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Posts from the Planning Department Category


SF’s New “Sustainability Fee” Set to Include a Big Incentive to Build Parking

The city’s proposed Transportation Sustainability Fee — which would be assessed on new development to speed up construction of walking, biking, and transit infrastructure — moved forward today with approval from the SF Planning Commission. The commission approved a maximum rate slightly higher than the city had initially proposed but far lower than what some livable streets advocates wanted.

The Transportation Sustainability Fee is part of a broader effort to bolster sustainable modes in SF, but it’s not structured in a way that aligns with that goal. Photo: Sergio Ruiz via SF Planning

In addition, square footage devoted to car parking won’t factor into the fee developers are expected to pay. No matter how much parking is included in a project, it won’t raise the fee. This runs in direct opposition to the purpose of the TSF, say advocates, which is supposed to be a key tool in the city’s efforts to generate revenue for safer streets and more effective transit.

Under the approved TSF rates, which must still be approved by the Board of Supervisors, developers would pay for 33 percent, at most, of the estimated costs associated with street infrastructure to accommodate people traveling to and from their projects, as determined by the Planning Department’s “Nexus Study” [PDF]. The default rate would remain the 25 percent initially proposed by the Planning Department.

In a joint letter, Livable City, the SF Bicycle Coalition, and Walk SF said developers should pay 100 percent of “the true cost that development has on our transportation system, as outlined in the SFMTA’s own transportation sustainability study”:

For far too long, the City has not asked developers to pay their fair share, resulting in unreliable service, and [an] inadequate system for all users and ultimately a huge economic burden for San Francisco residents and community members. The need to increase the TSF is particularly critical given that other development impact fees are being lowered as part of this legislation.

The default 25 percent rate is “nowhere near sufficient,” Supervisor John Avalos told the Planning Commission.

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TSP Rebooted: Bureaucratic Revamp Could Boost Transit and Livable Streets

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Photo: Sergio Ruiz via SF Planning

Photo: Sergio Ruiz via SF Planning

San Francisco agencies have re-introduced the Transportation Sustainability Program, a bureaucratic overhaul that could dramatically expedite improvements for walking, biking, and transit, while discouraging car parking in new developments.

In developing the program, SF planners are also nearing completion of the nation’s first major study showing that dedicated car parking encourages driving.

The TSP is three-pronged: It would overhaul SF’s development fee system to fund sustainable transportation upgrades, set mandated targets for developers to reduce driving caused by their projects, and replace the automobile-centric metric known as Level of Service (LOS), which would make environmental reviews both faster and more “meaningful,” planners say.

“If you’re moving people out of cars, you need to have the infrastructure for them to do things otherwise,” said Sarah Jones, the SF Planning Department’s director of environmental planning. “Each of these components can operate on its own, but we are working on them in an integrated way, because each of them really enhances the other.”

Originally expected to be adopted in 2013, the program has been fine-tuned since it was put on hold in late 2012 primarily for two reasons. At that time, the Board of Supervisors rejected a new fee system after a misinformation campaign, and the California legislature since passed a bill calling for the replacement of LOS as the state’s transportation metric.

The SFMTA, the Planning Department, and the SF County Transportation Authority are preparing to launch public outreach on the TSP within the coming months and institute the program in stages by the end of the year, said Jones.

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Planning Dept Releases Design Guide for “Living Alleys” Around Hayes Valley

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The SF Planning Department’s new guide lays out concepts like “living zones” for SF’s alleyways. Image: Planning Department

The SF Planning Department released a design guide this week for “living alleys” [PDF], providing a template to transform SF’s narrow, low-traffic streets into places to gather and play.

Inspired by the Dutch “woonerf” concept, the “Living Alleys Toolkit” lays out proven design measures that make smaller streets more inviting to stay and play on, giving street life priority over drivers moving through. The guide states:

The “Living Alleys Toolkit” cover, featuring the Linden Alley project implemented in 2010.

A living alley is a street designed as a place for people. It can be considered an “Urban Living Room”. Its design can reconfigure the geometry and surfacing of the street, or simply add low cost amenities for residents while maintaining the traditional curbed right-of-way. Whatever approach, living alleys prioritize the entire public right-of-way for pedestrians and bicyclists with alternative but clear physical boundaries. A living alley also has areas of exclusive pedestrian use and areas where vehicles are allowed to share space with pedestrians and bicyclists.

While the concept has been implemented more widely in northern Europe, the guide notes, similar ideas have been applied in Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon. In SF, a section of Linden Street was redesigned as a living alley in 2010, and plaza projects have been implemented in SoMA on Annie Alley and Mint Plaza. In Oakland, two alleys in the Temescal neighborhood were converted into pedestrianized retail streets that delivery vehicles can enter.

