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New York City Now Has Permanently Car-Free Roads in Two Major Parks

Photo: Ben Fried

Photo: Ben Fried

A week after New York City’s Central Park went mostly car-free, today marked the beginning of the permanent car-free zone on the west side of Prospect Park [PDF].

Leading up to today, the traffic shortcuts through Prospect Park had been gradually winnowed down to one lane on the west side during the evening rush and one lane on the east side during the morning rush, thanks to persistent advocacy. Campaigns in 2008 and 2002 each collected 10,000 signatures in support of a car-free park.

Before Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration made the West Drive car-free, the most recent victory was a 2012 road diet that expanded space for pedestrians and cyclists on the park loop. Before that, the city closed the 3rd Street entrance to cars in 2009.

The job’s still not done as long as the park’s East Drive, which is closer to the less affluent neighborhoods on the east side of the park, continues to be a shortcut for car commuters on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. DOT says it is concerned that higher traffic volumes on the East Drive would lead to congestion in nearby neighborhoods if the park were made completely car-free.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who marked the occasion this morning by walking her two beagles to a press conference in the park, said a permanently car-free East Drive could happen “at some point in the coming years.”

“Car traffic has continued to go down,” she told WNYC. “So we’ve done it in stages and we may be back again for the final phase.”

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Parking-Free Marina Path Plan Could Be Delayed By Boaters’ Parking Proposal

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The Marina path as it exists today. Photo: Department of Public Works

Updated at 11:38 p.m. with further response from the Recreation and Parks Department below.

The Marina Boulevard bicycle and pedestrian path was supposed to be car-free by now. The years-old plan to remove the 57 car parking spaces on the stretch between Scott and Baker Streets is scheduled to be implemented by this spring.

But the SF Recreation and Parks Department may hold off yet again — potentially for years — because the department is seriously considering a last-minute proposal from boat owners to carve curbside “parking bays” from the path to preserve some spots.

The Association of Bay Area Governments’ Bay Trail Project and the SF Bicycle Coalition sent a letter [PDF] Tuesday urging Rec and Parks General Manager Phil Ginsburg “in the strongest of terms to move forward with the current plan to remove the parking and driving lane… immediately.”

We believe that a proposal to provide a drop-off, loading/unloading zone with limited parking may have merit and should be pursued. However, the thousands of walkers, joggers, cyclists, families, roller-bladers and wheelchair riders who make up 98% of the users of the Marina Green Bay Trail cannot continue to wait for safety in this area.

[Update] Rec and Parks spokesperson Connie Chan wrote in an email that the department “is seeking funding for” the project to include “the construction of 3 new parking bays.”

“Each bay will provide 3 to 5 parking spaces: 2 white loading-only spaces, 1 blue ADA-only space, and 2 unregulated public parking spaces (optional),” she wrote. “One parking bay will be situated near each dock gate, with exact location determined by traffic code and/or other site constraints.”

When asked if the parking removal will no longer happen this spring as planned, she repeated, “At this time, the Department is seeking funding for the project.”

In addition to reducing space for people, lumping parking bays into the project could further delay it for years. Digging into the pavement would require securing funding, design work, and construction for a project that originally only involved removing parking bumpers and replacing signs and pavement striping. It would add an estimated $450,000 to a $60,000 project.

Read more…

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Boat Owners Gripe as Car-Free Marina Path Moves Forward

Attendees at a community meeting last night in the Marina. Photo: Aaron Bialick

A community meeting held yesterday about plans to remove car parking from a stretch of the Marina pedestrian and bike path was attended by just a couple dozen people, most of whom appeared to be boat owners protesting the move. The Recreation and Parks Department does appear to be moving forward with the plan, despite complaints from some well-connected Marina boaters who have delayed the project for months.

Photo: Matt Dove

Several harbor tenants repeated mostly baseless arguments heard at previous meetings, defending the 51 often-empty parking spots by instead complaining about the behavior of people who bike on the path.

This stretch of path along Marina Boulevard, between Scott and Baker Streets, sits alongside four wide traffic lanes. It’s the only segment of the 500-mile Bay Trail that has car access on it. Only two percent of people using the path park cars on it — the rest walk or bike. Most of those biking appear to be pedaling leisurely on rental bikes, and many of them are children.

But that doesn’t jibe with the narrative of menacing road-hogs told by those like Paul Manning, a harbor tenant.

“I think it’s important that, when bicyclists ask for sharing the road, that it be a combination and not an exclusive use of the road,” Manning told Streetsblog. “In this project in particular, they want to obliterate all the cars and have exclusive use for pedestrians and cyclists, which seems unreasonable.”

“That’s their modus operandi,” said Allen Cavey, in response to Manning. “They want everybody off, but they can’t get the pedestrians off because they’re on the sidewalk.”

Cavey, who identified as a harbor tenant since 1963, said he’s long fought efforts to take cars off the Marina path, which “really started” in 1996. Cavey was unabashed in his contempt for the SF Bicycle Coalition and in his celebration of keeping cars on the path.

