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Vigils for Heather and Kate

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Part of Wednesday night's vigil ride. Photo: Streetsblog.

Part of Wednesday night’s vigil ride. Photo: Streetsblog.

Wednesday evening, some 200 cyclists assembled around the William McKinley Monument in the Panhandle to begin a ride and vigil to remember Heather Miller and Kate Slattery, two cyclists killed in separate incidents one week ago. The ride was organized by the San Francisco Bike Party (SFBP).

Riders assembled at the end of the panhandle for the vigil ride. Photo: Streetsblog.

Riders assembled at the end of the panhandle for the vigil ride. Photo: Streetsblog.

One of the first to arrive was Paul Santagata, a Google employee who lives in the Mission. He sat on the base of the William McKinley Monument as cyclists came into the park. Santagata is the man who helped apprehend Farrukh Mushtaq, the suspect in the hit-and-run killing of Kate Slattery. “I was driving back from work at 8 p.m. on Howard and thought I was going over to the car of a victim of a hit and run…I dialed 911,” he explained. He saw a man near the wrecked car. “After my description, they [the police on the phone] described that he most likely was involved in a hit and run on a cyclist,” he said. The dispatcher on the phone asked him to try and keep the man there. “Me and a couple of other folks got him to sit down until the police came.” Santagata cycles daily and decided to come to the vigil to get a sense of closure.

Tom Rohlf and Paul Santagata were two of the first to arrive. Photo: Streetsblog.

Tom Rohlf and Paul Santagata were two of the first to arrive. Photo: Streetsblog.

Next to him sat Tom Rohlf, a friend of Slattery and also a regular cyclist. “I’m just remembering her,” he said. Devon Warner, who runs San Francisco’s Ride of Silence, was also there. The previous night she was at the Bicycle Advisory Committee, which she said was well-attended and contentious. “It was pretty emotional, with more public comment [than usual],” she said.

Rich Behrens of Lone Mountain said he was riding close to where Miller was killed. “I saw the car go by twice,” he said, describing the white Honda that killed Miller as going at an excessive speed and driving recklessly. “He was driving like it was a real-life video game.”

It was a real-life game that had horrific consequences. The driver of the Honda that hit Miller is still at large. A man handed out flyers, urging people to call 415-575-4444 or to Text a Tip to TIP411 and to “begin the text with SFPD” if they have any information on the driver who killed Miller at 6 p.m. on Wed., June 22., at JFK Drive at 30th.

Riders clustered around the ghost bike shrine for Heather Miller. Photo: Streetsblog.

Riders clustered around the ghost bike shrine for Heather Miller. Photo: Streetsblog.

The ride, which was not escorted by police, first went to JFK and 30th. It was slow going, since the large group had to split up and wait at several intersections. Throughout the ride, people remarked on how fast cars were going up and down JFK drive, which, as the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition pointed out in a release after the deaths, has no bike lanes in the western part of the park.

The ride was quiet and courteous, with cyclists helping each other leave openings for cars to slip through at the intersections. Several people lit candles, took pictures, and knelt at the white ghost bike for Miller.

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Outrage Over Bicycling Deaths is Not Enough

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Kate Slattery and Heather Miller died Wednesday while riding their bikes in San Francisco. Photo: San Francisco Bike Coalition.

Kate Slattery and Heather Miller died Wednesday while riding their bikes in San Francisco. Photo: San Francisco Bike Coalition.

The deaths of Heather Miller and Kate Slattery, two more people killed riding on San Francisco’s dangerous streets, has left the entire safe-streets community rattled and heart broken. Cycling advocates took San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and SFMTA head Ed Reiskin to task for a tone-deaf press conference held Thursday about the carnage. The mayor said he was “outraged” at the deaths. Reiskin said to the Examiner that “the best bike infrastructure in the world would not have prevented these collisions.”

There weren’t enough facepalms to go around.

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, Mayor Lee said the city’s tireless work and the millions of dollars it has spent to make streets safer was undermined by the “incredibly irresponsible actions” of the drivers involved in the crashes.

Was Lee talking, perhaps, about the “millions” that went to build infrastructure (paint and plastic posts) such as this:

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San Francisco’s bicycle infrastructure is defeated by its own employees. Photo: Streetsblog.

By the way, that’s a city owned Prius blocking the bike lane on Market at 9th.

