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Posts from the "Planning Department" Category

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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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Preview the Upgrades Coming to the Castro’s Jane Warner Plaza

Jane Warner Plaza, seen here in 2011. Photo: Mike Bjork/Flickr

Jane Warner Plaza, the first plaza created using semi-permanent features as part of SF’s Pavement to Parks program, will get some repairs and upgrades as part of the Castro Street overhaul currently underway.

Upgrades coming to Jane Warner Plaza at 17th, Castro, and Market Streets. Image: DPW

The worn-out painted asphalt will be replaced with an easier-to-wash colored asphalt, and a pedestrian island will allow a more direct link between the Market and Castro Street crosswalks, said Department of Public Works project manager John Dennis. Bollards will also be placed outside the potted planters that currently separate the plaza from the roadway, and the metal barricades placed at the plaza’s east end on 17th Street will be replaced with permanent gates.

The streamlined crosswalk configuration will be “the big change,” said Dennis. “Right now, a pedestrian [coming from Castro] has to cross 17th Street and then cross Market Street. In the future, they’ll be able to walk directly across Market from Castro and 17th.”

The plaza will feel “less chopped up,” said Andrea Aiello, president of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefits District.

The plaza improvements were selected by residents through a Planning Department survey of residents last year. Asked to choose between four different ways to spend a chunk of the Castro project’s money, plaza upgrades were heavily favored over options for bus bulb-outs on 18th at Castro, bulb-outs and a “gateway” median at 19th and Castro, and bulb-outs on the northern corners of Castro and Market.

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The More Space SF Uses to Store Cars, the Less We’ll Have to House People

The Fifth and Mission parking garage. Can SF afford to continue devoting so much space to personal car storage? Photo: Sirgious/Flickr

What if San Francisco stopped adding car parking? The idea might sound a little odd to the average person, but when you look at where the city is heading, the really crazy scenario would be to keep on cramming more cars into our neighborhoods. Under current policies, SF is poised to build 92,000 spots for personal car storage by 2040, consuming an ungodly amount of space in our compact, 7-mile-by-7-mile city. At what point does it stop?

“If we were really serious about” curbing emissions and creating a livable city, “we would just cap it at zero right now,” said Jason Henderson, author of “Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco,” at a forum this week on San Francisco’s parking policies.

Henderson took the figure of 92,000 projected spaces from Plan Bay Area, which is supposed to start the region on a path toward smart growth, but still foresees a heavily car-dependent future in 25 years. The SF Transportation Plan, created by the SF County Transportation Authority, projects “total gridlock” within the same time frame unless the city makes serious changes to its car-centric land-use planning policies.

Although the move away from policies like minimum parking requirements, which mandate a certain number of cars per household in new buildings, is often framed as an ideological shift, Josh Switzky of the SF Planning Department says it’s simpler than that — there are physical limits to cramming cars into the city. “It’s about geometry,” he said. “We have to figure out ways to accommodate people more efficiently.”

In other words, there’s a finite amount of space in the city. Does it make any sense to squeeze thousands of additional cars into San Francisco when we’re still struggling to create enough space to house people? What are the full costs SF will absorb if it continues to build more infrastructure for cars?

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Planning Department Takes a Serious Look at Highway 280 Teardown

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The 280 freeway looking from Potrero Hill, where it divides the neighborhood from Mission Bay. Photo: Michael Patrick/Flickr

The idea of tearing down a section of highway 280, north of 16th Street, is taking a firm step forward with the launch of a new study by the Planning Department. Although the department has already released a study of the option in December 2012, the new initiative would take a deeper, more comprehensive look at the ”spiderweb” of interconnected transportation infrastructure plans in the area, said the Planning Department’s Susan Gygi.

Altogether, plans for the area include the conversion of the 280 stub into a boulevard and housing, the Caltrain railyard redevelopment, and the planned rail electrification and downtown extension of Caltrain and CA High-Speed Rail to the Transbay Transit Center. “Once you touch one, it radiates throughout the web and affects everything within the area,” said Gygi.

The study certainly won’t be quick — it’s not expected to be completed until as late as June 2016. But it could set the stage for funding and implementation, preceding the environmental review process and the development of a detailed plan to pursue.

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With WalkFirst, SF Takes a Data-Driven Approach to Pedestrian Safety

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The city recently launched the WalkFirst program to lay a data-driven, participatory foundation for the effort to attain the main goal of its Pedestrian Strategy — cutting pedestrian injuries in half by 2021. In the coming months, staff from the SFMTA, the Planning Department, the Controller’s Office, and the Department of Public Health will field public input on dangerous streets and release new data illustrating the toll of pedestrian injuries and deaths.