“As a member of the Harbor Tenants Association, I had to rattle down the testy, belligerent, arrogant Bicyclist [sic] Coalition. We won, we prevailed. And we’re still parking on the esplanade. And we’re going through the same thing again.”

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Tuesday: Support Needed for a Car-Free Bike/Ped Path on the Marina

Photo: SFDPW

One year after community planning meetings began, plans finally appear to be moving forward for removing the 51 parking spaces in the middle of a walking and biking path along the Marina — the only stretch of the 500-mile Bay Trail with cars on it. But Marina boat owners aren’t giving up, and car-free path supporters need to turn out to a community meeting next Tuesday to ensure progress on this no-brainer plan.

Some of the boat owners arguing to keep the often-empty parking spaces have apparently used their connections to delay the project for several months — the city’s final proposal for the path was originally due in March. If the plan is approved this fall, the parking spaces would be removed next spring, according to a September 30 presentation [PDF].

In a letter to SF Recreation and Parks [PDF], the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Janice Li pointed out that a permit issued to the city by the Bay Conservation Development Commission requires that the plan pursue “a design of a Bay Trail segment that provides a high quality bicycle, pedestrian, and general visitor experience.”

“The only way to properly meet the Bay Trail standards and provide that experience is by creating a car-free path,” wrote Li.

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SFMTA to Ban Cars on Kezar, Stanyan, Haight Street for 4/20 This Sunday

Upper Haight Street, Stanyan Street, and Kezar Drive will be closed to cars for 4/20. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA announced that cars will be banned on several major streets for the 4/20 gathering on the east end of Golden Gate Park this Sunday.

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., cars will be banned on Kezar Drive, Stanyan Street between Frederick and Oak Streets, and Haight Street between Masonic Avenue and Stanyan.

Drivers swarming the area for the event — many from out of town and not necessarily in their sharpest state of mind — typically create a traffic mess in and around the eastern park. Illegal parking is rampant, Muni is brought to a halt, and sidewalks fill up. The car closures, the first of their kind for 4/20, could help simplify traffic flow, keep transit moving, and provide ample room for wandering.

Muni buses will be allowed through the pedestrianized streets, the SFMTA said, but “personnel from SFPD and SFMTA will determine to re-route Muni buses as crowds grow. Muni bus re-routes will be expected to begin at approximately 3 p.m.”

Supervisor London Breed and SFPD Chief Greg Suhr also held a press conference Wednesday to tell 4/20 revelers to keep things under control, promising a crackdown on parking violations.

Since 4/20 falls on a Sunday this year, the de facto Sunday Streets network will be complemented by the weekly car closure on John F. Kennedy Drive.

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At Car-Free Marina Path Meeting, Parking-First Boaters Balanced by Sanity

Image: DPW

Update 12/19: DPW now has an online survey you can take about removing parking on the Marina path.

Marina boat owners riled by the prospect of removing underused car parking from the Marina Boulevard bicycle and pedestrian path got a bit of a reality check at a meeting last week. Some neighbors in attendance made the case for moving the parking, and planners presented some enlightening data about the path’s use.

Unlike the first meeting, the open house format didn’t lend itself to loud rants from boat owners in defense of their entitlement to car storage on the path. In the open Q-and-A session of the previous meeting, attended by about a dozen people who mostly appeared to be boat slip lessees, one man argued that “the bicyclists are out for whatever they can get” and that “the marinas on the east coast, where I also live, have adequate parking.” One woman asked whether or not parking was open space.

At the latest meeting, I did get into a discussion with someone who had a more reasonable defense of using the path for parking. He made the case that boat slip renters are entitled to the parking on the path as part of their contracts, and that the stretch in question, between Baker and Scott Streets, wasn’t a destination worth improving.

But the 57 parking spaces — the only ones directly on the 500-mile Bay Trail — just aren’t essential. They sit adjacent to just 91 of the 350-some-odd total slips in the Marina basin, and occupancy ranges between 40 and 68 percent, according to city counts done throughout 2011. And yet a quarter of the path is devoted to auto storage, while another quarter is deemed a “shared” driving lane, which undermines any sense of safety and comfort for people walking and biking — who comprise 98 percent of the users on this segment of the path.

The Marina path as it exists today. Photo: DPW

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Marina Boat Owners Riled by Proposal to Take Cars Off Bike/Ped Path

DPW proposes removing the 51 parking spaces (seen here on the right, mostly empty) along the only stretch of the Bay Trail where cars are currently allowed. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Along Marina Boulevard there’s a bicycle and pedestrian path where visitors and residents can stroll along the bay without having to worry about cars — until they get to the stretch between Scott and Baker Streets, where drivers are allowed to enter the path to access 51 parking spaces.

It’s the only part of the 500-mile Bay Trail where people must share space with cars. But now the Department of Public Works is leading an effort to remove those parking spots and ban cars on that stretch of the path. At a public meeting yesterday, the proposal was met with protest from about a dozen boat owners who claimed they were entitled to those parking spaces as part of the $10,000 yearly fee they pay to store their vessels.

