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Posts from the "Bike Boulevards" Category

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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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Creating a Safer “Green Gateway” at Valencia and Mission Streets

A vision for Valencia Street's south end at Mission Street, where two right-turn lanes would be converted into stormwater-absorbing plaza. Image: SFPUC

A chunk of roadway at Valencia and Mission Streets would be reclaimed to create a plaza designed to make the corner more pedestrian-friendly and absorb stormwater under a project led by the SF Public Utilities Commission.

The Valencia and Mission Green Gateway Project would widen sidewalks and add greenery and permeable pavement treatments along the southernmost block of Valencia, between Mission and Duncan Street, where it also intersects with the Tiffany Avenue bike boulevard.

Under designs presented by the SFPUC, the SFMTA, the Department of Public Works, and the SF Planning Department at an open house yesterday, the two right-turn traffic lanes on southbound Valencia at Mission would be converted to the permeable plaza, shortening a long crosswalk that currently crosses five lanes. The sidewalk would be expanded out to the existing refuge island.

“We’re making traffic make more sense,” said Raphael Garcia, project manager for the SFPUC.

The southbound end of Valencia would get a narrowed roadway, but an extension of the Valencia bike lane to Mission shown on an initial rendering for the project won’t be included, because that block is not part of an official bike route, according to Adam Gubser, a planner at the SFMTA’s Livable Streets subdivision. Instead, the block will retain two southbound traffic lanes so that Muni buses on the 36-Teresita line, which make a right turn there, aren’t delayed by car traffic waiting to turn, he said. Parallel parking spaces on the east side of the block would also be converted to back-in angled parking spaces to minimize parking removal. Altogether, ten parking spots would be removed for the project.

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Remembering Ellen Fletcher, Palo Alto’s Pioneer Bicycle Advocate

Cross-posted from Cyclelicious.

Ellen Fletcher. Photo: Richard Masoner

Holocaust survivor, PTA mom, city council member, and bike advocate Ellen Fletcher succumbed yesterday at age 83 to lung cancer at her Palo Alto home.

Ellen escaped Berlin as a Jewish child on the Kindertransport trains and spent her teen years as a refugee in World War II London, where she biked to her factory job.

She eventually ended up in Palo Alto, California, where she got her start in cycling advocacy as safety chair of the local PTA when she saw that the best way to protect school children from their greatest danger was by reducing auto traffic around schools. She revived the Santa Clara Valley Bicycle Association (which exists today as the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition) in the early 1970s. Ellen pioneered the first bike boulevard in the United States on Bryant Avenue (now named in her honor) while serving on the Palo Alto city council from 1977 to 1989.

Caltrain Bikes on Board Pioneer

If you like bikes on Caltrain, you can thank Ellen Fletcher. Beginning in 1977, she and Daryl Skrabac of San Francisco pushed Southern Pacific to try bikes on board. They finally agreed to a four month demonstration in 1982, when four bikes were allowed in the aisle of the cab car. Southern Pacific refused to continue the experiment. When the Peninsula Joint Powers Board took over the line in 1992, they agreed to make room for bikes, but needed money to make it happen. Cap Thomas of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition persuaded the city of San Francisco to contribute $40,000 to making space for 8 bikes in each cab car.

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Envisioning the Wiggle as a People-Centered Greenway

Scott Street between Oak and Page Streets. Image: SFBC

The SF Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) has posted new visuals on its website depicting how streets on the Wiggle could be transformed into greener, traffic-calmed streets oriented toward safe walking and bicycling.

The Wiggle, the flattest route connecting the east and west parts of the city, is already a magnet for bike traffic. However, as the SFBC notes, new riders can get confused by the twists and turns of the route, and high-speed motor vehicle traffic makes cycling feel too dangerous for many people to consider riding.

The renderings of Waller Street and Scott Street draw on concepts that emerged from last year’s ThinkBike Workshops, in which planners from the SFMTA and the Netherlands sketched out redesigns to enhance the experience of pedestrians and cyclists on major bicycling corridors. The SFBC envisions wider sidewalks, more public seating, higher-visibility bike markings, and streets engineered for automobile speeds that don’t threaten people traveling on foot or by bike.

The SFMTA is taking some steps toward the ThinkBike vision by rolling out ladder crosswalks and green-backed sharrows emphasizing pedestrian and bicycle priority along the route.

The SFBC’s renderings are part of its Connecting the City campaign to make SF streets accessible for all-ages cycling. The top priority for the campaign is a seamless “Bay to Beach” bicycle route, including the Wiggle, that feels safe enough for anyone from 8 to 80 years old to ride.

The SFBC also has a survey for the public to share their thoughts on the renderings.