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Two Hit-and-Run Killings Last Night Plus Another Death This Morning

Three more people killed while cycling in the Bay Area in just the past 24 hours. Photo: SFBP Community Vigil Ride.

How many more vigils are needed before we get real change to our streets? Photo: SFBP Community Vigil Ride.

Editor’s note: it’s positively numbing that I can’t finish writing a piece about two cycling deaths in 24 hours, when a third cyclist is killed, this morning, this time in Pleasanton

Wednesday evening, word came down that a woman was killed in Golden Gate Park while riding her bike. And in a separate incident, a woman was killed in SoMa at 7th and Howard Streets.

The names of two three more beautiful people will be added to the sites visited in the next Rides of Silence. Speeches will be given. There will be vigils.

Two three more families and groups of friends will endure unbearable absences. For them, the agony never ends.

And yet, the legislative priority is to slash fines for motorists blowing through red lights.  Tone-deaf law makers boast about making it easier for law-breaking drivers to restore suspended licenses. And every time hard-fought safety measures are put in, our politicians and city planners cow to angry motorists clamoring to roll them back.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, in a statement, put it this way:

We know what our city’s streets need; we need the SFMTA to deliver. Ultimately, we need leadership at the top, and Mayor Ed Lee is failing as a leader. Where we need transformative safety improvements and transformative leadership, we have vague promises and a void of action… We need protected bike lanes on JFK Drive. And across SoMa, we need physically protected bike lanes and intersections. These crashes were preventable, and the city should urgently act to see that such tragedies are not repeated.

San Francisco State University geography professor, writer, and Streetsblog contributor Jason Henderson summed it up too:

There are too many cars in the city and it is too easy to drive them fast and violently. Every day I observe it getting worse. Every single day is worse than the previous. This is a political problem with a political solution. Golden Gate Park could and should be completely car free. South of Market should have fully-separated and wide cycletracks on every street. But the SF mayor-BOS-SFMTA-SF Planning Commission simply pander to angry motorists and give them more parking.

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Menlo Park El Camino Real Bike Lanes Delayed Again

This proposed expansion of El Camino Real to six lanes at Ravenswood Avenue was cancelled in early May, freeing up $1 million for other transportation projects in Menlo Park. Image: City of Menlo Park

This proposed expansion of El Camino Real to six lanes at Ravenswood Avenue was cancelled in early May, freeing up $1 million for other transportation projects. Image: City of Menlo Park

Menlo Park’s plans to fix El Camino Real’s safety hazards were postponed yet again by a city council that is now split on whether to go ahead with the installation of even a bike lane pilot project. Proponents continue to demand that the city take action to prevent injuries suffered by residents in traffic collisions.

“The goals of Menlo Park roadway infrastructure changes should be to serve more people and to make our roadways safer for everyone,” said Bicycle Commission Chair Cindy Welton at the May 3 City Council meeting. “Our status quo street design that we’ve inherited is not working. No one is served by our high collision rates.”

Citing concerns the city is making too many safety improvements too fast, and under continued pressure from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District to cancel the ambitious project altogether, the council voted to postpone it until after the city installs bike lanes on Oak Grove Avenue later this year. A total of 112 car parking spaces will be removed for the Oak Grove bike lanes.

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Streetsblog Talks With SF Bicycle Coalition Incoming Director Brian Wiedenmeier

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BriansmilingEarlier this week, the SF Bike Coalition announced it is tapping its development director, Brian Wiedenmeier, as its new executive director. Wiedenmeier takes the reigns from Margaret McCarthy, who had served as the organization’s interim director during a search to replace Noah Budnick, who resigned last year.

Streetsblog sat down with Wiedenmeier to find out more about him and his goals for the organization.

Streetsblog: So why bike advocacy?

Brian Wiedenmeier: I associate cycling with joy and freedom, I began riding a bike as a child and as someone who grew up in a small town in the Midwest. It’s not cool after 16, so I bought a car to get to my job. But when I went to college at the University of Minnesota a car was not something I could afford, so I started biking again out of necessity. But then I realized what a freeing, amazing thing it was–this simple machine that let me experience the city in a new way.

SB: Tell us about cycling in Minnesota.

