply of street space, like just about all other goods.

Free parking is bad policy — it encourages car owners to occupy valuable parking spaces all day, leaving other drivers to circle the block for a spot – creating heavier traffic on streets, greater wear on the roads, more illegal parking, and worse delays for Muni, all while hampering customer access for businesses. Metered parking, when priced to achieve occupancy targets (the goal of SFPark), makes the best use of a limited supply by keeping a spot open on each block.

Even though Farrell later admitted that his suspicion was unfounded, his bizarre attempt to put an moratorium on all new meters in the city by opposing the meter contract is even more illogical.

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Victims Share Tales of SFPD Anti-Bike Bias and Hostility at City Hall

At the scene of this 2009 crash where a driver made an illegal turn and hit a woman on a bicycle, an SFPD officer told Streetsblog’s Bryan Goebel that he thought all San Franciscans who ride bikes should be moved to Treasure Island. Photo: Bryan Goebel

When Sarah Harling was hospitalized by a minivan driver who made a left turn into her at a stop sign intersection, she says the SFPD officer who filed the police report included a fabricated statement from her claiming that she “approached the stop sign without stopping.”

Sarah Harling. Image: SFGovTV

Harling said she tried to submit a response to the numerous “factual errors” in the police report, but an officer at SFPD’s Richmond Station “raised his voice to lecture me about how traffic laws apply to cyclists too, how he’d never let his children ride bikes in the city, and then told me repeatedly, ‘I’m not telling you you can’t leave this here, but you just need to understand that sometimes things get lost.’”

“I left the station in tears,” she said.

Harling later hired an attorney, who collected witness statements and a photo, which showed the driver to be at fault and led the driver’s insurance company to settle for his or her maximum amount of coverage available.

“To say that the San Francisco Police Department failed to investigate my crash is not quite accurate. Rather, they refused to. Repeatedly,” said Harling. “I got the message, again and again, that because I had been riding my bicycle, it was my fault.”

Harling was one of dozens of bicycle riders who shared stories of hostile encounters with San Francisco police at a hearing held by a Board of Supervisors committee last week, testifying to what appears to be an anti-bike bias among many officers when it comes to investigating conflicts and crashes between people driving and biking.

“It’s not everyone in the force, but there is a systemic problem among police department officers when it comes to treating people fairly and equally who are biking and walking,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “We have regular accounts of people who are treated, at best, unprofessionally, and at worst, unjustly.”

The hearing comes after the fumbled investigation of the death of 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac, who was run over by a truck driver at Folsom and Sixth Streets in August. SFPD investigators apparently didn’t bother to ask nearby businesses if they had surveillance footage of the crash, though an SFBC staffer found it within 10 minutes. After seeing the  footage, SFPD found the truck driver at fault. Although the SFPD has said it submitted the case to the district attorney to examine for charges, the current status of the case is unclear.

At the memorial and rally held for Le Moullac, immediately after which the SFBC found the footage, SFPD Sergeant Richard Ernst parked his cruiser in the Folsom bike lane to make a point that the onus is on bicycle riders to pass to the left of right-turning cars. Ernst declared all three victims who have been killed this year to be at fault, including 48-year-old Diana Sullivan, who was sitting stopped at a red light at King and Third Streets in March when a trucker ran her over.

Such stories are reported regularly by victims who say officers have automatically assumed they were at fault in crashes, made false claims about bicycling and traffic laws, and even made threats. In one such story reported by Streetsblog in March 2012, a couple bicycling on Oak Street along the Wiggle (before the existing bike lane was installed) was harassed by a driver who injured one of the victims. The officer who responded at the scene threatened to throw the bleeding victim in jail for “vandalizing the vehicle.”

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Breed Defends Record on Safer Streets for Biking; Plus: Other Supes Respond

Supervisor London Breed has issued a statement explaining her Twitter comments yesterday on safer streets for bicycling which led her to delete her account. Breed had responded to an inquiry sent out by Twitter user Patrick Traughber to every city supervisor and a few other city officials, asking, “In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to creating safer streets for bicycling in San Francisco?”

Supervisor London Breed on Bike to Work Day. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

In her initial answer, Breed cited “the bad behavior of some bicyclist,” which led several people to respond in protest. Breed tried to clarify that she’s “not blaming anyone,” and that she’s “been fighting to help make streets safer for all,” but then shut down her account minutes into the discussion. Breed has a record of making abrasive comments on Twitter, arguing with constituents and getting press attention for it.

In her written statement, Breed defended her record of standing up for street redesign projects like Masonic Avenue and Fell and Oak Streets in the face of anti-bike vitriol. Here’s what she had to say:

I suspended my account because I realized twitter can be extremely time consuming and it’s too hard to have nuanced policy discussions in 140 characters. I want to take some time to think about how I use this medium in the future.

With respect to the bike exchange, my record is clear! I have been a consistent and effective advocate for bike projects in our city. I got the Oak and Fell bike lanes implemented well ahead of schedule. I led the effort to fund the Masonic Blvd project which includes dedicated bike lanes, and I’ve voted for every bike project that’s come before the Transportation Authority, including the popular bike share program just implemented in our city.

My point was not that I think bicyclists’ behavior should be an impediment to new projects. My point was bicyclists’ behavior is the complaint I hear most often from those who oppose the projects. So as a practical matter, those behavioral concerns — whether you think they’re accurate or inaccurate, right or wrong — make it harder to get new projects moving, harder to win public and political support. But that absolutely has not, and will not, stop me from fighting to win that support.

I’ve faced a lot of fire, a LOT of fire, over the Masonic blvd project and I’ve stood strong in my support. That’s my record. So it does bother me to see Masonic supporters criticizing me over a twitter post. But it is my fault for being unclear about a complicated topic on an inappropriate medium. That is why I am taking a break from that medium.

