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Posts from the "Car-Free Streets" Category

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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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Market Street: Transit Paint Upgrades Coming, but Car Bans Still Missing

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New intersection markings could help reduce the number of drivers “blocking the box” on Market this spring, but the SFMTA has continued to postpone proposals to get cars off Market altogether. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Despite calls for more measures to get cars off of Market Street, and the benefits brought by the forced turns already put in place, the SFMTA still has yet to propose any new restrictions on private autos.

Market will have its transit-only lanes will be painted red, and cross-hatched markings will be added to discourage drivers from blocking intersections. Photos via SFMTA

Market will have its transit-only lanes will be painted red, and cross-hatched markings will be added to discourage drivers from blocking intersections. Photos via SFMTA

The agency does, however, plan to make some paint upgrades to help keep Muni moving this spring or summer. Existing transit-only lanes will be painted red, and a cross-hatched paint striping telling drivers not to “block the box” will be added at intersections where cars chronically back up and block cross traffic. SFMTA staff told its Board of Directors this week that the agency and the SFPD would also develop a plan to step up nearly non-existent enforcement of transit lanes and box-blocking on Market.

Yet the agency has repeatedly delayed its promises to put forward proposals for new forced turns or potential bans for private autos on Market, to the frustration of car-free Market champions like Malcolm Heinicke, an SFMTA Board member, and Supervisor David Chiu, who introduced his second resolution urging the SFMTA to move the efforts along. The resolution was approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors this week.

“I want the people who ride those buses on Market Street to have something close to the experience I have underground of a real right-of-way and real capacity,” Heinicke told SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin at a meeting on the agency’s Strategic Plan and budget Tuesday. “I’m not suggesting any malice or obfuscation here, but my question is, what’s the delay?”

Heinicke had requested that SFMTA staff present a proposal for car restrictions at the previous planning meeting one year ago, and Reiskin said it would come by this winter, but then postponed it to Tuesday’s meeting. Now, Reiskin says the proposals will be ready to be considered as part of the SFMTA’s two-year budget, which is scheduled to be finalized by March.

Reiskin chalked up the delays to the complications caused by ongoing projects like the construction of the Central Subway. “While we have identified some preliminary proposals along with costs and impacts, there’s more work that needs to be done to figure out the interaction with all the various projects that are currently happening on Market Street.”

“I share the frustration, and take responsibility for the fact, that we don’t have something by now,” he said.

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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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Eyes on the Street: Lounging on a Reclaimed Valencia Street

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Photos: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

Swinging through SF for a few days, Streetfilms producer Clarence spotted a nice setup at yesterday’s Sunday Streets in the Mission. Harrington’s, an antique furniture store, used some of  its sofa inventory to create a comfortable little music venue on Valencia Street.

“People were encouraged to just sit in it,” said Clarence, noting that “tons of music” on SF’s streets “provided a nice laid back vibe we don’t see nearly as much in NYC.”

It’s always great to see the creative ways merchants find to embrace Sunday Streets — it’s good for business, good for health, and good for building community.

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New Renderings, Details on Car-Free Areas From “Better Market Street”

Market between First and Second Streets shown with raised bike lanes. Images: Better Market Street

The vision for Market Street (and potentially Mission) is becoming clearer with the release of new renderings of streets and plazas at public workshops for the “Better Market Street” project this week.

Planners presented renderings of specific stretches of Market, including redesigns for both UN and Hallidie Plaza (where the Powell Station entrance would be raised), as well as proposed changes to Muni stop spacing. Ellis Street would also be closed to car traffic to create a new plaza.

The presentation also shed more light on the three bikeway options — putting protected bike lanes on Market, on Mission, or neither. New street plans show how those ideas would pan out, including the spots where planners say there just isn’t enough width to maintain a continuous bikeway on Market.

For each of the three options [PDF], details on potential car-free areas have also been released.

  • Option 1, with protected bike lanes on neither Market nor Mission, would ban cars between Fremont and Eighth Streets.
  • Option 2, with protected bike lanes on Market, would prohibit cars only between Fremont and Fifth Streets. The idea is that where protected bike lanes exist, car bans aren’t as neceessary, planners said. But since there’s not enough width to provide a protected bike lane between Grant and Fifth Streets,  they say, that stretch will at least be car-free, to provide more comfort for bicyclists and keep transit moving.
  • Option 3, with protected bike lanes on Mission (but not Market), would include the longest car-free stretch on Market, from Van Ness Avenue to the Embarcadero. One reason for that is to help speed up buses that would be re-routed from Mission on to Market, according to the presentation materials.

