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Posts from the "Planning Department" Category

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Central Corridor 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 Corridor 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 Corridor 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.

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Plan for Ped-Friendly Castro Takes Shape: Will Parking Trump Muni Riders?

Images: Planning Department

City planners presented detailed options for pedestrian upgrades on Castro Street at a community meeting last night. The improvements, set for construction next year, will include sidewalks as wide as 22 feet, new trees, and pedestrian-scaled lighting.

By reclaiming space from Castro’s excessively-wide traffic lanes, the plan is expected to provide more room for people on Castro’s often overcrowded sidewalks, calm motor traffic, and improve safety. Castro, between 17th and 19th Streets, sees some of the heaviest foot traffic of the city’s neighborhood commercial streets, even exceeding Columbus Avenue in North Beach, said Nick Perry, project manager for the Planning Department. With the proposed improvements making Castro more attractive to visit, those numbers are expected to jump, judging by the success of similar projects like the 2009 streetscape improvements on Valencia Street.

According to a Planning Department survey following the first community street design workshop in January, over 93 percent of respondents like the basic plan (76 percent “strongly” like it). At last night’s meeting, agency staff sought feedback from residents on options like the types of trees to plant, pavement treatments (rainbow-colored crosswalks, anyone?), and where to put sidewalk bulb-outs.

Along Castro, the plan would repurpose excess road space that currently tends to be taken up by double-parkers. But since the roadbed will be narrowed, the SF Transit Riders Union is concerned that unless further steps are taken, the 24-Divisadero and 35-Eureka lines could face more delays as buses wait behind drivers while they parallel park.

“It’s a great streetscape design,” said Peter Straus, a TRU member and retired Muni service planner, “but by narrowing it, all of the parking movements, in and out of parking spaces, especially where you have high turnover on a commercial street, where they’re all moving through that one lane, it’s inevitably going to lead to significant delays to Muni operations.”

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Planning Commission OKs Car-Free Housing at Fulton and Gough

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A rendering of the new project approved for Gough and Fulton Streets. Image: David Baker + Partners Architects

A massive Hayes Valley parking lot, formerly occupied by the Central Freeway, will be developed into a car-free apartment building and Boys and Girls Club after the project was approved unanimously by the Planning Commission last week.

The six-story apartment building at Fulton and Gough will include 69 rental units, eight of them available at subsidized below-market rates, all without car parking. The adjacent Boys and Girls Club will include parking — six tandem spaces which drivers will access via Ash Street, an alleyway, where the project developer will add a raised crosswalk along Gough. Pedestrian improvements like sidewalk seating and bulb-outs at Fulton and Gough will also be added as part of the agreement, and the site will include 70 indoor bike parking spaces.

Occupying a corner just two blocks from City Hall, the project “continues the reparation of the neighborhood damage caused by the collapse and removal of the Central Freeway,” notes project architects David Baker + Partners on the firm’s website.

Jason Henderson of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association called the project “a key precedent” for the integrity of the Market-Octavia Area Plan, which sets limits on new parking to make room for people, not cars.

The project also marks what could be an upward trend of car-free housing being built in the city. In September, the Planning Commission approved a project with 12 car-free condos at 1050 Valencia Street.

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Planning Commission Approves Ped-Friendly Plan for Market and Dolores

As part of a newly-approved agreement, developers will add a sidewalk extension at Market and Dolores to make room for a mini plaza. Image: Prado Group

A plan to add a mini plaza and pedestrian safety improvements at Market and Dolores streets was approved by the SF Planning Commission on Thursday. The project will include new pedestrian refuges and sidewalks as wide as 14 feet, as well as special pavement treatments to highlight crosswalks on the block of Dolores between Market and 14th Streets. The crosswalk on Dolores at Clinton Park, a side street, will also be raised.

Image via Curbed SF

The plan received unanimous approval from commissioners, who were not swayed by some neighbors who opposed the conversion of two traffic lanes to pedestrian space on a short, lightly-trafficked section of Dolores. The improvements were part of a city agreement with the developers of an 85-unit apartment building and Whole Foods Market under construction at the corner. The arrangement calls for the developer to install the street upgrades in lieu of $510,000 in impact fees.

