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SoMa to Get SF’s First Protected Intersection…in One Direction at Least

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Existing Bike and Pedestrian Infrastructure on Division Street | February 4, 2015

Existing Bike and Pedestrian Infrastructure on Division Street. Photo: SFMTA.

SFMTA announced late last week that San Francisco will soon break ground on the first protected intersection in San Francisco. From the agency’s web article:

A new type of safer intersection design for San Francisco breaks ground this week: The city’s first “protected intersection” treatment is coming to 9th and Division streets.

Protected intersections use a simple design concept to make everyone safer. Under this configuration, features like concrete islands placed at the corners slow turning cars and physically separate people biking and driving. They also position turning drivers at an angle that makes it easier for them to see and yield to people walking and biking crossing their path.

Read more…

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SFMTA Wants Your Help Planning San Francisco’s Subway Future

A rendering of Muni's new rail cars, coming soon. Image: Siemens.

A rendering of Muni’s new rail cars, coming soon. Image: Siemens.

Now’s your chance to go full transit geek.

SFMTA has launched its “Subway Vision” web page as a first step in developing a long-range transportation plan for the next fifty years. Or as they explained it in their release:

We want you to help draw the San Francisco subway map of the future.

We’ve teamed up with the San Francisco Planning Department and other city partners to launch a new website where you can help shape the city’s plan for future subway — our Subway Vision for the next fifty years. It’s part of the foundation we’re laying for an effective, equitable and sustainable transportation network for the future of San Francisco.

To get this right, we need your input on priorities – whether it’s extending the Central Subway to Fisherman’s Wharf, building a second Transbay Tube for BART into Mission Bay or extending the Market Street subway across the city to allow for longer trains.

Streetsblog took a quick and dirty stab at it (see the results below).

Read more…

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Guest Editorial: Eisenhower’s Parking Policies No Longer Work for San Francisco

Street parking on Nob Hill. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Street parking on Nob Hill. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The last time San Francisco looked comprehensively at how we plan for parking, Eisenhower was president, gas was 25 cents a gallon, and we hadn’t even started building BART. It was an era when cities came to be dominated by drive-ins and drive-thrus, when streetcar lines were were being torn up, and new freeways were bulldozing old neighborhoods. As a result, our city’s parking policy still acts as a viagra for traffic, pollution and unaffordability.

As the City debates a Transportation Demand Management ordinance aimed at taming traffic congestion, now is the time to update San Francisco’s parking requirements, from the ground up. The City has decided it’s time to tackle congestion, and commissioned a survey of research on what works. The research concluded that “available parking is perhaps the single biggest factor in people’s decision to drive. The research shows that just building housing on a transit line doesn’t reduce automobile use, but reducing parking does.” We’re also in the city’s worst-ever housing affordability crisis, and parking requirements are a key culprit in driving up housing costs. Refreshing San Francisco’s parking policy critical to growing an affordable, sustainable city with vital and dynamic neighborhoods.

San Francisco should stop forcing parking on homes and businesses that do not need or want it. Paying for superfluous parking drives up housing and business costs, and worsens the city’s housing shortage and our escalating commercial rents.

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Streetsblog Talks with Scott Wiener

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Streetsblog sat down with Supervisor Scott Wiener in an unofficial district office (Casto Tarts) on Friday. Photo: Streetsblog.

Streetsblog sat down with Supervisor Scott Wiener in an unofficial district office (aka: Castro Tarts) on Friday. Photo: Streetsblog.

On Friday, Streetsblog caught up with District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener. Readers may recall that Streetsblog last interviewed the then newly re-elected chair of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority back in January. Since that interview, much has changed. The mayor has a new Executive Directive on Vision Zero, a new city sales tax initiative is scheduled for the November ballot that will be integral to the budget and transportation investment, and there is a new interim police chief. Moreover, Wiener is now locked in a close fight for the State Senate District 11 seat for San Francisco and San Mateo County with Supervisor Jane Kim. Given all that, Streetsblog thought it was time to get the latest from Wiener.

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Streetsblog: You recently wrote an editorial advocating for late night service on BART and Muni. I know you’ve been working for some time on late-night service options. Do you envision that as bus-only, bus-plus-Muni rail, or do you see a scheme of, say, single-tracking through the Transbay, so it would include some BART service too?

