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A Note of Caution on Tech and Privatizing Transit

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Is our new ride-hale tech tempting us to repeat past mistakes? Driveless cars has been a dream of road planners since the Interstate Highway System was first envisioned. Image source unknown.

Driverless cars have been anticipated by road planners since the Interstate Highway System was first envisioned. But is the near-realization of this dream tempting us to repeat past mistakes? Image source unknown.

At a recent SPUR meeting, an audience member asked why cities continue to invest billions in long-term projects, such as the Central Subway, when ride-hail services such as Juno, Lyft, and Uber Pool have rendered urban rail more or less obsolete. This sentiment is reflected in a recent piece in the Atlantic by former Los Angeles Times writer Alana Semuels, entitled: “The End of Public Transit?” She wrote about her experience riding Chariot instead of Muni:

Why should anyone use public services if the private sector can provide the same service more efficiently? On an individual level, after all, the private bus was much more pleasant and not much more expensive. On the government level, privatization could save money. Privatizing public bus services could save $5.7 billion a year, according to a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in March.

The piece brings up some interesting thoughts, which have been discussed in Streetsblog as well. It’s worth a read–certainly, transit agencies such as BART and SFMTA should be, and are, discussing collaboration with private transportation providers.

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SFMTA Super Speedy at Removing Safety Measures on Valencia

On Monday, SFMTrA installed safe hit posts on this corner to keep vehicles from sweeping across the corner, endangering cyclists. By the end of the week they were gone. Photo: Streetsblog

On Monday, SFMTrA installed safe-hit posts here to keep motorists from sweeping the corner and endangering cyclists. By the end of the week they were gone. Photo: Streetsblog

On Monday, Streetsblog joined the SFMTrA, a guerrilla-safety group that glues down safe-hit posts in trouble spots throughout the city, for a pre-dawn installion on Valencia between 17th and 14th. This afternoon, the posts were gone–and everything was back to its dangerous and dysfunctional normal.

Monday morning, trucks and cars were forced to slow and turn carefully to avoid hitting this post...which was promptly removed by SFMTA. Photo: Streetsblog.

Monday morning, trucks and cars were forced to slow and turn carefully to avoid hitting this post…which was promptly removed by SFMTA. Photo: Streetsblog.

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Fixing the Mess at Geneva-San Jose/Balboa Park

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An aerial view of the study area. Photo: CTA

An aerial view of the study area. Photo: CTA

Last night, SFMTA held an open house at Lick Wilmerding High School to get community suggestions on what to do about the mess of tracks, ramps, road and pedestrian crossings on and around the intersection of Geneva and San Jose, adjacent to the Balboa Park BART and Muni stations.

From SFMTA’s project page:

The SFMTA is studying the area around the Geneva Avenue/San Jose Avenue intersection with the goal of developing short, medium and long-term improvements to transit access and safety for all users. Both Geneva and San Jose avenues are located on the City’s Vision Zero High Injury Network. This study will complement numerous projects underway in the immediate vicinity, including BART’s Station Modernization, the City’s Upper Yard Development and the City’s rehabilitation of the Geneva Car Barn. The study scope was developed in coordination with the Balboa Park Station Citizens Advisory Committee (BPSCAC) and District 11 Supervisor Avalos’ office.

This study will develop conceptual design improvements to address safety issues near the intersection. The analysis will include a focus on passenger access to Muni’s M Ocean View Line, which terminates within the Cameron Beach Yard on San Jose Avenue between Geneva and Niagara Avenues. This study will build upon past analyses and develop recommendations for improvements consistent with known plans.

Streetsblog readers will recall from an earlier post that BART is working concurrently to improve its part of the station (follow that link for more photos of the station and streets). For those not familiar with the area, the Geneva-San Jose intersection is part of a triangle of streets that also includes Ocean Ave. and is a crazy confluence of I-280’s on and off ramps, the K, the M, the J-Church, BART, and a gaggle of bus lines.
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Safe Streets Advocates Urge ‘Yes’ Vote on Props J & K

VoteAmid an avalanche of issues on the November ballot, San Francisco voters face one question with consequences for each of us every single day: Should our city invest in safe, affordable transportation? To answer yes, we must pass both Propositions J & K.