Waller Street between Steiner and Pierce Streets. Image: SFBC

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How Bikes Make Portland Cool

A mini-documentary out of Portland, Oregon showcases the vibrant bicycle culture the city enjoys, from “bike trains” of kids riding to school on traffic-calmed bike boulevards to a range of everyday people getting around by bike simply because it’s “accessible.”

As San Francisco strives to be the most bike-friendly city on the west coast, we can only hope it won’t be long before we see as many two-wheeling families on our streets.

H/T Ron Richings for the video, filmed by Kona Productions.

The Nowtopian 16 Comments

The Political and Economic Implications of Bicycling Tourists

A Bike-and-Roll rental station in front of the Hyatt Regency at Market and Spear.

I’ve been bicycling in San Francisco since the late 1970s so I vividly remember when almost all bicyclists could recognize each other on the streets of the city. There really weren’t that many of us even as recently as the beginning of the 1990s, just two decades ago. We’ve come a long way, and one of the less recognized aspects of this bicycling boom has been the incredible expansion of bike rentals and bicycling tourism.

I wrote a flyer back in 1986 calling for a “City of Panhandles” and one of the arguments I made in that largely unnoticed document was that a systematic effort to provide safe, separate bikeways crisscrossing the City would itself lead to a tourism boom. As it turns out, we’re experiencing a dramatic increase in tourists cycling even before we provide adequate infrastructure. San Francisco is just an incredibly beautiful place, and people come from all over the world to experience its beauty. Growing numbers of those visitors aren’t much interested in seeing it through windshields and are opting instead (or in addition) to rent bicycles.

There are three “big” companies doing bike rentals in SF: Bike and Roll, Blazing Saddles, and Bay City Bikes (a number of smaller places, like the BikeHut at Pier 40, also rent bikes). I recently spoke with Darryll White, owner of Bike and Roll, and he gave me some impressive aggregate numbers. Since 1995 the local bicycle rental business has grown from about $500,000 a year to over $10 million! The remarkable thing about this huge increase in tourist cycling is that about 90 percent of the rentals are heading to the Golden Gate Bridge and to Sausalito, where the City Council has erupted into battles over bike parking vs. car parking, even pondering charging fees to touring bicyclists. The Golden Gate Ferry service keeps at least four of its ferry runs going to accommodate the cycling tourists, which have hit peaks of 2,500 per day during recent summer months.

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The Nowtopian 6 Comments

19th Century Bicycling: Rubber was the Dark Secret

Boneshakers in the 1870s.

Boneshakers in the 1870s.


“If the increase continues, the time is not very distant when not to own and ride a bicycle will be a confession that one is not able-bodied, is exceptionally awkward, or is hopelessly belated.”
“The Bicycle Festival,” July 13, 1895 New York Times

The bicycle came to San Francisco during the last quarter of the 19th century. Like other places, it first developed based on wooden wheels, similar to those that were bearing stagecoaches and being drawn by horses. Horse-drawn streetcars were the predominant mode of transit in the 1870s, peaking in the 1880s, at a time when the individual horse was also still a major source of personal transportation.

Emperor Norton on a velocipede

Emperor Norton on a velocipede

And then came the velocipede, an odd device that attracted some early adopters of the era. Here’s Emperor Norton, a fellow who was adept at self-marketing long before Facebook made it a basic survival skill!

The boneshakers were aptly named, running over heavily rutted streets on solid wooden wheels, eventually improved by coating the in solid rubber. The bicycle was not a transit option at that early stage, but a novelty, and a device that attracted the adventurous few who were ready to break with the limits of human powered locomotion. In “The Winged Heel” column in the San Francisco Chronicle of January 25, 1879, the writer fully grasps the possibilities:

“The bicycle ranks among those gifts of science to man, by which he is enabled to supplement his own puny powers with the exhaustic forces around him. He sits in the saddle, and all nature is but a four-footed beast to do his bidding. Why should he go a foot, while he can ride a mustang of steel, who knows his rider and never needs a lasso?.. The exhilaration of bicycling must be felt to be appreciated. With the wind singing in your ears, and the mind as well as body in a higher plane, there is an ecstasy of triumph over inertia, gravitation, and the other lazy ties that bind us. You are traveling! Not being traveled.”

(I have to admit a great appreciation for that last aphorism, echoing through time a later motto of Processed World magazine that I helped produce in the 1980s: Are you doing the processing? Or are you being processed?)