BW: Minneapolis is a great city that’s blessed with a network of fully separated bike paths that run through parks. And they have the midtown Greenway which is an old piece of rail infrastructure, a freight line that ran in a trench through the city. It’s been re-purposed exclusively for the use of bicycles and pedestrians. It’s a magic thing with bicycle on-ramps and off-ramps that get you cross town in no time flat.

SB: But you decided to move to San Francisco. How was that, cycling-wise? Read more…

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San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Names New Executive Director

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Say hello to Brian Wiedenmeier, the SF Bike Coalition's new executive director. Image: SFBC

Say hello to Brian Wiedenmeier, the SF Bike Coalition’s new executive director. Image: SFBC

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Board of Directors has selected Brian Wiedenmeier as the organization’s next executive director. Wiedenmeier is not a newcomer to the SFBC. He spent the last two years as the organization’s development director. “Brian’s professional accomplishments and experience really stood out throughout this hiring process,” said Brianne O’Leary Gagnon, president of the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Board, in a prepared statement. “He’s committed to people biking and the city of San Francisco.”

From the SFBC’s announcement:

Wiedenmeier moved to San Francisco ten years ago from Minneapolis, where he went to college, and joined the SF Bicycle Coalition as a member the following year. He bikes both as his primary means of transportation as well as for recreation. In addition to the long rides Wiedenmeier often takes on mornings and weekends, he just completed his second 545-mile AIDS/LifeCycle Ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles last week.

“It’s really important to me not only that we continue improving biking in San Francisco, but that we do so in every single neighborhood of our city,” Wiedenmeier said, in the coalition’s announcement. “If you live in the Tenderloin, the Bayview, or the Excelsior, I want you to know that the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is here to help improve your streets to meet your hopes and needs.”

Readers will recall a few months ago Streetsblog did a Q&A with the SFBC’s interim executive director, Margaret McCarthy, when she was appointed after Noah Budnick’s departure amidst a contentious board election. McCarthy resumes her role as program director through July. Afterwards, she plans to leave the SF Bicycle Coalition’s staff.

Streetsblog will be conversing with Wiedenmeier soon to get details on where he hopes to take the organization. We wish him the best of luck in the new gig. Given the challenges of bringing safe bicycle infrastructure to San Francisco, he will have his work cut out for him.

His official start date will be Wednesday, July 6.

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VTA Sales Tax With Massive Highway Expansion Program on November Ballot

The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) hopes to use $350 million in new sales tax revenue to widen Highway 85 with new express lanes, free for buses and carpools but charge a toll to solo drivers. Image: VTA

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)’s half-cent “Envision Silicon Valley” transportation sales tax is now headed to the November 8 general election ballot in the county, after receiving the unanimous approval of the transit agency’s Board of Directors on June 2.

The new sales tax would fund a massive highway expansion program, spending $1.85 billion on expressway and highway projects over the next 30 years, along with $1.5 billion to extend BART to Santa Clara, $1.2 billion to repave streets, $1 billion for Caltrain upgrades, $500 million for VTA bus and light rail operations, and $250 million for pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements.

“I love driving my car, and I think 97 percent of our population does as well,” said VTA Board and San Jose City Council member Johnny Khamis at the June 2 meeting. “More than 52 percent of this budget is dedicated to transit and less than 48 percent is dedicated to roads. In the meantime, 97 percent of population uses roads, whether you’re on the bus, or a car, whether it’s hybrid or electric, or on a bicycle, you need a road. We don’t float on air.”

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Book Review: Planning Rock Stars Write Case-Study Bible for Livable Cities

Jason Henderson talks about his new book, co-written with Nicole Foletta, about designing car-free and car-lite cities, at Green Arcade Books. Photo: Streetsblog

Jason Henderson talks about his new book, co-written with Nicole Foletta, about designing car-free and car-lite cities, at Green Arcade Books. Photo: Streetsblog

A wise man once said there are few if any urban planning problems that haven’t been solved somewhere on earth–the challenge is just finding the best stuff to copy. That’s the approach of Low Car(Bon) Communities: Inspiring Car-Free and Car-Lite Urban Futures, a new book by Nicole Foletta and Jason Henderson, published by Routledge. Foletta is Principal Planner with BART, with experience working in Europe. Henderson is a geography professor at San Francisco State University and Streetsblog contributor.