At a time when so many people feel pressed by the soaring cost of living, this question is especially important. Transportation is the second-highest household expense in our city after housing. Everyone in San Francisco deserves access to reliable transportation, and this issue is particularly important for people struggling the most with the high cost of living.

That’s why advocates for safe, livable streets and affordable, reliable transportation support Propositions J and K. Proposition K would increase the city’s sales tax by three-quarters of one percent on goods and services excluding rent, utilities, groceries, health care and prescriptions. With a separate state tax expiring, the passage of Proposition K would increase the city’s sales tax rate from 8.75 to 9.25 percent, which is among the lowest in the Bay Area. However this small increase–$0.05 on every $10 spent on taxable goods, to be exact–would raise $154 million a year, half funded by tourists and visitors. Proposition J would ensure that those funds are dedicated exclusively to two of the most important issues facing our city: fighting homelessness and fixing our transportation systems.

It’s crucial to note, these measures work together: we won’t see the benefits of J without also passing K. Read more…

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Safety Guerrillas Hit Valencia Street

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"Dragon" hands out cards and builds support for SFMTrA near their newest installation at Valencia and 15th. Photo: Streetsblog

“Dragon” hands out cards to build support for SFMTrA near their newest installation at Valencia and 15th. Photo: Streetsblog

Streetsblog was up before dawn this morning, an invited guest of SFMTrA–the guerrilla group that’s given up waiting for the city to make our streets safer–for a quick infrastructure upgrade to Valencia Street’s bike lanes.

This time three members of the group, who go by the handles Copenhagen, Dragon (who came with a furry dragon suit), and Cone Guy, glued down 11 safe-hit posts on a stretch of Valencia from 17th to 14th, on the north bound side of the street. “We did a busy right-hand turn, where we felt it would do the most good,” said Cone Guy.

A lone, pre-dawn cyclist enjoying the safety additions on Valencia. Photo: Streetsblog

A lone, pre-dawn cyclist enjoying the safety additions on Valencia. Photo: Streetsblog

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Subway Metadata Master Plan

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A "heat map" of where San Franciscans want to see subways. Image: ConnectSF

A “heat map” of where San Franciscans want to see subways. Image: ConnectSF

Yesterday afternoon the Land Use and Transportation Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors heard a presentation from transportation officials on efforts to design a “Subway Master Plan,” a long-range blueprint for a subway network for San Francisco.

From a release on the meeting from Supervisor Scott Wiener’s office:

Today at the Land Use and Transportation Committee, City transportation agencies delivered a presentation on their work to create a Subway Master Plan. Supervisor Scott Wiener called for the development of the Subway Master Plan last year, and authored an ordinance requiring the policy be developed. At the hearing, the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) presented the initial findings – which they have called the Subway Vision — that they have been developing over the last year.

Streetsblog readers will recall that in August the SFMTA and other agencies launched a web page that invited people to draw subway lines and stations where they would most like to see them. The computers then combined the “over 2,600 unique submissions that ranged from a single line to a comprehensive system,” explained Sarah Jones, SFMTA’s Planning Director. “The most consistently drawn lines were in prior plans we reviewed, but also saw some other areas being opened up.”
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Ballot Primer for an Election that Will Drive You to Drink

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A standing-room only crowd drank beer and listened to the experts at SPUR breakdown SF's ballot measures. Photo: Streetsblog

A standing-room only crowd drank beer and listened to SPUR’s experts break down SF’s ballot measures. Photo: Streetsblog

Yesterday evening, over 220 people squeezed into the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association’s (SPUR) downtown S.F. location to hear the organization’s policy experts explain which ballot measures they are endorsing. With 25 measures on the San Francisco ballot this November 8, each of the six SPUR experts spent just a few minutes on each decision–and it still took nearly two hours to get through them all.

Thankfully, they also offered bottles of beer at the door.