Scott Wiener: Obviously, the easiest late-night transportation expansion is going to be a bus service and that’s been a big focus. Improving the owl service—making it more frequent and expansive; not having to tour the whole city to get home. And we want to increase Transbay late-night service to make it truly usable. We’ve made progress, and there will be more.

I’d absolutely like to see overnight rail service. I’d like to see Muni run the subway later too—at least on the weekends until 2 a.m. In terms of BART—we’ve been struggling for so long. They insist they can’t do 24-hour service.  I’ve heard conflicting things about whether BART has enough of  a “can do” attitude. But they are emphatic about the impossibility of running overnight. So we need to keep a second Transbay tube on track, which will allow for 24-hour BART. Of course, it’s not just about 24-hour capacity; it’s about redundancy. It’s about connecting Caltrain, the Capital Corridor, and getting HSR over to the East Bay and Sacramento.

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SPUR Talk: Transportation Challenges for Downtown Tech Companies

A SPUR panel discussed how downtown Tech companies Airbnb and Salesforce help their employees get to work . Photo: Streetsblog.

A panel at SPUR discussed how downtown tech companies Airbnb and Salesforce help their employees get to work . Photo: Streetsblog.

The San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), hosted a lunchtime talk in downtown San Francisco today, with representatives from Salesforce and Airbnb, about how the companies help employees commute between work and home. Unlike tech giants based outside of downtown San Francisco, neither company makes heavy use of private buses–so-called Tech Shuttles–and instead depends on public transit such as BART, buses and Caltrain.

“Our San Francisco campus is right down the street,” said Lauren Bennett, Senior Program Manager for Transportation at Salesforce. Her company has seven buildings in downtown San Francisco with nearly 7,000 employees, she explained, adding “That gives us access to two BART stations and the regional Transbay Terminal…we don’t have a last-mile problem.”

That’s probably why a third of its employees get to work by BART, with another 20 percent getting in by various bus and other transit providers. That’s part of a corporate strategy. “We think our employees want to work in urban areas and like the city as an amenity,” she said. And they don’t try to insulate their employees from the surrounding area. “We don’t have a cafeteria. We want people to get out, walk around and spend money in small businesses,” she said.

Airbnb has a similar strategy. “Airbnb was born and bred South of Market,” said Rob King, Facilities Coordinator at Airbnb. “It was started with air mattresses on the floor in SoMa; we’ve always been an urban company right in the heart of cities.” But the SoMa location comes with its own last-mile challenges. “The Caltrain station and BART are both .8 miles away,” said King, “Transbay is 2 miles and it’s 2.5 for the Ferry Terminal.”
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SFMTA Readies Limited Roll Back on Mission Transit Project

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A few of the 65,000 people who take Muni to the Mission. Image: Streetsblog.

A few of the 65,000 people who take Muni daily to the Mission. Image: Streetsblog.

SFMTA staff has released its recommendations for compromises to its recently completed Mission Street transit upgrades. In addition to plans to relocate the outbound Cortland stop to the nearside of the intersection, the staff wants to move forward with (from the agency’s FAQ):

  • Removing two of the required right turns on Mission at 26th and 22nd. This will allow vehicles to travel four blocks on Mission before encountering a required right turn, making it easier to access businesses and find parking along the street. We expect this change to improve traffic circulation without increasing through traffic or delaying bus riders.
  • Exempting taxis from the left turn restriction at 21st Street. This exemption, in the middle of the Mission corridor, will provide more options for taxis to reach their destinations.

SFMTA also reports increased bus reliability and an 85 percent reduction in Muni collisions. So why roll anything back if the improvements are working? Streetsblog readers will recall that these additional changes are in response to anger from local merchants, many of whom complained to Supervisor David Campos about lost parking and turning restrictions. Campos’s staff was unavailable, but in a previous post from his Facebook page, he wrote that  “I have heard from many of you–car commuters frustrated by traffic jams that stretch multiple blocks…That’s why I’m calling on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to make a radical shift in the program.” That resulted in a contentious public meeting on June 20 that brought out transit advocates to speak in favor of the “red-carpet” bus lanes, against business owners who demanded that Mission be changed back to the way it was.

Certainly, the shift that SFMTA is recommending is nothing as “radical” as Campos’s business constituents were requesting, at least so far; SFMTA is not talking about taking away the transit lanes. And the turning restrictions are so routinely violated–as observed by Streetsblog this afternoon–that it’s difficult to imagine eliminating them will make much difference.

