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Posts from the "SFMTA" Category

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“Muni TEP Approved”? Not So Fast

Photo: SFMTA

The Muni Transit Effectiveness Project took a major step forward on March 28, when the SFMTA Board of Directors approved plans for route changes and street upgrades aimed at streamlining transit service. Judging from the headlines on major media reports, the vote sounded like a green light for the entire TEP. However, the reports glossed over some very important details.

While the “12 percent increase in service” trumpeted by the SFMTA’s press release and heavily featured in newspapers might sound good, the TEP’s plans have been watered down, and many of its juiciest transit-priority street alterations await far-off approvals. All told, successful implementation of the TEP is far from ensured.

After years of planning, public outreach, and revisions for 30-some Muni route re-alignments and frequency changes, six routes have been put on hold, and five dropped completely. The SFMTA Board has also only approved some of the Travel Time Reduction Proposals — capital improvements to routes like transit bulb-outs, stop consolidations, and transit-only lanes. Those projects may bring some of the largest gains in transit speeds and ridership, but the SFMTA hasn’t begun the public outreach process for most of them. Many route changes and TTRPs were watered down during public outreach, to appease people who complained about longer walks and removing car parking.

Meanwhile, an appeal against the Muni TEP’s environmental impact report was filed just one hour after it was certified by the SF Planning Commission on March 27, although Muni TEP planning manager Sean Kennedy doesn’t expect it to significantly delay implementation.

In announcing the SFMTA Board’s recent vote, the agency sent out a press release with a headline touting a “12 percent increase in Muni service” resulting from the TEP. The increase apparently comes from a combination of speed improvements and increased funding, for which the agency is banking on three transportation funding measures planned for the ballot this November.

In recent years, the SFMTA had previously promoted a figure of 10 percent, not 12. When asked how that figure increased, Kennedy said the agency just extended the time frame which the figure applies to. “Instead of saying that we would do the whole increase in this [two-year] budget cycle, it basically just means we’ll do all those increases and improvements, it might just be over the next two budget cycles,” said Kennedy. “The time just draws out, not necessarily the projects.”

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How Google Busers Can Avoid Bus Backlash: Get a Car

Tech workers’ humdrum daily commutes in San Francisco have recently become anything but. An environmental appeal was filed (and later rejected) against the city, on the grounds that the “Google buses” are a direct cause of skyrocketing rents and housing displacement. Protestors blockading tech shuttles in bus stops have drawn a frenzy of international media attention.

Image: ABC 7

So what can a gentrifier do to get to that lucrative tech job in Silicon Valley, without having to sneak around costumed blockades and news cameras? As it turns out, there is one sly way for a commuter to use plenty of public curb space for absolutely free, while completely avoiding public scrutiny. All that this theoretical Google or Facebook worker has to do to both enjoy the city life in San Francisco, and fly under the radar of the political backlash, is drive to work. You can bet that no one will block their vehicle in protest, file a lawsuit, or seek an environmental review for the existing policies that let commuters store their private vehicles on public streets.

Sure, the big private buses make an easy target to fixate upon and blame for the city’s housing woes. Sure, many of us have sat aboard Muni buses blocked by a shuttle bus idling at its bus stop. As we’ve written, this is not a sustainable situation: Private bus operators should be charged an appropriate and legal amount for new loading zones by reallocating curb space now used for parking. That’s what the SFMTA is planning to do with its pilot regulation program. Although its scant $1-per-stop price has drawn criticism, it’s the maximum allowed under state law, and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin has wished aloud that they could charge more.

Targeting tech shuttles does not address the root causes of the city’s big woes, and two recent polls indicate that a majority of San Franciscans agree. The Bay Area has failed to build an efficient transit network to connect where people live and work, and failed to build enough housing to match its vigorous job growth. Minimum parking requirements ensure that cars find housing, even when people can’t, and even though most of the space along San Francisco’s curbs is reserved for storing private automobiles.

The very same complaints against commuter shuttles, as lodged by those who appealed the environmental review exemption for the SFMTA’s shuttle regulation program, can be levied against cars as well — albeit on an entirely different scale. Private cars clog the streets, block Muni, occupy public space for free, create air and noise pollution, and endanger bicyclists and pedestrians, all day, every day, throughout the entire city — and instead of filing lawsuits, we take it all for granted.