Boat owners at a community meeting last night fought for their right to parking. “There are plenty of marinas on the east coast, where I also live, that have adequate parking,” said one man. Photo: Aaron Bialick

“We don’t have any other place in the trail where there’s a multi-use pathway adjacent to the shoreline with cars in the middle of it,” said Maureen Gaffney, Bay Trail planner for the Association of Bay Area Governments. “It’s first and foremost a safety issue. We think that parking is not the best use of the waterfront.”

Boat owners complained about longer walks to carry equipment from their cars to their slips, but most users of the marina already seem to make longer walks. The Bay Trail parking spots, which often appear empty, sit adjacent to only 91 of the 350-some-odd total slips in the basin. Attendees also claimed that the city doesn’t have the jurisdiction to remove those parking spaces because boat slip renters are entitled as part of their contracts with the harbor (DPW didn’t have the documentation on hand to refute that).

Although the Marina pathway is heavily used by families, many with rental bikes, that didn’t stop a few attendees from repeatedly calling people on bicycles a hazard, while insisting that operating motor vehicles on the path is just fine.

Read more…

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We Used to Expect Streets to Be as Safe as We Do Holly Park

Rarely does the death of someone struck by a motorist garner as much public outrage as the incident in Holly Park last week. Media around the world has covered the death of Christine Svanemyr, who was lying in the grass with her infant daughter and dog when she was run over by Thomas Burnoski, a Recreation and Parks Department employee.

A vigil held for Christine Svanemyr at Holly Park. Image: NBC

There are a number of reasons this incident has attracted so much attention from the media and elected officials like Mayor Ed Lee, who expressed shock and “demanded a thorough investigation,” according to ABC 7. Supervisor David Campos has also called for a hearing to review policies around the use of city vehicles in parks.

For one, Burnoski fled the scene, only to be arrested by police soon after (he now faces vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run charges). Burnoski was also a city employee who seems to have violated department policies in driving on the grass.

But what has outraged San Franciscans the most is that the death represents a violation of our deeply-held expectation of safety in a park — one of the last public refuges from the dangers of the automobile.

Unlike parks, city streets have been ceded to the automobile as places where people outside cars are expected to be vigilant of reckless motorists. Of the nine or more pedestrians who have been killed by drivers on San Francisco’s streets this year, only the drivers who were drunk or fled the scene have been charged, and the victims have received little attention compared to the Svanemyr case.

In one case, Sunnyside Elementary custodian Becky Lee was run over and killed in a crosswalk in April at Judson Avenue and Edna Street. Police deemed the death nothing more than an accident, even though the driver apparently violated Lee’s right-of-way. There was no public outrage or calls for the review of policies governing the use of private automobiles on city streets.

It wasn’t always this way. As Peter Norton chronicled in his book Fighting Traffic, streets in American cities were considered the realm of people, not automobiles, and each pedestrian death sparked outrage — even violence. In an April article, 99% Invisible explains:

On the streets of early 20th Century America, nothing moved faster than 10 miles per hour. Responsible parents would tell their children, “Go outside, and play in the streets. All day.”

And then the automobile happened. And then automobiles began killing thousands of children, every year.

Pedestrian deaths were considered public tragedies. Cities held parades and built monuments in memory of children who had been struck and killed by cars. Mothers of children killed in the streets were given a special white star to honor their loss.

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Separated Bike-Ped Path Coming to Mansell Street in McLaren Park by 2016

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Images: Rec and Parks

Mansell Street, which runs through McLaren Park, is poised to get a two-way bikeway and a walking and jogging path separated from motor traffic under a plan approved by the Recreation and Parks Commission last week.

Mansell is a wide roadway with no dedicated space for walking and biking, and its four traffic lanes are split down the middle by a planted median. Under the new plan, which is combined with a road re-paving, one side of that median will be car-free. On the other side, motor traffic, including Muni’s 29-Sunset line, would run in one lane in each direction.

The project, set to begin construction in summer 2015 and be completed in 2016, should provide a much more inviting connection to walk and bike across McLaren Park, San Francisco’s second-largest city-owned park, which sits between the Visitacion Valley and Excelsior neighborhoods.

The chosen design was favored by the vast majority of attendees at two community meetings, beating out an alternative that would have retained one traffic lane on each side of the median, along with buffered bike lanes separated from cars with stripes only, according to a department presentation [PDF]. Rec and Parks is hoping to fund the project using up to $6.1 million from Prop AA vehicle registration fee revenue and the regional One Bay Area Grant.

Mansell today.

See an overview of the route after the jump. Read more…

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Flashback: The Mother of All Streetfilms

Hey SF, Aaron is out with a nasty bug today, so to keep your content craving sated I thought I’d share this proto-Streetfilm from 2004, which Clarence Eckerson recently unearthed for a museum exhibit about the history of NYC activism. It’s about the campaign to get cars out of Manhattan’s Central Park. Anyone who lives in a city where cars regularly invade the flagship park can probably relate.

We may never see Clarence work in longform video again, at least until his dream project materializes — a film about the decline of the paperboy. In the meantime, enjoy!

This just in: Clarence and John Hamilton are in the early stages of putting together a Streetfilm on the case for a car-free Golden Gate Park. Stay tuned.