Pedestrians use an unmarked crosswalk on Mission Street near Fifth. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Pedestrians use an unmarked crosswalk on Mission Street near Fifth. Photo: Aaron Bialick

To start, the new WalkFirst website has easy-to-use, interactive tools showing where most pedestrian crashes occur, the factors that cause them, and the kit of street design tools to reduce them. An online survey also allows people to weigh in on how pedestrian safety funding should be prioritized.

“For the first time, San Francisco will be investing in projects that are data-driven and focused on the most dangerous streets for pedestrians,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. WalkFirst is “a step forward for using the data that we have to the make the biggest impact.”

The feedback from the website will inform a draft plan for safety improvements scheduled to come out in January, with adoption by the SFMTA Board expected in February. The plan will guide an expected $17 million in safety improvements over the next five years. “By combining rigorous technical analysis with significant community outreach, we will target our investments in the communities that need them the most,” SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said in a statement.

The city’s goals include “upgrading” 70 miles of streets where injuries are most concentrated — 5 miles per year through 2021. Another aim is to extend pedestrian crossing times at 800 intersections — at least 160 annually. Schools and senior centers with high rates of pedestrian injuries will also be targeted for improvements, while the SFPD is expected to beef up its “Focus on the Five” effort to prioritize traffic enforcement efforts against the most dangerous violations at the most dangerous locations. (Not all SFPD captains appear to have gotten that memo.)

City agencies are also working on a report providing a fuller picture of the economic toll of pedestrian injuries, as well as the benefits of reducing them. As we reported in 2011, DPH and the University of California, SF estimated that the costs of medical treatment, emergency services, and other impacts of ped crashes add up to about $76 million annually. The WalkFirst report is expected to expand upon the economic ripple effects of traffic violence.

“Every life and injury is incredibly valuable, but from a decision-maker’s perspective, it’s also helpful to understand how much this is costing us to help make the case for the improvements that are needed,” said Schneider. “It costs way more to treat someone who’s been injured than it does to prevent the injuries in the first place.”

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Potrero Ave. NIMBYs Lead Supes to Grapple With the Minimum Parking Myth

For NIMBYs fighting a residential building project in the northeast corner of the Mission on the basis of negative environmental impacts, you might think minimizing the number of new car parking spaces is a good thing. After all, the more parking that goes into a project, the more residents tend to own and drive cars.

480 Potrero. Image: Planning Department via Curbed SF

But at an October 9 hearing on an appeal filed by neighbors against the environmental impact report for a proposed 75-unit residential building at 480 Potrero Avenue (at Mariposa Street), the appellants apparently had Supervisors Malia Cohen and David Campos convinced that if developers failed to provide “enough” parking, new residents will buy cars anyway and just circle around for a spot.

According to Juan Jayo of the Mariposa-Utah Neighborhood Association, opponents don’t buy the arguments to the contrary. “The Planning Commission’s response to this simply seems to be … eventually, people would get tired of looking for parking and move to Muni and bicycles and walk, so there would be no impact,” Jayo said. That’s basically correct, though new car-free residents who knowingly move in to an apartment without a dedicated parking spot wouldn’t be circling for parking in the first place.

Cohen and Campos, whose districts are near the site, grilled Planning Department staff on its determination that not building parking would not cause a significant environmental impact under the guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act. Barely mentioned at the hearing, however, was the growing body of research showing that a guaranteed space to store a car is an incentive for residents to own one, and that any number of parking spots deemed necessary to meet some inevitable amount of parking demand is arbitrary. Meanwhile, parking spaces make housing more expensive and more difficult to build.

In other words, more parking facilitates more car use — not the other way around.

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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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City Agencies Unveil Final Design for Bartlett “Mercado Plaza”

Images: Planning Department

The final designs for a people-friendly block of Bartlett Street in the Mission were presented [PDF] last week by the Planning Department, Department of Public Works, the SFMTA, and the design firm Rebar. The plan retains the sidewalk extensions that are key to calming traffic and inviting social activity outside of events like the weekly Mission Community Market, when the block is closed to cars.