If the argument is that vehicles driven for highly-paid residents are also vehicles that drive gentrification, it’s bizarre that no one seems to care when that vehicle is a car. It’s another example of how our society has a huge blind spot: We cannot seem to see how much we’ve re-shaped our cities, and our lives, to ignore the negative effects of the automobile.

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The Case for Evening Parking Meters, Graphed

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In many neighborhoods, blocks are more likely to be full of parked cars — and cruising for an open space spikes — after meters shut off at 6 p.m. (1800).

Every day at 6 p.m., San Francisco’s parking meters shut down. But in many neighborhoods, motorists continue to seek parking, and without the turnover brought by meters, the streets become clogged with drivers circling around for a spot.

The big mismatch between meter hours and actual demand for curbside parking spaces in SF was demonstrated in a new study of SFpark [PDF], which found that the program has cut cruising times for parking by 50 percent in the areas where it’s in place. The study, featured yesterday in Next City and The Atlantic Cities, was conducted by researchers at UC Santa Cruz, Carnegie Mellon University, and Nelson/Nygaard, who used data on parking occupancy from the SFMTA to model the effect of SFpark on driver behavior.

The study re-affirms the findings of a report published in the Journal of the American Planning Association last May [PDF], which showed that pricing parking according to demand is effective in reducing cruising. But as Donald Shoup, parking guru and one of the authors of last year’s study, told Streetsblog in August, the successful SFpark program goes to waste after 6 p.m. due to SF’s outdated meter hours, which were crafted in the mid-20th century when fewer businesses were open past that time.

“I hope San Francisco will ask, ‘Why is the right price at 7 p.m. on Union Square $0?,’” Shoup said. “We have the equipment, all the software, and we just put it to sleep at 6 p.m.”

As the graph above shows, the biggest spike in evening cruising is in the Inner Richmond, a non-SFpark neighborhood studied as a control sample. Cruising there peaks at about 8 p.m. In every area except downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf, the daily peak in traffic caused by cruising was after 6 p.m..

If Mayor Ed Lee wanted, he could nudge the SFMTA to simply extend meter hours to cut traffic on the streets in the evening. But rather than fixing SF’s traffic problems, Lee has been more inclined to use his influence to move the city in the opposite direction by undoing Sunday parking meters.

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SFBC, Walk SF Push SFMTA to Make Room for Bike/Ped Projects in Its Budget

Bike and pedestrian advocates are pushing the SFMTA to make more room in its budget for safety projects and programs as the agency’s board of directors weighs its priorities.

Image: SFBC

Image: SFBC

Bike/ped funds currently make up less than 1 percent of the SFMTA’s operating and capital budgets; the vast majority goes towards Muni. And although the agency has professed its commitment to Vision Zero, as well as its Bicycle Strategy and the WalkFirst plan that lay out the map to safer streets, funds for street safety are competing with other funding pushes. Yesterday’s SFMTA Board meeting was packed with dozens of commenters calling for the expansion of free Muni pass programs to low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and extending the youth program to 18-year olds.

Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, pointed out that “there is not a more affordable option than” walking and biking, and urged the board to “include [those] in the equity lens.”

The SFBC and Walk SF have highlighted that the SFMTA’s operating budget devotes more money to office supplies, over $5 million, than to bike and pedestrian safety programs, which each get about $3 to $5 million.

Shahum pointed out that the proposed SFMTA budget calls for 1.9 new miles of bike lanes, and 4.5 miles of upgraded bike lanes, per year. The middle of the three scenarios laid out in the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy calls for upgrades to 10 new miles of bike lanes each year.

Bike and pedestrian funding are poised to get only a slight increase in the share of the SFMTA’s existing revenues in the next budget [PDF]. The agency is banking on three proposed funding measures headed to the ballot this November that altogether could provide about half the funds needed for WalkFirst and the “medium” Bicycle Strategy scenario.

“We did work to find ways to put more revenues in here, although we don’t have a whole lot of flexibility there,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. “You could argue it’s never enough, but it’s a significant investment we’ll be making.”

SFMTA Board Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman asked Reiskin to address the comparisons between bike/ped funding and office supplies at a later meeting. “I know it’s a great rallying cry… safety is our number one goal, but I’d like to know where that number comes from. Hopefully it’s not true that we spend more on paper than we do on bicycle safety.”