Here’s a sampling of some of the most Streetsblog-relevant “yes” recommendations:
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Rail~Volution: All-Things-Rail Conference Comes to San Francisco

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Press-Release-Header-1200x565Some 1,200 planners, engineers, managers and transit journalists crowded into the San Francisco Hyatt Regency this week for the Rail~Volution conference. From the conference press release:

The…conference brings together thought leaders and innovators to discuss the relationship between public transit and land-use, examine best practices in transit-oriented development, and look at how to maintain diversity and inclusion in the face of a changing urban landscape. With 22 mobile workshops and over 75 thought-provoking presentation and discussion sessions, the conference goes beyond the traditional sit-and-listen experience. Workshops will focus on such topics as “Anti-Displacement: Tools for Preserving Affordability Near Transit,” “Hot Topics in Streetcar Systems” and “All Hail Car Sharing! Shared Use Mobility From an Environmental Perspective.” Other sessions include “Two Wheels Are Better Than Four: Expanding Your Network Through Bicycle Connectivity” and “Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Smorgasbord: Three Cities Dish on Their BRT Experiences.”

Yesterday morning’s plenary session featured SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. He welcomed the attendees, who came from all over North America. The morning session focused almost entirely on housing cost and supply issues–and transit’s role in solving them. “We can really think about how and what we do can address those challenges,” said Reiskin. “Not to say transportation and planning are magic bullets, but I do think they can and should be part of the solution and we should use a lens of not just how can we make our cities more livable, but can we make our cities more livable for everyone?”

That tack continued with a chock-full-of-data presentation by Kim-Mai Cutler, journalist and columnists for TechCrunch. She explained that Eichler-built, single-family homes were once available to working-class families in the Bay Area. “In 1950, a home in Palo Alto was 1.5 times the median income, or about $9,400,” she said. “Today if you looked at an Eichler, it’s more than $2 million.” Read more…

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SFMTrA Takes it Up a Notch with Glue-down Safety Posts in Golden Gate Park

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Those safe-hit posts were installed by the guerrilla safety group, SFMTrA -not SFMTA. Photo: SFMTra.

These official-looking safe-hit posts were installed by the guerrilla safety group, SFMTrA -not SFMTA. Photo: SFMTrA.

San Francisco cyclists may have noticed a safety improvement at JFK and Kezar, where Golden Gate Park meets the Panhandle. That notorious intersection now has more than paint to segregate cars, pedestrians, and cyclists: plastic, safe-hit posts popped up late last week. And they seem to be working, effectively keeping motorists out of the bike lane.

But don’t thank the San Francisco Rec and Parks Department for installing them. SFMTA? Nope. Is it because of Mayor Edwin Lee’s “Executive Directive” on safety. Guess again.

The posts were glued down by fed-up citizen volunteers. That’s right: it’s an illegal installation.

“We’ve all done our civic duty and due diligence to make things better within the system. All we got was frustrated,” said a member of the San Francisco Metropolitan Transformation Authority, also known as the SFMTrA.

From the SFMTrA website:

The San Francisco Metropolitan Transformation Authority is a collective organization of men and women committed to making streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and doing it quickly. We were founded in 2016 in direct response to the deaths of two cyclists on the city’s streets on the same day.

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Was the Turning Point on Taraval a Teachable Moment?

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The contentious "Safeway Stop" on the L-Taraval. Photo: Streetsblog

The contentious “Safeway stop” on the L-Taraval. Photo: Streetsblog

A week ago today, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency decided unanimously to move forward with concrete boarding islands on the L-Taraval. And maybe, just maybe, it was also a concrete turning point towards finally putting safety first.

As Streetsblog readers know all too well, every time SFMTA develops transit improvements as part of its Muni Forward program, the agency encounters enormous pushback. It comes from competing agencies, local politicians, and from a loud minority of angry stakeholders. And whether it’s the Mission, Masonic, or Van Ness, it’s this pushback that gets covered in the mainstream press.

The resulting political pressure causes delays, watered-down projects, and—more often than not—a failure to adhere to the voter approved “transit first” policies dating back to the 1970s. In other words, a minority of self-interested and ill-informed people are given more political sway than the voters. Read more…