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Posts from the "Bicycle Safety" Category

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ABC 7: Our Drivers Won’t Follow CA’s 3-Ft Bike Passing Law, So Why Bother?

ABC 7 is back with another blurry watercolor painting of street safety issues — this time, setting sights on California’s new 3-foot bicycle passing law. ABC reporter Dan Noyes went to great lengths to film real-world examples of the issue, setting up a camera to film passing bike commuters and drivers on Market Street, and drawing out chalk lines to measure how much room drivers are giving. Bizarrely, Noyes and crew even rigged a camera to their vehicle to film themselves violating the law.

The use of Market’s wide geometry to demonstrate the difficulty of passing is pretty perplexing in itself: the street has a second traffic lane on each side in which drivers can pass, so Market is irrelevant to Noyes’ illogical attempt to demonstrate the “difficulty” of enforcing of a three-foot passing law on narrow city streets.

The segment shows drivers, including ABC 7′s, unsafely passing bike commuters in a traffic lane that is too narrow to share, instead of passing safely in a left lane that offers ample room. If nothing else, it demonstrates Noyes’ fundamental misunderstanding of how to follow the law and drive safely. The crew seems to have no clue how not to endanger people on bikes, and uses their cluelessness to make their case.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a San Francisco broadcast reporter has filmed himself harassing people on bikes from behind the windshield.

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Belmont Council Calls Car-Centric Ralston Corridor Study “Balanced”

Ralston Avenue in downtown Belmont

Ralston Avenue between 6th Avenue and El Camino Real in downtown Belmont, the location of the street’s most recent pedestrian fatality. Photos: Andrew Boone

A study of Ralston Avenue in Belmont recommends easing the way for cut-through car traffic while shunting cyclists onto indirect routes — and the City Council seems to think that’s just fine.

The Belmont City Council decided last Tuesday that more public input on the draft Ralston Corridor Study is needed before the plan is finalized, citing feedback they’ve received that many residents aren’t familiar with the study’s recommendations. The draft study wasn’t available for public review until April 4, as part of the council’s April 8 meeting agenda, and still hasn’t been posted on the project’s website.

One more community meeting will be held sometime “in the next month or so,” according to Public Works Director Afshin Oskou. In general, council members approved of the draft plan, calling it “balanced” and not directing the consulting team to make any major changes to it.

“I think this is about as good a balanced plan as you’re going to get,” said City Council Member Eric Reed, referring to trade-offs between driving time and safety in the consultants’ recommendations.

Fellow Council Member Charles Stone agreed: “I think this is in general a very good plan, it does a great job of balancing things,” he said. ”I think it’s important that people understand that there is continued work on improving signage and safe mechanisms for both bikes and pedestrians… that are not part of this study. It’s important that the bike community understands that this is happening.”

But the City Council did not address the concerns of residents who say the plan prioritizes car traffic on Ralston Avenue over safety for people walking and biking.

“The current plan is far from balanced,” wrote Michael Swire, whose online petition calling for lower speed limits and continuous bike lanes on all of Ralston Avenue has gathered over 700 signatures. “The major biking recommendation is: Don’t bike on Ralston – bike elsewhere,” he said, referring to the $148,600 bike route proposed to detour cyclists onto a longer and slower route on Masonic Way, El Camino Real, Emmett Avenue, and Twin Pines Lane, which would include unsignalized crossings of both Ralston Avenue and El Camino Real.

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SFMTA Announces 24 Vision Zero Bike/Ped Projects for Next 24 Months

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At this morning’s Walk to Work Day press conference, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin announced a plan to implement 24 bike and pedestrian safety projects over the next 24 months [PDF]. This is the most concrete safety plan unveiled so far, ever since city leaders pledged to pursue Vision Zero.

Nicole Schneider presented Walk SF’s “Street Score” report card for pedestrian safety in SF today, alongside Supervisor Malia Cohen (left). Photo: Aaron Bialick

The projects (listed below) include bulb-outs, traffic signal changes, road diets, turn restrictions, and even a conceptual “raised cycletrack” on upper Market Street. Half the projects are funded (one “partially”), and the SFMTA hasn’t assigned an order to them yet. Some of the projects have already been in planning, like the Second Street and Polk Street redesigns, and at some locations the “WalkFirst improvements” have yet to be designed.

Vision Zero “is something that we’re united around as a city family,” said Reiskin on the steps of City Hall, surrounded by a full roster of elected officials and department heads, minus Mayor Ed Lee.

The 24-project list wasn’t heavily discussed at the city’s second official Walk to Work Day press conference, where city leaders re-iterated the urgency of Vision Zero — the goal of ending traffic deaths within 10 years. Every member of the Board of Supervisors and other officials walked to City Hall, starting at points around the city. The furthest trekkers included Reiskin, who walked from west of Twin Peaks; Supervisor Eric Mar, from Arguello Boulevard; and Supervisor John Avalos, from the Excelsior.