The project still depends, however, on the SF Fire Department’s approval of the 14-foot roadway. SFFD has opposed narrowing the road below the state Fire Code minimum of 20 feet of unobstructed roadway. Department officials say it could inhibit emergency vehicle access, even though a number of other states and cities use 12-foot minimums without problems. The curbs on the lightly-trafficked block would also be less than six inches high — easily mountable by emergency vehicles — which will no longer be considered an obstruction by the city under legislation recently passed by the Board of Supervisors, set to go into effect at an unknown date.

A few residents at last week’s meeting re-stated their complaints about the plan’s removal of 21 on-street parking spaces on Bartlett to make room for more public space. City staffers, however, displayed a chart showing that the 350-space garage and parking spots on Bartlett are rarely full. A few other residents voiced continued support for the replacement of car parking with pedestrian space.

A future Barlett Street on a regular day.

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Without City Leadership, “Pavement to Parks” Plazas May Lose Steam

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Showplace Triangle, a 2009 Pavement to Parks project seen here in October 2010, was removed by the city in January because a planned development project will also bring a permanent plaza, but it had fallen into disrepair without staff dedicated to its upkeep. Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

When it comes to reclaiming street space for people, San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program has paved the way with a national model showing how cities can embrace community-driven parklet projects. But when it comes to installing plazas, there seems to have been little movement since the first handful were created on “excess” road space in the program’s first year. Advocates and some city officials say the program needs to become a greater priority for city leaders.

Since the multi-agency Pavement to Parks was launched in mid-2009, 38 parklets have been installed through its permitting program, including the two-block Powell Street Promenade. Five plazas were also installed using temporary materials at a rapid clip in the program’s first year, under then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. Since then, however, no new plazas have been installed, only a few projects are in the pipeline, and the program has made little headway in developing a system for long-term maintenance and permanent upgrades.

“The Pavement to Parks initiative has proven very effective in adding a touch of grace to the public realm, and in changing the perception of our streets as not just places for automobiles but as rightful places for people,” said David Alambaugh, manager of the Planning Department’s City Design Group. “The program has met with very strong popular support. There is strong interest in seeing the program continue and thrive, and to take on new issues and new challenges.”

But the program “has managed to succeed with only modest support from the city,” he said. “If it is to thrive and to be successful, and especially if it is to be expanded to take on new challenges, it will need strong, formal funding and strong political support.”

Whether that leadership will come from Mayor Ed Lee, however, is unclear. When Streetsblog asked the mayor if he plans to support the expansion of Pavement to Parks plaza projects, his response wasn’t quite a full-throated “yes.” Plaza projects “take a long time,” he said, “because we want it to really be embraced by the neighborhoods, and we have to spend that quality time to make sure everything we do is embraced by those communities.”

Advocates compare the state of Pavement to Parks to the ongoing expansion of plazas in New York City, where, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, dozens of public space expansions in neighborhoods around the city have been implemented over the past few years. That includes Times Square, where plans for a physically permanent plaza are already underway.

“I am fortunate to work for a mayor who has unbelievable political courage,” said NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan yesterday evening, when she spoke at the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Golden Wheel Awards, eliciting applause from her San Franciscan audience.

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City Officials Unveil a People-Friendly Street in Fisherman’s Wharf

Photos: Aaron Bialick

Two blocks of Jefferson Street in Fisherman’s Wharf have been revamped to prioritize walking and biking after the project was expedited with support from political leaders.

Car traffic on Jefferson between Hyde and Jones Streets has been tamed, with formerly one-way traffic now running two-way. Sidewalks were expanded with new planters and seating, on-street parking was removed, and the asphalt roadway was replaced with a surface designed for slower speeds. Altogether, the street has been re-designed to send the message that people come first, not cars.

“It’s very refreshing,” said Mayor Ed Lee. “There are places to sit, places to walk, and it’s safer for everybody. It’s going to bring more people down here.”

City officials and community leaders at a ribbon-cutting ceremony today touted the revamp — the first phase of streetscape plans for Jefferson — as an example of how well city agencies can coordinate when politicians put their support behind a project. City leaders largely credited the mayor for expediting the Jefferson improvements to finish in time for the America’s Cup races this summer.

“The mayor’s leadership is the only reason, to some degree, that we’re actually here today, opening up a brand new street,” said David Berbey, president of the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District.

Officials also gave much credit to Neil Hrushowy, the Planning Department’s project leader, for his efforts at community outreach and spearheading the often difficult process of creating a design that accommodated demands from various interests. One change that was made to address merchants’ concerns was the addition of curbs, since the original proposal called for a pedestrianized, curbless street where drivers were expected to share space with pedestrians.

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