“The current design allows cars to whip around the corner quickly onto Dolores, endangering people who are crossing,” Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe wrote in a letter to the Planning Commission in support of the project. “Dolores itself is also a high-speed street, making conditions more dangerous for all users, since any collisions are made much more serious at higher vehicle speeds.”

D8 Supervisor Scott Wiener praised the plan because it “appropriately balances pedestrian safety with traffic flow in the area. It’s a unique opportunity that we’re not gonna have again to do this upgrade.”

“If you’ve ever walked that intersection or driven by it, it is an incredibly wide, long pedestrian crossing — one of the longest in the area,” he said.

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City Hall Pushes Caltrain to Move the 4th/King Railyard

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The various public agencies shaping the plan to bring high-speed rail into downtown San Francisco disagree on what should be done with the Caltrain railyard at the 4th and King Street station. Officials from San Francisco’s Planning Department and Mayor’s Office say it’s time for the railyard — along with the northern spur of the 280 freeway – to be opened up for development, reconnecting the South of Market District and Mission Bay while making it more feasible to build a more direct HSR alignment to connect to the Transbay Transit Center.

Caltrain, however, is not on board. The agency has its sights set on electrifying the rail line by 2019, including the 4th and King Station, and it is wary of possibly delaying the project by setting out to relocate the yard. “There is an urgency for Caltrain to get electrification in place with expediency,” Caltrain spokesperson Jayme Ackemann told the SF Chronicle in January. “With electrification we significantly reduce our operating costs.”

There’s no dispute that Caltrain needs to reap the benefits of electrification, particularly since it will be necessary to share tracks with CAHSR, which is providing the funds to make it happen. But SF officials warn that moving ahead with $250 million in spending to electrify the railyard when a re-think of the site is in order will be a huge waste. With the land value of the 19-acre SoMa site estimated to be upwards of $225 million, opening it up for development could pay for a significant chunk of high-speed rail infrastructure in San Francisco.

“The opportunity is to both knit the neighborhoods back together by redeveloping the yards, while at the same time producing value that could we could use to fund transportation improvements,” said Gillian Gillett, Mayor Ed Lee’s transportation policy director.

“We totally support electrification, and we want to make sure it happens as quickly as possible, but we don’t want to allow it to happen in such a way that it precludes future benefits for the city,” Planning Director John Rahaim told the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee earlier this week.

The idea of developing the Caltrain yard, which sits between 4th and 7th Streets, has been well-studied. The Planning Department published a study in December exploring some of the possibilities, including building an underground train station. In 2007, the SF Planning and Urban Research Association published its own study of a similar scope called A New Transit First Neighborhood. In a blog post last month, SPUR’s Tomiquia Moss and Sarah Karlinsky noted that “putting the right type of development here could knit together the surrounding neighborhoods [and] capitalize on the extensive transit access.”

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The Case for Removing the 280 Freeway

Urban Design student Ben Caldwell's vision for an alternative way to use the land currently occupied by the 280 freeway.

Talk of San Francisco’s next freeway removal has heated up since a proposal from the Mayor’s Office to take down the northern spur of I-280 went public. The highway teardown would open up land for housing, connect neighborhoods, and help bring high-speed rail and Caltrain downtown.

“The good news is this would be the third segment of freeway we will have removed,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich, referring to the removal of the Central and Embarcadero Freeways, which revitalized the neighborhoods the roads used to divide. “Before each of those freeway removals, carmageddon was predicted, and it didn’t happen.”

While San Francisco officials say they’ll have to go though years of analysis and negotiations before any decision is made, building public support will take some work, judging by the outraged listeners who chimed in on the issue on an edition of KQED Forum last week.

On the forum, SF Planning Department Director John Rahaim stopped short of endorsing the proposal, but acknowledged, “If it works from a transportation standpoint, we think there could be some substantial benefits: increased park space, reconnecting Mission Bay to the rest of the city, opening up land for development, and connecting that part of that city that is kind of divided right now by the freeway.”