Walk SF also presented a “report card” grading pedestrian safety in San Francisco:

  • Overall progress towards Vision Zero: C+
  • Walkability: A+
  • Pedestrian Safety: D+
  • Funding: D+
  • Engineering: C+
  • Enforcement: B
  • Education and Outreach: B-

“We have the fabric of a walkable city,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “But unfortunately, we have a relic of an older generation with our transportation system. We have streets that were designed for speed and not for safety… This isn’t something that our current administration came up with, but it’s going to take a lot of funding and a lot of work to change.”

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Highway Safety Projects Ineligible for Highway Funds in San Mateo County

Shoulder of Highway 1 Coastside San Mateo County

Walking or biking in this shoulder on Highway 1 is often the only option available to get between coast-side towns in San Mateo County without driving. Photo: Matt Hansen, Peninsula Press

San Mateo County’s Mid-Coast Multi-Modal Trail just barely made it into the list of Pedestrian and Bicycle Program projects approved for funding by the Transportation Authority (TA)’s Board of Directors last Thursday. Despite this step forward, building the trail will be difficult thanks in large part to restrictions on how TA funds can be spent, which hamper walking and biking projects.

The $165,000 allocated to the mid-coast trail will only pay for the engineering design and environmental review of the first of four phases, from Half Moon Bay to El Granada. Funds to actually construct the trail and design the three remaining sections to the north, from El Granada to Montara, haven’t yet been identified.

“The coast-side trail is among the most important projects to my constituents since I’ve been elected,” said Supervisor Don Horsley in March. “And this is the first opportunity we’ve had to apply for funding.”

This trail has been recommended by several transportation planning studies over the past ten years, most recently by the 2010 Highway 1 Safety and Mobility Improvement Study, which cites improved safety for people walking and bicycling and a reduction of traffic on Highway 1 among its benefits.

During its March 4 review of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Program projects, the TA’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) “noted concerns regarding safety, traffic congestion, access to schools, and access for people who don’t have cars as strong reasons in support of the Mid-Coast Multi-Modal Trail.”

But this type of project — infrastructure that reduces highway congestion by providing safe alternatives to driving — is surprisingly difficult to fund in San Mateo County.

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Atherton’s Bike/Ped Plan Calls for Safer El Camino Real and Bike Boulevard

A proposed plan for El Camino Real in Atherton would reduce six traffic lanes to four and add a bike/ped path and bike lanes. Image: Alta Planning + Design

The Atherton Town Council this afternoon will review a draft of its first ever bicycle and pedestrian plan, which it crafted over the past eight months with resident input. The plan has attracted little notice, even though it calls for safety redesigns on major streets like El Camino Real, Middlefield Road, and Marsh Road.

The plan’s primary goals are to improve safety for people walking and bicycling on Atherton’s streets, and to reduce school-related traffic congestion by removing barriers that keep children from accessing key destinations on foot or by bike.

Atherton paid for the $40,000 bike/ped plan using a $350,000 settlement that it won from Facebook in 2012, for declining litigation after claiming that the environmental impact report for Facebook’s Menlo Park Campus inadequately assessed traffic impacts.

El Camino Real, whose six lanes slice through the center of Atherton, is by far the town’s most dangerous street. In October 2010, 55-year-old Honofre Mendoza and 62-year-old Christopher Chandler were killed by drivers in separate crashes while crossing El Camino at Isabella Avenue. Exactly two years later at the same intersection, two women were seriously injured by an SUV while walking together in a crosswalk.

Middlefield Road has also seen its share of serious collisions. A man was killed in September 2013 after being struck by a hit-and-run driver near Glenwood Avenue. Several students are also typically injured each year while walking along or crossing Middlefield near Menlo-Atherton High School.

Alta Planning + Design, the consultant crafting Atherton’s new bicycle and pedestrian plan, recommends $13 million in safety projects, including nearly $7 million of “priority projects.” These include pedestrian safety improvements at key intersections, new walking and biking paths, and new crosstown bike routes — including an overhaul of El Camino Real that would add bike lanes and reduce auto lanes from six to four.

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Spectacular New Devil’s Slide Trail Difficult to Reach Without a Car

A 1.3-mile section of abandoned Highway 1 south of Pacifica was converted into the new Devil’s Slide Trail, seen here just before its grand opening to the public on March 27. Photo: Andrew Boone

The 1.3-mile “Devil’s Slide” segment of Highway 1 just south of Pacifica is the latest addition to San Mateo County’s 20 parks. The freshly-paved walking and biking trail offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and its coastal cliffs, and it’s by far the widest trail in the San Francisco Bay Area, with 12 feet striped for walking and 12 feet for bicycling.