Private cars follow a cab north on Mission instead of turning right as is currently required. Photo: Streetsblog.

A line of private cars follow a taxi north on Mission instead of turning right as is currently required. Photo: Streetsblog.

And that speaks to a deeper problem–with a myriad of exceptions to follow, how can different drivers decipher who can turn when and where?  And if a left turn is dangerous for an Uber driver, can it really be safe for a taxi driver? Again, continually accommodating different interests–rather than holding the line on safety–leads to bad outcomes and is no doubt why Vision Zero efforts are failing thus far. “The plan has tried to fit safety in after the fact, rather than building in a Vision Zero lens from the beginning,” wrote Walk San Francisco’s Executive Director Nicole Ferrara, in an email to Streetsblog. “We’re particularly concerned with changes that will allow taxis to make left turns, further confusing drivers and compromising on a key pedestrian safety treatment.”

That said, “It’s reassuring that SFMTA does not intend to recommend changes which significantly compromise the now-documented benefits of improved reliability and faster transit trip times the plan has achieved,” said Peter Straus, from the Executive Board of the San Francisco Transit Riders.

Business owners around the intersections in question, meanwhile, still want Mission restored to how it was before March, when SFMTA put down the “red-carpet” lanes for transit. Patel Varsho, who’s owned “King of Fashions,” a clothing shop on Mission, since 1991, said they’ve felt the cuts to parking and that  “Business is slow.” Mihee Lee owns the “Smile Bar-B-Q,” a nearby lunch counter on Mission at 22nd. “Customers have no parking,” she said. “Business is down 20 percent.” Neither commented specifically on the significance of eliminating the turn restrictions, and instead were concerned primarily about parking.

Either way, as Streetsblog has pointed out before, business owners tend to overestimate how many customers arrive by car. Lee, for example, said she didn’t know how many of her customers take the bus versus driving, making her claim that business was down 20 percent due to changes to the street seem dubious.

Wilfredo Dominguez, owner of Cuzcatlan Travel, wants Mission returned to how it was. Photo: Streetsblog.

Wilfredo Dominguez, owner of Cuzcatlan Travel, wants Mission returned to how it was. Photo: Streetsblog.

Jesse Oropeza, meanwhile, said there’s been no change in business. She works at “Mission Shoe Repair” on 22nd, right by the intersection with Mission. But Wilfredo Dominguez, who’s owned “Cuzcatlan Travel Service” a few shops down for two decades, also said business is down by 20 percent. “It’s hard because of the loss of parking,” he said. “We have loyal customers who drive from Berkeley, San Mateo and San Jose–they [SFMTA] really screwed up by doing what they did. They should send buses to Van Ness.”

Business owner Jacob Bullock said bus service has improved. Photo: Streetsblog.

Business owner Jacob Bullock said bus service has improved. Photo: Streetsblog.

But Jacob Bullock, owner of the “Refinery Grooming Club,” on Mission said: “we still get plenty of business…and I think the bus ride is better.”

One thing the transit lanes doesn't seem to have improved on: bus bunching. Three 14s in a row pulled into the stop on 22nd. Photo: Streetsblog.

Despite claims of improved reliability, the transit lanes don’t seem to have improved bus spacing. Three 14s in a row pulled into the stop on 22nd. Photo: Streetsblog.

The SFMTA Board of Directors will hear public comment on the roll-back proposals on August 16, at 3:00 p.m. in San Francisco City Hall, Room 400. If you are unable to attend, email comments to MTABoard@sfmta.com.

UPDATE: The day after publication, David Campos’s staff sent the following response to the story: “Transit reliability and thriving small businesses are not mutually-exclusive. I hope the SFMTA’s revisions will work as a compromise between the needs of transit riders and small businesses.”

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Bicycle Coalition Member Q&A with Executive Director Wiedenmeier

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Kristin Smith moderated a member Q&A with Bike Coalition director Brian Wiedenmeier

Kristin Smith moderated a member Q&A with Bike Coalition director Brian Wiedenmeier. Photo: Liam Brooks.

Yesterday evening some 200 San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) members came to the Brick and Mortar Music Hall at Duboce and Mission to meet SFBC’s Executive Director, Brian Wiedenmeier. They had bánh mì sandwiches, a few beers, and good conversation before a formal Q&A hosted by Kristin Smith, currently with SFMTA and former SFBC staffer.