Breed deserves a lot of credit for supporting those safety improvements. And judging by her statement, she doesn’t think that policymakers should decide whether San Franciscans get to have safer streets based on the perceived behavior of people who use a particular mode of transportation.

Traughber’s question on Twitter yielded responses from a few other supervisors and District Attorney George Gascón, offering a glimpse into those officials’ understanding of how to make streets safer (or just how willing they are to respond to tweets).

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Muni to Test Seat Reconfiguration to Make More Room on Light-Rail Vehicles

Muni is looking to change its current train car seat configuration (seen left) to an arrangement more like the one on the right. Photos: SFCTAa

After a nudge from two city supervisors, Muni is looking to convert forward- and backward-facing seats to side-facing seats in its light-rail train cars as a way to squeeze in more passengers and speed up boarding.

A common scene for commuters on Muni's metro lines. Photo: torbakhopper/Flickr

The SFMTA plans to run a trial starting in January by putting one reconfigured prototype car into service, which would be monitored over six months before reconfiguring other train cars.

The pilot is moving forward at the behest of Supervisors Scott Wiener and London Breed, who called a hearing held yesterday on how the agency can increase capacity on its metro system while Muni riders await a new, larger train fleet due to arrive in 2017. By converting most seats to a sideways-facing orientation, planners estimate they could allow room for five to eight more passengers per train car while removing obstacles that can create bottlenecks when riders squeeze in and out at stops.

“The situation is severe enough that we need to find creative ways” to increase capacity, said Breed. “When a two-car train pulls up at Carl and Cole, that means 16 more people could be able to board, 16 more people can get to work on time, 16 more people will be inclined to keep riding Muni and not use their vehicles.”

Currently, 114 of Muni’s 151 train cars are in service, and most of the rest are in need of repair, according to agency staff. The Muni metro system lacks the number of train cars it needs to make all of its scheduled runs on half of service days.

Among the laundry list of flaws with Muni’s current trains — manufactured by Breda, which has been disqualified from vying for the next production contract — is their unusually inefficient interior design, said Wiener. The expected capacity for Breda train cars is 218 people — 60 in seats, 158 standing.

“We’re going to need [these cars] for a while,” said Wiener. “We need to make the most of the light-rail vehicles we have.”

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SFFD Tries to Quietly Nix Supe Wiener’s Ped Safety Reform in Fire Code

The SF Fire Department tried to delete an amendment to the fire code that would allow city agencies greater flexibility in widening sidewalks to improve pedestrian safety, according to Supervisor Scott Wiener, who championed the measure.

The measure was approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors and signed into law by Mayor Ed Lee this summer. However, SFFD and the Fire Commission apparently removed the provision from a routine update to the fire code submitted to the board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee on Monday.

Wiener told the SF Chronicle that he was “surprised and disappointed” to learn that SFFD had deleted the provision. SFFD’s end-run around the pedestrian safety reform ultimately failed: Wiener’s measure was reinstated in the fire code update passed by the committee and expected to be approved by the full board. While Wiener emphasized his support for the SFFD and the need for fire truck access, he said the department is “on a collision course with the broadly supported goal of pedestrian safety.”

SFFD officials made no mention of the issue in discussions at the hearing, even after Wiener called out the attempted deletion. Discussion of the fire code was dominated by a proposed requirement for firefighter air replenishment tanks in new high-rise developments.

SF Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White was silent on the department's attempt to remove the amendment to minimum road widths. Image: SFGovTV

Contention about minimum road widths has commonly arisen in plans for pedestrian-friendly street redesigns such as the developing plan for a block of Bartlett Street in the Mission. SFFD officials have protested the 14-foot-wide roadway in the plan, which would be narrower than the traditional minimum of 20 feet, claiming that it would impede fire trucks. The new fire code would allow roadways as narrow as 12 feet, so long as curbs are no higher than six inches and free of vertical obstructions, much like the requirements used by many cities around the country. Wiener has called the 20-foot minimum “one-size-fits-all” and “suburban in nature,” and has pointed out that fire trucks successfully navigate narrower San Francisco streets on a regular basis.

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SFCTA Board Approves Van Ness BRT Plan With an Extra Stop

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Image: SFCTA

The plan for bus rapid transit on Van Ness Avenue was unanimously approved today by the SF County Transportation Authority Board, which is comprised of the Board of Supervisors. The plan, which includes transit lanes that run along a center median but converge to load at right-side boarding platforms, is generally the same design that received initial approval from the board in June last year, although a stop was added between Broadway and Vallejo Street after protests from members of a nearby senior center against the removal of the existing stop.

At the hearing, many elderly attendees called for the inclusion of the extra stop, while transit advocates supporting the project countered opponents who complained about the removal of car parking and traffic lanes, as well as what they perceived as a high construction costs for minimal gains in speed and reliability.

The BRT redesign is expected to shave seven minutes from bus travel times on the two-mile stretch of Van Ness and make service more reliable. Supervisor Scott Wiener, who said the time savings estimates are too conservative, lambasted opponents’ “completely misleading” claims that seven minutes were unsubstantial for the cost of the project, which will also include pedestrian safety improvements.

“It will probably get quoted in the press, and there will probably be some narrative out there about how this is $125 million to save seven minutes,” said Wiener, who pointed out that with 16,000 estimated Muni boardings on Van Ness (not including riders who board its lines on other streets), “you’re talking about millions of dollars of economic savings a year.”

“If we could have that level of savings all across our system, it would absolutely revolutionize Muni,” he said. “This is an extraordinary project — it’s not perfect — but it is very, very good and a positive step for the city.”

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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.”