“This is inarguably one of the most beautiful segments of the California Coastal Trail,” said Coastal Conservancy Executive Officer Samual Schuchat at the trail’s ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday. “It’s incredibly exciting to open it, after years of driving through here and wanting to take in these views but being afraid that you would crash.”

The geologically hazardous section of highway was closed to cars in March of last year with the opening of the twin Tom Lantos tunnels, which Caltrans constructed to bypass this stretch. As Deidra Kennedy of the Pacifica Historical Society told the SF Chronicle last week, Caltrans originally planned to build an inland bypass and bury the Devil’s Slide highway, but local activists persuaded them to instead build a tunnel and re-purpose the coastal road.

Construction included re-paving the road, building parking lots, bus stops, and public restrooms at both ends, and adding three overlooks, 12 benches, and a variety of educational panels alongside the trail to help visitors learn about the area’s geology and ecology. The San Mateo County Parks Department spent $2 million on the highway-to-trail project, and will invest another $492,000 per year to maintain it, or roughly 5 percent of the department’s annual budget.

Getting to the new trail without a car, however, is a challenge. Since the trail was carved from Highway 1, the highway remains the only way to get there.

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Belmont’s Ralston Corridor Study Ignores Need for Safe, Direct Bicycling

Ralston Avenue facing east from El Camino Real

Believe it or not, planners say there’s no space for bike lanes on Ralston Avenue in downtown Belmont. Photo: Google Maps

The Belmont City Council is gearing up to decide on a list of infrastructure investments intended to improve safety and reduce traffic congestion on Ralston Avenue. At a community meeting last month, representatives from consulting firms W-Trans and Alta Planning presented their Ralston Avenue Corridor Study, intended ”to improve the multi-modal function” of the busy arterial street.

Ralston Avenue is currently dangerous for everyone, with collision rates higher than statewide averages everywhere along the street except west of Alameda de las Pulgas. On average, there are six traffic collisions on or near Ralston every month, nearly all of them injuring at least one person. The most common primary cause is unsafe speed, according to the Belmont Police Department and the StateWide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS).

“This is the predicted result of higher vehicle speeds,” said Belmont Planning Commissioner Gladwyn d’Souza. “Both the frequency and severity of collisions rise exponentially with speeds.”

Among other things, the draft Ralston Avenue Corridor Plan recommends new sidewalks, curb extensions, high-visibility crosswalks, bike lanes, and even a roundabout. Residents are hopeful the improvements will reduce speeding and allow more people to feel safe walking with their children, but some say the study has ignored its fundamental charge to propose ways to make all modes of transportation function safely along the entire street.

No bike safety improvements whatsoever are proposed for the street’s two most challenging sections: from Highway 92 to Alameda de las Pulgas, and from Twin Pines Lane to Highway 101.

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San Mateo Bike/Ped Projects Compete for Paltry Funding

The design and planning work for a 3/4-mile paved trail connecting El Grenada with Half Moon Bay on the east side of Highway 1, similar to this existing path on the west side of 101, is unlikely to be among the ten projects funded in San Mateo County’s latest round of bike/ped grants. Photo: Google Maps

Of the 23 biking and walking projects with a hat in the ring for funding from the San Mateo County Transportation Authority’s (TA) Pedestrian and Bicycle Program, only ten can be funded with the $5.7 million that’s available. And that’s the largest funding source for bike/ped projects in the 20-city county. Meanwhile, unnecessary highway expansions are on track to get hundreds of millions of dollars in funding.

The list of ten recommended projects to receive funding was crafted by TA staff and reviewed by the agency’s Citizens Advisory Committee and Board of Directors earlier this month. In total, 15 cities had submitted 23 projects amounting to $9.3 million. The projects are competing for a pot of funds drawn from 3 percent of the half-cent Measure A transportation sales tax — just 1/67 of one cent of every dollar spent on retail sales in the county.

The paltry level of funding means that the TA Board must choose between projects like widening shoulders on Alpine Road in Portola Valley, intended to make room at pinch points for pedestrians and bicyclists; and the Midcoast Multi-Modal Trail, a proposed paved trail that would connect Montara with Half Moon Bay. The shoulder widening project made the recommendation list while funding to plan the Midcoast Trail did not.

The shoulders on Alpine Road at Arastradero Road and on Portola Road at Farm Road currently narrow to two-foot-wide “pinch points” to fit left-turn lanes. Photo: Google Maps

On the TA’s 100-point ranking system, the Alpine shoulder widening beat the trail project by 0.1 points, though the Alpine project also had strong popular support. If approved by the TA Board at its next meeting on April 3, Portola Valley would use $309,500 in TA funds and $138,000 of its own funds (a 30 percent match) to widen Alpine Road and Portola Road at a number of 500-foot-long “pinch points,” where two-foot-wide shoulders that force bicyclists into the traffic lanes would be widened to create a continuous minimum five-foot-wide shoulder.