All of the proposed car bans would apply only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Planners will present the proposals for feedback again on Saturday at the SF Main Library from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. You can also submit comments online.

Hallidie Plaza

See more images after the jump.

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City’s First “Play Streets” Event Kicks Off in the Western Addition

Photos: Aaron Bialick

Two blocks in the Western Addition were closed to cars and turned into a neighborhood gathering space Saturday for the city’s first “Play Streets” event. The program is an effort to build on the success of Sunday Streets and provide smaller-scale car-free spaces where people can play and socialize on a more frequent basis.

“This is an attempt to do all the great things that we do on Sunday Streets — creating a place for outdoor recreation, for neighbors to gather, for people to connect — but to do it on a small scale, and allow communities to self-start,” said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, which organizes Sunday Streets. “Sunday Streets is a big operation, and can be complicated. With Play Streets, we want it to scale down so any neighborhood can take back their streets for a day, or part of a day, and make them community space where kids can play and neighbors can be together.”

Supervisor London Breed with community activist Meaghan Mitchell (right) and Plaza East residents.

D5 Supervisor London Breed, who grew up in the immediate neighborhood, spoke at the event along with organizers from Sunday Streets and agencies that helped coordinate the program. In addition to providing a space that’s safe from car traffic, organizers said the aim was to invite residents to participate in community life with a space that feels safer from crime.

“Part of the challenge that we’ve come to face in this community has been kids not feeling comfortable and free to come outside and just enjoy themselves and be themselves,” said Breed. “I believe that we need to block off more streets to allow families and kids to play and be free.”

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Delayed Again, “Better Market Street” Could Move Bikeway to Mission Street

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Better Market Street project managers announced today that construction will be pushed back another two years to 2017, and one of the three options to be studied will include protected bike lanes on Mission Street instead of Market Street. Images: Better Market Street

The latest news from the Better Market Street project could be a setback for implementing a safe, accessible bike network in San Francisco — not just because construction has been pushed back to 2017, four years past the original date — but because one of the three proposals that planners will study involves building a protected bike lane route on Mission Street instead of Market, while re-routing Muni’s 14-Mission bus line on to Market in the downtown stretch.

The SF Chronicle reported on the proposal today, saying that protected bike lanes on parallel Mission would be easier to engineer and “far safer” for bicycle riders compared to Market. Routing the 14-Mission onto downtown Market, meanwhile, would allow more room for buses than the 9-foot-wide bus lanes on Mission, where Muni drivers today must often occupy two traffic lanes to squeeze through.

But by abandoning Market as a priority bike route, the Mission Street option would go against a primary principle of bike planning: Improving the most direct routes, which people are naturally drawn to use. Market Street, the city’s wide, main thoroughfare, serves as the most convenient and direct east-west bicycling route from downtown to the Wiggle. And with bicycles comprising a significant share of the vehicles on Market, it’s been claimed as the busiest bicycling street west of the Mississippi.

“Bikes are a critical part of the current and future economy, social safety and transportation on Market Street,” said Kit Hodge, deputy director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “The companies that are now moving to mid-Market depend on great bicycling access. It would be odd for the city to roll back its own mid-Market revitalization efforts back by limiting biking.”

As Department of Public Works spokesperson Mindy Linetzky told the Chronicle, “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink and improve San Francisco’s premier street. Market Street is San Francisco’s main street. It should look and work like one.”

So will the vision for San Francisco’s “premier” street include bicycles?

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SFMTA Director Heinicke: Let’s Get Cracking on Car-Free Market Street

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The campaign to rid lower Market Street of the delays and dangers caused by personal cars has an unexpected champion on the SF Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors.

At an SFMTA board meeting this Tuesday — the same meeting where agency staff presented a new Strategic Plan, which includes the Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategies — board member Malcolm Heinicke called for banning private cars from Market ahead of the completion of the Better Market Street project.

Malcolm Heinicke. Photo: The Phantom Cab Driver Phites Back

“With all of this information coming forward, all of these plans coming forward, and the desire to look at the next big thing at the same time we’re getting the Central Subway done, and getting BRTs done, I think it’s really time to come back to this board with a concrete proposal as to how we will go about assessing the closure of Market Street, how and whether we can best do it, and how to fund it,” said Heinicke.

Heinicke made the case that the need to speed up Muni and increase safety for pedestrians and bicycle riders on Market is too urgent to put it off. ”I think the time is now,” he said. “I think we’ve seen enough data on the various modes and the impacts. I think there’s been enough discussion of what we can do on the alternate arteries.”