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The Nowtopian 10 Comments

An Unfinished Freeway Revolt: Car-Free Vancouver Day

fwys_equal_climate_crime_8186.jpgBanner at Car-Free Vancouver Day
gateway_sux_8187.jpgThe organization fighting the massive freeway plan in Vancouver

I’m just back from a fantastic five-day visit to Vancouver to help celebrate and publicly ponder Car-Free Vancouver Day. The event started six years ago along East Vancouver’s Commercial Drive (“the Drive” as it is often called there). It has grown to encompass five separate neighborhood street closures, one being the very wide 4- to 6-lane Main Street where it is closed for about 17 blocks. To San Franciscans the event has a certain familiarity, combining something of our venerable tradition of street fairs with the newer excitement of “Sunday Streets.” But unlike the well-established and highly commercial street fairs, or the city-sponsored Sunday Streets, Car-Free Vancouver Day is a product of grassroots organizing, with hundreds of volunteers working hard for months to produce an exciting day of urban reinhabitation.

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The Nowtopian 7 Comments

Technology and Impotence

oil_spill_may_17_nasa.jpgNASA satellite image of Gulf oil spill, May 17, 2010.

The BP oil spill goes on. And on. We watch the oil on live web cam pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. And we watch. Political rage is muted, practical responses even more distant. What to do? How do we “take action” on something like this? How can individuals meaningfully respond to this catastrophe? Stop driving? Boycott one brand of gas? Stop buying things made of plastic? Let’s not flatter ourselves. A few folks I know are planning to go to a local ARCO gas station (owned by BP) to protest, which will surely be a big moment for the minimum wage employee in the cash booth, and probably an irritant to the half dozen or more motorists waiting to fill their cars.

The numbing impotence we feel is painfully calibrated to our inability to affect what’s happening. Consumer choices we might make will have zero impact on this disaster, and can’t shape the larger dynamics of a globe-spanning, multinational oil industry either. Just listen to Democracy Now on Friday morning to hear how Chevron has destroyed thousands of square miles of the Nigerian delta in its incessant exploitation of the oil there, or how the Ecuadoran Amazon too is covered in vast lakes of spilled oil.

The deeper questions about technology and science are far from our daily lives. The world we live in is embedded in complex networks of technological dependencies, which none of us have chosen freely. Nor do any of us have any way to participate directly in deciding what technologies we will use, how they will be deployed, what kind of social controls will be exerted over private interests who organize and run them for their own gain, etc. (supposedly the federal government regulates them in the public interest, but that is clearly false as shown YET AGAIN by this disaster). The basic direction of science is considered a product of objective research and development, when it has always been skewed to serve the interests of those who already have economic and political power. Public, democratic direction for science and technology is not only non-existent, we really don’t even discuss it as a possibility!

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The Nowtopian 22 Comments

Sign on, Root in, Branch Out

two_way_bike_traffic_Scott_1033.jpgImagine the Wiggle as fully green bikeway, with agriculture and an open creek instead of cars!

He skirted Market Pond and made his way up to the Wiggle. Passing through a green arching gate he rolled along next to a long aging wall that had seen better days. On the other side of the wall used to be some kind of warehouse or big store. Now it was a grassy knoll sloping down to Market Pond.

On the crumbling 110-meter long wall was an old mural from the late 20th century. A clever mural within the mural showed the city, starting from a pre-deluge downtown full of cars and bikes and heading past itself to show Hayes River turning into a path to the west to the beach where a huge snake became a bicycle tire track. The mural was considered a civic treasure from the time before and a lot of trouble had been taken to save it after successive quakes and major storms.

At the end of the wall he went over the rushing creek and the high-arching Sans Souci Bridge, steering clear of oncoming cyclists. The veloway followed the winding course of the Hayes River, willow and laurel trees studding the banks, along with impatiens and lupine bushes. Many spots along the creek were open to the surrounding homes, mostly old Victorians that had elegantly stood along this waterway since it had been buried in cement culverts long ago. The lush gardens that filled the small valley gave off a wild variety of sweet and organic smells in the moonlight.

--from After the Deluge, A Novel of Post-Economic San Francisco (Full Enjoyment Books: 2004)

I wrote that passage in my novel a few years ago, set in San Francisco 150 years in the future. Imagine my pleasure when I found out that an ornamental portal to the Wiggle is the first project envisioned by some activists along our much-loved route. A week ago I sat down on the Wiggle at Bean There Café with Morgan Fitzgibbons, one of the instigators behind the new Wigg Party, whose mission is to have the folks who live and ride and eat along this route “become the leading community in America in the transformation to sustainability.” Recognizing what more and more people are coming to grips with, that we’re on the cusp of a dramatic change in how we live in cities, and on earth, the Wigglers want to lead the way, taking action one community at a time, anchored in place. Given the high mobility and transience of so many young San Franciscans, a focus on a local neighborhood as a site of transformation is immediately encouraging.

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