The 157-page volume starts out explaining why it’s so urgent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and why the key to that is discouraging car use and car ownership. It identifies the concept of “car free” and “car-lite” communities–cities that are designed in such a way to not just make cars unnecessary, but to discourage their use by closing some streets to traffic and restricting parking.
Screenshot from Jasons book

This, of course, is quite the opposite of how most American cities, San Francisco included, were planned in the post-war environment, where governments built wide roads, freeways, and ramps and provided so much free parking it’s practically viewed as an inalienable right. But Foletta and Henderson make a compelling case that this has to change immediately. “The World Bank frets that the lack of a universal cooperative global climate policy will result in temperature rises exceeding a disastrous four degrees Celsius within this century–perhaps as early as 2060,” the authors write. “Meanwhile, transportation is not only 22 percent of the global total, bust is also the fastest growing sector for global greenhouse gas emissions.”

The authors argue that cities around the world must, therefore, study the best examples of what works to reduce automobile use. Planners must then figure out how to emulate whatever they can from cities that have the lowest transportation-derived CO2 emissions. Using pictures, maps and charts, the book attempts to lay out some universally transferable strategies.
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Balboa Park Station Open House

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BART Planner Tim Chan explaining station plans and hearing comments from morning commuters at Balboa Park Station. Photo: Streetsblog.

BART’s Tim Chan explained station plans and took comments from morning commuters at Balboa Park Station. Photo: Streetsblog.

This morning from 7 to 10 am BART officials, consultants, and even a legislative aide for Supervisor John Avalos’s office answered questions and heard comments from the public about plans to modernize Balboa Park Station, one of the busiest in both BART and Muni’s networks.

From BART’s webpage on the project:

The goal of the project is to develop and prioritize potential station improvements to upgrade and modernize the station’s function, safety and security, capacity, sustainability, appearance, and improve the customer experience. BART is also partnering with the City to identify plaza improvements to support the Upper Yard Affordable Housing Project.

It would be hard to argue that Balboa Park station doesn’t need improvements. A confluence of three Muni trains, seven buses, and the southernmost transfer station for four BART lines, it seems an obvious place for intense transit-oriented real estate development. But with I-280 on one side and a Muni Light Rail maintenance facility on the other, developing the area is challenging. “It doesn’t work for cars, pedestrians, or cyclists,” said Frances Hsieh, the legislative aide for Supervisor Avalos.

“It’s an aging station desperately in need of an upgrade,” said Tim Chan, manager of station planning and development for BART.

Members of the public who stopped by seemed to agree.

“It’s generally dirty and it feels unsafe,”  said Edward Anaya, a lawyer who commutes through Balboa Park from his home in Excelsior. “There are walkability and safety issues competing with the traffic from I-280.”

Jennifer Heggie takes the bus from Sunnyside to pick up BART at Balboa. She said the station has already improved and it used to “smell like urine,” but she wishes there were a shelter on the Geneva side for people connecting to buses there. “It’s cold at night.”

Chan said that’s one of the things they want to fix, by adding “more weather protection” for people transferring between BART and Muni. They also want to “extend the canopies at the ends of the BART platforms” so people don’t have to bunch up when it’s raining.

Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development is working on the Upper Yard affordable housing project, planned across from the old car barn and powerhouse. It’s currently used as a parking lot.

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Best Tool for Murder: SUV, Bicycle, or NFL Linebacker?

Streetsblog reader Karen Lynn Allen sent this satirical musing on the physics of road murder about a week ago. Given the recent crash in Michigan that killed five cyclists on a group ride, it seems like an appropriate time to run it. Sometimes we need some dark, quirky slapstick in this asphalt asylum known as the USA.

***

Let’s say, hypothetically, you had a hankering to kill someone. And let’s say, hypothetically, you had to choose between an SUV, a bicycle, and an NFL linebacker to do the job. Which one is best? Let’s examine the efficacy and the risks—physical, legal, and financial–of each one.

First off, efficacy. This is going to depend on the intended victim, his or her frailty, and mode of travel. If this person spends all his/her time encased in vehicle steel, neither a bicycle nor an NFL linebacker is going to do you much good. Neither has the mass to kill anyone inside a car except through sheer luck. By t-boning at high speed, an SUV might be able to take out someone in a Mini Cooper or Yaris, but if your intended victim drives an SUV, you might need a dump truck.

If your victim walks or bikes, that’s another matter. Read more…