“We can’t meet our bike and pedestrian mode shift goals without increasing safety, and we can’t meet our transit demand without including our bicycle and pedestrian mode shift goals,” she added.

The SFMTA will continue to drill down the details of its two-year budget next budget at a hearing on April 15.

“I’m very worried about what happens in November,” said Brinkman. “Do we have a plan B to improve the safety of our streets if we’re not successful?”

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Will SFMTA’s Board Buck Mayor Lee, Keep Sunday Parking Meters?

It’s hard to believe that San Francisco officials are seriously considering repealing Sunday parking metering, and thus abandoning the entire basis of its lauded parking management program.

SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan and Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman. Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr

But next month, the SFMTA Board of Directors could send us back to 1947 — the last time parking meter hours were changed, before they were updated last year — and undo a simple move that has both cut traffic and boosted commerce by increasing turnover. According to the SFMTA’s own report, Sunday metering has cut the time drivers take to find a parking spot in half.

Apparently, the backwards proposal is on the table because Mayor Ed Lee has made a poorly-calculated bid to win the political support of church leaders, who bristle at the idea of having their congregants pay for on-street car storage and worry about losing double parking privileges. As we recently reported, there’s no evidence to back up Mayor Lee’s claims that San Franciscans have revolted against Sunday meters, but he’s pushing the SFMTA Board for repeal anyways.

The mayor wields power over SFMTA’s board, since he appoints all of its members. Yet when the board considers the agency’s two-year budget at meetings starting tomorrow, its members can stand up to Lee’s political antics. There’s no need to make our streets more dangerous and hurt local businesses, just to try and please an influential group with an irrational policy stance.

Mayor Lee has continued to ignore the SFMTA’s report about Sunday meters, which estimates that removing them would:

  • Double the average time drivers take to find a commercial parking spot on Sundays.
  • Reduce turnover by at least 20 percent, meaning that fewer customers can park in each space.
  • Cut the availability of commercial parking during Sunday business hours in half.
  • Reduce occupancy of underutilized parking garages on Sundays by 13 percent.

The hypocrisy in all this is painfully glaring. We’ve heard the benefits of metering high-demand parking spots espoused by Mayor Lee and SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan, who has said he supports the mayor’s push “to make living in San Francisco more affordable.”

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Bold Vision Needed From SFMTA’s Next Sustainable Streets Director

The view from SFMTA headquarters at Market Street and Van Ness Avenue. Photo: milantram/Flickr

The SFMTA is searching for a new Sustainable Streets Division director to replace veteran traffic engineer Bond Yee, who retired in January after four years on the job. The broad umbrella of Sustainable Streets includes all SFMTA programs that involve street design and parking management, and its next leader will play a critical role in moving San Francisco towards its stated vision of (as the division’s name says) sustainable streets.

“Choosing a leader who is the right mix of visionary and results-driven is critical if San Francisco is going to reach its goal of being a truly great city to move around,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “We need a Sustainable Streets Director who is not afraid to try new things and think outside the box, while also holding her or his team accountable for delivering successful projects in a timely way.”

The SFMTA expects to name a candidate for the position by this summer. In the interim, the role is being filled by Jerry Robbins, who has served as a transportation planner for the city for 28 years. Robbins said that delivering bold projects without delay is a delicate balancing act that requires “getting everyone on the same page and pushing in the same direction — the funding people, the designers, engineers, planners, the public education people — and staying on focus, not getting distracted. It’s a lot of different balls in the air at one time.”

Yee, a city traffic engineer for 32 years, was named Sustainable Streets Director in 2010 after serving as interim director for eight months. Then-SFMTA Chief Executive Officer Nat Ford defended Yee against criticism from some sustainable transportation advocates regarding his reputation as an old-school traffic engineer with a tendency to prioritize automobiles over other modes. Ford credited him with helping to make San Francisco “one of the most bikeable and walkable cities in the country.”