The new guide, which started development in mid-2013, focuses on the potential for living alleys in Hayes Valley and just south of Market Street near Octavia Boulevard, since it was conceived in the Market-Octavia Area Plan with the removal of the Central Freeway. But in the future, as those initial alley transformations are implemented, the city will look at expanding them citywide, said the Planning Department’s David Winslow.

The guide includes prototype street designs. One is a plan to convert Ivy Street, between Gough and Franklin Streets, to a shared-space zone where cars are still allowed to pass through, as seen on nearby Linden.

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Gentrification Fears Threaten to Derail Mission Street Improvements

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City efforts to make more room for walking and transit on Mission Street are being fought by some residents who think they’ll exacerbate gentrification. Image: Planning Department

Mission District residents who equate streetscape improvements with rising rents dominated a community meeting discussion yesterday about public space upgrades along Mission Street.

It was the Planning Department’s latest public meeting about its Mission Street Public Life Plan, an effort to envision Mission Street “as a vital transit corridor with art, commerce and new public spaces for people to enjoy,” encompassing Mission outside of downtown (from South Van Ness Avenue to Randall Street).

The plan would complement other efforts from the SFMTA to convert two traffic lanes into Muni-only lanes and install bulb-outs to improve pedestrian safety and streamline bus boardings. But residents who spoke up in the question-and-answer session seemed to fervently oppose any upgrades, especially beautification efforts like trees and art that helped transform nearby Valencia Street years ago.

Trees, benches, and other sidewalk amenities were blamed for the skyrocketing rents, evictions, and demographic shifts in the neighborhood. Little distinction was made between those and upgrades for transit and pedestrian safety.

One resident, Tom Stolmer, called the streetscape plan a “thinly veiled effort to exploit the Mission into a theme park for Google.”

“It’s just another way to bring gentrification,” John Mendoza of Calle 24, a group of Latino merchants and residents in the neighborhood around the 24th Street commercial corridor, told Streetsblog. “If they don’t get it one way, they’ll come in the back door. If they don’t come in the back door, they’ll come in the window.”

Calle 24 President Erick Arguello said “people are now suspicious” of the city’s agenda since planners hadn’t previously launched street improvement efforts when residents pushed for them in past decades. When streetscape improvements started going in on 24th Street, he said it resulted in rising rents, leading Calle 24 to push for a halt to any street upgrade efforts. “We saw the buildings go up for sale, we saw the prospecting coming in,” he said.

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Annie Alley Transformed Into a Downtown Gathering Space

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Attendees watch an opening celebration event at the new Annie Alley Plaza on Wednesday. Photo: SF Planning/Flickr

San Francisco’s newest on-street plaza opened downtown this week on Annie Street, a one-block alley that runs near SPUR’s Urban Center between Market and Mission Streets, about halfway between Third and New Montgomery Streets. Temporary concrete and wood seats have transformed a large section of the alley into a car-free space for gatherings and events in the middle of the bustling Yerba Buena District.

The plaza project “shows just how little you really need to do to make use of these public spaces for things other than cars,” said Gil Kelley, who started as the Planning Department’s citywide planning director earlier this year. “A few lights, a few plants, a few wooden benches, a little music — and suddenly, you have a great event space.”

“This will be a place where we envision activation, to include music, festivals, movies, a place to socialize, and a place to find solace,” said Lance Burwell, a board member of Yerba Buena Community Benefit District, which helped fund and coordinate the project, with the Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks Project, through two years of planning.

Annie Alley is the first temporary on-street plaza conversion seen in some time — they’ve been rare ever since the initial batch of on-street plazas was built in 2009 and 2010. The plaza is expected to be in place for two years, and will be evaluated afterwards, before plans for a permanent plaza are considered.

Annie Alley sits in the middle of one of SF’s most heavily-walked neighborhoods. The area is poised to become a focal point for even denser development, as new buildings surround the Central Subway and Transbay Transit Center stations under construction.

“As San Francisco intensifies its human activity and builds, the streets really are our living room,” said Kelley. “We have to use them for more than just cars.”

“Ensuring that we have more spaces like Annie Alley that are protected for pedestrians — places to listen to music, to watch movies, to walk, to drink at Novela [a neighboring bar], and come out and hang out with friends… all of this makes our neighborhoods more complete and humane,” said D6 Supervisor Jane Kim.