Leslie Latham, a member of the TA’s Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Traffic Safety Committee, told the TA Board that residents gathered roughly 300 signatures in support of the project. “Only 14 percent of them came from Portola Valley. They came from 25 different cities,” she said.

Portola Valley Mayor Ann Wengert said that a wider shoulder is critical for safety due to “the huge increase in the number or riders and pedestrians” on the town’s streets over the past decade.

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San Mateo County Bike/Ped Safety Projects Starved for Funding

In Burlingame, a stretch of El Camino Real lacks sidewalks south of the Mills-Peninsula Hospital. The latest funding request for the project was denied, leaving residents to walk on the shoulders to access transit and other services. Photo: Andrew Boone

Despite growing demand for better walking and biking infrastructure in San Mateo County, active transportation grants from the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County (C/CAG) cover only a fraction of the projects that cities want to build, leaving many residents without the sidewalks, bike lanes, and other basic ingredients they need to safely navigate their streets.

“The high demand for [these] project funds is a significant shift in transportation priorities we’ve seen in recent years,” said Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Corinne Winter. “People are looking to live and work in communities where biking and walking are convenient ways to get around. It’s more important than ever that our funding sources align with the undeniable need for improved bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.”

Cities recently submitted funding requests for 19 walking and biking safety projects from the county’s Transportation Development Act funds, a pot of state money distributed by C/CAG every two years. But C/CAG’s latest grant provided only $1.6 million, enough for eight projects. It would take $3.8 million to fund all 19 projects that cities in San Mateo County want to build.

C/CAG staff advised cities spurned for this funding to apply for the upcoming County Transportation Authority Measure A Pedestrian and Bicycle Program, another paltry funding source overwhelmed by demand. That program, which allocates 3 percent of a half-cent county transportation sales tax to bike and pedestrian projects, awarded funds to just 16 of the 41 projects that applied for the latest grant in 2011. That year, project requests totaling $11.2 million competed for $4.5 million. On Thursday, the TA Board of Directors is scheduled to review applications for this year’s funding round – 23 projects totaling $9.3 million competing for $5.4 million. The funding awards are expected to be announced on April 3.

Of the eight projects that were funded through the Transportation Development Act money, six will construct badly-needed sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes in Daly City, Pacifica, South San Francisco, San Mateo, Menlo Park, and East Palo Alto.The other two projects are bicycle and pedestrian plans for San Bruno and Belmont, neither of which has ever written such a plan. This is the first year bike/ped plans were eligible for TDA funds.

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A Reminder: Congestion Pricing Will Save Lives

The Department of Public Health estimated in 2011 that a $3 congestion fee would prevent loss of life due to air pollution and traffic violence.

Congestion pricing resurfaced this week thanks to an SF Examiner article that was picked up by several other media sources, rightly framing it as a way to save lives.

The Examiner highlighted a Department of Public Health report from 2011 [PDF], which estimated that in 2015, if drivers were charged $3 for heading into downtown SF during rush hours, pedestrian injuries would be cut by 5 percent citywide, and 9 percent within the fee zone in the city’s northeastern quadrant. For people on bikes, those numbers are 2 and 3 percent, respectively.

Hyde at Turk Street. Photo: ibtsteward/Flickr

As we’ve written, congestion pricing is a crucial tool to make streets safer for walking and biking and allow transit to move more efficiently, all while raising a sorely-needed $60 million per year for transportation improvements to make non-driving options more attractive. Cities like Stockholm and London have reaped major public health and economic benefits from their congestion pricing programs.

But the SF County Transportation Authority, which completed a study of congestion pricing scenarios in 2010, quietly shelved the idea after it was met with fierce political opposition. If San Francisco is serious about achieving Vision Zero — an end to traffic deaths within ten years — however, congestion pricing must be revisited as part of the strategy sooner rather than later. The life-saving benefits have been demonstrated in London, which implemented a fee of roughly $15.60 to drive into or within the charging zone between 7 am and 6 pm on weekdays in 2003. London saw its lowest annual traffic fatalities on record in 2011.

The current administration seems to be in no rush to back congestion pricing. A spokesperson from the Mayor’s office told the Examiner that it is not a priority for Ed Lee. “There are more effective pedestrian safety measures Mayor Lee believes we should fund and prioritize before pursuing so-called congestion pricing, which is more a regional traffic-management proposal,” he said.

Supervisor Jane Kim, a leading proponent of Vision Zero, told the Examiner that the city should revisit the idea, while Supervisor Scott Wiener said he opposed it until the city first takes other steps to enforce traffic laws and redesign streets.

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