Calls for a car-free Market have recently come from city officials including Board of Supervisors President David Chiu. But while it wouldn’t necessarily be surprising to see leadership on the issue from Chiu or other known livable streets advocates, like SFMTA board members Cheryl Brinkman and Joél Ramos, the strong words from Heinicke — a lawyer known for his tenure on the former Taxi Commission — are a promising sign that a car-free Market has broader political support.

Heinicke did note that he has a “personal interest” in the idea beyond the boon for walking, biking, and transit, possibly alluding to the fact that the ban probably wouldn’t apply to taxis. But he emphasized that he sees “this coming together, not just as a bike and pedestrian proposal, but as a real civic proposal.”

“If we had the elimination of private cars on Market Street, that would expedite the many, many transit lines that use it as their final point as of getting downtown,” he said. “I think we can really have a civic plan… that our city can really be proud of, and really build something fantastic if we did that.”

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Berkeley City Council Hesitates to Fund More Sunday Streets Events

Berkeley residents are clamoring for more street openings following the city’s first Sunday Streets event last October, where an estimated 43,000 people enjoyed 17 car-free blocks of Shattuck Avenue. But the Berkeley City Council has been hesitant to make a full commitment to bring back the events on a regular basis.

Photo: Judy Silber

Livable Berkeley, the sponsor of Sunday Streets Berkeley, has asked the City Council to set aside $59,098 for two more events in fiscal year 2013-2014 (which begins this July). On Tuesday, when the council considered the grant, council members approved only an initial $7,500, with the rest to be considered along with a vote on the entire city budget in June.

Council members roundly agreed the event was a huge success, and acknowledged the health and economic benefits such open streets events bring to the city. But some were reluctant to approve such a large grant just yet, citing the need to fund other city programs.

Sunday Streets Berkeley Director Emunah Hauser said organizers are “very encouraged by the Berkeley City Council’s unanimous praise for the success of our first event, and appreciative of individual councilmember pledges of discretionary funds.”

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Sunday Streets to Expand With Neighborhood-Oriented “Play Streets for All”

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San Francisco’s Sunday Streets will continue to grow next year with a new program designed to bring more neighborhood-oriented car-free street events to places that lack park space.

Kids playing at a Sunday Streets event in the Tenderloin. Photo: Bryan Goebel

“Play Streets For All,” a collaboration between Livable City, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency, and public health organizations, will introduce a smaller-scale version of Sunday Streets, making it easier for residents to close a block or two to cars and open them up for play and community-building.

The pilot program, which will be held in addition to regular Sunday Streets events, will target neighborhoods that suffer from high rates of childhood obesity and lack safe places for kids to play.

“We need to remember that keeping kids active isn’t a secret — sometimes the answer is simply providing places for kids to be kids,” said Mayor Ed Lee in a statement. “Play Streets for All will build on our Sunday Street resources and organizing expertise to create family-friendly, safe recreational space in neighborhoods that need it most.”

Sunday Streets organizer Susan King said four neighborhoods are set to see Play Streets next year: the Tenderloin, Chinatown, Bayview, and the Western Addition. The exact dates and locations, along with the rest of the Sunday Streets schedule, will be announced by early January, she said.

“Due to its great success, the current demand for Sunday Streets outpaces our capacity to reach every community that wants to host these events,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin in a statement. “Play Streets for All is a simple, straightforward solution that will help make more of our streets available for kids of all ages to enjoy in safe, fun and healthy ways.”

The program should provide an easier channel for residents to hold smaller, community-based car-free street events, which have been tough to organize because of an arduous bureaucratic process and a host of questionably high fees levied by city agencies. By minimizing city staffing costs and simplifying the process, the Play Streets program “presents a nimble and inexpensive approach for creating temporary open space,” a news release said. The effort will include local workshops, led by Sunday Streets and the non-profit organization SF Beautiful, to get neighborhood organizers up to speed on “best practices” for holding successful events, said King.

“The idea behind Play Streets for All,” she said, ”is to provide support for neighborhood activists to produce and manage their own car-free streets events on a smaller scale to make the opportunities provided by neighborhood open streets events (like Sunday Streets) happen more often in areas that lack open space and recreational resources.”

Play Streets will have a stronger emphasis on improving public health than the regular Sunday Streets program — it’s funded in part by a $50,000 grant from California Blue Cross and Anthem Blue Shield, and one of the organizers is the Partnership for a Healthier America — created in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign – which is launching Play Streets programs in ten cities.

“We can’t wait to see the initiative in action,” said PHA President Lawrence Soler, ”to see kids running around these new spaces and to hear sounds of traffic replaced by sounds of kids at play.”