Ocean Ave to Get Spruced Up, But Real Transformation Will Have to Wait

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Ocean and Geneva Avenues, outside the City College Main Campus. Photo via the SF Planning Department

City planners are shaping up plans for Ocean Avenue, following public workshops that will help develop a vision for both near-term and long-term improvements. The near-term plans, for the commercial stretch of Ocean west of Phelan Avenue and the City College campus, are far along in their development. Meanwhile, a long-term plan for the remainder of the avenue, stretching eastward to the Balboa Park BART Station, is still in its earlier stages.

Thus far, no major changes have been proposed on Ocean. Most of the street has narrow sidewalks, no bike lanes, and heavy car traffic turning from 280 — making the street dangerous to cross and snarling Muni. A separate plan is in the works to remove and re-configure those ramps years down the road, but a redesign of Ocean could present the opportunity to free up room for walking, biking, and transit.

On Ocean between Manor and Phelan Avenues, the near-term plans — set for construction next spring — include a handful of bulb-outs, new sidewalk greenery, seating, and other street fixtures at three “key” T-intersections: Ashton, Capitol, and Granada Avenues. At those intersections, Lily Langlois, the Planning Department’s project manager, said “the street dead-ends at Ocean, so there’s this kind of focal point, and an opportunity to build on that street pattern by creating those community gathering spaces.”

Community members have already taken proactive measures to improve the public realm on Ocean. Today, an event was held to celebrate a mobile parklet that was developed, designed, and built by high school students from the Youth Art Exchange. It will be placed in front of at least five different local businesses, six months at a time, starting at Fog Lifter Cafe.

Alex Mullaney, publisher of the neighborhood newspaper The Ingleside Light, said he helped push the Department of Public Works to create a plan for streetscape improvements on long-neglected Ocean, and created the Ocean Avenue Association’s Street Life Committee.

The near-term streetscape improvements “will go a long way to modernize Ocean Avenue, and bring it up to speed with a number of other neighborhoods,” he said. “The new landscaping and amenities will improve quality of life and slow down traffic. Ocean Avenue has one of the highest vacancy rates in the city, along with three extremely dangerous intersections. I have zero doubt that the near-term project will turn around those two issues.”

A mobile parklet now sits on Ocean and will be moved every six months. Photo: Youth Art Exchange via Facebook

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Latest Haight Street Plans Replace Most Stop Signs to Speed Up Muni

All but one stop sign (at Cole Street) would be replaced with other treatments under the SFMTA’s plans to speed up Muni. Image: SFMTA

The Planning Department has an online survey about the Haight Street proposals, available until July 3.

City planners recently presented their latest plans for Haight Street, which include two overlapping projects from two agencies. The Haight-Ashbury Public Realm Plan is the Planning Department’s effort to expand sidewalks and add aesthetic treatments along the Upper Haight (between Central and Stanyan Streets), while the SFMTA’s Muni Transit Effectiveness Project will speed up Muni’s 71-Haight/Noriega and 6-Parnassus buses along the entirety of Haight.

Haight and Asbhury. Photo: Drumwolf/Flickr

The SFMTA has proposed to remove all but one stop sign on Haight, replacing most of them with transit-priority traffic signals and others with traffic calming measures that encourage drivers to yield to pedestrians. That, along with transit bulb-outs and removing some bus stops, could cut travel times for Muni riders on Haight by about 3 minutes, said Muni TEP Planning Manager Sean Kennedy. A separate project, currently under construction, adds a contra-flow bus lane on Haight’s easternmost block and is expected to shave off several more minutes.

Kennedy said that Muni plans to increase the 71’s peak frequency, from every 10 minutes to 7 minutes. “If we can make some of these improvements to pedestrian safety and travel times, we think we can make that [increase] mean something — instead of just getting a bunch of bus bunching,” he said.

The transit bulb-outs, and other sidewalk extensions, are expected to provide some much-needed breathing room on Upper Haight — particularly at Haight and Ashbury Streets, a world-famous tourist attraction.

“If you’ve walked down Haight Street, you know it’s cluttered and crowded,” said Alexis Smith, project manager for the Planning Department. “What’s the pedestrian LOS here?,” she said, referring to the Level of Service transportation planning metric used to measure congestion for drivers. “These intersections would be failing if we had a metric for that.”

“Even local foot traffic is too much for Haight Street sidewalks, and any influx of tourists just overwhelms the street,” said Katherine Roberts, a livable streets advocate who lives nearby in Cole Valley. “In my view, it is shameful that the city treats its residents and visitors like this.”

Roberts pointed out that city planners could go much farther to create a more attractive Haight Street by banning private autos, while still allowing Muni buses, delivery trucks, and tour buses. “Then you’d have plenty of room for widened sidewalks, bike lanes, parklets, bike corrals, greenery, et cetera,” she said.

