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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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Central SoMa Plan Envisions Transitways and Safer Streets for SoMa

Fourth Street. Photo: San Francisco in 15 Weeks

The Central Subway is coming, like it or not, and that means Fourth Street will get Muni Metro service starting in 2019. With that in mind, the SF Planning Department recently released the draft Central SoMa Plan (formerly known as the Central SoMa Plan), which sets the stage for upzoned transit-oriented development near new stations and street improvements to accommodate a growing population in a rapidly changing section of SoMa.

“The idea is to support development here because it’s a transit-rich area,” said Amnon Ben-Pazi of the Planning Department’s City Design Group. “Between BART, Caltrain, and the new light-rail, you have as much city and regional transit as you can get.”

The Central SoMa Plan, which encompasses one section of the broader Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, is aimed at creating a more people-friendly SoMa — a district which was primarily industrial until recent years. Streets that have served as car traffic funnels since the mid-20th century would be overhauled with improvements like protected bike lanes, new crosswalks, wider sidewalks, transit-only lanes, and two-way traffic conversions.

The Central Subway route along Fourth Street. Image: SFMTA

SoMa’s streets “were designed in a really specific way to accommodate large volumes of very fast traffic and trucks,” said Ben-Pazi. “While that may have been appropriate when this was an industrial area, it’s certainly not appropriate now with what we know about pedestrian safety and how the design of streets really affects the behavior of drivers.”

“If we’re going to go in the direction of having more people live and work here,” he added, “relying on the streets for their everyday circulation, we really need to address what these streets are designed as.”

Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich said the plan seems to be mostly on the right track, though it should include greater restrictions on new car parking that are more in line with the plan for the adjacent Transbay District adopted last year. “With as much development as is planned, and with a desire to reclaim SoMa’s mean, traffic-sewer streets for people and sustainable transportation, the plan has to be truly transit-oriented,” he said.

The plan calls for reducing traffic lanes and on-street car parking to make room for improvements to transit, biking, and walking. Ben-Pazi said the environmental review process for all of those projects would be completed as part of the plan, which is currently set to be adopted in late 2014.

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Planning Department Unveils Final Castro Streetscape Design

Image: Planning Department

The final plan for wider sidewalks and other pedestrian improvements on Castro Street between Market and 19th Streets was presented at an open house by the Planning Department this week. Overall, the pedestrian environment on Castro will be vastly improved after the skinny sidewalks are widened to as much as 22 feet, and the narrowed traffic lanes should also calm motor traffic.

The new plan for the northeast corner of Market, Castro and 17th. Image: Planning Department via BAR

Few changes were made to the draft plan presented last month. Despite the concerns raised by Peter Straus, an SF Transit Riders Union member and and retired Muni service planner, all car parking (except one space) was preserved by shortening the length of the spaces. That means Muni could see more delays caused by drivers maneuvering in and out of parking spots in front of buses.

Planners also revealed that among the four options for how to spend one portion of the project’s budget, the most heavily favored among survey respondents was a package of permanent improvements to Jane Warner Plaza on 17th and Castro (which haven’t been designed yet). The three other options, which won’t be built since they were less favored, included additional bulb-outs at Castro’s intersections with Market, 18th and 19th.

Some of the more cosmetic neighborhood features, like rainbow crosswalks, sparkle sidewalk surfacing, and historical facts about the Castro embedded in the sidewalks may also be off the table. City staffers say the installation of those features depends on whether or not the contractors’ bids for those improvements are low enough for the project’s $4 million budget.

The Bay Area Reporter has more details on the plan.

Construction is scheduled to take place between January and October of next year.

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Planning Commission Approves Higher Bike Parking Requirements

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New buildings in San Francisco will be required to provide more secure bike parking under legislation approved by the Planning Commission yesterday. The ordinance is expected to be approved by the Board of Supervisors next month.

Employee bike parking at Atlassian. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

As we reported in December, the ordinance will overhaul bike parking requirements for new residential and commercial buildings citywide, 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.

“We need to make sure that new buildings will provide secure bike parking for today, tomorrow, and the future,” said Marc Caswell, program manager for the SF Bicycle Coalition. Until now, the planning code only required building owners to provide bike parking for about 2 percent of tenants, he said. With bicycling already exceeding 15 percent of commute trips in some neighborhoods, the legislation will help ensure new buildings are designed with the increase in bicycling in mind.

Debate at the commission was mainly focused on a provision in the legislation that would have defined bicycle parking as an “active use” — the same category that a storefront, apartment, or lobby would fall under. Josh Switzky of the Planning Department said that measure was intended to make it easier for architects to include bike parking on a building’s ground floor. Because the planning code allows only “active uses” within 25 feet of a building’s frontage, a special permit is currently required to provide space for bike parking in that area.

The Planning Commission voted to remove the “active use” provision, so providing bike parking within 25 feet of the front of a building will still require a permit. The alternative is to place the bike parking closer to the rear of a building or on a different floor.

The strongest opponent of re-defining bike parking as an active use was Commissioner Katherine Moore. While she fully supported the rest of the ordinance, she said that a parked bicycle “is an inanimate object, not an active use.”

Switzky pointed out that providing secure, dedicated bike parking in buildings is key to making bicycling a normal, everyday means of transportation. “The extent to which we treat bicycle facilities as an afterthought in building design and require cyclists to find marginalized ways of storing their bikes, whether it’s stuffing them under stairwells, squeezing them in their small apartments and dank basements, or on balconies and decks, that marginal treatment is often reflected back in the way that cyclists view their status in society,” he said.