The questions were varied, but key in the discussion was Mayor Edwin Lee’s recent Executive Directive, instructing the police, the parks department, and SFMTA to accelerate Vision Zero projects and specific bicycle infrastructure plans in response to last month’s deaths of two cyclists, Heather Miller and Kate Slattery.

By six, the venue was already crowded, with a hundred or so bikes parked in the valet stand outside. Participants were of varied ages and professions, but all had one thing in common–a passion for cycling and safe streets. “I’m interested in seeing what Brian has to offer,” said Matt Dove, an SFBC member since 2004. Dove is Director of Bicycle Programs for the Presidio Community YMCA. “I’m curious to see what he’ll do about inclusivity,” said Eliza Barrios, a tech support staffer with the Wikimedia Foundation. She was especially interested in efforts to expand bike infrastructure in under-served and outlying areas of San Francisco, such as the Bayview and the Tenderloin.

If there was a common theme in concerns from participants, it was skepticism about whether the Mayor’s new directive will lead to tangible change on the ground. “We get too stuck in the minutia of projects in San Francisco… we need leadership to stop being re-active and start being pro-active,” said Dove. Read more…

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A Call to Save Stockton Street

Societies can rise or fall based on the quantity and quality of their public spaces. New decent public spaces are rare and precious is the day when there’s a chance of a new one. Does it matter if you live near that proposed space? No. Any new public space is a beacon to the world, showing that we need and can have public spaces everywhere.

So let us celebrate the possibility that this street…Stockton-Before
…could become this… Read more…

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A Month After Kate and Heather’s Deaths, Mayor Lee Takes Action

The vigil for Kate Slattery. Photo: Streetsblog.

Last month’s vigil for Kate Slattery. Photo: Streetsblog.

It’s a little over a month since two cyclists were killed in one night on San Francisco’s streets: Kate Slattery, who was killed South of Market, and Heather Miller, who died while riding in Golden Gate Park. Today, in a rare move, Mayor Edwin Lee, after talks with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, issued an Executive Directive to bring safety improvements to the locations where they were killed.

The Directive includes instructions for:

  • SFMTA to deliver near­-term safety improvements on 7th and 8th Streets in the next nine months
  • The SF Recreation & Parks Department (SF Rec & Park) and SFMTA to deliver near­-term safety improvements to reduce speeds and vehicular through­-traffic on JFK Drive in the next six months
  • SF Rec & Park and SFMTA to initiate a study of expanded traffic calming and traffic restrictions in Golden Gate Park within the next three months

More details on the complete directive in a moment. First, some background.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition started pushing right away to get some action in response to the horrors of June 22. Streetsblog readers should take a moment and add to their letter-writing campaign by clicking here.

Brian Wiedenmeier, the Bicycle Coalition’s new executive director, has been in near constant contact with the Mayor’s office, SFPD, and SFMTA. In his own words:

Over the last month, the Mayor’s office has reached out to us, along with several city agencies, to meet regularly and develop a plan of action in light of the tragic fatalities on June 22. Informed by what we are hearing from our members through the 1,500 emails directed to the Mayor, we are approaching those meetings with the goal of seeing prompt, specific safety improvements delivered not just to the sites of two fatal collisions, but to streets across San Francisco.

We are urging the Mayor to demonstrate his commitment to Vision Zero by ensuring city departments take immediate actions to implement protected bike lanes, deliver significant safety improvements to the streets that saw the tragic fatalities of the past month, ensure SFPD focuses enforcement on the most dangerous traffic violations and speed the delivery of Vision Zero projects.

Read more…

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Streetsblog Talks with Lisa Feldstein about BART

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Outgoing BART Board President Tom Radulovich endorsed Attorney and Planning Instructor Lisa Feldstein for his replacement. Photo: Streetsblog.

Outgoing BART Board President Tom Radulovich endorsed planning instructor Lisa Feldstein for his replacement. Photo: Streetsblog.

20-year BART board veteran and current board president Tom Radulovich announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election this November. Additionally, he endorsed a replacement: Lisa Feldstein, an instructor at the University of San Francisco. It looks as if Feldstein is going to have quite a bit of competition for Radulovich’s seat. That said, Streetsblog figured it worth talking with Feldstein to find out what she’s all about and to learn her vision for BART. Streetsblog caught up with her yesterday afternoon at a coffee shop near the Balboa Park BART station.