Ford’s successor, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, had similar praise for Yee in announcing his retirement to staff back in December, saying that he “molded a new division into a dynamic, multi-modal force for the SFMTA”:

As the Director of the Sustainable Streets division, Bond is responsible for Strategic Planning and Policy; Livable Streets; Transportation Engineering; Field Operations; Off Street Parking, Security, Investigations and Enforcement.  He also created the landmark internship program, which fostered new engineering and planning talent for nearly 25 years by providing internships for more than 200 students and young professionals many of whom are now employed or engaged in professional careers at SFMTA and throughout the world.

A man who leads by example, many of the Sustainable Streets managers and employees are “Bond Yee-trained,” which means that requests and questions are responded to quickly and professionally; work is conducted collaboratively and respectfully; successes are celebrated, and team members are valued.

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Detailed Polk Street Designs: Plans for Safe Bicycling Still “Lackluster”

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Polk will get a raised bike lane, but only northbound from McAllister to California Street. Images: Planning Department

The SFMTA and the Planning Department presented detailed plans for Polk Street at the project’s final open house meeting yesterday. The new aspects include specific locations of bulb-outs, dedicated bicycle signals, left turn prohibitions, loading zones, and new trees and landscaping. Plans to improve bicycle infrastructure are still composed of a mix of protected, buffered, conventional, and part-time bike lanes, depending on the stretch and side of the street.

In a blog postthe SF Bicycle Coalition wrote that it is ”deeply troubled” that the SFMTA and Supervisor David Chiu have stood bythe lackluster design,” in which protected bike lanes were largely cast aside to preserve parking spaces for a vocal minority of merchants.

Noting the inconsistencies between officials’ Vision Zero rhetoric and the watered-down proposal to improve safety on Polk, which sees the second highest number of crashes of any corridor in the city, the SFBC announced it is launching a David Chiu/MTA Polk Street Body Count clock, a tracker that will count the number people hurt on Polk going forward.

Luis Montoya, project manager for the SFMTA, characterized the compromised safety plans as an appropriate balance. ”I think people see that we’ve stuck to what we’ve said the project goals were of improving safety, addressing the specific crash patterns that we see, balancing the needs of the street,” he said.

Polk at California, where the configuration for bike lanes changes.

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Tonight: Final Open House on a Safer Polk Street

Left: a “Save Polk Street” flyer. Right: A parody from an anonymous satirist. Photos: Folks for Polk/Twitter

Tonight is the SFMTA and Planning Department’s final open house on the Polk Street redesign, the last chance to weigh in on the agency’s preferred design before it goes to the SFMTA Board of Directors for approval. As you can see from the above flyer, the parking-obsessed “Save Polk Street” group is still fighting against safety measures in order to hang on to the small amount of car storage the SFMTA proposes to remove.

Meanwhile, an anonymous satirist posted a parody flyer countering some of the opposition nonsense. Perplexingly, the Save Polk Street flyer accuses the SFMTA of not approving pedestrian bulb-outs in the plan. As the parody flyer points out, it was none other than Save Polk Street that protested the bulb-outs and any measures that remove parking. (“Why did the bullies say ‘no’ to the bulbouts MTA supported for their God-given right to parking? … WHY? WHY? WHY?”)

A second satirical flyer. Photo: Folks for Polk/Twitter

The proposed design calls for a southbound, green-painted bike lane between parked cars and moving cars on the nine-block segment of Polk between California and Union Streets. The northbound direction will only have a bike lane during the morning commute hours — the rest of the day, riders will still be forced to mix with motor vehicles. While the bike lane is in effect, curbside parking won’t be allowed (hence the top of Save Polk Street’s flyer reading, “$500 TOW AWAY!”). At other times, the only provision for cycling will be green-backed sharrows in the traffic lane.

The 11-block southbound segment between McAllister and California Streets will include a raised, protected bike lane with bike traffic signals. The northbound side of that segment will include a green, buffered bike lane that, depending on the block, will run either curbside (without parking) or next to the parking lane.

A city survey found that the top priority for people who live, work, and shop on Polk was safer conditions for walking and bicycling — easily eclipsing the importance people placed on car storage on a street where 85 percent of people arrive without a car. In November, the SFMTA Board required that planners present them with a pilot project option for a full-length bike lane.

The SFMTA planners will be on hand to discuss the proposals at the open house, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the auditorium of Tenderloin Elementary School at 627 Turk Street, between Polk and Van Ness Avenue.