Transportation agencies certainly seem to be thinking seriously about the highway removal. Ben Caldwell, a masters student at UC Berkeley’s Department of Urban Design, did recent a project [PDF] analyzing the removal of the same same section of freeway (completely coincidental to the mayor’s proposal), and he’s already been invited to make presentations for staff at the SF Municipal Transportation Agency and Caltrans. (He hasn’t presented it to them yet.)

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Cleaning Up SF’s Car-Littered Sidewalks Will Take More Than Parking Tickets

Cars littered on San Francisco’s sidewalks are a painfully common sight. The problem is perhaps most prevalent in outer neighborhoods like the Sunset and Bayview, where, for decades, homeowners with residential garages have paved over their front yards. The pedestrian environment on these streets is left degraded, with swaths of dead space where families and people with disabilities are often forced to walk around an obstacle course of cars and driveway ramps.

Make no mistake: It’s illegal to park on any part of a sidewalk or in a “setback” between the sidewalk and a building. The practice of paving over front yards was also banned in 2002.

Yet conditions in these neighborhoods make clear that the SF Municipal Transportation Agency does not enforce sidewalk parking on sight (though officials have claimed that’s the policy). Meanwhile, the Planning Department says it only fines homeowners who pave their yards when someone files a complaint. The issue recently got some attention in an SF Chronicle article last week, as well as the latest segment of KRON 4′s People Behaving Badly.

With all this space physically molded for car storage — practically every last inch on many streets – Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich said cleaning up San Francisco’s car-littered sidewalks will take more than getting parking control officers to hand out tickets. The Planning Department — which has no staff to proactively enforce rules against illegal setback pavings, according to the Chronicle — would have to crack down on violators, reversing decades of institutional tolerance for the practice.

“The city has turned a blind eye for so long that they have created a de facto entitlement” to illegal parking, Radulovich said. “City agencies have created an uncomfortable dilemma for themselves – start enforcing the law and deal with the fallout, or continue to ignore the problem and watch it grow worse.”

The setbacks, side yards, and backyards required in the city’s planning code ”were intended to create usable open space and/or gardens, not open parking,” said Radulovich. Greenery lost to pavement also means more stormwater flowing into the often-overloaded sewer system.

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Planning Dept. Presents Draft Designs for a Ped-Friendly Castro Street

Images: SF Planning Department

The city’s effort to make Castro Street more welcoming for pedestrians took a step forward yesterday, when the SF Planning Department presented preliminary design concepts at a packed community meeting.

The plan [PDF] would improve the pedestrian realm on the commercial corridor with wider sidewalks, sidewalk seating, pedestrian-scaled lighting, small plazas, and greening, while reclaiming some of the excessive street space devoted to automobiles, which would reduce double parking and tame motor vehicle traffic.

Castro’s intersections with Market/17th (at the Castro Muni Metro Station), 18th, and 19th Streets would also be made safer with bus bulb-outs, sidewalk extensions, and more visible crosswalks re-aligned to shorten crossing distances. Planners are considering banning right-turns at red lights to discourage drivers from blocking crosswalks.

The proposal is based on a plan adopted in 2008 by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, which, coupled with $4 million in Prop B street improvement bonds recently secured thanks to D8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, helped move the project forward.

“We get used to all sorts of plans and ideas that don’t go anywhere because there isn’t the political will, or there isn’t the money, and to finally have the money set aside set for the project and so much community support is just terrific,” said Wiener.

An early milestone came when Jane Warner Plaza was created in 2009, carved out of a section of 17th Street at Castro, as envisioned in the CBD’s plan. “Re-claiming that asphalt for people, and the fact that it was instantly occupied and successful, demonstrated that there’s a latent demand for more and better-quality public space in this area,” said Ed Reiskin, director of the SF Municipal Transportation Agency. “People are sometimes walking in the road to get through the crowded sidewalk.”

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