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Streetsblog: Let’s start with the obvious question. Who are you and why do you want this job?

Lisa Feldstein: I’m a planner and transportation geek and I care a lot about BART. It’s the spine of the region and there’s a lot we need to do so it serves today’s commuters. I grew up in NYC. My grandfather drove a city bus and my dad was from San Francisco. He always talked about San Francisco like it was paradise on earth. So I went to law school in Berkeley, with a plan to return to the East Coast. But I met my spouse. BART has been part of my life ever since, getting to and from jobs, Berkeley law, which I graduated from in 1992, and then I went back to school in 2007 to get a planning degree.

SB: So this is hardly your first foray into politics and planning?

LF:  I was appointed to the San Francisco Planning Commission by former Supervisor Tom Ammiano. Then from there I took a job with a non-profit, teaching public health professionals in planning. The idea was public health professionals have to clean up from planning decisions. Planning and public health started as one thing, and they separated. Planners made non-walkable suburbs which helped with communicable disease but led to chronic disease.

SB: Such as diabetes and heart disease from the lack of exercise?

LF: Public health people had figured out what the problem was but had no idea how to intervene so my job was to teach them at the front end so they could work with planning departments.

SB: And now it’s generally recognized that bad planning leads to bad public health outcomes.

LF: Right. And the partnership [between health and planning] has been very successful, putting health elements into general plans.

SB: You had a law degree. But you decided to go back and study planning, even though you were already working in it?

LF: My daughter was young at the time. And I burned out on all the travel, but I liked the teaching part. So I went back and got a PhD so I could teach.

SB: You’ve been doing that for a while. So you want to get back into hands-on work with BART?

LF: I like the idea of being able to stick my hands back in and make some positive change on issues that I’ve been thinking about for so long. Some of that is transportation specific, but a lot of it has to do with equity.

SB: How so?

LF: BART is not that old a system, but it was created for a white middle class, mostly men, and that’s not really the ridership anymore.

SB: Right. If you look at old pictures of BART, the ridership is very, well, monochromatic.

LF: Today’s ridership is much more diverse, racially, socially, economically and we don’t have a single commute pattern anymore.

SB: It’s not just people commuting from the suburbs to Market Street.

LF: Lots of people, particularly low income, are commuting from suburb to suburb. BART is over capacity and it doesn’t serve the needs of the Bay Area’s population today.

SB: Right. So if you’re working a night shift, BART kind of sucks.

LF: When I was studying for my qualifying exam in planning, the last Transbay service was like at 12:02. If I missed it, I had to walk miles to get a bus that ran all night. So I’ll be advocating for extended service, but I understand there are real issues with maintenance. BART has to have buses, at least, that run all night.

SB: You’re talking about a dedicated service?

LF: Yes, to help people work swing shifts, night shifts and weekends.

SB: What are some other things you hope to work on with BART?

LF: The platforms at rush hour; they get backed up onto the stairs. It’s a matter of time before someone falls–we need to manage the capacity.

SB: Sounds like you would support peak pricing, like commuter railroads back east.

LF: Part of BART’s problem is it’s not quite commuter rail, but it’s not quite a subway either. You can do peak hour pricing, but BART’s already expensive. The pricing structure looks like commuter rail, so you end up creating further inequities for people who don’t have other choices. Lower income people have the least flexibility, but you’re now asking them to pay more. BART doesn’t even have monthly passes, so if you moved to a peak-ride cost, you have to first do something about passes.

The other problem, especially for low income people, is BART is connected to 28 other transit systems. It’s outrageous that when you transfer from BART to Muni you get a discount, but not in the other direction. AC transit used to have the reduced fare for transfers, but they had budget problems. So that was something that just got eliminated.

SB: Travel to Europe, to a city such as London, and you have one card and one fare and you can ride anything. We have Clipper–but there are still so many different agencies with different fares. Why can’t we get the fare structure more rational?

LF: The Europeans have the advantage that the government structure is more centralized. The government can say “you’re going to do it this way.” But here–and it’s the same with land use planning–every jurisdiction does whatever it wants.

SB: Which is why we have a suburban-style McDonald’s with a drive through on Ocean on a major transportation corridor?

LF: Or the one near me on Haight and Stanyan. But even near a BART station, usually, once you get back to ground level, it’s not BART’s jurisdiction. But it’s not as if BART always does a great job either. Look at the plazas at 16th and 24th and Mission. Read more…