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Friday: SFMTA Board Considers Final Proposals for Muni TEP Service Changes

An example of a proposed service change for the 48-Quintara and a new line, the 58-24th Street. Image: SFMTA

Service changes to 15 Muni lines are headed to the SFMTA Board of Directors for approval on Friday as part of the Transit Effectiveness Project. The proposals were revised through input at community meetings and approved by the board’s Policy and Governance Committee (PAG) last Friday. Many were fine-tuned largely to appease complaints from riders who would have to walk, at most, a few more blocks for more streamlined routes.

If you can’t make the City Hall board meeting on Friday at 8 a.m., you can weigh in on the proposals by emailing the SFMTA Board at MTABoard@sfmta.com. Here’s the list of proposed line changes from an SFMTA email:

Here’s what we proposed, what we modified based on what we heard, and what we will be recommending to the SFMTA Board:

2 ClementThe PAG supports the recommended proposal of using existing overhead wires to implement 2 Clement trolley service on the entire Sutter/Post Street corridor, adding service on the Sutter Street route segment, and realigning the 2 line to operate on California Street to Eighth Avenue, on Eighth Avenue south to Clement Street, on Clement Street between Eighth and Sixth Avenues, and to California via Sixth Avenue.  Service will be discontinued on Clement Street; between Arguello Boulevard and 6th Avenue, and 8th and 15th Avenues.

3 Jackson: The PAG supports maintaining service on the 3 Jackson with reduced frequency to better match customer demand.

6 Parnassus: The PAG supported maintaining the 6 Parnassus in the line’s current alignment through Ashbury Heights to UCSF and Golden Gate Heights and to reduce the frequency of the line to better match customer demand west of Masonic Avenue.  Service will be further increased on the 71L Haight/Noriega Limited.

8X Bayshore Express: The PAG supports the continuation of 8X service north of Broadway for every other trip.

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Bayshore Blvd Gets Buffered Bike Lanes, But “Alemany Maze” Still a Barrier

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Bayshore, seen here looking north near Bacon Street, had four traffic lanes reduced to two to make room for buffered bike lanes. Photo: Brian Coyne

The SFMTA extended the buffered bike lanes on Bayshore Boulevard earlier this month from Silver Avenue south to Paul Avenue, reducing four traffic lanes to two. The street now provides a calmer, safer bicycling link for Bayview residents all the way up to where Bayshore ends, at Cesar Chavez Street and the “Hairball” freeway interchange.

The bike lanes were originally slated to go on San Bruno Avenue, which runs parallel to Bayshore on the opposite side of 101, according to the SFMTA website:

This project was originally planned for San Bruno Avenue as part of the 2009 San Francisco Bicycle Plan. However, due to potential conflicts with planned Muni improvements along San Bruno Avenue, the SFMTA has determined that a more appropriate north-south bicycle route between Paul and Silver Avenues would be Bayshore Boulevard because it connects directly with existing bikeways north of Silver Avenue and does not conflict with transit operations.

Traffic analysis was completed that showed that there was not a need to keep four travel lanes.

Chris Waddling of D10 Watch describes: “Pedestrians dash across eastbound Alemany at San Bruno Ave. on their way to the farmers market.” Photo: Chris Waddling

Yet the benefits of the bike lanes and taming speeds on a traffic sewer are largely lost at the “Alemany Maze” – the tangle of looping freeway ramps where 101 and 280 intersect. As D10 Watch author Chris Waddling pointed out, the interchange presents “outright hostile conditions for pedestrians and cyclists,” cutting off access between neighborhoods for those traveling without a car:

Say you want to get from Bayview to a Glen Park BART by bike. Riding the new lanes on Bayshore are now great, but get from Bayshore to the separated bike lane on Alemany at Putnam, and you’re sharing the road with freeway-bound vehicles.

Or say you want to walk from the Portola to the Alemany Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning. You either cross illegally at the top of San Bruno Ave or walk an extra 1/4 mile each way to get to the light at Putnam. And if you need one, it’s too bad there’s no ADA ramp for you when you get there.

The benefits of increasing pedestrian and bike access in the area are many: reduced car traffic on Saturday mornings in and around the Alemany Farmers Market; safer access to the Farmers Market for Portola residents; greater access to amenities in the Portola by residents of Bernal Heights; safer access to BART for Portola residents; an opportunity for beautification of the median.

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