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SFFD OKs Narrower Streets in Candlestick Point Development

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This tentative compromise plan for the Candlestick Point development shows a mix of streets that meet SFFD’s 26-foot standard (in green) and narrower streets (red). Image courtesy of the SF Planning Department

The SF Fire Department will allow many of the new streets built in the Candlestick Point development to remain narrower than 26 feet under a compromise with street safety advocates. SFFD had insisted at the 11th hour that all new city streets must have at least 26 feet of clear roadway for firefighters to set up fire trucks and reach the tops of taller buildings, even though wider roads are known to increase driving speeds and traffic crashes.

SFFD fighting a major fire at the Mission Bay development in March. Image: KTVU

As the SF Examiner reported, a tentative plan presented last week showed a rough middle ground between the share of streets that are wider than 26 feet and those that are not:

In 2010, initial plans for the neighborhood were submitted, including streetscapes. The neighborhood — which will stretch from Candlestick Park to where Alice Griffith public housing now sits — was modeled on dense, pedestrian-friendly inner-city neighborhoods with lively street life.

It was meant to be a thriving city neighborhood, “not some suburban neighborhood out there,” said Planning Commissioner Kathrin Moore.

In the Candlestick Point plans approved in 2010, nearly all of the streets were 20 feet wide or less, but SFFD didn’t protest it until this year. SFFD put forward a revised plan in early May where nearly all of the streets would be 26 feet or wider, but Supervisor Scott Wiener and other city planning staff apparently persuaded the department to allow many of the original, narrower street widths. Construction on the development is expected to begin next year.

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Sunday Meter Repeal Needs No CEQA Review, Say SFMTA and Planning Dept.

An appeal claiming that the repeal of Sunday parking meters is an action that requires environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act is baseless, according to responses issued by the SFMTA and Planning Department this week.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

The appeal, filed by Livable City and the SF Transit Riders Union, is set for a hearing and vote at the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The board will not vote not on the merits of running parking meters on Sundays. Instead, the board will vote on whether CEQA would require an environmental impact report for the SFMTA’s new budget, which directs the agency to stop charging for meters on Sundays. The supervisors’ decision is expected to be largely informed by the recommendations of the SFMTA and the Planning Department.

The policy change is expected to remove $11 million per year in transit funding, as well as double the average time that drivers take to find commercial parking spaces on Sundays, according to an SFMTA study [PDF] of the benefits that Sunday meters garnered in their first year. The appellants argue that impacts like increased traffic congestion and pollution, reduced parking turnover for businesses, and lost transit funding warrant an EIR.

“Our appeal insists that CEQA doesn’t allow an exemption for lowering of parking fees, when such an action would clearly impact the environment,” said Mario Tanev of SFTRU.

But the SFMTA maintains that the act of removing fees (e.g., Sunday meter fees) fits within a CEQA exemption meant to allow for speedy municipal budget balancing. The agency argued in its memo [PDF] that the loss of $11 million is not of significant impact because Muni fares, parking ticket fines, and parking permit fees for construction contractors were increased to make up for it:

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Safer, More Transit-Friendly Streets Planned for the Upper Haight

Flickr user Drumwolf writes: “Yes, THAT Haight and Ashbury. Really not all that, is it.”

Update 4/10: The Planning Department posted an online survey where you can weigh in on the design proposal for upper Haight Street.

The Planning Department has drawn up early plans for three of the Haight-Ashbury’s major streets: upper Haight Street, Stanyan Street, and the southern end of Masonic Avenue. The proposals for the Haight Ashbury Public Realm Plan were developed through two public workshops aimed at re-thinking the streets as friendlier places for walking, biking, and transit.

Although planners set out to consider all of the streets in the Haight-Ashbury, Masonic, Stanyan, and Haight “rose to the top” among streets that residents wanted the city to improve, said Alexis Smith, project manager for the Planning Department. “There was no interest in touching” the smaller residential streets, she said. “We didn’t want to muck up things that are already working well.”

Of the three streets, the strongest consensus so far seems to be around plans for Haight Street, said Smith. The proposed improvements for Haight include several sidewalk bulb-outs along the street, as part of the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project‘s plans to consolidate bus stops and add transit bulbs. Those would provide more breathing room along the busy sidewalks, while also speeding Muni boardings.

“Haight Street is a significant path for public transit,” said Christin Evans, owner of Booksmith and a board member of the Haight Ashbury Merchants Association. The removed bus stops will “free up space for wider sidewalks, which can accommodate heavy pedestrian traffic… on weekends and sunny days.”

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